Last night’s episode of Top Chef opened with a show of Antonia’s psychic abilities, as she was apparently able to predict that Padma was going to show up at the chefs’ apartment. Or, or, call us crazy here, but perhaps she saw the producers and cameramen discussing it before Padma arrived. Maybe? Anyway, Padma led them all up to the roof and instructed them to jump off take a ferry to Ellis Island for the Quickfire, where she’d meet them with the guest judge. Unsurprisingly, since we all saw last week’s previews, they actually had to cook on the ferry, using only the ingredients they find on board, and only using the time it took to get to Ellis Island. “It could take five minutes or it could take five hours,” said Mike, who apparently thought the ferry might be a rowboat.
Naturally the boat kitchen was filled with junk food, but Richard looked for fresh herbs (and probably liquid nitrogen) anyway. Everyone was forced to MacGyver: Carla extracted rosemary for her orange-papaya salad from some rosemary potato chips, while Mike thickened his Cheddar-and-pork-rind soup with bread and Antonia made grilled cheese on the rotating hot-dog cooker. The chefs also took some time out of cooking to put down everyone else’s food. At Ellis Island, Padma and guest judge Dan Barber of Blue Hill (totes the opposite of this kind of food, GET IT? HE’S SO NOT A JUNK-FOOD GUY — SO TONGUE IN CHEEK, BRAVO) declared Carla the winner.
Padma then shared some Ellis Island history as a segue into the elimination challenge, the last in New York. The chefs were instructed to use their family history to create a dish based off their ancestry, handily compiled by a genealogist who researched everyone, which is kind of awesome. They got some research help from secret, special guests: Their families! Carla’s husband, Richard’s wife, and Antonia’s, Tiffany’s, and Mike’s moms walked up, and it was a genuinely happy moment for all … until Mike ruined it by saying he hadn’t seen his mom in six months. It doesn’t take that long to film this, so perhaps he’s got some of his own family issues there? Maybe it’s that his mom doesn’t think he looks at all Italian.
All the chefs had some fun moments with their ancestry reports (Richard loves Worcestershire sauce, and he has family from there; Carla’s great-great-grandfather was in the Civil War), but none so much as Mike and Antonia, who discovered that they are distant cousins. Antonia took this first family moment to humiliate Mike by showing everyone a photo of him in a pink and green unitard from dance class, quite possibly the best child photo we’ve ever seen.
As they got cooking, it became clear that this was one challenge the chefs were really taking seriously, and it seemed to be more because of the presence of family than for the opportunity to move on to the finals, which was sweet (Carla even used liquid nitrogen!). Mike honored his grandmother’s memory with braised-pork ragu over potato gnocchi and whipped burrata cheese, while Antonia celebrated her father by making braised veal, rapini leaf, and fava-bean risotto with lemon zest and grated Parmesan. Richard took a page out of his Irish-English-American history and made short ribs with potatoes, fried bone marrow, picked glassworts, and corn puree. Carla and Tiffany both honored their southern roots, making, respectively: braised pork shoulder, fried grits, corn-and-sweet-potato hash, and Cheddar biscuits; braised short ribs with mustard greens, stewed okra with pig feet, and oxtail marmalade.
The judges (and family members) loved all the dishes, which is what one would expect at this stage of a competition among professional chefs, but sadly hasn’t happened until now. Mike was even genuinely likable for once in his life as he remembered his grandmother, though Richard made a weird angry/confused face for the entire duration of judges’ table. They easily declared Antonia the winner of the challenge and a car, but despite their nitpicking could not find enough fault with anyone to send anyone home … and thus we have a Final Five. Over/under on a double elimination versus an extra episode (and extra commercials for Bethenny Ever After)? You tell us. But, producers, don’t you dare pull that fake-eliminating-Richard trick ever again.
Next week: Not the finale! Padma in a bikini in the Bahamas! Everyone in a bathing suit! Going head-to-head with the chefs who won their respective seasons! Richard has a spiky beard! Fire trucks!