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'Top Chef All-Stars': Are these cooks kidding?

December 9, 2010 |  6:30 am

Top Chef
The second episode of "Top Chef All-Stars" proved several things, some more interesting than the evident fact that you need to at least sever an artery to require real medical attention.

1. Jennifer must have had a very poor night’s sleep in the American Museum of Natural History, waking up with more bad attitude than Mr. T’s B.A. Baracus in “The A-Team.”

2. Although all of the remaining 17 contestants must have been children at one point (although we suspect Fabio and Dale T. might have been born as surly teenagers), the cooks seem to have forgotten what people younger than 10 actually like to eat.

3. When chefs as talented as Jamie, Tiffany and Antonia are nearly sent home in an elimination challenge, the competition is a lot more extreme than in any previous season.

As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld remarked about looting in Iraq, “Stuff happens,” but even with the pressures of cooking, on little sleep and with limited ingredients, for 150 children, many of the mistakes made by the chefs were almost inexcusable.

Salmon with shrimp sauce, gazpacho and potato gnocchi might be the kind of dishes you’d love to see at a Mother’s Day buffet at the Four Seasons, but what kind of cook believes this is what school-age kids want to dig into after a sleepover? The quickfire test, in which the contestants were asked to prepare a late-night snack for their young diners, delivered some equally mystifying picks, including Casey’s chocolate and bacon lasagna, Jennifer’s bacon ginger taffy and Tiffany’s unmanageable coconut rice pudding.

The overly cultured menu choices highlighted one of the dilemmas (if not traps) of the show’s format: Are you cooking for your customers or the judges? Jennifer, before being sent home for a grim slab of pork with a lifeless dusting of egg, said it was the latter. “I don’t cook for other people anymore,” she imperiously declared.

It was the first of her poor decisions; the second being to think that quarreling would somehow change the judge’s lowly opinion of her and Jamie’s dish. It was like an attorney arguing with a jury after it’s sent her client to prison — it won’t help the offender, and it only makes you look desperate. “It wasn’t bland,” she insisted of her dish. “The egg was seasoned perfectly.” It was only the chafing dish warm-up for her full-boil, Christian Bale-worthy F-bomb meltdown away from the judges, one of the least classy exits in the show’s brief history.

That Marcel, Richard and Angelo won for their banana parfait was fitting. The dish not only looked beautiful, but also actually fulfilled the assignment: Make breakfast for kids. It wasn’t that hard, really. Jamie having to come back from the hospital with only two stitches in her cut thumb — that’s apparently a tougher thing to order up.

-- John Horn

Photo: From left, Joe Jonas, Padma Lakshmi, Casey Thompson. Credit: Myles Aronowitz / Bravo