Thursday, September 9, 2010

Can You Smell What the Wok is Cooking? The Top Chef D.C. recap

How could I have been so blind?
All this time, I was focusing on Ed and Tiffany (and to a lesser extent, Angelo and and his mail order bride) when I clearly should’ve been focusing on Ed and Angelo. Theirs is a bromance that dare not speak its name. All they do is fight, makeup, and obsess over each other. It’s totally hot.

I generally love these finale episodes because, invariably, someone has taken the downtime to get an ill-advised haircut (who can forget Fabio’s faux-hawk?) or gain an unflattering amount of weight.
But when they arrive in Singapore, the gang mostly looks the same. Maybe Kelly’s hair is darker? And Ed’s dropped a few lbs?

They get a tour of Singapore with a chap named Seetoh, who wears a jaunty little cap like Gilligan. They taste noodle dishes, and chili crab, and poached chicken in broth and I am totally jealous, considering that American street food is basically hot dogs and rubbery pretzels.

At one point, Angelo says to Ed: “Do you like black cockles?”
To which Ed provocatively replies: “Not as much as you do.”
(Just sayin’ . . .)

After this little gustatory tour is over, they run right into Padma, and something tells me it’s no coincidence.

Quickfire time.
Naturally, it’s to make a dish inspired by Singapore street food.

Then Padma drops a delicious little bomb: The winner gets immunity—unprecedented this late in the game!

“Sorry guys,” says Angelo. You see, he’s crazy with the wok, and, of course, “feels Asian 100 percent.” So he thinks he’s got this in the bag.

For the first of about a dozen times this episode, Ed expresses his desire to beat Angelo.
“I really want to beat Angelo,” he says. You don’t say, Ed.

Kelly, on the other hand, sees Kevin as her primary competition.
“When he brings it, he BRINGS it!” she says. (He must’ve done all of this alleged bringing of it during the commercial breaks because this is news to me.)

So they have this giant table of delicacies to choose from but nothing is labeled and all of the vegetables are hairy and have tentacles (or maybe those are the fish?). They have to taste all of the spices and run around like crazy people, sweating profusely into their woks. (Adds salt!)

Kevin, genius that he is, took the time to learn a bit about Singapore street dialect and even congee (the famous Chinese porridge dish), but didn’t bother to learn to use a wok.

Padma scolds him.
“What’s wrong with you? You’re coming to Singapore for the chance to win $125,000—did anyone tell you that?”
(Oh snap.)
“I don’t have a big enough burner for a wok,” he mutters after she walks away. Also, the dog ate his chopsticks.

Angelo, on the other hand, is such a wok-ologist that he knows about “wok-hay” —the fancy word for the temperature of the wok.

Ed likes to wok around on the weekends and is pretty confident about his stir-fry noodles with steamed lobster and black pepper dish.

And with good reason—Ed wins.

When this happens, a little piece of Angelo dies. You can see it on his face. He attempts a casual smile, which makes it even worse.
The Padma drops yet another bomb: The Elimination challenge is going to be a team challenge.
Angelo tries another smile. It freezes on his face like a death mask.

Food and Wine magazine’s Dana Cowin will be back as guest judge.
The challenge is to make a luncheon for Dana and 80 of her closest friends (who happen to be in Singapore) that highlights the many flavors of Southeast Asia.

The chefs huddle and agree to make one dish each. This seems like a very dumb idea.

Angelo drops one of his cheesy metaphors: “Everyone’s heart’s on the line. This could be your last beat.”
(The guy should seriously consider a collaboration with Michael Bolton.)

At the market, Kelly decides she wants to make fishhead curry. But since she’s never made fishhead curry before—and the store has no convenient frozen fishhead curry box to copy the ingredients off of—she asks the kindly vendor what spices to use. Shameless.

Ed decides to go ahead and make a second dish without telling anyone. (Impressively evil, Ed. Didn’t know you had it in you.)

Ed tries to squeeze past Angelo, who is blocking the aisle.
“Other people are shopping,” he says snippily.
Angelo looks at him funny. “Ever since you got immunity, it’s like you’re a different person,” he says.
The classic, “I don’t even know you any more” lover’s quarrel. Now boys, play nice!

Angelo is obviously totally jealous that Ed has immunity, but he does recognize that it’s a bit of a double-edged sword.
“You have to be motivated. I’m 100 percent on fire. The spark in the forest has been set and those flames are going to be burning.”
(I wonder what key Bolton would set those lyrics to?)

In the kitchen, Angelo is praying to his BFF Jesus and muttering to himself, but Ed is in a conspicuously good mood.
“Downtown Julie Brown!” he says, rushing by with a steaming hot pot. (Is that a thing?)
Angelo takes it as a sign of disrespect.
“It’s all fun and games, Ed,” says Angelo. (Until someone makes an outdated and random Downtown Julie Brown metaphor?)
“I’m definitely happy that I have immunity,” says Ed.
And I believe that Ed is happy to have immunity, but mostly I believe that he is happy that he can rub Angelo’s face in it. At this point, making Angelo’s life miserable seems more important to Ed than winning the competition.
“You’re an asshole,” says Angelo.
Mission accomplished.

Tom comes into the kitchen to check on everyone’s progress.
He can’t believe the bums have only decided to make four dishes.
“I’m already preparing a second dish,” says Ed, all teacher’s-petty.
Tom demands that everyone whip up a second dish.
“That was predictable, huh?” says Ed cheerfully. And it’s truly amazing that no one slaps him in the face.

Angelo finally says it out loud: “Immunity would be nice.”
“Immunity is for suckers!” replies Kevin. Heh.

Kelly is in such a panic that she slices open her hand, covers it in a latex glove, and keeps working, dripping blood onto the floor. Mas macho!

The gang heads back to the Hilton hotel, first stopping for a little lighthearted prawn fishing in the square.
It’s sad, really. Under different circumstances, in a different town, those crazy kids could all be the best of friends.

Luncheon day. The chefs will be preparing the food a la minute, which is basically French for cooked to order.

Angelo is using all the burners, even the ones he doesn’t need.
“It’s the All About Angelo show,” complains Ed.
Angelo ignores him and asks if he can borrow Ed’s spoon.
“It was a gift from my mother,” Ed says, handing it over reluctantly. “She gave it to me.”

He’s proud of his little lie: “I’m extremely sarcastic. People sometimes think I’m being a douchebag." Then he adds hastily, "With Angelo, half the time I am being a douchebag though.”

There’s chaos with the orders, because half the tickets are written in Chinese and Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dom (i.e., the clueless pack of young waiters, who are dressed in unfortunate black-and-white striped shirts) don’t seem particularly motivated, but eventually everyone does get served.

And apparently, the food is top notch.
In particular, the judges love Kelly’s clever guava salad, Angelo’s silky lamb tartare, Kevin’s tapioca porridge (a risk that paid off!) and Ed’s banana fritters with chili, which Gail wanted a mountain of and Tom declared to be the perfect stoner food.

I must confess that, at the beginning of the season, I thought this was a subpar cast of chefs. But they’ve really stepped it up. When you’ve got Dana Cowin describing your food as “yummy,” you’re clearly on to something.

“Best food we’ve had all season,” says Tom.

Which, of course, makes the decision all the more difficult.
So the judges nitpick:
The flavor of Angelo’s spicy shrimp broth was a little too intense.
Kelly’s fish in her curry was a little rough in texture and the red curry could’ve had a little more heat.
Seetoh wanted a little texture in Kevin’s otherwise excellent congee. Maybe a peanut or toasted sesame nut.
Ed did no wrong in the judges eyes.

So it comes as no surprise that . . .Ed wins! Wow. Tiffany must be sending him some of her mojo.

“I’m in the final 3,” says Ed, adding the more important bit (in his mind): “I beat Angelo twice at his own game. I’m definitely happy about that.”

Kelly is convinced she’s going home. Angelo is convinced it’s him.

“Either way, I’m proud of us,” says Kelly. “We worked as a team.”

Indeed, it does come down to Angelo vs. Kelly.
Angelo stands there, tears welling in his eyes. Kelly is, as we established earlier, made of tougher stuff. She’s not crying.

“Kelly. . .please pack your knives and go home.”

With that, Angelo bursts into tears and Kelly makes the classic reality show mistake: Thinking he’s crying over her.

“Oh stop,” she says.

She handles her departure with great grace, thanking the judges for making her a better chef and hugging everyone goodbye.

So it’s down to the 3 Bro-migos. But Padma comes in with a final cliffhanger:
“We need to see all of you back at judge’s table.”
“Even me?” says Ed. Oh Ed. Don’t change.
And. . .scene.

This dramatic twist would’ve worked a lot better if we didn’t see in the previews for next week that the cheftestants would be working with the ghosts of Top Chef past: Hung, Richard, and my arch nemesis Ilan.
Also, Angelo gets sick. And not some metaphorical heart sick because his heart beats to the rhythm of a 1,000 Asians. Really sick.

To be continued. . .

1 comment:

Cliff O'Neill said...

Great minds. I saw "Gilligan" too!

Rooting for deadpan Ed. Though I'm all but certain he won't get it.