Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mussel Weakness: The Top Chef D.C. recap

What have they done to my Anthony Bourdain? In a season in which Eric Ripert was unfailingly polite, and we felt the absence of Toby Young, a man who never met a contestant (or a metaphor) he didn't want to torture, I was really looking forward to Bourdain bringing the thunder. But he was. . .nice? Complimentary? Even gushy?
Don’t get me wrong. It's not that I didn't like this kinder, gentler Bourdain, it’s just that I’d never met him before.

Anyway, more on Bizarro Bourdain later.

Dana Cowin from Food and Wine magazine is the Quickfire guest judge. (Ed is friends with her on Facebook, which is not a conflict of interest, because she has no idea who he is.)

The challenge is to pick a bottle of wine and prepare a dish that complements the wine.

Tiffany is concerned, because she says that she always lets the “wine guy” at her restaurant handle pairings. I sort of love that she didn’t say sommelier.

Angelo, a man of many passions that include, in no particular order: Tony Robbins, the Far East, making love to short ribs, and Russian mail order brides, loves wine and feels that he has a palate for pairings. We shall see.

Poor Kevin got the bright idea to make pork belly in an hour, but, with 7 minutes to go, it was clear that his goose was cooked (or, more accurately, his pork was undercooked). He grabbed some quail and broke down that quail and sautéed it like a man possessed. It was quite an impressive display.

That being said, his quail was one of the least successful pairings.
Also, Kelly probably knew she was in trouble when, after she lovingly describing her blue cheese emulsion, Dana Cowin asked her: “What’s that foam?”
“It’s the blue cheese emulsion,” said Kelly, sheepishly.
Kelly, indeed, also had one of the least successful pairings.

Top two? Angelo, with his sautéed foie gras, and Tiffany (again!) with her Wagyu tenderloin.

And the winner is. . .Angelo!
“Maybe he has his mojo back,” says Kevin, ominously.

Now a very special announcement from Padma: For the first time ever, the final four will be traveling out of the country—to Singapore!

This pleases Angelo immensely, because “I feel Asian inside 100 percent,” he tells us. “I tingle when I think about it.”
(I think there’s some sort of ointment he can take for that.)

But everyone else does the math. 5 cheftestants. 4 going to Singapore. That means one poor schlub is going to be the contestant who just missed going to East Asia. Ouch.

There aren’t that many places farther away than Singapore, but one of those places is outerspace!
The contestants are going to NASA.
Kelly totally geeks out because it turns out she went to Space Camp. “I’m kind of a space nerd,” she says. That is the cutest thing ever.

At the Goddard Space Station they meet a food scientist who wears braces. She has to be in her 50s and I kind of feel sad that she waited 5 decades to get those braces and, of course, THEN she hits it big on national TV.

Some actual astronauts, floating around in actual space, give the challenge:
Make food that can be freeze dried and served in zero gravity.

“Shoot for the stars!” they say.

A few helpful hints from the astronauts:
No big pieces.
Not a lot of sugar.
Spice is good.
No adult diaper jokes.
No Tang.
(I just added those last two helpfully myself.)

The food will be judged by a panel that includes astronauts, NASA scientists, and noted food critic Buzz Aldrin.

“I’m so excited!” says Kelly. And she means it.

At Whole Foods, Angelo almost runs over an innocent bystander with his cart.

Tom comes to check on their progress in the kitchen.
He asks Angelo what he’s making:
“I’m braising short ribs,” says Angelo.
And with that, Tom makes a face.
Angelo notices the face. We at home notice the face. Everyone with a set of eyes notices the face.
“What was that . . .” Angelo starts, then stops, thinking better of it.
But he can’t help himself: “What was that face?” he demands.
“Nothing,” lies Tom.
Where’s Tim Roth when you need him?
(By the way, the mystery of Tom’s face is never solved. Maybe he thought short ribs couldn’t be freeze dried? Or maybe he passed some gas.)

Something terrible happened to Tiffany’s mussels. They froze solid, thus rendering them inedible.

“We have a problem,” says Tiffany. I rewound twice. Did she really just NOT say “Houston, we have a problem?” Because that is a lost opportunity she’s never going to get back.

To the victor go the spoils, or, in this case, a brand new Toyota Avalon with leather seats that the contestants drive to the dinner. Actually, Angelo drives.
“Take good care of my car,” cracks Kelly. Such a wag.

As mentioned, a man who looks exactly like Anthony Bourdain is one of the guest judges. Also, Buzz Aldrin. (Just in case you were wondering, being the second dude to walk on the moon? Awesome.) Also, poor brace face, who is not only making her national TV debut with braces but will now be picking fried artichoke out of her wires for days.

Kelly goes first.
Her pan roasted halibut with artichoke-fennel barigoule is a hit.
A few of the scientists question whether or not it can be freeze dried.
“If we can put a man on the moon, we can figure out how to freeze dry this,” says Tom. True dat.

Next, Ed’s Moroccan lamb with cous cous croquette.
There’s some grumbling about Ed’s lamb rack. Debris is a bad thing in space.
Chef Ripert thinks too much is happening on Ed’s plate.
But Bizarro Bourdain loves it. “I just want to express my disappointment with my comrade the Ripper over here. I’ve been to Morocco many times and I think Ed nailed it.”
Heh. He called him Ripper.

Kevin’s NY strip with bacon and jalapeno and corn puree is also a hit, but Bourdain thinks it’s too basic.

Tiffany, who has left the mussels out of her dish and is now just serving halibut with coconut curry is next. Everyone likes it, but feels it’s missing something. . .mussels perhaps?

Finally, Angelo’s ginger-lacquered short ribs with pea puree.
(With apologies to Fabio: This is Top Chef, not Top Pea Puree. But what do I know?)
Eric Ripert found it a bit too acidic.
At this point, Bizarro Bourdain had had enough!
“I’m shocked by Ripert’s dark, cynical, negative and snarky world view!” he announces. “It’s all about love and optimism for me now. I thought this dish was very sophisticated. And might be easily adapted to an extraterrestrial situation.”
Who IS this guy?

Evaluation time.
Ripert was especially impressed with Kelly’s artichoke.
“Have you been to Provence?” he asked her. “It shows.”
When they picked Kelly up from the floor, she thanked him for his kind words.

Angelo rambled on about playing a submissive role to his dish and making love to short ribs, but instead of being disgusted by this bit of food porn, Bizarro Bourdain brushed it off good-naturedly.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I just know I loved your dish.”

Indeed, he loved it so much that Angelo won. Mojo rising, indeed!

Elimination is going to be especially tough, because EVERYONE did a great job.
“You made five great dishes,” says Tom. “We’re splitting hairs here.”

At first I think they’ll be sending nobody home. Singapore for everyone!
But barring that, it’s clear to me—and to the entire Top Chef viewing audience—that it is Kevin’s time to go.
First off, he got the loser’s edit: Lots of talk about his family, his wife, his underdog status.
Second, he made a delicious dish, but it was hardly ambitious—even Bizarro Bourdain thought he played it a little too safe. He’d had a great run, but it was clearly time to pack up his knives and go.

And then, suddenly, the unthinkable happened: Tiffany got sent home. Tiffany!?!
How can this be? How did this happen? To quoth Nancy Kerrigan: Why? Why? Why?

Tiffany was supposed to win this thing. Not be sent home right before Singapore. Tiffany is supposed to be crying for joy! Not sadness! She is supposed to continue on in this competition, with the same unpretentiously delicious food, good cheer, and sangfroid she brings to every challenge. Nooooooo!

This sucks, Top Chef! I demand that they rescind your Emmy.
(Oh, congrats on that, by the way.)


Beth Rang said...

No, no, no, no, no! Sorry, but you were completely right. Kevin was supposed to go, not Tiffany!!!!

Jennifer Mendelsohn said...

Am I actually getting smarter, or was it just dumb luck? I knew it would be Tiffany, after the NASA lady with the Jaws from James Bond teeth said there was "too much liquid." Wasn't surprised at all. When I saw headlines saying it was a "shocker" I thought maybe it would be Angelo. Who, it should be pointed out, made a dish that was said to be too sweet by two (I think) judges. When the rules said NOT TOO SWEET. #fail

Looking back, you'll notice they included the footage of Tiffany putting the mussels in the fridge and announcing that they would now be cold. [Cue the ominous, foreshadowing music.]

maxthegirl said...

I noticed that no one mentioned that Angelo's sweet glaze violated one of the basic rules of the challenge.

I have a (slightly grassy knollish) theory that Angelo has been a frontrunner all along. They sort of let him slip back to create drama and now they are building him back up again as we head toward the finale!

Cliff O'Neill said...

Am, as everyone is, crushed about Tiffany.

As for Angelo's sweet glaze, I wondered about that myself. Until I saw it a second time and realized that his "making love" to the glaze comment was in reference to making sure it wouldn't be too sugary.

BTW, love that we both made about the same observations about Angelo's many lives.

Lastly, my _hubby_ shouted "This is not Top Pea Purée!" at the screen at that very moment!