In life, as in high-school English class, sometimes it’s easier to steal someone else’s idea than to come up with your own. But just as your teacher warned, such laziness will come back to haunt you. And that’s just what happened on last night’s episode of “Top Chef D.C.”
In previous weeks, we’ve been privy to some maybe-romances: between Tamesha and Angelo, who she views as her mentor, and Ed and Tiffany, who each said they only trust each other. We’ve seen some sadness: When Lynn and Arnold went home two weeks ago, everyone was bummed, and this week, Timothy’s departure has the contestants in a somber mood.
But this week, we also see some bluster. Timothy’s departure hasn’t affected Angelo too much, as he wants to “keep on striving for more.” Similarly confident are Kenny, who won the elimination challenge last week, and Andrea, who has been at the top during the past few elimination challenges.
“I’m in a good place, I really am,” she says confidently. Well, at least until the …
The contestants walk into their kitchen and are immediately drawn to two things: First, guest judge Michelle Bernstein, a James Beard Award-winner and owner of Michy’s in Miami; and, second, a table of unappetizing ingredients, like huge emu eggs and a crocodile head. Everyone seems immediately thrown off. Kevin is right when he calls them “nasty proteins.” But Andrea is more unsettled by Michelle’s presence. “There’s a bit of a rivalry between the two of us,” Andrea explains, describing how she and Michelle are both Miami chefs with some drama between them. “I’m not really happy to see Michelle Bernstein.”
While Michelle acknowledges Andrea’s presence and tells the chefs “It’s all about the food,” Andrea doesn’t seem too comforted. Then, Padma commands them all to draw knives to determine the order for protein-picking, and it ends up like this:
» Alex: Foie gras
» Kenny: Frog legs
» Ed: Wild boar
» Tiffany: Yak
» Stephen: Crocodile
» Angelo: Duck white kidneys, which Angelo is shocked to learn aren’t what he thinks. “Do you know what they really are?” Padma smirks. Michelle adds, “They’re, um, testicles,” causing a horrified whiteness to spread over Angelo’s face and drawing laughs from all the other contestants.
» Kevin: Ostrich
» Kelly: Rattlesnake
» Tamesha: Llama
» Andrea: Duck tongue
» Amanda: Emu eggs
The 45 minutes begin: Kelly tries to figure out how to debone the rattlesnake and notes that most of the contestants “don’t even know how to cook” these bizarre ingredients. As a result, it turns into a test of “how innovative we can be,” she adds. Around her, almost everyone else seems confused, too: Amanda has to resort to sawing open the emu egg, while Angelo tries to figure out how to make a “testicle marshmallow.” And as if this challenge wasn’t already frustrating enough, Padma waltzes in with a switch: “Please take over the proteins to your left.”
Tamesha sums up the chefs’ reactions: “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”
While Tamesha and some others are angry about how things turned out (like Kevin, who ends up with Angelo’s testicles, and Alex, who gets the ostrich), Amanda seemingly benefits from giving Kelly her emu egg. “It actually works out for me,” she giggles, while a flabbergasted Kelly decides to make an omelet. “This has to be the most perfect omelet to win, because it’s just an omelet,” she sighs, struggling to deal with the emu egg’s viscous consistency.
Time’s up, and everyone has to present their dishes to Michelle and Padma:
» Tamesha: Duck tongue in broth with lime and Sriracha.
» Andrea: Wild boar and risotto with dried cherries, almonds, mushrooms and red wine. “The flavors are beautiful,” Michelle starts out, but the boar is a “little chewy.” The criticism fits exactly into what Andrea had expected from someone she perceives as her Miami rival.
» Tiffany: Foie gras with caramelized apples, toasted pecans and brandy caramel sauce.
» Alex: Ostrich braised in caul fat, basil with mushroom duxelle and balsamic glaze.
» Kevin: Duck testicles meuniere with beet and licorice puree.
» Angelo: Seared crocodile with ginger, garlic and chiles. Though Michelle immediately praises Angelo’s flavors, she deals him a swift one when she claims the crocodile’s “texture is totally off.” Sounds unappetizing either way.
» Stephen: Seared frog leg, frog leg confit, tomato grits and blackened bourbon sauce.
» Kenny: Rattlesnake francese and rattlesnake cake with leeks, bacon and curry sauce.
» Kelly: Emu egg omelet with goat cheese and harissa vinaigrette.
» Amanda: Roast llama, sauce soubise with date and bacon compote.
When Padma asks Michelle her opinion of the dishes, she has praise for how they handled the unlikely ingredients and “really embraced the challenge,” but is also quick to point out her least favorites: Stephen’s frog legs were “pretty much insipid,” Alex’s ostrich was dry and Andrea’s boar was undercooked. Though again unsurprised by the criticism, that doesn’t mean Andrea’s not pissed: “I’m just disappointed … I’m being called out by Michelle on national TV,” she complains.
Rivalries aside, Michelle has solid words for Kelly, whose omelet was “creamy and delicious”; Tamesha, whose duck tongue was cooked “almost to perfection”; and Amanda, who did a “beautiful job” with the llama. Ultimately, it’s Kelly’s simple dish that gets the win and gives her immunity for this week, reinforcing her belief in straightforward food: “I’m thrilled because there are people in this kitchen who do really complicated food, but I win immunity,” she smiles. But that’s not all she gets. Tell ’em, Padma!
In a challenge inspired by the Cold War, each contestant must make a dish that is best served cold, Padma explains. (Sure, “Top Chef D.C.” is decades late, but whatever). The 11 remaining chefs will be divided into two teams, with each judging the other’s dishes; Kelly won’t cook, but will judge all the creations. (Getting immunity and not having to do any work? Sweet gig.) Then at the end of their tasting, each team will nominate the best and worst dish from what they ate, and those contestants will end up at judges’ table. Kind of like the Thanksgiving challenge in season two, where the losing team from the quickfire challenge had to cook a holiday-themed meal for the winning contestants, who then got to judge what they made. Stretch your memory; just think of Marcel’s overdone hair, and it will all come flooding back.
Anyway, so the knife block comes out again so the contestants can choose teams. They’re divided into Kenny, Ed, Kevin, Amanda and Alex, and Tiffany, Andrea, Stephen, Angelo and Tamesha. Interestingly enough, Ed and Tiffany — who support each other unconditionally — end up on different teams, while Angelo, who is prone to giving advice to Tamesha and Stephen, is grouped with those two.
And that’s not at all: Each team will have the opportunity to plan their “own Cold War strategy” on the U.S.S. Sequoia presidential yacht while sailing around the Potomac River. When they get there, the paranoia begins to set in, with Kenny certain that the other team will look at the voting of best and worst dishes as a strategic move — “I think the other chefs are out to get me,” he says — and Amanda agreeing. “No one really understands how hurtful, vulnerable and scary the impending challenge is,” she says seriously. But Angelo might. As he offers little bits of advice to Tamesha and Stephen about their dishes, Kenny and Kevin try their best to eavesdrop. “I don’t know where that’s going to get him, unless he’s looking to manipulate others chefs’ personal insecurities,” Kenny says of Angelo’s advice. But Tamesha and Stephen seem to be legitimately listening.
After a post-cruise trip to Whole Foods — with Angelo calling the sockeye salmon he buys “sexy” — the chefs get two hours of prep time. Andrea again brings up Michelle, explaining that they were similarly paced toward stardom until Andrea had a family and Michelle went into the limelight. She then insists she “really wants to prove” herself with the challenge. Amanda runs into technical difficulties with her equipment, causing everyone to stare hatefully at her. “Amanda and I have personality differences,” Tamesha says, with many layers of underlying rage. The others begin to realize the strategic advantage this challenge could allow. Getting rid of Kenny and Angelo just by spitefully bashing their dishes? Interesting concept.
After prepping, the chefs get ready to cook the dishes in “this stately room in D.C.,” Amanda says. Where is it? No idea. The room is huge, painted bright green and with golden trim … but nope, they never say where it is. Anyway, Kenny and crew cook first and present first to a table seated with Padma, Tom, Michelle and returning judge Gail, as well as Angelo, Tiffany, Tamesha, Stephen and Andrea. It goes like this:
» Amanda: Chicken galantine with mache and plum chutney. While cooking, Alex had noted Amanda’s chicken definitely had cartilage in it, but didn’t say anything to her after tasting it. Sabotage!
» Kevin: Tuna and veal with romaine leaves, pine nuts and Mediterranean condiments.
» Kenny: Grilled lamb salad and lamb carpaccio with black eyed pea hummus.
» Alex: Sous vide lamb with red beet puree and tzatziki sauce.
» Ed: Sockeye salmon on pumpernickel bread, cucumber vichyssoise and cream cheese.
» Judges’ thoughts: Interestingly enough, the actual judges don’t say a thing; instead, it’s mostly the chefs tearing their peers’ dishes apart. Angelo immediately pounces on Kenny’s dish, calling the texture slimy, while Tiffany thought it was chewy. Tamesha then deems Alex’s use of tzatziki too heavy-handed, while Andrea thought the dish wasn’t seasoned well. Amanda’s dish also gets trashed when Tamesha says it needs more salt, Angelo says he could actually “taste the proteins coagulating” and Andrea notes she tasted cartilage. The only time a judge seems to speak is when everyone begins hating on Kevin’s dish: Stephen and Andrea both say it needed more acidity, and Tom can’t take it anymore. The dish had both Meyer lemon and tomatoes; did they not see that?
His super-exasperated tone shuts them up, and soon everyone is deeming Kevin’s dish the best. Like clockwork, though, they all call Kenny the worst, with Angelo stating the vision was too “convoluted.” With their treacherous mission accomplished — though Stephen proclaims, “I really don’t feel like there was any sabotage or any scheming, but maybe it’s my naivete” — the judging chefs swap places with the cooking ones:
» Tiffany: Peppercorn-crusted ahi tuna in gazpacho sauce with cucumber and arugula salad.
» Angelo: Poached sockeye salmon with cilantro and chiles in pineapple tea.
» Andrea: Tartare trio of steak, tuna with chile oil and mushroom-fennel with roasted beets.
» Stephen: Chilled beef with crispy rice and jalapeno oil.
» Tamesha: Scallops with pickled rhubarb, cilantro, basil and long pepper in rhubarb jus.
» Judges’ thoughts: Again, the judges are pretty mum, but the chefs, unlike the first batch, are positive at times. Amanda loves Tiffany’s gazpacho, while Alex adds it was refreshing. Kenny likes the flavor of Andrea’s trio of dishes, even though Ed thinks they needed more seasoning. Nevertheless, Stephen’s beef “doesn’t blow my socks off,” according to Kenny, and its flavor is lost: “It’s like that saying, ‘Where’s the beef?'” Ed notes. And with Angelo and Tamesha, the negativity just keeps on coming: Amanda thinks Tamesha’s dish was too spicy, while everyone agrees the condiments on Angelo’s salmon heavily masked the fish’s natural taste. When it comes to deciding the best and worst dishes, there’s more discussion than the first crew, but Tiffany’s dish ends up on top and Tamesha’s — a “trainwreck,” according to Amanda, and “unappetizing,” according to Alex — is voted to the bottom. Finally, it’s time for the actual judges’ thoughts at…
In the stew room, everyone comes clean: Andrea tells Amanda she found cartilage in her dish and complained about it, while Angelo smugly says “we were all in consensus” about disliking Kenny’s dish. Though Kenny knows he’s in the bottom, it all seems to make sense and fit in with his original theory, he says: “It is what it is. It’s, would you rather Kenny to go home, or would you rather Amanda to go home? Who’s the threat in the house?” He’s got a point.
Then Padma calls in Kevin and Tiffany, the two winning dishes, and the judges say that even if they weren’t chosen by their peers, they’d still be recognized for their success. Gail singles out the pine nuts and rich sauce of Kevin’s dish, while Tom praises Tiffany’s “perfectly seared” tuna and Michelle calls it “the most refreshing dish we had.” Even still, the win goes to Kevin, who also gets a six-night stay in the Hilton in Hawaii for his family. It’s “an amazing vacation for us,” he gushes, and who can blame him? Well, except for the people who will have to share the plane ride with him and his young children. Screaming toddlers = not fun.
But while Kevin is able to enjoy his victory, Tamesha and Kenny get called in to the judges’ table. Though the two try to defend their work and are sure they were singled out because of their threat to the rest of the competitors, the judges don’t see it like that. Gail questions Tamesha’s use of long pepper, as the flavor ended up being “really strong, really overpowering,” and Michelle notes that her scallops were cooked incorrectly and felt like putting a tongue on top of your tongue. So. Gross.
On to Kenny: He thinks his dish was cohesive because of the two halves’ shared seasoning, but the judges disagree. “There was much that diluted those pure flavors … that we really couldn’t taste that commonality at all,” Gail notes, and can’t seem to sway Kenny from his belief that he’s only before the judges because of Angelo’s influence. Well, until Michelle gives him the ultimate bitch-slap: “I really didn’t enjoy the flavors of the dish,” she says. “If I could sit here and actually talk about each piece that was on the dish, it would take me through till the end of the show.” How the hell do you argue with such straightforward cruelty?
Nevertheless, though Kenny gets the brunt of Michelle’s wrath, Tamesha is ultimately sent packing: Her flavors were not only “infighting,” Gail says, but the entire concept and how she put it together was wrong, Tom adds. It’s kind of depressing, however, that Tamesha only seems to see her most crucial flaw while wiping away her tears: “Angelo is a mentor to me, but I wish I took a little bit more control of my dish,” she notes while getting ready to leave. At least the realization came to her eventually.
Next week, it looks like a lot more conclusions come to light: The friendship between Tiffany and Ed may be developing into something more — which could anger Tiffany’s fiance if he found out, Andrea notes — and Alex’s penchant for backstabbing is obvious when he seems to steal an element of Ed’s dish. “The best thing on Alex’s plate is the English pea puree,” Padma notes during the elimination challenge; little did she know he may have swiped it. Treachery, you make reality TV worth watching.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
» “I have never, ever ate or cooked any of this,” Tiffany says after seeing the table of ingredients for the quickfire challenge. Her life is probably better for it.
» “It was called ‘cock and balls soup,'” Ed says of a dish he helped make while working with chef Todd English, a duck consomme with coxcomb and fried duck testicles. Sometimes, gourmet just really doesn’t make sense.
» “I can probably strangle her in a heartbeat,” Tamesha says of Amanda’s discombobulated behavior in the kitchen. If that had been the reason Tamesha went home, this season would have been way more like “The Wire” than anyone probably could have expected.
» “I think we’ve all had enough of her,” Ed says of Amanda. Short, sweet, accurate.
» “It’s all right, I used to bang his girlfriend,” Ed says of his history with Angelo, which goes back to college, when the two dated the same girl. Ed dated her first, but she got with Angelo at the same time, Ed explains. Nevertheless, it wasn’t Ed who ended up with sloppy seconds.
» “Careful, it’s like a baby,” Angelo says of his dish to the server at the elimination challenge. His self-seriousness is honestly the only part of his personality.
» “There were 17 to 25 ingredients on that plate. How, in any sense of the word, is that ‘straightforward’?” Gail muses over Kenny’s failed dish. So appreciated, Gail’s cattiness.
» “I know my ass is not fucking going home,” Tamesha says before … you know, being told she’s going home. Whomp whomp.
Written by Express contributor Roxana Hadadi
Photos by David Giesbrecht/Bravo