No Such Thing as a Free Lunch: Andrea Goes Home, Alex's Stolen Pea Puree Wins



I’m only gonna say it once: Alex sucks.

Mister tall, bald and hipster is an ingredient-stealing, lying jerk — willing to break all the rules of competition in order to move ahead. I get that “Top Chef D.C.” is a reality show and that people are expected to be cutthroat. But cheating is just not cool.

What caused Alex to go down this road of thievery? A simple desire to break free from the middle of the pack and push to the top. And he was just one of a few contestants who flirted with sabotage in Wednesday’s episode of “Top Chef D.C.”

The episode starts off with people still discussing Tamesha’s departure, though no one but Angelo seems too bummed. While Kelly moans to Stephen, “People in our room keep getting whacked,” Kenny’s too busy gloating in another room. “I’m just too much of a beast in the kitchen to go home,” he says. While this seems like tricky foreshadowing, it’s not. Kenny doesn’t go home this time around, and his rivalry with Angelo lives to see another day.

And in this episode, it flares up immediately during the …

QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE
As the contestants walk into the Hilton kitchen, they see Padma and U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), who Padma introduces as the youngest Congressman in the House. “When you become a new member of Congress … the first day is spent on ethics,” Aaron says. “Believe it or not, a good portion of that discussion is about food.”

To illustrate the fact that U.S. representatives aren’t allowed to be wined and dined by paid lobbyists and hence must eat only hors d’oeuvres in their presence, the contestants are challenged to create something on “the humble toothpick,” according to Padma. “Gourmet dishes have been whittled down to bite-size,” she explains, and so the challenge is to “create a dish that fits on a toothpick.” Stakes is high: Not only will the winner of this quickfire win immunity, they’ll get $20,000 as well, causing everyone to sprint like mad when she announces time.

As everyone fights for the proteins in the pantry, people start conceptualizing their dishes. Kenny notes that “everything on that pick has to pack a punch,” so he decides to somehow incorporate a cocktail into his dish. Stephen amasses a bunch of ingredients and flails around cooking them all, causing Alex to note that maybe he has “a little too much going on,” while Amanda seems lost next to Tiffany. “I don’t automatically have an idea,” Amanda admits, so she decides on doing a lamb kabob.

And across the kitchen, Tiffany’s buddy Ed is struggling, too: “It seems like such an easy quickfire challenge, but I’m having a hard time conceptualizing everything,” he says. Nevertheless, his dish finally comes together as the contestants serve:

» Kevin: Grilled pork and mushroom kabob with sherry vinegar, served on a toothpick in a cup.
» Andrea: Buttermilk fried chicken, pecan cheddar waffles and black pepper maple gravy.
» Ed: Duo of tuna: tuna confit and grilled tuna with avocado and sweet-and-sour watermelon.
» Tiffany: Crispy pork roulade with prosciutto, dates and red pepper coulis.
» Amanda: Lamb kabob with heirloom tomatoes and salsa verde. As she presents it, she tries to flirt with Aaron to better his reaction to her dish.
» Kenny: Tandoori-spiced sockeye salmon with shrimp and mango mojito relish.
» Angelo: Cucumber cup with spiced shrimp and cashews.
» Stephen: Scallop and beef with crispy potato and bearnaise sauce.
» Alex: Scallops with crispy bacon, strawberries and basil essence, which causes Padma to grimace and furrow her brow after tasting.
» Kelly: Scallops with watermelon and watermelon vinaigrette.

After tasting, Aaron is quick in his harsh judgments: Alex’s dish had too many competing flavors, Ed’s looked better than it tasted and Kelly’s simply lacked flavor, a description that causes her to rethink her strategy. “Next challenge, I really need to be thinking about big and bold flavors that will stand out,” she says. The representative is generous in his praise, singling out Kevin’s dish for its flavors; Angelo’s cucumber cup was “like fireworks in my mouth” despite Angelo’s worry that the presentation wasn’t modern enough; and Stephen’s creation “packed a big punch.” But as both Kevin and Stephen look hopeful that they may finally emerge victorious, Aaron dashes their dreams by announcing Angelo as the winner.

Though Angelo tries not to seem like he’s gloating — “My brain is automatically, ‘Let’s move on, it’s time to move on,'” he says — Kevin and Stephen both look like they’ve been told their puppies burst into flame or something. “He keeps doing the same things over and over again,” Kevin gripes. “If [the judges] like eating Chinese food all the time, so be it.”

So are they bitter that Angelo walks away with a free pass and the cash? Of course. So they decide to channel their frustration into the …


ELIMINATION CHALLENGE
Padma has just two words for the contestants: “power lunch.” These glamorous midday affairs are “where deals are made” and “bills are brokered,” Padma adds, and a hot spot in the city for such things is The Palm steakhouse on 19th Street NW. A District institution, The Palm has been in the city for years — and the cheftestants will be tasked with taking it over for lunch, serving 24 diners each with one of the main ingredients on their menu. When they draw knives, it ends up like this:

» Lamb chops: Kevin and Kenny.
» Lobster: Ed and Angelo.
» Swordfish: Andrea and Tiffany.
» Porterhouse: Kelly and Amanda.
» Salmon: Alex and Stephen.

Though they are paired up by protein, that just means they’ll be presenting together, not directly competing against each other, Padma explains. Instead, it’s every man or woman for himself, battling for the prize: Their dish on The Palm’s menu and their face on its walls (the place is lined with caricatures of celebrities and politicians that have eaten there).

So after a typically frenzied trip to Whole Foods with 30 minutes and a $300 budget, everyone gets two hours to prep in the Hilton kitchen. Though Stephen describes how working in downtown San Francisco prepared him for this — “Power lunches is all we did” — Andrea is upset with her assigned protein of swordfish. Nevertheless, “there’s no crying in the kitchen,” so she sucks it up and deals with it, as do Ed and Angelo, who must deal with taking apart their humongous lobsters by hand.

Elsewhere in the kitchen, Kelly judges Amanda’s decision to take the meat off the bone of her Porterhouse steaks, while Ed and Angelo worry about the lobsters. “I’m not too familiar with a power lunch,” Angelo admits, but who cares? The guy has immunity. Ed, however, has more to worry about: “Honestly, I’ve spent most of the time breaking down all these lobsters. I’m starting to freak out because I don’t have a lot of time to be working on these things tomorrow,” he says.

But little does Ed know that he will indeed have extra work tomorrow, as Alex begins hatching a plan that very night. While chatting with Kenny and Andrea in the kitchen of their townhouse, Alex says his dish hasn’t fully come together yet, and learns that Ed has created a pea puree for his lobster creation. You almost see the wheels turning in his head as he notes that a pea puree would work perfectly for his own salmon dish.

The next day, it all goes down: After the judges are introduced to The Palm by executive vice president Bruce Bozzi Jr., great-grandson of the restaurant’s co-founder who opened the place in 1926, they rush into the kitchen to get things started. Even though head judge Tom Colicchio is in there watching them, drama promptly starts: Amanda forgets her salt and pepper, but Kelly refuses to give her some, vengefully using all that she brought on her own dish.

And then comes Alex’s deceit: Though he says he’s “going to make a pea puree first thing,” you never see Alex working on it; you just see Ed freaking out over not being able to find his. To be fair, you never see Alex taking the puree, either, but you’re certainly led to believe he does. And while Ed directly confronts him, Alex won’t back down: “I did not” see the pea puree, he says … and then leisurely spoons some on top of his dishes. Jerk!

Because Ed doesn’t have time to keep arguing with Alex, he decides to use some broccolini instead. Soon, it’s time to present to the judges. Padma is seated with The Palm’s Bruce and fellow guest judges U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), MSNBC anchor Mika Brzezinski, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough and Center for American Progress President John Podesta. At Gail’s table are NBC correspondents Kelly O’Donnell, Luke Russert and Savannah Guthrie, as well as Art Smith, chef and owner of Art and Soul in D.C.

Sad news: No Eric Ripert. Good news: The guest judges don’t hold back their thoughts as the dishes come rolling out.

KELLY AND AMANDA
» Kelly: Porterhouse with crispy potato arugula salad, roasted shallot demi-glace.
» Amanda: New York steak and filet mignon, red wine with pommes parisienne and arugula.
» Judges’ thoughts: Savannah thinks both pieces of meat in Amanda’s dish are delicious, while Gail likes the seasoning. With Kelly’s dish, people criticize the large size of the meat, with Luke joking it’s “a lot more Texas than D.C.”; nevertheless, Joe thinks the dish is “more enjoyable” than Amanda’s.

TIFFANY AND ANDREA
» Tiffany: Swordfish with olive-raisin tapenade, broccolini and bacon.
» Andrea: Pan-seared swordfish with risotto-style couscous, asparagus and beurre blanc.
» Judges’ thoughts: Everyone except Padma thinks Andrea’s risotto is too sweet; Mark blames the heavy use of vanilla in Andrea’s sauce. In contrast, though John points out Tiffany’s swordfish is overcooked, Savannah praises the dish for being “so distinct” and Mark liked that she “gave it some zest.”

STEPHEN AND ALEX
» Stephen: Salmon with warm vegetable salad and Worcestershire vinaigrette.
» Alex: Applewood-smoked salmon with black forbidden rice and English pea puree.
» Judges’ thoughts: Art can’t get enough of the (stolen) pea puree, and most of the female judges praise Alex’s portion size as being just right. Stephen doesn’t fare as well, with Art calling his salmon “messy” and Mark saying he was “pretty disappointed” by the dish’s heaviness.

ANGELO AND ED
» Angelo: Poached lobster with lobster froth and jicama, arugula and Asian pear salad.
» Ed: Poached lobster ballotine, eggplant caviar and English pea-asparagus fricassee.
» Judges’ thoughts: Luckily for Angelo, he has immunity: Gail has a “chewing issue” with his lobster, and Joe disdainfully notes, “I don’t know that I’m a foam man.” Ed’s dish does far better, as Bruce likes its presentation and the judges praise the eggplant. Interestingly, Gail doesn’t think the dish’s peas are necessary, and calls them the “weakest” part of the dish. If only they knew the truth!

KENNY AND KEVIN
» Kenny: Peppered lamb, fig-pistachio bread pudding and vanilla-morel demi-glace.
» Kenny: Double-cut lamb chops with olive and goat cheese rissole, mache and tomato concasse.
» Judges’ thoughts: Though some dislike Kenny’s dish for not having enough green elements, Bruce likes his sauce and Gail’s a fan of the fig-pistachio bread pudding. Kevin’s dish, however, suffers because of the lamb being overdone, though Mark likes its flavor and Gail praises its spiciness.

With all the dishes presented, Padma, Gail and Art meet with Tom, who comes back from the kitchen to report on the contestants’ behavior back there. “There was a lot of running around and throwing around,” Tom notes, and calls them a somewhat amateurish bunch.

But, more importantly, is the pea puree drama over? Of course not. It’s time for …



JUDGES’ TABLE
In the stew room, everyone’s talking about it: Did Alex take the puree? If so, “that’s kind of grimy,” notes Kevin. But while Alex feels the heat, he seemingly lies to cover it up: “Some people think I took Ed’s pea puree, but it’s really coincidental. I didn’t even know he was making pea puree,” he says. But a flashback immediately shows Andrea and Kenny telling him about Ed’s dish the night before.

And insult turns into injury when Tiffany, Ed and Alex are called in and recognized as the day’s best dishes, with Art heavily praising the pea puree in Alex’s dish. “I could have just eaten a whole bowl of that,” he says, and because of that, picks Alex as the best dish. While Alex glows, Tiffany and Ed stew, neither of them saying anything about their suspicions.

Back in the stew room, Tiffany lets everyone else know Alex won because “they loved the puree,” and then Kevin, Kelly and Andrea are called in for questioning. First they start on Kevin, blasting the spiciness of his tomato concasse — “all we got was heat,” Gail notes — and the doneness of his lamb. “I prefer it medium,” Kevin defends, but he has no words when Art points out that the bones of the chops weren’t even properly cleaned. Next it’s Andrea, who readily admits that she doesn’t like swordfish, and Art says her dislike showed in the dish. Other flaws include the couscous, which was overcooked, and her heavy use of vanilla in the sauce. But when Andrea comments that she has made the sauce before and it’s been a success, Gail is quick to critique her unoriginality: “If we wanted to taste the food that you cooked every day … [we would] just come to your restaurant,” she points out. Oof.

Then it’s Kelly’s turn, and she readily volunteers why she must have been chosen: Her dish was too traditional and too salty. “Oh yeah,” agrees Padma, but Kelly’s acknowledgement of her error isn’t winning her any points, at least not with Gail: The saltiness was a “fatal flaw … a bit of a slap in the face.” Without Eric, Gail’s filling the role of elitist hope-squasher quite well.

So after they send the three back out, the judges gather for final thoughts: It all came down to “common-sense mistakes,” says Tom. But what’s worse, Andrea’s dislike for her ingredient or Kelly’s too-generous seasoning? Art certainly has his answer — “When I taste over-salted foods, it makes me question the chef. I just don’t think she has a palate” — but at the end of the day, it’s Andrea who is sent home for creating the worst “power nap” meal, according to Tom. And as she packs to go, Andrea isn’t taking it as well as previous contestants Arnold or Timothy did: “I don’t need four people behind a table to tell me that I can cook; I already know that I can,” she says. But despite her defensiveness, Andrea rightly points out her issues were “more mental than anything else” and pertained to how she “didn’t play the game well today.” She’s right; she didn’t steal someone else’s creation to better her own standing. Too bad.

Will Alex’s aggressiveness finally catch up with him? Clips from next week hint at it, with other contestants noticing his immature behavior as they prepare to serve ambassadors from around the world. And then there’s stuff like this: “As I get to Brazil, I’m like, ‘Jesus, do they even have a cuisine?'” says Stephen. For that international ignorance alone, I’m definitely tuning in.

QUOTES OF THE WEEK
» “I really don’t like it. I think it’s boring,” Amanda says of making hors d’oeuvres during the quickfire challenge. That uncaring shows; her dish ends up in the middle.

» “To be honest with you, I’ve never seen a four-pound lobster. Those claws are almost as big as my hand,” says Angelo as he gets to work on his elimination challenge dish. Seriously, those things looked like they could fight back.

» “I’m starting to doubt myself, but she makes me feel good,” Ed says of Tiffany. That’s kind of cute, but she counters with …

» “Ed is not flirting with me. I got a man!” Tiffany says in response to the suggestion that she and Ed are more than just friends. Poor Ed. No pea puree and no lady, either.

» “She’s not very experienced, and she shouldn’t be here right now. She doesn’t bring salt or pepper with her? Tough. We’re competitors,” says Kelly when Amanda scrambles to find salt and pepper in The Palm kitchen. However, it’s that salt-hogging that ends up being Kelly’s downfall, leading her to place in the bottom three.

» “Kelly didn’t share her salt. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t share. She deserves to be on the bottom,” says a smirking Amanda. I wouldn’t agree with all that, but I am down for some kind of epic smackdown between these two.

» “It would really piss me off if Alex stole my pea puree,” Ed says when Alex denies seeing his missing component. You and me both, buddy.

Written by Express contributor Roxana Hadadi
Photos by David Giesbrecht/Bravo

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