Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"And that bread? It drank all the juice right away and became like a soft ball."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I was PUMPED when I watched the previews for this episode. I find any sort of glorified concession stand food to be highly exciting, and I couldn't wait to see what the chefs would prepare. Even though I'm not a big baseball fan, I love attending games in the summer. The atmosphere can be deliciously wonderful, sitting in the hot sun, devouring all kinds of salty treats.

Opening scenes:
For much needed levity, there was a considerable amount of footage in the opener devoted to Ed walking around in Tiffany's dress. It was equal parts humorous and awkward, I would say. Good to see all the chefs except Kelly and Angelo getting a laugh. For her part, Kelly sneered at the undeserving Amanda and wished she would go home. Angelo, apparently, worships the gods of cooking, which happen to be all famous chefs in the world. He's crossing over to the dark side, if you ask me.

Padma and Rick Moonen (famed seafood chef and Top Chef: Masters participant) await the chefs next to a colorfully designed table. After five minutes of forcing the blank minds of the cheftestants to guess the challenge, Padma reveals that they'll be basing their dishes around food idioms, such as "the big cheese", "hot potato", and "bigger fish to fry." The winning dish will be featured on frozen food delivery giant Schwan's menu. Oh, how I remember the days of the Schwan truck pulling up to my house with our beloved cartons of ice cream and other delectable frozen treats...

The chefs draw knives to determine the order in which they'll pick a dish, and all determinedly avoid "hide the salami." Amanda decides to make mac and cheese while Kelly works on a chicken breast with grape puree. Angelo spends his prep time racing through the kitchen and having a conversation with his fried fish. Kevin, who has made the extremely wise choice of "bring home the bacon," quietly and calmly goes about making bacon three ways. Love him.

Though I had heart palpitations for Tiff when she confessed to using canned beans, Rick and Padma seemed to enjoy her dish. Not surprisingly, Kevin's chopped bacon+bacon puree+bacon froth was delicious and aromatic. Ed's "hot potato" gnocchi was light, tasty, and quite appropriate for a frozen dish. Rick's least favorites were Kelly's-he thought the concord grape puree didn't sing-and Amanda's sledgehammer of a dish, super-rich macaroni accompanied by a giant pork chop. Ed managed to squeak by with the win, probably because his dish would freeze better than bacon foam.

Elimination Challenge:
To half-Dominican Angelo's great joy, the chefs learn that they'll be going out to the ball game, where they'll be preparing one high-end dish each to be served at the concession stand at the Washington Nationals' ballpark. Apparently, when Angelo was finished praying to Julia Child each day, he spent the rest of his time dreaming of becoming a ball player.

The organizational meeting for the challenge doesn't go well, though it was clearly a bunch of passive-aggressive chefs who didn't feel like going up against Kelly. I thought they were being a bit whiny, because Kelly's suggestions were sound.

At Whole Foods, we learn that Kevin isn't taking any risks, by opting to make a plain chicken skewer. Amanda, on the other hand, is going the wildly impractical route, and preparing tuna tartare. Ed and Tiffany both take on quite the task as they work on hundreds of meatballs and arancini. Ed freaks out once he calculates the sheer number of shrimp and corn poppers he'll need. He turns into Angelo, racing around, dropping things, talking to himself, and yelling at everyone else.

Back at the townhouse, the chefs tackle the necessary issue of figuring out how service will work the next day. There is quite a bit of debate about taking orders as they come or having a single chef take orders. Angelo makes the rash decision to take this task on, though the rest of the chefs are visibly unsure about it.

During prep, Angelo wakes up and realizes that it doesn't really work for him to cook and take orders at the same time. Kevin has a conniption about the change of plans and a shouting match ensues. Ultimately, Angelo goes back to the original plan, relying on Ed to help him with his dish. In the last minutes of prep time, Angelo shouts out the details of each dish to the chefs, making sure he gets it all right. In an alarming turn of events for Amanda, the tuna has begun to oxidize, turning grey.

A wild mass of red-shirted fans descends upon the concession stand in a matter of minutes. The chefs seem to handle it quite well, and Tiffany notes that crab cakes and meatballs are called out more than anything. Three Nationals players devour their dishes with glee, even eating the tuna tartare with their fingers. It seems evident that their fave was Tiffany's meatball subs.

The judges were much more critical, as you might expect. Eric Ripert was terrified to take a bite of the tuna. Padma found Kelly's crab cakes a bit salty, but Rick and Tom felt they were the perfect thing for a baseball game. Tiffany's meatball sub, while messy, was flavorful and satisfying. Ed's shrimp and corn fritters, with perfectly crunchy outsides and creamy middles, were universally admired by the judges. Kevin's chicken was well-prepared, but the skewers were dangerously long and his shoestring potatoes overwhelming. Angelo's choice to sandwich his pork in hot dog buns was a poor one-the hot dog bun soaked up all the juices in an unappealing, bread-y way.

The poor chefs have to leave the fun of the game to head back to the stew room, and Padma calls all six of them to the table. Of course, there had to be some drama with Angelo and the orders, which Tiffany attempted to clear up. Kevin is still nursing a pretty serious grudge against Angelo.

The judges declared Ed and Tiffany to have the best dishes, complimenting them heartily on the flavor and presentation. Ed was the victor, and just as I was feeling sorry for him only receiving a copy of Rick Moonen's newest book, Padma announced that he also won a trip to Australia.

While the four remaining chefs faced the music, Kevin couldn't help throwing Amanda under the bus by vehemently stating that he would not have made a tartare. I am really thinking that he woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Otherwise, why would he have made such deathly long skewers? Kelly's dish was actually quite good, simply lacking in a bit in the texture department. Angelo was dinged with the proportion of bread to meat.

Despite some fairly serious mistakes, it was impossible that any of them compared to Amanda's unforgivable error of allowing the tuna to spoil. After quite a successful run considering her background and experience, Amanda was finally sent home. I can't say that I'll miss her much, though I do feel she was treated unfairly by the other contestants.

I'm still Team Kevin. I hope he snaps out of this 'tude.

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