Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dinner with Brezhnev: The Top Chef D.C. recap



Andrea wakes up in a good mood. She’s been in the top 2 for the last two challenges and she’s beginning to feel unstoppable.
“I’m in a good place,” she says, practically humming “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar.”

Meanwhile, Angelo is using the “S” word again: Strategy.
“I keep on changing my strategy,” he says. “Keep striving for more.”
Dude, this isn’t Survivor. Shouldn’t your strategy be, like, cooking really, really well?

Speaking of Survivor, the cheftestants are instantly confronted with a table of what Kevin calls “nasty proteins”: alligator, emu, rattlesnake, duck white kidneys (aka testicles).

Andrea is disgusted. But not because she may have to cook duck balls. Because her arch nemesis Michelle Bernstein is the guest judge. You see, Andrea has a restaurant in Miami and so does Michelle.

“I’m not sure if you ate at my restaurant and ate at hers there’d be much difference,” she sniffs.

Thing is, Bernstein has this little thing I like to call a James Beard Award on her side and is, well, pretty famous. Andrea, on the other hand, is a contestant on a game show.

So, as Andrea’s face contorts into a veritable mime’s gallery of expressions—a fake smile, a grimace, a wink, a stare-down—I’m pretty sure Bernstein is thinking: “Now, what was her name again?”

Anyway, they all get to pick their nasty protein and Angelo gets the duck balls, but then he doesn’t because there’s some sort of mid-game switcheroo (did anyone get the point of that?) and now Kevin has the duck balls and Kelly has the emu egg, which is large and green and looks like something from the Flintstones.

“Wait? Which is the yolk and which is the egg white?” Kelly asks Amanda, former keeper of the emu egg.

Amanda has that look on her face like when the waiter brings over one cup of decaf and one cup of regular and clearly has no idea which is which.
“That’s the yolk,” she says half-heartedly.

In a shocking move, Kenny is doing alligator 2-ways.
(Because normally he likes to present simple, straight-forward preparations.)

But the Bottom 3 are Stephen, with his insipid frog’s legs and Alex, with his chewy ostrich, and, yes, Andrea with her tough wild boar.
“I’m being called out by Michelle on national TV,” she moans. She had a nightmare like this once.

Top 3?
Tamesha, with her duck tongue, Amanda, who killed the llama (figuratively speaking), and Kelly, who mastered the emu egg with a simple omelet.

And the winner is. . . the sponsors! Because we cut to a commercial break. When we come back, there’s a random outdoor shot of some dudes playing basketball, with a few cherry blossoms in the frame. If the camera man’s job was to photograph the majesty of the D.C. cherry blossom, he failed.

The real winner is Kelly, with her silky omelet, that looked runny and undercooked to me. But what do I know? At least it had goat milk cheese and I could pretty much eat your foot if it was coated in goat milk cheese.

Anyway, Kelly is sent home for the rest of episode, or something like that. Because I swear, she is never seen again.

So the Elimination Challenge is called the Cold War (guess they couldn’t come up with a clever War on Terror-related food contest) and the cheftestants have to make a dish “best served cold.”

The twist here is that they will be splitting into two groups and judging each other’s dishes. Ha. Positively evil.

Then, they get to wander around the USS Sequoia, basically the boat version of Airforce One. (Because boats were so crucial to the Cold War?)

So Angelo is going around helping everyone with their ideas. Is this his aforementioned strategy? Or just Angelo being a know-it-all? Discuss among yourselves.

Kenny is freaked out by the whole “jury of your peers” thing, because he thinks that the other cheftestants will try to sabotage him.

“Kenny is so paranoid,” I write in my notes. (Oh, how young I was then.)

Amanda is making sure that everyone realizes just how truly, terribly, unbelievably, mind-blowingly horrible this judging situation is: “No one realizes how hurtful, vulnerable, and scary the impending challenge is,” she says. But Amanda does. Oh yes she does.

Tamesha can’t stand Amanda. “I could strangle her in a heartbeat,” she says, with a vaguely sociopathic calm.

Meanwhile, Michelle Bernstein is so totally in Andrea’s head. Girl can’t concentrate. Honey, if you let Michele Bernstein throw you off your game, the communists win.

Judgment Day.
The first team is Kenny, Kevin, Ed, Amanda, and Alex.
The judges, the, are Angelo Tamesha, Andrea, Tiffany, and Stephen. And suffice it to say, they make Simon Colwell seem like Paula Abdul.

Kenny’s duo of grilled lamb (what you were expecting a “single” of lamb?) is deemed “chewy” by Tiffany and his okra is called “slimy” by Angelo.

Alex’s sous vide lamb with beets and tzatiki is up next.
Tamesha found the tzatiki “heavy” and Andrea thought the beets lacked salt and texture.

As for Amanda’s chicken galantine?
Tamesha thought it needed salt.
Angelo said, “I could taste the proteins coagulating.” (Number 45 on the least appetizing phrases in the English language!)
Andrea got a big chunk of cartilage in hers.

Kevin’s surf and turf veal and tuna is up next. Stephen felt it “lacked acidity” and Andrea added that it “needs zest.”
At this point, Tom Colicchio could take it no longer. “Whoah. Did nobody taste the Meyer lemon?” he asked. Hello? Acid! “And the tomato added acidity,” he added for good measure.
Let the backtracking commence! On second thought, the peer judges thought Kevin’s dish was an acid-y delight.

Final dish? Ed’s sockeye salmon on pumpernickel with vichysoisse (pictured). So, were the peer judges chastened by their recent run-in with Tom’s common sense?
“I found the pumpernickel to be a dry sponge,” complained Angelo. “It wasn’t pleasant.”
“The lemon pieces were too big,” noted Tamesha.
That would be a no.

Now it was time to determine the most/least successful.
Although clearly Amanda, with her coagulating proteins and giant piece of nasty cartilage had the worst dish, the cheftestants decide to bestow that dishonor on Kenny. So, huh, he WASN’T paranoid after all. My bad.

Most successful? Acid Master Kevin.

Turnabout is a bitch, so Team B is up next.

“You should’ve heard what they said about your food,” says Tom to the new crop of judges. He says it in a twinkly, ironic way, as though he’s only joking. We know better.

First up, Tiffany with her ahi tuna and gazpacho
Amanda declares the gazpacho flavors to be excellent—and cartilage free!
Alex notes that it is “beautifully prepared tuna, perfectly seared.”

I like this team better.

Next, Andrea’s trio of tartares.

Kenny: The beef needed more seasoning.
Ed: It needed a little more something on each component.
Michelle Bernstein: Wait, who is Andrea again?


Stephen’s chilled beef with crispy rice is up next.
Kenny put down his fork: “I’m not wanting to take another bite,” he grumbles.
Says Ed: “I couldn’t taste the beef at all. It was like that old commercial, ‘Where’s the Beef?’”

Everyone takes a bite of Tamesha’s scallop with pickled rhubarb and something called long pepper and pretty much gags.
“It’s too spicy!” chokes Amanda.
“The scallop texture was . . .off,” says Kenny. (For a man worried about being thrown under the bus by his fellow contestants, he’s racking up a lot of road kill himself.)

Finally, Angelo’s sockeye salmon with cilantro.
“I couldn’t appreciate the flavor of the salmon,” says Kenny. (If that’s the worst dis Kenny could come up with, I get the feeling that Angelo’s dish is actually pretty good.)
“We’ve seen a lot of Asian dishes and they’re all beginning to run together,” says Amanda. Ooooh, burn.

Most successful? Tiffany.
Least successful? Tamesha.

So the top two, Tiffany and Kevin are sent before the (real) judges.
Tiffany’s tuna is expertly prepared but Kevin’s surf and turf is deemed delectable and he wins! And gets a trip to Hawaii. Somehow, he thinks Top Chef is springing for his whole family to go. Not sure that was part of the arrangement.

Bottom two are the predetermined Kenny and Tamesha.
And Kenny is still ticked.

“I feel that I’m here because I’m a threat to the other competitors,” he says.
But Michelle Bernstein, who feels that her mission in life is to the crush the egos of Top Chef contestants, replies: “I didn’t enjoy any of the flavors.”

Nonetheless, it is Tamesha, with her crazy long pepper and mushy scallop, who has to pack her knives and go home.
And suddenly even she is beginning to question Romeo’s motives.
“Angelo is a mentor,” she says warily. “But I wish I had taken more control over my own dish.”

Call me naïve, but I don’t really think that Angelo was trying to sabotage his fellow cheftestants, do you? Especially not Tamesha, whom he had the hots for. Am I total sucker for feeling this way?

Only time will tell. But the good news? Next week, people say pea puree a lot!