Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"They seem like they're whistling Dixie over there."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Truth be told, I had more than enough time last week to properly recap episode 9, the highly-anticipated Restaurant Wars. I was all finished with the fifth, sixth, seventh, and EIGHTH episodes. If I'm being totally honest, it's mostly because I couldn't bear to get to that elimination. SPOILER ALERT: FORMER SEASON FAVORITE OF KATIE HAS BEEN ELIMINATED! Yes, in a shocking twist, Kenny, one of the few remaining chefs who seems to have enough talent in him to compete with Angelo, was kicked to the proverbial curb. I'll just go ahead and put it out there right now.

I'm not quite awash in sadness, however, though I am always disappointed when weak chefs make it closer to the end than strong ones. As I mentioned in my last recap, I had already developed a sneaking suspicion that Kenny was starting to falter a bit, attempting to disguise lost confidence and general disappointment up in wild and crazy, over the top dishes. I must take heart! Kevin is still here, after all! (Yes, I'll go ahead and spoil another detail: Kevin is not eliminated in episode 10!)

It's a glorious day in DC, as a rumpled Amanda rises and shines, giving herself a pat on the back for still being around. Kenny continues to puzzle over what he's been doing wrong to find himself constantly in the middle.


For the first time in a long while, Padma awaits the cheftestants in the Top Chef kitchen without a sidekick. Neatly laid out on the counters are a series of red and blue (of course!) aprons, each accompanied by a blindfold. It's time for the tag team cookoff, a wonderfully inventive challenge in which each team has 40 minutes to prepare a dish. Each chef will have ten minutes to cook, but during the non-cooking time, the remaining three chefs on the team will be blindfolded, thus completely unaware of what's being prepared for them to work with. To soften the blow of losing immunity at this point in the season, Padma tells the chefs that the winning team will split $10,000, courtesy of Dial Nutriskin (who are inevitably still waiting for a challenge that features special hand-washing techniques for chefs).

Kevin and Ed draw the first and second choice knives, respectively, giving them a chance to shape their teams. Kevin picks his BFF Kenny, and Ed predictably selects wannabe lady love Tiffany. For his next choice, Kevin picks Kelly, giving Ed the chance to snatch up Angelo. I find this to be a perfect example of how important personalities and general relationships are, even during a competition. Kelly is undoubtedly a strong chef, but for pure talent and ingenuity, she can't match up to Angelo. I suppose you could say that Kevin didn't want the two reputed alpha males together on the same team, too. Because no one wants to work with that fiend Alex, Amanda is picked for Kevin's team.

Kenny starts it up for the blue team, a good choice because he is wickedly quick during prep. Tiffany thoughtfully heats saute pans and works on preparing a big piece of fish for cooking. Amanda follows Kenny's lead perfectly, though looking a bit confused, while Alex basically ruins the fish with too much salting. Kevin and Ed breeze through their ten minutes. Can I just say that I ADORE hearing Kevin's gentle, adorable little voice? So appealing. Angelo goes on an insane rampage as he completes the dish, in sharp contrast to Kelly's zen calm. We might blame his frenetic anxiety on the fact that Alex committed the unforgivable sin: seasoning fish too soon. Whoops.

Just when I thought this would be a Padma-only challenge, in walks Nancy Pelosi. I tell you, they are bringing in the BIG GUNS this year with Top Chef, Season 7: Hail to the Chef! The perfectly coiffed, third-in-line-for-president foodie adored the blue team's shrimp in mustard sauce. She appreciated the red snapper as well, but seeing as how the producers want to beat us to death with Alex's seasoning fiasco (a part of their ploy to keep us thinking Alex is going home), that had to be the problem that kept the red team from winning.

Elimination Challenge:

As any dedicated fan of Top Chef knows, when the numbers get down to eight, it's time for Restaurant Wars! Oh, the hallowed day! The inevitable bickering in the kitchen, the shocking incompetence displayed by the chefs who take the front of house position, the inventiveness (or lack thereof) of the menu and restaurant name! It's often my favorite episode, though that is not the case for this edition.

While Tiffany and Ed inwardly cringe at the thought of having to work on a team with Alex, Padma drops a bomb on the chefs. Frank Bruni, former food critic for the NY Times, will be the guest judge. The chefs are understandably intimidated, and not at all encouraged when they meet the two random dudes that are plugging some sort of wine they've made.

Hilariously, Tiffany wants absolutely nothing to do with Alex as he blabbers on in the Toyota Sienna on the way to the Restaurant Depot. Kenny and Amanda, their car-mates are the picture of calm. A similar picture emerges in the other Sienna, on the way to Whole Foods. Ed and Angelo conspire to keep Alex out of everything, while a nonplussed Kevin piously states that they're wrong to exclude him.

Prep time is pretty much a disaster for the red team. Alex is incapable of butchering anything. Executive chef Angelo barks out orders. Inexplicably, the pea puree makes a reappearance.

The blue team is all flowers and rainbows, working perfectly together, tasting dishes with constructive criticism, planning carefully. Even their prepped containers are impeccably organized.

Disappointingly, there is not a lot of discussion about restaurant theme, which will be telling at the end of the challenge. Red team's name is EVOO, and Angelo tries to pretend it wasn't stolen from my Rachael Ray by referring to it as "e-voo." While the chefs squeeze into the tight, shared space at the borrowed restaurant, there are many more ominous hints about what will SURELY be Alex's forthcoming elimination, including Angelo's gem of a line about ETA and lamb.

The blue team's name is 2121, inspired by the address of the Top Chef house. Again a sign of perfection, a cohesive team working like a well-oiled machine. The only suggestion of disharmony in paradise is Amanda's uncertainty with the grill. The red team continue to blast Alex, all the way into a tiny isolated corner of the kitchen.

Probably because of the way he had just been abused, Alex proceeds to treat his waitstaff like the citizens of a dictatorship. Kelly, on the other hand, is humble and kind. The blue team continues to shine, bringing out all of the food to the servers so that they'll know the appropriate details to share at dinner. All signs point to an epic failure for the red team.

Dinner service begins, and the drama ensues immediately. Alex leaves the judges to seat themselves, Angelo assists him in berating the servers, and Kevin and Amanda give each other high fives.

The first plates from the red team go out. Frank Bruni decides that he would like to try Angelo's cooking, after enjoying his soup. Tiffany's crudo is overly salty. Padma and Gail become overly anxious about the timing of their second courses, pan-seared striped bass and slow-baked turbot. Fortunately, both dishes are modestly praised. The final dishes, broiled lamb and seared rib-eye are acceptable. I begin to feel concerned, especially considering how much footage was showed of the blue team's seamlessness. Despite Alex's poor service, the food from the red team was miraculously successful.

The judges admire Kelly's calm, even though she is visibly uncomfortable. They do not admire, however, the beet salad and corn and crab soup that come out first as appetizers. Amanda's steak is cut too thin and not totally saved by a good sauce. Kevin's halibut is beautiful and unanimously adored. A glimmer of hope begins to flicker within me, thinking maybe I was wrong about the manipulative editing I've come to expect from the producers of the show.

My hopes were dashed by the arrival of Kenny's cheese course, referred to as a "horror show", "soapy", and "horrible." Despite Kelly's chocolate tart and Kevin's halibut, I knew that it simply wouldn't be enough to save Kenny.

Judges' table, and the stew room, for that matter, were my own kind of horror show. The red team was called out as winners, basically due to the efforts of Angelo and Ed. Certainly without a BIT of help from Alex. Ed won for best individual dish, and the scrappy, haphazard, team-that-could headed back to send the blue team out for judgment.

It was painful to watch Frank Bruni, Padma, and Gail ripping into Kenny. It's hard to believe all of the criticisms were fully warranted, because it's asking the viewers to believe that the remaining members of the team didn't taste Kenny's food and warn him about it. Kevin and Kenny couldn't help but attempt to save themselves by calling out Alex for not having prepared anything individually, and the fight continued back in the stew room. I had to agree with them, even though it's a classic lowball move to throw a fellow cheftestant under the bus. I almost felt as though there was something we didn't know, because the judges were certainly aware of Alex's general ineptitude, even considering that they cannot consider past history when eliminating.

Ultimately, Kenny made not just one, but two dishes that the judges found entirely unpalatable, and he was sent to pack his knives. I was truly looking forward to a real showdown between Kenny and Angelo, and I'll be disappointed to miss it. Though this was a shocking elimination, I would be willing to bet we'll see Kevin, Angelo, and Kelly as our final three.

I'm sticking with Kevin.

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