Food News

Top Chef Recap: Fuggedaboudit! Cooking Family Style At Rao's

Last episode we had Marcel pack his knives after he led his team to defeat in restaurant wars. 

Quickfire Round

The Cheftestants walk into the kitchen to find Padma and Isaac Mizrahi. It's fashion week and Padma is plugging her jewelry line and Isaac is hawking his new fashion line based on his xerox machine!?!?!?!? Wha?

The challenge is to make a beautiful dish. Padma and Isaac won't eat it, they'll just look at it. Hell, if I got that challenge, I would just paste things together or something.  Like a macaroni picture. That's exactly what Antonia's strategy is - she's doing an art project of a tree on a plate.  The dishes are as follows:

  • Carla makes a cucumber dish with a cucumber woven coaster.
  • Tre places cubes of salmon on a plate and adds dots of ketchup.
  • Antonia makes a tree based on the book "The Giving Tree". Isaac's comment is that the "nuts are too big" and Richard and Mike mumble something about there being a koala in the tree.
  • Fabio makes little tuna women with mushroom umbrellas and writes a girl-power statement on the plate.
  • Richard makes black ice cream that looks like a dessert the Addams Family would eat.
  • Angelo makes a crocodile pineapple and spells crocodile wrong on the table. Isaac says it reminds him of Charles Manson. Fabio says it looks like vomit.
  • Dale makes a plate based on grafitti that Isaac says looks like table scraps.
  • Mike makes a carrot puree and raw egg that looks like a sunset. Isaac mentions salmonella, which, by the way is a great name for a new Jersey Shore cast member. Sal Monella. Get it? 
  • Tiffany makes a landscape out of what looks like cereal.

The winner of this totally weird quickfire is Richard and his Addams Family Black Sundae.

Elimination Challenge

The Cheftestants are asked to pull knives. There are names on the knives - Frankie No, Junior and Dino the Chef. The challenge is to cook a meal at Rao's in New York.

For those that don't know, Rao's is a totally famous teeny tiny restaurant in Harlem that's impossible to get into. There are only 10 tables and the tables are owned by New York's elite and passed down in family wills, like fine china or an old parrot. Rao's isn't really a celebrity hangout -'s full of power brokers like Presidents, Former Presidents, CEO's and Joe Pesci. The owners and chef of Rao's walk in and Fabio says they look like they're out of the Godfather - he is totally psyched. Ah Fabio - pride goes before a fall so you had better give your "A" game to this challenge because imagine the crap you would get if "Mr. Italy" fails in the Italian challenge.

The teams and what they are to make are as such (Note: a star by the cheftestant's name denoted they are Italian and therefore think they will win this challenge):

Team Dino (Antipasti)

*Antonia (steamed mussels with fennel and garlic bread) 

Tiffany (warm polenta with sausage) 

Carla (minestrone and foccacia) 

Team Frankie Jr (Primi)

Dale (brussels sprouts and pancetta pasta) 

Tre (grilled vegetable risotto) 

*Mike (rigatoni with calamari) 

Team Frankie No (Secondi)

Richard (pancetta with brocollini and cherry tomatoes) 

Angelo (sauteed pork) 

*Fabio (chicken cacciatorre with polenta)

The cheftestant teams will cook in shifts in Rao's small kitchen. As team Dino cook, we see flames. Tiffany's polenta is on fire!  No, really - it's on fire!  She manages to put out most of the polenta and doesn't totally screw it up.  Antonia mentions that her dad is Sicilian so she can't mess up this challenge. I don't really think her dad would "whack" her over bad mussels. Maybe he'll just hire Sal Monella to bust up her kneecaps or something. 

At the dinner table, we meet Tony Bourdain, Nicky the Bartender at Rao's, Padma, Tom Colicchio and Lorraine Braco from Sopranos and Good Fellas! 

Team "Dino" serves up their antipasti. Tony Bourdain liked Carla's soup. Tom Colicchio notes that only a non-Italian would call Italian sausage "Italian sausage" (true- in New York there's only hot or sweet, assuming all sausage served after breakfast is Italian).  The gals of Team Dino score!

Team "Junior" serve their primi course. Tom notes there's no sauce in Dale's dish. Lorraine Braco says that if her boyfriend made Dale's dish he wouldn't get laid (ouch!). Tony Bourdain notes Tre's risotto is too busy and Mike's rigatoni is uncooked. He likens Mike's rigatoni to the steam tray at your worst enemy's wedding and wonders how three professional chefs can f**k up the pasta course (double ouch!).

Team "Frankie No" are up at bat. The guys fare well and Tony Bourdain says that Fabio's polenta wiped away the stain of the previous course. Wow! Tonight is full of great quips!

Judges Table

Antonia, Carla, Fabio and Tiffany are called in as the winners. Tony Bourdain notes that he was in a dark place and Fabio's dish pulled him back into the light and I fall in love all over again. The winner? Antonia for her mussels because it's all about family and love and shellfish. Fabio is not too happy that a plate of steamed mussels beat out his chicken and polenta.

Mike, Dale and Tre are on the chopping block as the worst dishes of the night. Mike does admit to serving bad pasta and the judges give Tre a beat down for his risotto that doesnt "spread" (insert your own risotto joke here).   Tre is given the call to pack his knives and go because, as Tony Bourdain notes, "risotto should be a creamy rice based experience".

Nexk week - The Cheftestants meet Jimmy Kimmel and Carla screams and runs around aimlessly.

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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times, covering the restaurant and bar scene in South Florida. She has been featured on Cooking Channel’s Eat Street and Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race. Doss won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature on what it’s like to wait tables. In a previous life, she appeared off-Broadway and shook many a cocktail as a bartender at venues in South Florida and New York City. When she’s not writing, you can find Doss running some marathon then celebrating at the nearest watering hole.
Contact: Laine Doss