Kenny and the others get a chance to tap into their inner genetic mutants during the…
A lone Padma gets right to the point: It’s time for the tag-team cooking challenge, which you may remember from last season in Las Vegas. The eight contestants are divided into teams, with four members on each team and 10 minutes each to cook. In 40 minutes, each team has to create one dish together as a unit — but while one member cooks, the others who haven’t cooked yet have to be blindfolded. Tricky, indeed.
So the eight draw knives and divide into teams: Based on the knives they choose, Ed and Kevin are able to pick their teammates a la dodgeball, meaning Ed, Tiffany, Angelo and Alex end up together as the red team, and Kevin, Kenny, Kelly and Amanda end up together as the blue team. And though there’s no more immunity at this stage in the game, the winning team does get $10,000 to divide between the four of them. This sounds great to Amanda, who admits, “I’m broker than broke right now.”
With the money to entice them, everyone gets blindfolded, and then the first members of each team — Kenny and Tiffany — get to work. Tiffany thinks of a dish with pan-seared snapper and leaves the head of the fish on for her teammates to deal with, while Kenny decides to work with prawns. Next come Amanda and Alex; but while Amanda immediately figures out what Kenny wanted for the dish and starts cooking angel-hair pasta, Alex flounders, going to season the fish instead of prepping the other ingredients. “We have 30 minutes, basically, why are you touching the fish?” Tiffany says exasperatedly. “Leave the fish alone!”
But Alex doesn’t. And because he can’t communicate with the remaining members of his team to tell them he’s already seasoned the fish, final teammate Angelo liberally salts the fish again as Tiffany and Ed look on and groan. Meanwhile, on the other side of the kitchen, Kevin and Kelly work smoothly and efficiently, cleaning their station and perfecting their dish without a hitch.
And that calm pays off, as guest judge (and Speaker of the House) Nancy Pelosi waltzes into the kitchen dressed in a shiny purple power suit. She tries the food and immediately likes Kevin and Co.’s dish (sauteed shrimp, angel-hair pasta, mustard sauce and crispy basil) more than Ed and Co.’s dish (roasted red snapper, wilted greens and maitake mushrooms). Though both dishes are delicious, the saltiness of the snapper loses it for the red team. While they wallow (“Alex completely ruined it. … It was good, minus the salt,” Tiffany says of the dish) and the blue team rejoices (“Now I’ve got the taste of it, I just want more,” Amanda says of winning), Padma describes the upcoming…
Yup, you guessed it: Eight contestants divided into teams of four means it’s time for restaurant wars. The teams, which will remain as they are, will take over Redwood in Bethesda, Md., with a three-course menu with two options for each course — and every member of the team must be responsible for a dish.
But as the teams split into pairs to go to Whole Foods and Restaurant Depot to shop, Ed and Angelo scheme over how to keep Alex (whom Ed hilariously nicknames Skeletor) out of cooking altogether. “We all question Alex’s ability to basically cook,” Ed explains, so the team will be better off by excluding him, they decide. And though that doesn’t tickle Kevin, who’s also in the car, Ed and Angelo couldn’t care less, and vote to make Alex handle the front-of-the-house role while everyone else hangs out in the kitchen.
After 45 minutes of shopping, the teams get two hours to prep and decide their roles, leading to Angelo and Kenny being named executive chefs for their teams and Alex and Kelly handling front-of-house duties. And though Angelo assumes a role that was never specifically given to him — “[Ed] didn’t explicitly say [I should be executive chef]. … It just naturally fell into place” — he immediately puts Alex on simpler tasks. But when Alex can’t even break down lamb chops or fish correctly, Angelo can’t handle it: “Butchering is a timely thing, and it’s all I needed him to do,” he gripes, and everyone begins to notice his anxiety. “I’m watching Alex, and he’s still butchering this fish. It just seems like it’s going to be a crash-and-burn situation,” notes Kenny, whose own team seems to be getting along just fine.
The next day, the teams inch a little closer to opening their restaurants. With four hours to prep, each team names their restaurants: Ed and Co. name their Mediterranean-themed place Evoo, short for extra virgin olive oil (this better not be an homage to Rachael Ray or I will punch someone), while Kevin and co. name their place Twenty One 21, the address of their townhouse in D.C. And just like the other day, everything Alex touches seems to fail: His interactions with the servers show that he doesn’t really know the dishes, and his mocking of the servers’ tools and skills don’t help, either.
But then it’s time to feed the diners and the judges, who include Padma, Tom, Gail and former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni. It’s Alex’s poor etiquette that angers them first. Not only does he miss the judges entering and being seated at Evoo, but his nervousness comes off as cockiness (or maybe it’s both), and he just doesn’t seem to get the seriousness of interacting with the judges while they taste his team’s dishes, which include:
» First course: Angelo: Confit of tomato soup, squash and olive crouton.
» First course: Tiffany: Crudo of black bass and yellowtail snapper with Meyer lemon and caper relish.
» Second course: Tiffany: Striped bass, stewed spinach, chorizo and clams.
» Second course: Ed: Slow-baked turbot, eggplant caviar and black olive jus.
» Third course: Alex: Pan-seared lamb chop, English pea puree, smoked bacon and parmesan foam.
» Third course: Angelo and Ed: Seared rib-eye steak, crushed walnut potatoes and balsamic fig reduction.
» Judges’ thoughts: The meal starts off a little disappointing, with Gail thinking Tiffany’s first course lacked subtlety and was too salty, but things get better as the meal progresses. Frank loves Ed’s turbot dish and thinks it lives up to the restaurant’s Mediterranean moniker, and though Alex messes up describing his own dish — calling it a pork chop instead of a lamb chop — Frank thinks it’s cooked well, if lacking texture. Overall, the judges find the food solid but the service lacking, with Frank complaining about his water cup being half full and Alex’s lack of welcome. And when they get up to leave, Alex watches them walk out without approaching or thanking them for their visit — another bad move.
Next up is Twenty One 21, and Kelly instantly curries favor with the judges by greeting them at the door, showing them to their table and explaining their restaurant theme, which is “progressive American.” And Padma is pleasantly surprised to see a dessert course on the team’s menu, which Evoo lacked. The dishes go down like this:
» First course: Kelly: Chilled sweet corn soup with Maryland blue-crab salad.
» First course: Kenny: Beet salad with warm chorizo citrus vinaigrette.
» Second course: Amanda: Oakwood grilled strip steak with roasted sunchoke and maitake mushrooms.
» Second course: Kevin: Pan-roasted halibut, fennel marmalade and tomato-fennel emulsion.
» Third course: Kenny: Crisp aged goat cheese and strawberry and rhubarb relish.
» Dessert course: Kelly: Dark chocolate ganache tart and blackberry chocolate chunk ice cream.
» Judges’ thoughts: Though the team worked better in the kitchen, the dishes just aren’t that great. Kelly’s soup lacks flavor and is too thin, gripes Tom, while Kenny’s salad has too many “accessories,” or extraneous elements. Amanda’s steak is cut too thin and therefore lacks a crust, and Frank isn’t pleased, either: “You can look at it and know you’re not going to get the pleasure from it that you want.” In contrast, the judges like Kevin’s halibut dish, which has a very pretty orange emulsion that makes Frank think “Kevin should paint,” and also don’t mind Kelly’s ganache tart. And though her ice cream lacks flavor, it doesn’t compare to Kenny’s horrendous cheese course: It’s a “horror show,” says Frank; it’s too big for one person and has an awful crust, says Gail; and everyone agrees it’s a “goat cheese monstrosity.”
Though everyone looks drained in the stew room while waiting for Padma to come in, Kevin and Co. look sucker-punched when Ed, Angelo, Tiffany and Alex get called in. “My mind will be fucking blown. Blown,” says Kevin, in awe of the idea that his team could lose.
They lose. When Padma announces that the red team and Evoo are the winners, everyone collapses on the ground in joy, and then immediately get up to be mightily praised. There’s no mention of Tiffany’s bad appetizer; instead, the judges gush over Ed’s turbot, naming him as the winner. As he gets handed a humongous bottle of wine as a prize, he announces, “I can’t wait to dive into that thing headfirst,” which sounds like a stupendous idea.
Then it’s time for the blue team, creators of Twenty One 21, to get grilled on their mistakes. Kenny can’t handle it. Complaining about how Alex did nothing on the other team and how disharmonious that group was, Kenny gets angrier by the minute, but Gail isn’t having it. “We don’t care or judge on the communication in the back of the house,” she makes clear. Instead, their dishes are torn apart: Kelly’s flavorless soup, Kenny’s beet salad (which Franks says was “done through the guise of Hamburger Helper”) and Amanda’s steak (“It’s like having a great pair of shoes with a really mediocre suit; it’s not going to save the suit,” Frank says while comparing her bad cut of meat to a snazzy sauce she served with it).
Still, though, the team can’t get over how little Alex did on the other team. They all vent to the judges about how he didn’t even conceive or cook his dish, and continue their tirade in the stew room: “You didn’t do a fucking damn thing!” Kevin yells, while Kenny adds, “The reality is, each person needs to conceive their fucking dish, yes or no?” They’re pissed, but it’s totally understandable: Alex sucks!
And when the judges decide to send Kenny home because both his beet salad and goat cheese dish were subpar, Alex hatred levels ratchet tenfold. And the fact that Amanda was seemingly saved just because she made one bad dish, not two, was also infuriating: She’s slipped by for weeks now, and has shown no special talent.
It seems like a sad-sack Kenny knows others deserved to go before him, too: “I’m kind of in awe right now,” he says before leaving. “To not be on ‘Top Chef’ anymore is hard, because the reality is Alex didn’t prepare his food at all. There should be more dialogue about that. … The Beast is gone. It’s anybody’s game.”
Next week, we’ll see if that’s really the case, as the cheftestants travel to the CIA building for their upcoming challenge. Pour one out for Kenny. He deserves it.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
» “I was forced to take Alex. I know that Tiffany, Angelo and myself are kind of all on the page, but Alex — I’m not sure where he is,” Ed says of being forced to choose Alex to be on his quickfire and elimination challenge teams.
» “My kitchens call me the Prepping Weapon,” Kenny says as he jumps into the first leg of the tag-team challenge. It makes sense: That dude rips through herbs like nobody’s business.
» “He’ll put you on blast,” Kevin says when he learns the guest judge will be Frank Bruni. What praise!
» “It’s interesting with Angelo and I acting as executive chefs in restaurant wars. … The best against the Beast,” Kenny says while working on the elimination challenge. But what will Angelo do without the Beast to inspire his competitive streak?
» “I don’t think I’ve ever been this confident going into an elimination challenge,” Amanda says, complaining about how her team lost the elimination challenge. I pray for the day her confidence is shattered and she goes home. Literal prayers.
Written by Express contributor Roxana Hadadi
Photos by David Giesbrecht/Bravo