The chefs head to the kitchen, where they are greeted by Padma and the assistant White House chef, Sam Cass. I will note from the very beginning that throughout the episode I found Sam Cass to be alternately attractive and slightly creepy. Seems a nice enough guy though.
Somehow Padma manages to sheepishly spit out the goal of the quickfire challenge: create a bipartisan-dwich. Because the chefs in Top Chef: Hail to the Chef/Season 7/DC are required to be political about their cooking, and I am glimpsing an alarming trend in which each and every challenge must tie into governing somehow. An elimination challenge in which the chefs are required to create elephant- and donkey-themed dishes. A quickfire in which the chefs must create an amuse-bouche in the shape of a pentagon. A restaurant wars challenge in which each restaurant is meant to cater to either Republicans or Democrats. PLEASE TELL ME THIS WILL NOT COME TO PASS!
As the chefs all wonder about the inevitable twist, Padma informs them that they'll be working in pairs, as determined by a knife pull. The "one more thing" ends up being a monstrosity of an apron that the chefs have to wear with their partner, thus requiring them to work with one hand. I'm pretty sure Sam Cass hated himself a little as he gamely shrugged that thing on with Padma.
As Angelo proclaims that a loaf of bread is "sexy", his partner Tracey confesses that she has a big crush on him. She's thrilled that she gets to have an arm around him for 30 minutes. I have lost respect for Tracey's judgment.
During the frantic preparation period, Amanda can barely function using her left hand. Alex has major knife anxiety. Kelly and Arnold are the only pair that seem to work seemlessly. Angelo describes his food as sexy at least three times, and then crushes Tracey's heart by referring to her as his "twin sister."
Kenny and Ed's korean chili-rubbed ahi tuna open-faced bipartisan-dwich on whole-grain bread with a cucumber mango slaw looked AMAZING, but yet again, Angelo pulled off another victory. I am getting tired of this business.
Thankfully, I was brought out of my funk by the announcement of the elimination challenge. The chefs are divided into four teams, and will be given $130 to prepare a school lunch for fifty students (a budget of $2.60 per child). Each chef will be responsible for one dish that's part of a four-course meal. Now, I know that this challenge was undoubtedly inspired or at the least influenced by Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, but that's a good thing! As winners of the quickfire, Tracey and Angelo are allowed to select the remaining two chefs on their team. With barely a thought, they choose Ed and Kenny. The naive, innocent side of me immediately applauded the choice. It makes sense to pick the strongest competition (Kenny) to be on your team, right? It couldn't be that Angelo snatched an opportunity to sabotage Kenny, full well-knowing that he was safe from elimination no matter what he makes. Right?
All the teams begin to furiously plan. Chefs with children (Timothy and Kevin) have a clear advantage. Amanda reveals a bit of her crazy (which has thus far been dormant) by ruthlessly cutting Tanesha's gnocchi idea down (to be fair, she was probably right), and using wild hand gestures to demonstrate how she'll braise chicken thighs in sherry, and the kids will LOVE it. Stephen and Jacqueline stare at her dubiously, but don't put up too much of a fight. Kelly takes charge of her group, to the chagrin of Tiffany and Arnold. Though she's right on target about fat and calories, her domineering attitude quite justifiably rubs her teammates the wrong way.
Not surprisingly, the shopping experience is difficult for the chefs. They're taking off every little item they can in an effort to meet the budget. It's nice to see a few of the chefs acknowledge what public schools and parents have to go through every day.
Prep time basically consists of Kelly announcing shrilly that the pork carnitas tacos are HER IDEA. Kevin's team gets the prize for working together the best. Kenny expresses concern about all of the dishes working well together. Though he's my favorite, if there is anything to be learned over the seasons, it's that you should speak up when you're genuinely worried about your team's dishes. Be assertive without being Kelly, in other words.
At the school, the chefs panic about kitchen space, and Angelo's special air gun (required to produce peanut butter mousse) falters. Kelly continues to broadcast her ownership of the carnitas dish. Tom actually prefers for the chefs to realize that they're responsible for one dish each, but I think even he would've been irritated with Kelly's shenanigans.
Tom, Padma, Gail, and Sam Cass enter the cafeteria with a horde of middle schoolers. They admire the "picnic" lunch provided by Alex, Andrea, Kevin, and Tim, particularly Kevin's "whipped cream" yogurt. Angelo's team is missing a critical component, vegetables. Kelly, Arnold, Lynne, and Tiffany are wildly popular, due to Kelly's "solid" taco and Arnold's colorful salad. Amanda's chicken thigh in sherry jus looks hideous. Just hideous. Jacqueline's strawberry banana pudding is overwhelmingly sweet.
At judges' table, Angelo and Amanda's teams are deemed the worst. Angelo was clearly unfazed, staring at the ceiling while the other chefs offered their excuses and feigning ignorance when Tom asked about sabotage. Sam chastised Amanda for thinking the budget was large enough to include the sherry purchase. Kenny was called out for incorrectly identifying a tomato as a vegetable and then for not being assertive about the menu. Amanda found herself in a shouting match with Ed and Kenny about serving sherry to the underaged.
After Tom confessed his suspicion that some "gamesmanship" was involved in Angelo's paltry effort, the judges set about choosing a winner. There was a clear favorite in Kelly's carnitas. Apparently tooting your own horn incessantly occasionally pays off. When it came time to eliminate a contestant, the judges couldn't get past the fact that even though the disgusting yellow blob of sherry-soaked chicken thigh was avoided by the preteens like the plague, Jacqueline used TWO POUNDS of sugar in her pudding. An unforgivable sin, as it turns out. It's just as well-I hate to sound prejudiced, but as I've mentioned before, home cooks and caterers really do not have the best track record on Top Chef. They just can't hang with the restaurant chefs, who are more accustomed to the quick pace and are more likely to be spontaneous.
I am migrating to Team Kevin. He's the chef in a restaurant right down the road from my beloved SIL in New Jersey!
Perhaps I'll have episodes 3 and 4 done by the end of the week. You probably shouldn't hold your breath :)