Top Chef All-Stars - "When you kill it, you have respect for it"

Well, that was an unusual episode. No Quickfire to get the blood pumping. Just an early alarm clock. The chefs all want to hit snooze, and I think by the end most of the viewers did, too.
 
But let's backtrack for a moment. In the post-Judges' Table Stew Room, Antonia takes a pretty thinly-veiled shot at Jamie, saying that Casey attacked the challenge, and didn't want to just do a dumpling. Jamie, seemingly oblivious to the shot, just says "yeah." Marcel also takes a little bite out of Dale for what he perceives as Dale slow-pedaling his plating during service last week. On the rooftop of the TC apartment, the biting continues--as Marcel bites a little bit of Dale's hip-hop throwdown style all up in Dale's grill. Dale's been taking anger management classes, but that doesn't keep him from calling Marcel a little bitch to the confessional camera. I wonder: Marcel kinda seemed drunk. True or false?
 
There's no Padma in the kitchen the following morning. Just a sign that reads "GONE FISHIN'" and a map to Montauk. The chefs hop into their vehicles of unknown make or model and meet Padma and Tom looking all verdant and happy at the foot of a lighthouse. The chefs will be shopping for their proteins the old-fashioned way: grab a net and pole.
 
In lieu of the usual Quickfire, the chefs will spend 5 hours divided up onto two fishing boats, catching as much fish as they can to use for the Elimination Challenge. Anyway, immunizing someone from elimination this week would complicate Judges Table too much, considering this will be another double elimination episode.
 
The chefs are split into four teams of three (Dale/Carla/Tre, Tiffani/Jamie/Antonia, Angelo/Isabella/Tiffany, and Fabio/Marcel/Richard). Fabio and Dale both have fishing experience passed down from their fathers, so you know they'll be pumped. The first two teams above (1 and 3, respectively) are raking in the fish on their boat. Dale lands a massive striped bass that's about 2/3 his length. Teams 2 and 4 (the other two teams above, respectively) take a lot longer to start their luck, but eventually get some decent feesh.
 
The Team 1/3 Boat has a particularly masturbatory method for reeling in the big ones, which leads to some yuk-yuk humor from Mr. Yuk-Yuk, Isabella. Once the fishing is over, Team 4 starts menu planning right on the boat. Richard is trying to appease Marcel by giving him the credit for deciding to do a single dish. Fabio thinks his team will be engaging in some "syholohical warfare," whatever that is.
 
After the boats, the farmers' market. Antonia points out how buddy/buddy Fabio and Richard are becoming ("They're like the odd couple. It's like, the professor and...the strange Italian immigrant."), there's some really classic comedy going on between Angelo and Isabella. Angelo insists on spicy peppers. Isabella says they are, he tasted them. Angelo says, "No, spicy spicy." Isabella says, "Come here and taste this. Just a small piece." Angelo does, and proceeds to start coughing and watering at the eyes.
 
Angelo asks, "Why did you do that to me?"
 
After a beat, Isabella replies in a perfectly matter-of-fact tone, "Because you didn't trust me."
 
I actually watched it a couple times, literally LOLing.
 
Beachside preparation begins, with a charming montage of Jamie complaining about everything under the sun--and actually, the sun too, now that I think about it. Lovely. Tiffani's trying to keep competitive distance from her. Carla's just trying to wrangle the fishy, nasty blood line out of her blue fish, a specimen she's not particularly crazy about.
 
Richard's starting to worry about the one-dish approach, thinking two might have been better. Fabio probably would have been fine with that, as he's been relegated to knife boy--taking orders from Richard and Marcel (mostly Richard), and not really contributing to the creative process. Tiffany's under pressure, knowing she works in a seafood restaurant and can't imaging the heat she'd get for fucking up.
 
Tom comes in and of course starts to undermine the confidence of Team 4 for their single dish, Team 1 for Dale's market-bought tortillas, and Team 3 for Tiffani's general thoughts on proper usage for blue fish (often known as a trashy fish in food circles). Only Team 2 stands up to Tom's presence, pumping the value of fresh fish and a good market. That could also be the nigh-insurmountable egos of Angelo and Isabella keeping their confidence high, but who knows. (Another great exchange between Angelo and Isabella: Angelo says to Isabella, "You remind me of someone I fired once.")
 
As the diners enter the arena, the judges are introduced; once again, no Bourdain. Instead, Tom introduces his fishing buddy, chef Kerry Heffernan of South Gate Restaurant, who knows more about fish than anyone Tom knows. I wonder how Eric Ripert feels about this.
 
Team 1
Fish taco with striped bass, corn and avocado relish, crème fraiche, radishes, and cabbage (Dale). Nice fish, good texture. Smoked blue fish lettuce wrap, pickled watermelon rind, radishes, bagel croutons (Carla). Well-smoked, nice accents of dill, and the pumpernickel bagel provides a good side flavor as well. It's a play on bagels and smoked fish in a typical New York deli; smart move, Carla. Striped sea bass with gazpacho salad, tomato and avocado (Tre). The fish is cooked well, and it's a ballsy move to saute in this kind of environment.
 
Team 2
Angelo, Isabella, and Tiffany plate two dishes, both collaborative. Pickled blue fish, spicy watermelon, shallots, red chillies, confit potato and dill. The pickling seems to take the judges by surprise, in a good way. The potatoes and herbs are well-received. Also, striped bass with corn purée, tomato, aleppo spice rub and watermelon. A lot of competing flavors, but cooked well. Hard to read from here whether the judges liked it or not.
 
Team 3
Striped bass, watermelon salad with fresh dill, shaved radishes, cucumber water (Jamie). The fish is bland. The cucumber water would be nice in another setting, but here is redundant and too watery (if you can imagine that; only Jamie could make water too watery). Smoked blue fish with tomato, roasted corn and zucchini ribbon salad (Tiffani). It's a little crude, lacking in both elegance and acidity. Open faced porgy po'boy with Old Bay mayo and cabbage slaw (Antonia). This porgy is best (see what I did there) among this team's dishes, pleasing both the average diners and the judges. The judges are impressed that Antonia took such a lackluster fish and made it great.
 
Team 4
Richard, Marcel, and Fabio offer up a single dish. Sea bass, succotash, corn purée, tomato confit, Concord grape gastrique, jamón "air" (but really, it's foam--and you know who's probably responsible for it). The beans in the succotash--something about which Richard expressed concern during prep--are mushy, and the foam is irrelevant.
 
In an unusual move, the judges stop to chit-chat with some of the hoi polloi (a word that sounds like it should be a kind of fish, but isn't) about which dishes they liked. Carla's gets the primary mention. Tom notes, discussing the freshly-caught angle (puns! I'm full of 'em), provides the apt and true title of this recap. While the chefs wait, Jamie calls "people" out (to the confessional, I think) for copping out by only cooking one dish. If there is a single person who never, ever should accuse someone else of copping out, it's Jamie.
 
No one looks confident at all as Padma arrives to call out Teams 1 and 2: Dale, Carla, Tre, Tiffany, Isabella, and Angelo. Padma plays it up more than usual, before letting them off the hook (HAHAHAHA): they're the top two teams. The winner will get a 6-night trip, with airfare, to Amsterdam. Random, sure, but pretty sweet nonetheless. Compliments are paid to Team 2's duo of dishes, and Dale's taco earns praise despite the market tortillas. (I don't think they shopped at a Whole Foods at all this week, though, right? So it was at least farmers-market-bought.) Carla's witty, smart, and tasty smoked fish is the best of the bunch, and she's this week's winner. That makes Carla and Dale strong contenders, having traded blows as alternating winners for the last four weeks.
 
Carla arrives back at the Stew Room her usual, giddy self--and gets her balloon unceremoniously popped by Marcel, who couldn't be more of a dink. Thankfully, once he leaves with the rest of bottom two teams, Angelo and the rest of the leaders reassure Carla that she acted completely acceptably and shouldn't feel badly at all. Good form, guys.
 
Team 4, why one dish? Richard says he and Marcel came up with it at the same time; very crafty, Richard, broadening responsibility when vote-splitting becomes advantageous. Tom notes potential trust issues in that team, highlighting once again just how much of a ninja he is. Basically, a restaurant-scale dish in a beach setting, with a plastic dish, just won't work.
 
Team 3, y'all are bringing a sister down. Tom breaks it to Antonia that her dish, were it not saddled with Jamie and Tiffani's stinky offerings, would have been the winner. Tiffani didn't negotiate the blood line of the fish (hi, Carla!), leading to a funky flavor and mediocre texture. Jamie added water to her cucumber to give it that extra blast of watery goodness; this went over with the judges about as well as you'd expect. Antonia is put on the spot to address whether greater intervention on her part would have steered her team into more successful waters (heyoh!); her response is more weeping. Come on, Antonia!
 
So let's just pull this Band-Aid off quickly. Jamie's reign of error is finally come to an end. And Tiffani just didn't manage to maintain enough competitive distance from her; she gets sucked down right alongside the Sourpuss from San Francisco. The Black Hammer strikes again, as more teammates of Antonia fall while she remains.
 
NEXT: Restaurant Wars. Boom. Plus, Bourdain returns (yay!) and he's brough chef Ludo Lefebvre with him (bleh).