What can cause a friendship to turn into a relationship? With last night’s episode of “Top Chef D.C.,” it was easy to see there are already some possible romances blooming — Angelo and Tamesha, Tiffany and Ed — but what will it take for them to grow?

Another team challenge? Some kind of frantic kitchen experience that hints at undying devotion? Whatever ends up happening in future episodes, hopefully it won’t be another Hosea/Leah situation, because when those two hooked up during season five of “Top Chef,” they cheated on people back home. Love, man: It hurts.

But furtive glances and gushing praise weren’t the only things that went down in last night’s episode. In fact, the crabby finale was downright depressing for any Marylander tuning in. And before the elimination, most people in the “Top Chef D.C.” townhouse seemed bummed, too: Kenny noted there was “more of a somber tone” after Lynne’s and Arnold’s departure, because there has been greater time to build relationships among the contestants. Yet while Kenny was mourning their loss, Angelo and Tamesha were plotting in a corner of the back yard (“Take action, don’t hesitate, make people chase you,” he said to her about the competition, but maybe about them, too?), and Angelo admitted during one of those confessional-style interviews that he’s attracted to Tamesha because he sees himself in her. Her “inner passion … that’s really something I’d love to extract from her,” he said.

As that was going on outside the house, with Kelly and others looking on disapprovingly, Ed and Tiffany bonded in an inside bedroom (not like that, you creep). “You can tell this girl really cooks from the heart,” he said of the woman he considers his only friend in the competition. Tiffany shared his sentiment: “Ed is really the only person that I trust.” Their friendship is “a different kind of atmosphere” from what everyone else brings, she added. Oh, and he loves her laugh. Such bliss!

Not everything can be such a love-fest, though. Especially not during the …

In a totally unsurprising move, each contestant must make a dish with Maryland’s most well-known sea creature. “Is that some crabs? Live blue crabs running, screaming, across the table? Wow, that’s priceless,” noted Tiffany. Padma gave them an hour to cook any dish they want using the crabs, which they would then serve to her and guest judge Patrick O’Connell, owner of The Inn at Little Washington and winner of the James Beard award for Outstanding Chef in America. No pressure, though.

So everyone scrambled to pick up the angsty little creatures and then began slicing and smashing them to their fancy, resulting in such carnage that Alex commented, “It’s flying all over, left, right, I got crab shit everywhere.” As Timothy attempted to pick the meat out of dozens of crabs — and Amanda noted, “He’s a Maryland boy; it’s like, religion where’s he from — Angelo gave Tamesha lessons on how to do it; she never had before. And though some people decided to use Asian influences in their dishes, Timothy stuck to simply highlighting the flavor of the crab: “I pick crabs almost every Sunday,” he said of his experience with the product, and said he thought his Maryland background could help him win it.

Then the hour was over, and it was time to serve:

» Tiffany: Hot and sour crab soup with arbol chiles and spaghetti leeks.

» Ed: Jumbo lump crab with Thai basil and mango and cucumber salad.

» Angelo: Blue crab broth infused with lemongrass and ginger.

» Tim: Beer-steamed crabs with avocado, passion fruit and heirloom vinaigrette. Marylanders “don’t have to do a lot to our crabs here,” he boasted to Padma and Patrick as they chomp on his food. Oh, egos.

» Stephen: Crab salad in sweet bell peppers with brandy basil dressing.

» Tamesha: Crab chowder with lemongrass, ginger, cardamom and coconut milk. “Unusual and intriguing,” Patrick said of her choices, but in a good or bad way?

» Amanda: Crab salad with Sauterne, ginger and juniper gelee, which made Padma grimace. “Wow … it’s pungent,” she noted. Tell her how you really feel, Padma!

» Kevin: Blue crab chowder with potato, celery, espelette oil and frozen bacon crumble.

» Andrea: Warm crab salad, citrus gastrique and Mexican red chiles. “I feel not great about my dish,” she said. “I feel like I did too much.” Foreshadowing, of course.

» Kenny: Crab three ways, with Korean crab bisque, crab bruschetta and warm crab with sesame. “I’m like, who’s going to be able to touch this dish?” boasted Kenny. Of course, being in the top four during the elimination challenge last week gave him a boost of confidence he … didn’t really need.

Who cares what Kelly or Alex made? We instead saw Patrick’s least favorites, which included Andrea, because he thought the weight of the potatoes in her dish outweighed the delicacy of the crab; Amanda, because the gelee made the dish out of balance; and Kevin, because the crab got lost in all of his ingredients. In contrast, his favorites included Ed, whose Thai-inspired flavors brought out the crab; Kenny, because his trio showed skill; and Angelo, who created a dish with an “extremely delicate” yet fulfilling flavor. Timothy looked perturbed not to be mentioned, and Patrick picked Ed as this week’s winner, giving him immunity for the elimination challenge.

And as Ed turned extremely red with joy, Padma broke down their upcoming …

Crabs showed off one of the area’s most well-loved ingredients, and in that same vein, the elimination challenge highlighted Ayrshire Farms, Virginia’s first totally certified organic and humane farm. The 12 remaining chefs would have to work together as one team to feed 40 local chefs and farmers in a family-style meal, with at least six dishes. But of course, there was a twist: While the team could plan their meal that night, they wouldn’t see their ingredients or cooking utensils until the next day, when they arrived at the farm, Padma added. Good look with knowing absolutely nothing, everyone!

Nevertheless, the team tried to plan anyway. And, big duh, Kenny and Angelo ended up butting heads. “I have to step up and be the leader,” Angelo said, while Kenny countered with, “I really want my presence to be the alpha male presence. No one’s going to beat me in that area.” And at least Kenny seems right; everyone seems to prefer his ideas over Angelo’s, with Kelly describing him as “calm, cool, collected, but … fierce,” and together they decided to get in the same pairs they worked in during the last challenge and brainstorm their dishes that way.

While Tiffany wasn’t happy ending up with Timothy again and Ed still can’t stand Alex, they were both not against a little sabotage. Ed had immunity, so what did he care what Alex did? And Tiffany decided to keep herself from helping out Timothy: “The way I’m looking at it is, I really don’t have a partner.”

With those encouraging words, everyone woke up the next morning — which looked to be the beginning of a particularly chilly day — and drove to the farm in Upperville, Va. “Everything is green and beautiful and lush,” Andrea said. They had three hours to cook, and got right to it. Though there wasn’t much to cook with (propane grills and a couple of hot plates), people were fighting over utensils and prep spaces, struggling to get their dishes together and lay claim to the available produce.

And the teams, well, they kind of worked OK. Kenny thought Kevin’s confidence was “shot” from being in the bottom four times in a row, so he decided to “take over the situation” with their dish. Andrea and Kelly, who ended up winning last week’s elimination challenge, seemed to fit well, though Andrea struggled to figure out the best way to cook her pork loin and almost took advice from Tamesha until Kelly snapped at her not to. “Just don’t let her make your decision,” Kelly said, convinced that Tamesha and Angelo were working together against the other chefs. And while Timothy couldn’t decide what to do with the turnips and other vegetables he picked up, Tiffany ignored him. “Tim’s having some problems trying to figure out exactly what he wants to do, and I’m really trying to just let him do it himself. … I’m happy with doing my own thing.”

But as time ticked down, two major things went wrong: Whether it was the wind, Kenny or Tamesha, somehow Kevin’s bowl of cauliflower couscous ended up all over the ground, meaning he had to start over using broccoli, which he had never worked with for this concept before. And Timothy saw his turnips weren’t cooked all the way through, but couldn’t come up with a way to fix them except for cutting them into smaller pieces and hoping the judges wouldn’t notice.

Then, all of a sudden, a crowd of people — including judges Padma, Tom, Eric Ripert and guest judge Patrick — started walking toward an extra-long table set up in the middle of the field in this farm, and it was time to present their meal, which Ed called “like a Thanksgiving dinner” in its components of “beef, starch, veg, sauce, blah blah blah.” He wasn’t that excited, but some of the dishes seemed pretty enough:

» Amanda: Country vegetable minestrone with smoked tomato broth.

» Judges’ thoughts: “The rusticity of everything is shocking,” said Patrick, and though Tom didn’t think the chunks were a problem, he thought their different sizes were. “It doesn’t cook” when the leeks are small, but the carrots are not, and the dish wasn’t consistent because of that, Tom noted.

» Stephen: Farm salad with balsamic onion, egg, apple, Cabernet vinaigrette and garlic dressing.

» Judges’ thoughts: The dish “left me cold,” said Padma, and Patrick thought serving the salad in a bowl was a bad choice. Oh, and the lettuce is gross, added Tom.

» Kenny: Hot and sour curried eggplant with peppers and carrot tips;

» Kevin: Broccoli couscous scented with lemon zest.

» Judges’ thoughts: Finally, something delicious! Eric Ripert loved the couscous because he thinks it provides a nice cooling counter to the eggplant, and everyone thought the dish was a success.

» Tim: Roasted turnips and asparagus with honey.

» Judges’ thoughts: All they had was hate. “I don’t think it registered with any of us,” Padma said, and Tom agreed: “The overall impression [is], it didn’t make one.” Sounds like bad news.

» Tiffany: Collard greens with Swiss chard, turnips and chanterelles in duck broth.

» Judges’ thoughts: No one commented on anything but how undercooked the greens were. Like, ridiculously undercooked. They even laughed about it.

» Andrea: Garlic- and five-spice-rubbed grilled pork loin with shallot-apple-balsamic jus;

» Kelly: Five-spice-roasted apples and beets.

» Judges’ thoughts: They thought the two dishes worked really together, and Eric Ripert commented that every component was “cooked perfectly.” “They did a nice job with that,” Tom agreed, and everyone looked well fed.

» Angelo: Grilled duck breast with ginger and oregano honey;

» Tamesha: Cherry compote, red-wine balsamic vinaigrette and grilled asparagus salad.

» Judges’ thoughts: The duck was tasty, the cherries were good and the asparagus was gross.

» Alex: Provencal beef tenderloin with ratatouille;

» Ed: Ratatouille with eggplant, summer squash and tomato.

» Judges’ thoughts: Eric Ripert loved the beef and thought the quality of the product was exceptional, but no one thought the ratatouille should have been stuffed in the beef. Maybe it could have been better on the side?

» Kelly’s extra dish: Strawberry rhubarb crisp with basil lemon whipped cream.

» Judges’ thoughts: Though it can be risky to make an extra dish, everyone thought Kelly pulled it off and put a nice end to their meal. “The proof is in the pudding. Look, I ate everything!” Eric Ripert noted. You lucky man, you.

As everyone sat around waiting for results, there was a major sense of deja vu when Padma walked in and called for Kevin, Kenny, Andrea and Kelly. Last week, Andrea and Kelly had been in the top two, while Kevin and Kenny had been saved from elimination. This time, though, they were all together: When Padma said they had the best dishes, Kevin sighed like he’d just been saved from a fire or earthquake or something. Then, it was time for some accolades: Patrick said “maybe it was fortuitous” that Kevin’s cauliflower fell on the ground because the broccoli was so delicious, and when Padma complimented Kevin’s eggplant, Tom couldn’t help but laugh. “Usually she’s kind of tough on curries,” he noted, and everyone was amused. With Andrea and Kelly, Tom praised Andrea’s sauce, Patrick loved Kelly’s vegetables and everyone gushed over the dessert.

The win, though, ended up going to Kenny, and he took it modestly: “Oh shit! The beast came up with a win on that one,” he said. Well, maybe it was modest in Kenny’s terms?

Things weren’t looking so good, though, for Timothy, Amanda and Stephen, who all looked sucker-punched when they got called in for the badness of their dishes. “The bottom never came to my mind,” said Timothy, but it obviously did for the judges: Their mistakes were “glaringly apparent,” according to Padma.

Timothy tried to explain that he got a little flummoxed when working with the vegetables and thought cutting them tiny would allow for a uniform cook time, but Eric Ripert disagreed. “You couldn’t really taste the turnip” because of how small it was, he said. Then, when Timothy volunteered that he added asparagus to the dish “for color,” Tom jumped on it: “You were trying to figure out how to fix it, and I don’t think you did,” he said of the dish’s execution.

Stephen was next down the line. Patrick critiqued his use of a bowl, then said the overzealousness of the dressing was like a concrete truck being poured on top of silk. Metaphorical burn!

Last is Amanda, who got all defensive when Eric Ripert asked her to define a minestrone. Beans and vegetables, she answered. But no pasta? Eric Ripert countered, pointing out a huge flaw in her dish; as a result, it “felt amateurish,” Padma said. In fact, “it didn’t quite have the polish you would expect from a chef,” Patrick said.

After the three got some stewing time, the judges reevaluated: Stephen’s salad was ultimately “over-thought and overdressed,” said Padma; Tim’s three hours of work “was not representing anything on the plate,” Eric Ripert said; and Amanda’s dish just wasn’t a minestrone, “despite her best intentions,” Eric Ripert added. Nevertheless, though Stephen’s salad was overwhelmed and Amanda’s wasn’t what she advertised, the judges decided to send local boy Timothy packing: His indecision and fuzzy concept were ultimately his worst choices, Tom said.

Like Arnold last week, Timothy took the loss in stride. “Make sure you season your food, guys. … Salt and pepper. Peace,” is the advice he gave to everyone before leaving, and he was convinced he’d still be friends with these people down the line. “I’m looking forward to picking up the phone and growing old with these folks,” he said while trying not to let any tears drop. Who said Marylanders can’t be classy? We’re not just about crab cakes and football, you know.

But while everyone worked together this week, they’ll all turn on each other during the next episode — on purpose. In an episode reminiscent of past seasons, it looks like the contestants will be split into two teams who have to judge one another’s cooking, and Tiffany looks surprised by how harsh the contestants are being, while Andrea is convinced Angelo has a game plan by helping Tamesha and Stephen with their dishes. Only time will tell.

» “Well, I had crabs, so it just brought back bad memories,” Angelo said of the quickfire challenge’s ingredient. Watch out, Tamesha.

» “Crabs will bite the hell out of you, and it hurts,” Timothy said while everyone struggled to work with them. Obvious, but still true.

» “Ed wins the challenge. [He] had some Asian influence, of all things, so I was wrong. I should have put some soy sauce in there,” Timothy said of his quickfire loss, after boasting that he would probably win the challenge because of his knowledge of the ingredient. That kind of sounds like regret, right?

» “I basically made love to that duck, to be honest with you,” Angelo said of his elimination challenge dish, yet again bringing gross-sounding sex into the equation.

» “Angelo wants to scoop it up, but I’m not going to use it. There’s no way I’m using cauliflower off the ground,” Kevin said after his first elimination challenge dish fell off the table. So Angelo had crabs and isn’t averse to eating food using the five-second rule? This guy gets grosser by the episode, really.

» “Progresso, eat your heart out. … I should win something, eventually,” Amanda said of her elimination dish, certain her “really delicious” soup would win her points with the judges. Keep dreaming, kid.

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

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