Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Beaumont, we have a problem."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Perhaps I was overcome with pride at the rapidity with which I finished those FIVE recaps. That must be the only reason why I am once again behind, with two recaps left to go before the finale airs tomorrow night. I have been coasting on a wave of euphoric self-satisfaction.

I should tell you that the previous paragraph was written two weeks ago, while my SH and I sat comfortably on a plane anticipating our glorious arrival to Maui. Obviously, the finale has come and gone. Yet, I persist in my efforts to recap!

Opening Scenes:
I worry immediately that Kevin might be on the losing end of this episode after I notice how much time is devoted to his morning shaving ritual. Kelly is borderline falling apart, awash in loneliness for her husband. She expresses this to a greasy-haired Angelo while they share a smoke in the courtyard.

As the chefs stride into the Top Chef kitchen for the last quickfire in DC, they see a table loaded down with all sorts of wine. Not surprisingly, wine is one of Angelo's passions. Thankfully, he doesn't begin to wish out loud that he could make love to any of the wine bottles. Padma is wearing some sort of strange costume that looks as though it could be worn by a waiter at an old-fashioned restaurant. She is accompanied by Dana Cowin, editor-in-chief at Food & Wine.

It is somewhat disappointing that the last DC quickfire is as ordinary as a wine pairing. Even though Tiffany admits that wine isn't her strength, it's hard to believe that any of these chefs (or the thirteen that came before them) would have an especially difficult time coming up with a somewhat decent pairing. I could do it with my eyes closed! White wine, meet fish! Red wine, let me introduce you to my friends steak and short ribs. I think a beer-pairing, which has been done before on the show, is much more challenging. I always enjoy the relish with which the chefs taste all of the wines, though.

Kevin chooses to make a braised pork belly, though even I know that braising appropriately in this amount of time might not work out the way he wants. Kelly is going for bold, wild boar with a blue cheese emulsion to pair with her zinfandel. Tiff and Ed are both making rib eyes, and in what comes as a surprise to no one, I'm sure, Angelo is making fois gras to pair with his riesling.

Predictably, Kevin has to change his game plan, using quail instead of pork belly at the last minute. As he feared, Dana Cowin immediately mentioned that the delicacy of the quail doesn't pair effectively with a heavy merlot. She was also overcome by Kelly's blue cheese emulsion, which proved too overpowering for the pairing.

Angelo's fois gras/riesling and Tiffany's ribeye/shiraz were selected as the best pairings, and Angelo pulled out the win, including a trip to London. Lately frustrated with his performance, it's quite obvious that the win was a giant confidence booster. The other chefs, particularly Kevin, inwardly lament the loss of that tiny advantage.

Padma announces that the final challenges will take place in Singapore, marking the first time that Top Chef goes international for the finale. I'm excited about the news, but hope that the the final challenge remains the same, essentially cooking the best meal of your life. I'm all for cooking internationally, but I don't want the finale to be completely crowded with local specialties.

Elimination Challenge:
To space nerd Kelly's glee, the elimination challenge will occur at NASA. Via satellite from the international space center, the chefs learn that they will be making a dish that can be reproduced, freeze-dried, and served in space. They'll be serving astronauts, NASA scientists, the judges, and VERY SPECIAL GUEST Buzz Aldrin.

The chefs are in remarkably good spirits as they cruise through Whole Foods. Ed and Kevin both paid close attention to the astronauts at the space station, who mentioned spicy food as being especially enjoyable. Despite his burst in confidence, Angelo falls all over his cart whilst rushing about.

During prep, the good moods continue. Tiffany moon walks through the kitchen. Kevin shares his pepper with Angelo, who draws an indecipherable diagram of his planned dish. All goes swimmingly until Tom enters the kitchen. The moment Angelo shares his idea about ginger-glazed short ribs, Tom's raised eyebrows spread a panic throughout the room. After he grills each chef, smiling in his ever so charming way as he departs, Kelly discovers that Tiffany's mussels have frozen to death in the refrigerator, thus rendering them unusable.

Back at the townhouse, Ed attempts to console Tiffany, who had previously been very confident about her dish. Sad Kevin eats a bowel of cereal for dinner and vows to keep fighting. As the chefs prepare to depart the next morning, they find a note on the kitchen table which points them to a brand new Toyota Avalon parked outside, the prize for the winner of the challenge.

The chefs get to work in the cramped kitchen. Ed brings in a table to make more room. Tiffany reveals her former high school job, a stint at IHOP which inspired her to cook. Angelo spends most of his time bent over some sort of braising liquid, tasting it every few seconds and declaring his love for it. The food looks GOOD.

Kelly's dish goes out first, and she is simultaneously frightened by Anthony Bourdain's appearance and excited to see the adorable Buzz Aldrin. Everyone seems to enjoy her pan-roasted halibut. Ed goes next, describing his "trip to Morocco", a rack of lamb with a delicious couscous croquette. My favorite Eric Ripert finds the dish too busy, but Anthony Bourdain strongly disagrees, saying that Ed nailed the Moroccan flavors.

Kevin's strip steak with bacon-jalepeno marmalade and corn puree looks delicious, and essentially everyone enjoys it, though there are logistical concerns with his crispy onions, which would undoubtedly not remain crisp in space. Tiffany's halibut and coconut curry, though looking to me like a bowl of heaven, did not impress Eric Ripert.

Angelo's ginger-lacquered short ribs were thoroughly enjoyed by Buzz Aldrin and Anthony Bourdain, who has apparently undergone a personality switch. He feels that the ribs would adapt well to an extraterrestrial situation.

It was clear at judges' table that there were precious little flaws in the dishes across the board. NItpicky criticisms like "playing it safe", and "not enough strong fish flavor" were pretty much all the judges had to go on. In the end, Tiffany's lost mussels may have been the one thing keeping her from Singapore.

It was painful to see such a likable, clearly talented, TEXAN chef go, but Tiffany fans should take heart! There's big news on the Top Chef front!

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