Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Dude! Where is my pea puree?"

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Have I ever been more proud of myself? I don't think so. Here I am, mere hours away from the next episode of Top Chef, and I'm still chugging along with my recaps. Even though I have THREE left to go. Perseverance. It's a virtue.

At the Top Chef townhouse, Kelly mourns the emptiness of the girls' rooms due to Tamesha's departure. As expected, Angelo just let her elimination roll off his back. It was a surprise to no one that he would be unfazed.

On this cheery day in the Top Chef kitchen, the chefs are greeted by Padma and the cutest small fry you've ever seen, the adorable, extremely young Congressman Aaron Schock. My darling sister knew exactly who he was when she caught a glimpse of the episode (as it aired above the bar in her hangout, the delightful restaurant Tillman's, an entire post unto itself), but he was a fresh face to me.

Apparently, there are quite a lot of rules involved when it comes to lobbying, wining, and dining. Elected officials and paid lobbyists face a daily challenge when it comes to the food they eat, ensuring that they are not unduly influenced by a particularly delightful morsel. In order to emphasize this challenge, Padma whips the lone silver cloche on the table next to her and the baby-faced representative in the air with relish, revealing a measly cube of cheese attached to a flag-bearing toothpick. Yes, that's right. The chefs will be making a dish that fits neatly on a toothpick. And the winner will not only be awarded with immunity, but also $20,000. This challenge is sending mixed messages!

After the mad protein dash, the chefs get cracking on their toothpicks. Kelly opts for a scallop with a bit of salted watermelon, which sounds heavenly to me. Kenny is making shrimp and salmon with a mojito relish. I'm alarmed by Stephen's surf and turf shoved onto the toothpick with a potato cake. We learn that most of Alex's culinary experiences has been in canapes. Does anyone actually use that word anymore?

Padma and young fry Aaron come back to judge the hors d'oevres, but not before we see Angelo fiendishly chopping shrimp. His speed and mania were truly frightening.

Bless-his-heart Aaron decides that Alex, Ed, and Kelly missed the mark. I felt badly for all of them, even Alex, knowing that they were judged by a layman. I also think Aaron might have been predisposed to dislike scallops. Favorites were Kevin, Angelo, and Stephen and despite Stephen's complete faith in his "meaty" dish as a winner, Angelo pulled through with the victory once again. It's getting harder and harder for Kenny to take this.


For the elimination challenge, the chefs will be participating in a DC tradition, the "power lunch." Of freakin' course. What other challenge might we expect once a Congressman is thrown into the mix? The chefs will be taking over lunch at the Palm restaurant, a venerable spot traditionally known for high-powered wheeling and dealing meals. They'll be working with five specific proteins: lamb chops, lobster, swordfish, porterhouse steak, or salmon, drawing knives to determine who will work with what. Though Padma assures the chefs that they'll be competing against all of the other chefs (not just swordfish vs. swordfish, for example), there will inevitably be five superior dishes and 5 lesser dishes. Not the best way to set up the competition, if you ask me.

During prep, I'm shocked to discover that Angelo is a bit intimidated by the lobsters. To be fair, they were HUGE, and frightened most of the chefs. Amanda tartly informs the camera that she has never cooked a porterhouse steak before, so she has ZERO intentions of cooking one for the challenge. I shake my head in confusion because I'm pretty sure her knife said "porterhouse steak," not NY strip or filet (which, incidentally, is what you get when you expertly butcher a porterhouse, thanks Kelly). Though I hate it when chefs don't follow the rules I have to admit that Amanda has proved more talented than the rest of the chefs believe her to be. She's also an excellent butcher.

While supafly Kenny relaxes in his furry golden robe back at the house, Alex is in a quandary about what to make to accompany his salmon. In what will soon become scandal #1 of the season, Kenny inadvertently shares a few deets about Ed's English pea puree while Alex listens intently. Unfortunately, Ed missed this whole conversation because he spends all of his time in the house unburdening himself to Tiffany, even though she's an engaged woman.

In the kitchen at the Palm, the chefs discover another few spicy elements of the challenge. The winning dish will be featured on the menu, the winning chef will be caricatured onto the wall of the restaurant, AND Tom will be hanging out in the kitchen instead of out front.

While steak girls Amanda and Kelly battle it out over salt, we discover that Alex is going to make an English pea puree! What a coincidence! When Ed's puree goes AWOL, everyone concludes that Alex took it. Which he most probably did. I'm pretty sure he's one of the nastiest contestants ever selected to appear on the show. Gross.

First out are the rival porterhouse queens, who have successfully quibbled over butter, salt, and time remaining whilst preparing their dishes. As they prepare to describe their food, we encounter guest judge Art Smith, former chef to Oprah and the Obama family, and frequent judge and competitor on Top Chef: Masters. He has lost, I kid you not, what must be fifty pounds! I like my chefs hefty, to be honest.

Though I was waiting for Amanda to be judged based on her decision to cut the meat off the bone, the whole two tables of guests and judges loved her dish. Kelly's gigantic porterhouse was over-seasoned, drowning in all of the salt that she jealously hoarded during prep time.

Tiffany and Andrea are next, bearing plates of swordfish. Andrea's overly sweet, vanilla bean-scented sauce was essentially masking the flavor of a fish that she herself doesn't like. Tiffany's olive-raisin tapenade was a big hit with the judges, even though she mourned in a lonely corner of the kitchen after service, sure she had overcooked her fish.

Stephen and Alex deliver their salmon dishes. Incidentally, Alex's salmon sits on an exotic pile of forbidden rice, accented by a lovely green swirl of...PEA PUREE! Stephen's plate is messy, and Art Smith raves about the "symphonic" nature of Alex's dish.

The most challenging protein, that unwieldy lobster, has been prepared quite differently. For once, Angelo makes a less-than-perfect dish-a butter-poached lobster that the judges deem "chewy" and a foam they don't appreciate. Ed's lobster ballontine, on the other hand, was beloved by all, especially with the addition of spicy eggplant caviar. Gail states that the only thing Ed doesn't need on his dish are the English peas. Oh, the irony!

Kenny's overcomplicated lamb dish doesn't win over the judges, especially with no fresh green to make it a bit more complete. I'm beginning to think that he tries too hard. It was clear from the beginning of the season that he is an excellent chef. He is struggling to deliver. Kevin's sous-vide lamb was too overpowering. I think it may be one of the first times a chef is dinged for too MUCH flavor.

While the judges deliberate, there is all kinds of pea puree drama going on in the stew room, including back footage of Alex overhearing the components of Ed's dish the nights before the challenge. To add fuel to the fire, not only is Alex called out with Ed and Tiffany for having the best dishes, he is specifically complimented on the controversial puree, and ends up WINNING for it! To their credit, Ed and Tiffany kept their mouths shut. No use crying over spilled milk. Or stolen peas, I suppose.

Kelly, Andrea, and Kevin were on the chopping block for a failed power lunch. In an extremely emotional elimination, Andrea was sent packing, leaving Kelly and Kevin practically in tears. Though Amanda is fairly certain that Kelly's lack of generosity with the condiments is what put her on the bottom, the rest of the crew was visibly saddened by Andrea's departure (and undoubtedly, the knowledge they would have to continue to tolerate Alex's presence).

Two more to go before tonight!

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