You think you really know a bunch of people and then suddenly—poof!—they’re all strangers to you.
Angelo has a fiancée? Who lives in Russia?
Ed has a girlfriend? Who’s been clamoring to go on vacation with him?
Amanda sees Alex as a “wise old Jewish uncle”?
Wait. Alex is . . . Jewish?!? (God. I hope we’re not related.)
The whole girlfriend thing is especially perplexing, since Ed always looks like a little piece of him dies when Tiffany mentions her fiancée and Angelo has been the mack daddy of the house.
Anyhoo, Wiley Dufresne and his magical sideburns is the guest judge, which usually means better living through science, but today has to do with mystery boxes filled with ingredients.
One by one, boxes with big question marks on them (cause it’s a mystery, get it?) are delivered by hot men in sunglasses and dark suits who are supposed to look like Secret Service agents but instead look like strippers at a bachelorette party.
Out of the first box: Fish, fava beans, and hominy.
Everyone plays keep the can opener away from Alex, except for Amanda, who suddenly sees him as her rebbe.
The next box arrives: Squid and black garlic.
“I’ve never used black garlic before!” says Kelly. I’m noticing a trend with this woman. I think she has about 6 ingredients in her restaurant’s pantry.
Then a third box! Ramps and passion fruit.
The contestants are really freaking out at this point.
Angelo is talking to himself: “Should I do hot or cold? Should I push myself or not?”
Alex admits: “I’m not sure what my dish is!” (And this is different from all the other challenges. . .how?)
Amanda is baffled by the ramps: “Am I supposed to use the leafs or the stem?”
Just when it seems like things can’t get any more insane, a final mystery box arrives containing—whew!—good ol’ fashioned spuds.
Time’s up. The contestants look like they just ran the Boston Marathon. They’re out of breath. Strands of wet hair are sticking to their foreheads. “I’m sweating into my food,” says Angelo. Gross.
Wiley and Padma try the food.
“Is this oil or butter?” Wiley asks Amanda.
“Both,” she says.
Wiley nods, wiping his (oily) hands on a napkin.
The least successful are Alex (the components didn’t come together) and oily Amanda.
The favorites are Tiffany (the components did come together) and Kevin (with his clever puree).
The winner (of $10,000!) is Tiffany. She is on fiiire.
The Elimination Challenge will take place at the CIA headquarters. Each chef will be given a classic dish that they will have to disguise in an innovative way.
I like it.
Amanda gets French onion soup.
Kelly gets Kung Pao Chicken.
Kevin gets cobb salad.
Angelo gets beef Wellington.
Tiffany gets gyro. (Which she pronounces, properly, as “eeero.” I’ve never been able to bring myself to do that.)
Ed gets chicken cordon bleu.
Alex gets veal parmesan.
Off to the supermarket they go, where we find out that, yup, Kelly has never had Kung Pao chicken before. Her strategy is to find some frozen Kung Pao and copy its ingredients. The true sign of a master chef.
Angelo has totally lost his groove. He buys pre-made puff pastry for his beef Wellington. Everyone knows that buying pre-made food is the Top Chef kiss of death. What the hell is he thinking?
Back in the kitchen, the cheftestants are exchanging Spy names. Ed says that his is Muffin Winthrop. I’m pretty sure that’s actually his porn name. (First pet + street you grew up on = porn name, NOT spy name.)
Turns out, Amanda is a big CIA fangirl. They’re, like, her Jonas Brothers. She is positively squee-ing over the fact that she’ll be cooking for Leon Panetta (spy name: Fluffy Summerview) and his CIA cronies.
Alex is a fan of Maxwell Smart. “He had a phone for a shoe,” he says, in that creepy Alex voice. (Alex has a way of making even the most innocuous statement sound disturbing.)
Off they go to the CIA, where they all have to get security clearance. This is serious stuff.
Kelly overcooks her rice, because she’s used to the Colorado altitude, where it takes an hour to cook rice. Tiffany calmly steps in to help. She seems to have found all the mojo that Angelo has lost.
First up, Angelo’s beef Wellington, which looks a lot like… beef Wellington.
“It’s a poor disguise,” says Leon Panetta. “They would’ve captured this spy.”
Also, no one is fooled by the storebought pastry.
Amanda’s French onion soup also gets low grades.
Chef Ripert (spy name: Pepe St. Germain) calls Tiffany’s gyro “the most elegant gyro I’ve ever had in my life.”
Then something exciting happens. An aide slips Leon Panetta a note. And Panetta looks at it and says, “Business calls.”
He has to go. Because it’s a matter of NATIONAL SECURITY, people! He can’t even finish his fake cobb salad, because LIVES ARE ON THE LINE!!!
This is truly the most action Top Chef has seen ever.
Top 3: Tiffany, Ed, and Kelly.
And the winner is. . .Tiffany! Don’t look now, boys and girls, but we have our new frontrunner.
Bottom 3: Angelo, Alex, and Amanda.
“You took a soup and made a soup,” they tell Amanda. (Her disguise was the culinary version of a fake mustache and glasses.)
“The pastry was dry. The plating was sloppy. And your beef Wellington would make Julia Child sad,” they tell Angelo.
“Turns out, your disguise was poor execution,” they tell Alex.
Suddenly, Tom (spy name: Wolf Underwood) is obsessed with 7th place.
“Do any of you think you are the seventh best in this competition?” Tom asks.
The three shake their heads adamantly.
“I’m more like 11th best,” Alex is thinking.
“I’m probably 9th best, tops,” thinks Amanda.
They’re sent back to the waiting room. Everyone is hoping that Angelo gets the boot, because mojo lost can be mojo re-gained.
Angelo is looking at his feet. “I should go home. I should,” he sighs. I miss the old bad-ass Angelo.
The judges are not happy with Angelo’s execution. At all.
“He could do better than that,” says Wiley (spy name: Shaggy Dunston).
“Anyone can do better than that who knows how to cook,” says Eric Ripert. Ouch.
They also aren’t fans of Amanda’s lame French onion soup .
“Four hours is a long time to make dishwater,” Eric says.
They conspicuously don’t say much about Alex’s tough veal, although Tom says that he's had better tortellini out of a box.
They’re summoned back in.
“In all your cases, your cover was blown,” says Tom.
“You disguised yourself as really poor cooks. One of you will be 7th best.”
(Again with the 7th best?)
And—finally!—Alex is packing his knives and leaving, says Padma. (Spy name: Kitty Bangar).
Make it quick, Alex. The very thought of that dude handling knives gives me the heebie jeebies.