Thursday, August 12, 2010

Oh nooo! They Killed Kenny! The Top Chef D.C. recap

As the show starts, Kenny is wondering why he’s been consistently in the middle of the pack. Don’t they know that he’s The Beast, aka Black Magic, aka Big Daddy, aka Black Lightening, aka Black Angus?!?
It’s not like just anybody can have a whole series of nicknames using the word “black”, you know!
Kenny decides that he is going to stop pussyfooting around and unleash the true Beast. Hide the women and children.

So the Quickfire guest judge is a woman who has always struck me as someone who indulges in all the sensual pleasures of life . . . Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

When I saw the blindfolds at first I thought it was going to be my favorite challenge—the one where they have to identify food by taste alone. But instead it was the tag-team dish challenge.

Ed was the leader of Team Red. When he picked Tiffany first they both got all cute and blushy together. (Those two!)

Kevin was the leader of Team Blue, and promptly picked The Beast.

The Brazil of cheftestants was clearly Alex—who was picked last, by Ed.

So the teams went like this:

Red Team: Ed, Angelo, Tiffany, and Alex.


Blue Team: Kevin, Kenny, Kelly, and Kamanda

Immediately everyone on Team Red strategizes how they can minimize Alex’s damage. They decide to put him second in line—not involved in the all-important conceptualization of the dish but with ample time to recover when he (inevitably) screws up.

Except, Alex screws up in the one way that can simply not be undone: He prematurely salts the fish.

So later, when Angelo salts the red snapper at the appropriate time, it’s too late. They’ve got double-salt fish. (Sounds like a tasty Chinese dish, no? Maybe Angelo could’ve improvised.)

Meanwhile, Team Blue is like a finely oiled machine. They’re reading each other’s minds. They’re blanching, sautéing, and spicing in perfect harmony. As such, their shrimp with capellini over a mustard sauce goes off without a hitch.

Nancy Pelosi likes both dishes but very judiciously notes that Team Red’s dish is a “little salty.”

Then she says, “I think that the advantage—and it would only be a slight advantage—would go to Team Blue. . .”

They get money, but no immunity, natch.

Onto Restaurant Wars.

But first, a mid-show ad for the Toyota Sienna:
“So we get into the Toyota Sienna,” says adenoidal Ed, who does not have a future in commercial voiceovers.
As the contestants pile into the car, the camera lingers lovingly over the leather interior, sliding doors, and power locks. It’s minivan porn.

At Food Depot, Team Blue is already getting into their default stance: All superior and judgmental about Team Red.

“They’re just grabbing stuff and putting it in their cart,” snickers Black Angus. Kamanda nods sagely.

So Team Red is now called EVOO (which stands for extra virgin olive oil and makes me think of Rachel Ray, which is an instant FAIL.)

Team Blue is called Restaurant 2121, because that’s the address where the cheftestants are living. Team Blue applauds themselves for this stroke of brilliance.

Team Red, still trying to negate the Alex Factor, decides to put him in the front of the house. Considering that he seems like some sort of twitchy, low-level flunky in the Russian mafia, I’m not sure this is the wisest of ideas, but I do appreciate the need to keep him away for the food.

And keep him away from the food, they do. They kind of let Alex do a little butchering (which he promptly butchers). And then they let him do a little de-boning, which he also screws up. At least this time, no one’s wearing blindfolds.

Angelo, the executive chef of EVOO, does a lot of yelling.

“There’s no talking in the kitchen!” he barks at one point.

Then, he goes all Incredible Hulk on Alex: “You won’t like me when I’m mad.”

(A side note: One of Team Red’s dishes actually involves pea puree! No one takes note of the irony.)

Once again, Team Blue (executive chef Black Lightening) seems far more preoccupied with how badly Team Red is doing than they do with their own performance. And they're kind of all getting along in a show offy way. Lot's of high fives and conspicuous demonstrations of team unity.

“I think it’s a dangerous thing to be overly confident,” says Angelo, ominously.

AT EVOO’s front of the house, Alex is doing his best Mommy Dearest impression for the waitstaff, making them wipe down every table, glass, and chair:
“No. . . Paper. . .Napkins!”

I think you can tell a lot about a person when they are put in a position of power. Surprise, surprise: Alex is a dick.

The judges, including notoriously picky food critic Frank Bruni, arrive at EVOO first. Alex is already trying to placate a dissatisfied customer and totally misses the fact that the judges are standing right there. Luckily, one of the waiters ushers them to a table. (Alex really didn’t deserve such kindness.)

So things don’t go perfectly for EVOO. While the judges like Angelo’s confit of tomato soup, they’re not mad for Tiffany’s crudo of black bass and snapper.
Then they start getting antsy because the second course hasn’t arrived. They even fall for the patented restaurant fake-out when a tray of food goes by.
Doh! Going to the next table.

Finally, they get their meal, but Alex accidentally calls the lambchop a porkchop. It’s such an obvious Freudian slip, because the lambchop was allegedly his entree (each team member must be fully responsible for at least one dish) but he clearly didn’t make it. That was the guilt talking, my friend.

When the judges leave, Tom says, “We didn’t get a hello. Let’s see if we get a good bye.”
This time Alex is not preoccupied. He just lets the judges walk out without so much as a wave. They practically brush by him on the way out.

At Restaurant 2121, Kelly gets assigned front of the house. She’s none too happy about it, but she takes one for the team. Needless to say, she’s far more pleasant to deal with than Alex. Unfortunately for her, her sweet corn soup is neither particularly sweet nor particularly corny.

Black Magic’s beet salad, as is his wont, is overly complicated. Tom C evokes Coco Chanel’s “remove one accessory” edict. (Brilliant!) With all of Kenny’s black-themed nicknames, “Little Black Dress” is clearly not one of them.

Everyone pretty much wants to marry Kevin’s pan-roasted halibut, which does look delicious.

But Big Daddy’s fried goat cheese is an abomination.

“It’s a horror show!” says Frank Bruni.

The meal ends. Kelly says goodnight to the judges and shows them to the door.

Judgment time.
Team EVOO is called first.

“If we’re in the bottom, my mind will be BLOWN,” says the Beast.

Prepare to have your mind blown, Black Angus. Because Team EVOO wins.

The funny thing is, Kenny’s confidence (or shall we say, delusions of grandeur?) is so contagious, even I believed his team was going to win. But empirically speaking, when you put the two best chefs—that would be Angelo and Ed—on one team that team has a marked advantage.

Alex’s flop sweat and rudeness notwithstanding, the judges were pretty much impressed with EVOO across the board, but give the nod to Ed for his turbot with eggplant caviar.
There’s a slightly awkward discussion of who was responsible for “Alex’s” lambchop, but it passes quickly.

Ed gets a giant bottle of wine and a trip to a vineyard for his win. (Sorry, I didn’t catch the name of the vineyard. But giant bottles of wine are only surpassed by giant fake checks as prizes, if you ask me.)

Time for Restaurant 2121 to face the music.
Kamanda’s meat is overcooked and underjuicy.
Kenny’s beet salad is the Hamburger Helper of salads. (No, I have no idea what that means either.)
Kenny’s goat cheese is a monstrosity.
Kevin’s halibut: Yummy yummy in their tummies.

But here’s where it gets good:
Kenny calls out Alex for not doing any actual cooking. Seems like a punk move, but I kind of respect it. If you’re going to defend yourself, it’s now or never.
His teammates all back him up.

“So you’re saying that Alex didn’t cook his dish?” says Tom.
Yeah, Tom, that’s exactly what he’s saying.

They’re sent back to the waiting room, where there’s some strange editing, because suddenly they are already in the middle of a fight.
Kevin is going all Angelo on Alex: “Your ass should be going home!” he yells. “You know you didn’t make that dish!”
Alex has the calm demeanor of a man who knows that a Russian mob hit is just a phone call away.

Team EVOO looks guilty. “There’s no need to justify anything,” says Angelo testily.

Could a member of the winning team actually be sent home?!?

No. . only Restaurant 2121 is sent back for final review.

Kevin is golden.
Kelly’s soup was mediocre but she was the hostess with the mostess. She’s safe.
So it comes down to Kamanda and Kenny.

It’s so obvious that Kamanda is going home, I’m practically mouthing the words with the judges.

And then the darndest thing happens: Black Magic is hurtled into a Black Hole.

I must say, I really didn’t see that coming. (Neither did Kenny, judging from the hilariously bummed out picture, above.) On the other hand, Kenny really hasn’t been that good for weeks, has he? He’s a brilliant example of how far swagger will take you. In the case of Top Chef Season 7, that would be eighth place.


Jennifer Mendelsohn said...

Spot on again, Max.

I'm only sad you didn't mention my favorite line of the night: Frank Bruni telling Kelly she had "charisma, but it was clumsy charisma." Which is totally what I'm going to name a band some day.

Cliff O'Neill said...

Yeah, I know I'm late. Really, really late.

Still ... The bloom was off the rose for Kenny weeks ago. About the time he pulled out his umpteenth duo of somethingorother and didn't get that he wasn't the greatest thing in the universe.