Previously on Top Chef: The chefs had to make Southern food for 3,000 guests (give or take). We were "treated" to seeing a bunch of eliminated chefs come back to help. The pressure clearly got to most everyone and Carla, Tiffany and Dale were on the bottom of the challenge. When it was all over DickyDale was shown the door. And he managed to walk through it without tearing it off its hinges.
We start out in the Stewed Room with Richard saying that Dale's departure is the first one he's really felt badly about. (Which means he was probably lying when he said about the same thing about Fabio's exit.) And DoucheyMike remarks how Tiffany managed to escape elimination yet again, calling her "bulletproof." (Translation: He remarked on how she's managed to stay over his last two buddies.)
As the chefs finish up breakfast (?) at Casa Cuisine, the they start to wonder what could possibly be the next challenge. And here is where Antonia "Instant Psychic" reveals her heretofore unseen talent for precognition when she imagines that Padma will likely appear in their apartment for the Quickfire.
And, like Beetlejuice, poof!, there's Padma!
Of course, you may think the hostess with the mostest may have other things in common with the "bio-exorcist" of film lore. But I'll leave that to you.
The chefs, naturally, are shocked. Padma tells the chefs to don their smocks head to the roof for further instructions. Once there, Padma tells them that their challenge will be revealed on Ellis Island and tells them to head to the docks.
DoucheyMike finds this "awesome."
The chefs board the Miss Freedom (contrary to public opinion, not one of Charlie Sheen's "goddesses") and discover a note along with their chef kits atop the ferry's snack bar.
Their challenge will be to create a dish using only the gross food they find behind the snack bar. And as an extra twist, their timer will be the ship's horn. When it blows, the challenge starts. When it blows again, it stops. And there's no telling how much time there will be in between.
After a few tense moments of anticipation, the horn blows and they're off.
What happens next is generally sick-making. Owing to the extra-limited options, the chefs are left to, in essence, repackage and repurpose what's already there with little opportunity for actual creativity.
Richard pulls out his MRE (Meals Ready-To-Eat) kit from his gear and puts together a hot dog with various items on top. Antonia shuffles the ingredients from a few different sandwiches and fries them on a hot dog grill. Carla goes for a fresher option by slicing up some fruit and "infusing" it with some rosemary and some bottled juice. Tiffany makes your standard snack bar nachos and has time to pop some popcorn. And DoucheyMike creates a lovely bowl of upchuck. With cheese. And ground-up hot dog buns.
As this goes on, each of the chefs gets to say how great his or her offering was compared to everyone else's crap. And, after the hysterical vision of the chefs trying to guess when their time will be up, they finally land and Padma and guest judge Dan Barber climb on board and are made to eat this stuff.
Later, on land, Barber delivers his verdict, deeming Mike's bowl o' vom' the worst along with Tiffany's lazy nachos. And the best "dish" (or plastic container of substance in this case) goes to ... Carla.
Richard, of course, is not amused that Carla won for just having "sliced some oranges."
Look, it's a wonder that anyone could win that challenge at all. Seriously.
Once that abomination is over, Padma explains that for this challenge, in honor of Ellis Island's special place in the history of the American immigrant, the chefs will be digging into their genealogical roots and preparing a dish based on NBC's latest hit Who Do You Think You Are?, presented by ancestry.com.
To assist in this process, the producers have enlisted the services of Hollywood investigator Anthony Pellicano who has created a dossier of family photos, birth records and secret wiretap recordings. And to help them go through all this information, they have brought in some special guests.
Cue the loved ones.
Normally at this point, we'd see each loved one either paired up with a different chef who would have to make a dish for him or her, or there would be some kind of challenge where Tiffany's mom would have to race out into the East River to retrieve a bag of puzzle pieces and get them back to Carla's husband before Richard's pregnant wife can start a fire using only flint and liquid nitrogen.
Instead, the chefs and loved ones get to quietly sit on benches and look over the materials. But, what's this? Yes, it seems that the lovely Antonia and the un-lovely Douche are actually distant relatives, both coming from the same family in Sicily.
I groan. Because I know that this will start us on a new, never-ending storyline of long-lost-cousins-who-hated-each-other-and-now-have-each-other's-back-despite-their-differences.
And we'll get a retelling about how these differences involve a certain chef's propensity for expelling gas and liquids from his body and sending in the other's direction.
Over the next 40 minutes, I am proven right. Repeatedly.
Also in the no-surprise department, we see everyone look at his or her ancestry and read into their forbears character traits that explain why they love to cook certain things a certain way.
Richard's background is Irish and English and he finds that someone had a meat market and someone was a scientist. Proof that he was born to be a molecular gastronomist extraordinaire.
Tiffany's and Carla's backgrounds were from various parts of the American South. And newfound cousins (identical cousins all the way, one pair of matching bookends, as different as night and day) Mike and Antonia come from an Italian background.
They head off to the Piggly Wiggly for ingredients before eventually arriving at the location of the challenge to cook.
The judges and loved ones arrive to eat and make nice with each other before service begins. One by one, the chefs present their extraordinary dishes to the delight of all of those assembled. Richard's wife calls the presentation "awesome." Not a single negative word is spoken about any item, neither by the family members nor the judges. Finally, the love-fest gets so fevered that Antonia's mom asks Tom if there's ever been a final five.
I believe this is called the "What hath God wrought?" moment.
After the lovin' and a discussion about how Carla and her husband met through a dating web site (which isn't a paid sponsor?), the chefs embrace their loved ones and get the lowdown on how everything was just great. Professional worrywart Richard gets bucked up by his mate and I could have sworn I heard Mike say something to his mom about "the Bahamas." (On second listen, the husband informs me that he was actually saying, "... if my mom was judge ..." So maybe I just got some of that Antonia psychic juice on me.)
The chefs are super enthused that everyone loved everything, which Carla finds "awesome." And then Padma appears to call all five of them before the judges.
The adoration continues there, as the chefs get wet kisses from the judges for each of their incredible dishes. After the deliberation, Dan Barber reveals the winner of the challenge (and a pre-owned, fully equipped 1974 Gremlin) is ... Antonia!
So, Antonia is headed to the finale which will be in ... the Bahamas! (Score one for second sight Cliffie.)
And after an awkward re-dubbed voiceover from Tom, Mike discovers that he, too, is headed for the finals. The newfound relatives head off to the Stewed Room to celebrate, one by flinging boogers at the other and the other by ducking and now finding this "charming."
Back at Judges' Table, the panel tells the three remaining chefs that they had to resort to nitpicking and ...
"Richard ... please pack your knives ... because you're going to the Bahamas!"
Now, why would they do this to a person? I thought the guy was going to jump right out of his fauxhawk.
After a quick visit to his cardiologist, Richard joins Mike and Antonia back in the Stewed.
Which leaves Tiffany and Carla.
Who both get to go to the finale.
Hugs. Love. Adoration.
And it's great that they all got to go, since no one did anything the least bit wrong.
Yet, it makes you wonder why you sat through the last hour and fifteen minutes.
Next time on Top Chef: The final rounds begin! The Bahamas! Snorkeling! And see how well Padma finally shook off that baby weight! Va-va-voom.