Top Chef: Go Fish – or Go Home!

03/17/2011 09:00AM



With four chefs left standing, it's pretty much anybody's game to lose at this point. True, Mike Isabella earned a major victory last week but his competitors – Tiffany Derry, Antonia Lofaso and Richard Blais – aren't going to let him run away with the title that easily.

In fact, on Wednesday's Top Chef, the four had to work together for a Quickfire challenge that prized consistency and precision over everything else. Split into two teams – men vs. women – the finalists had just an hour to make 100 dishes which needed to be plated and seasoned identically. The guys served homemade pasta with pork bolognese, while the women cooked beef tenderloin and plated it with a salad and lentils.

Tough talk abounded in the kitchen. Richard and Mike complained that their rivals played it too safe as they sweated it out and grated fresh cheese over their array of plates.



Apparently guest judge Lorena Garcia didn't notice. Nor care. She dubbed the ladies victorious, and praised them for incorporating multiple components. The win gave the women a confidence boost – and Antonia the last word as she called the guys out for being sore losers.

With no time for sniveling, the chefs were spirited away to a mysterious island where they were told – by a bikini-clad Padma – that they'd have to cook a meal for the commodore of the Nassau Yacht Club and his cronies. They didn't know which ingredients would be at their disposal, nor did they know what the cooking equipment would be like. All they knew is that their final dish must incorporate conch, a sea snail indigenous to the Bahamas.

After storming the beach on their deserted island, the chefs found a bounty of beautiful ingredients, including a spiny lobster, snapper and plenty of vegetables. Missing, however, was the conch.

Go Fish!

In its place: snorkeling gear. So, the four stripped down – an unexpected sight after all those weeks of seeing them in their chef coats – and went foraging in the water for the "slippery suckers," as Tiffany put it. With the mollusks in hand, the group returned to the beach and began shucking, creating a quite the clattering symphony as they struggled with the shells.

Interestingly, each chef took a disparate approach to the challenge, though each entrée did highlight the conch.

Richard was inspired by the Hamptons, and did a play on pasta with clams. He shaved sweet potatoes into thin ribbons, beautifully mimicking pasta, and paired it with conch, spiny lobster and mushrooms.

Antonia went with a more conventional plating and dish – seared snapper with conch tartare and a lobster sauce after struggling initially with the temperature on her wood-fired grill.

Tiffany designed a chowder with conch, fish, plenty of coconut and cream, sweet potatoes and cilantro, which she said stuck true to her original vision.

Mike steamed grouper in a banana leaf, which he served with a warm conch vinaigrette, butter and savory pineapple, which he braised with curry.

Outcooked

The guests, all elegantly clad in white, discussed sailing as they ate in the picturesque setting. They also praised the chefs for their bold flavors, beautiful presentations and the resilience it took to cook on the beach. No mention of any of the chef's swimming skills, however.

In the end, the judges found tiny faults with all of the dishes, though they found more to praise. But, despite Tom Colicchio's disagreement with his choice to use butter, Mike Isabella nabbed his second straight elimination challenge victory for his steamed fish.

Tiffany's chowder, which was served lukewarm instead of piping hot, was a bit too sweet for Tom, despite it's pleasing flavors. So, Tiffany, the underdog who's made a strong showing in recent weeks, was ousted.

"It hurts, of course," she said, wiping away tears. "I feel like the dish was a good dish. But I was outcooked, and that's the bottom line."

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