Mixing Old Fashioneds
Top Chef 6/30 Recap: No Interns Were Sullied During This Episode
As the next morning dawns on the Top Chef house, Amanda brushes her teeth while sitting on a blue exercise ball, and it strikes me as oddly hilarious. She’s really starting to feel the competition with Jacqueline gone and her room a bit emptier, so maybe that despondency accounts for the strange seating choice. Kenny is sick of placing behind Angelo in seemingly every freakin’ challenge, but Angelo doesn’t think Kenny is all that much of a team player after the last challenge. And Arnold…well, he must be a reality show watcher, because he just had to be the first to talk about people throwing one another under the bus. If I ran a reality show, elimination would be based upon use of trite reality show phrases. And Arnold would be auf’d.
As easy(?) as pie.
The day starts off with the Quick Fire Challenge with Padma, Gail, and “pastry god” Johnny Iuzzini of the Elvis hair. Gail and Johnny will be hosting and judging Top Chef Just Desserts later on this year, so this is a bit of a plug. As Johnny says, making pastries is more of an exact science, with measuring, knowing proportion, and not really being able to fix it as you go so pastry chefs have to be organized. For this QF the chefs have two hours to make any pie of their choice.
Well, you would have thought the challenge was to rebuild a 1957 Chevy engine by the way some of these folks reacted. Angelo never made a pie. Never? Hell, pies are what I started on when I was about 4 (then again, most of my Facebook pics are of pies or cakes I’ve baked—I’m weird like that). Tim similarly has no clue and goes with a simple apple pie. Lynne, as an instructor and with more time in the industry, has no problem and neither does Kelly, since one of the first desserts she made when she started her restaurant was a pie. Alex mixes every ingredient within his eye line to make a thick-crusted kitchen sink pie. Ed thinks he needs to accessorize his banana cream pie so he starts cribbing from last week’s episode and talks about peanut butter and celery. Tracey totally screwed up her first pie because she didn’t measure and put too much butter in the crust so with 30 minutes left, she throws together a second sad berry pie. As Johnny says during the judging, it is no excuse that they aren’t pastry chefs—his grandmother isn’t a pastry chef and can make a pie. Three out of my four grandparents could do it too; if my burly, telephone lineman grandfather could bake a pie, these wusses should be able to knock one out too. The pies tasted by the judges are:
Kenny: Bananas Foster pie with currants and Chinese five spice.
Amanda: Apple pie with rosemary and bourbon, hazelnut crust.
Stephen: Curried apple-date pie with saffron.
Kelly: Spiced raspberry and dark chocolate ganache tart.
Arnold: Kalamansi and key lime parfait with Korean soju.
Angelo: Sweet potato pie, curry spices, crumble crust.
Tracey: Blueberry almond crunch pie with light cream and almond brittle.
Tiffany: Peach cobbler with cornmeal crust, buttermilk-lemon crème anglaise.
Lynne: Mango pie with basil and vanilla crust.
Ed: Banana cream pie with salted peanuts and celery spuma.
Alex: White chocolate, tapioca, and Chevre pie with almond crust and raspberry puree.
(Andrea’s, Kevin’s, Tim’s, and Tamesha’s pies were not shown.)
Gail and Johnny’s least favorite pies were Alex’s for the texture, Tracey’s for the burnt on top, undercooked on bottom crust, and Ed’s muddled mix of too much on his banana cream pie. Their favorites were Kelly’s beautiful and simple chocolate tart, Stephen’s surprising use of different flavors that worked, and Kenny’s use of favorite flavors. Johnny gives Kenny the win and immunity.
Would George Washington be able to eat any of this with his wooden teeth?
For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs will prepare picnic foods on grills at Mount Vernon for 150 Capitol Hill interns. Alex gets overly excited about grills and interns while Arnold gripes that he isn’t a grill guy. The contestants set off for Whole Foods with their $400 a piece where we learn a few interesting tidbits: (1) Kevin has a Puerto Rican wife, whose family does a lot of cookouts, and inspired his picnic dish; (2) Tracey knows how to case sausage; and (3) Amanda used to do every kind of drug under the sun.
Back in the kitchen for prep, Kenny reminisces about his dad grilling for the family and finds the challenge to be very personal. Tracey yammers on to no one in particular and annoys everyone in earshot. Tim and Angelo both are a bit over-confident about their grilling skills. Tom arrives to see what’s shaking and finds Alex and Amanda fighting over an oven—maybe she took his, maybe she labeled one, it was hard to follow the story. Tom wonders if Ed has too much going on which causes Ed to plunge into self-doubt. Tom sees Arnold is pressed for time, but he’s making meatballs, so rolling 150+ has to be time-consuming. As time for prep winds down, Amanda runs around the kitchen like she just did a line of blow, which stresses Tiffany out. Back at the house, the other chefs question Amanda’s prep on her baby back ribs; she thinks they don’t take her seriously.
The next day, the chefs arrive at Mount Vernon, ice chests in tow. They start to fire up their grills, but it becomes apparent many don’t know how to light a charcoal grill. There’s a comment that grilling is for men and that’s why the ladies don’t know what they’re doing; I want some one to come tell that to my momma and she’ll perfectly sear both sides of their face to her big-ass charcoal grill in no time. Prep time ends in a rush, as always, and the interns begin to pour in. The judges also arrive; for this challenge Padma, Tom, and Gail are joined by Jonathan Waxman of Barbuto restaurant and Top Chef Masters fame. It’s time for them to get their grub on.
Arnold serves a sesame lamb meatball with tabouli salad and gazpacho. (Does anyone else automatically go to Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown every time gazpacho is mentioned? Nah, didn’t think so.) Tamesah has a marinated skirt steak with a caramel soy glaze and fennel citrus salad. Angelo serves Vietnamese lettuce wraps with a smoked egg salad. And Alex makes not only a grilled pork butt with lemongrass glaze, polenta, and cucumber salad, but also a fairly off-color remark about eating pig’s ass all day. The judges find Arnold’s dish good, fresh, and able to stand up well in the heat. Tamesha overcooked her meat and Alex’s sauce was a bit too sweet, even though the pork was cooked well. Angelo’s dish looks like a magazine cover (or something close to a PF Chang dish, as I see it) and the egg salad was innovative.
Tim serves pork two ways, one a dry rub loin and a wet baby back ribs with grilled vegetables. Amanda also serves dry rub baby back ribs and grilled asparagus with a bacon hazelnut vinaigrette. Kelly has a bison burger and watermelon and tomato salad. Kevin presents a grilled marinated flank steak, rice and beans, and a tomato avocado salad, all inspired by his Puerto Rican wife’s family. Tim’s pork is okay by the judges’ standards but the vegetables were not that great. Kelly’s burger was bland and could easily be made by a home cook. Amanda’s ribs were better than Tim’s (and Jonathan waxes poetic about the asparagus) and Kevin under-seasoned and undercooked his beans.
Lynne serves leg of lamb with ras el hanout, zucchini “spaghetti” with balsamic onions. Kenny has harissa marinated pork loin with quinoa grilled eggplant. And Tracey serves an Italian sausage slider with a tomato, cucumber and red onion salad. The judges like Kenny’s pork loin, find Lynne’s dish too heavy, and Tracey’s slider too big and too heavy on the fennel.
In the final group of picnic foods, Tiffany serves a tamarind glazed wild sockeye salmon and Israeli couscous. Andrea has a spicy root beer glazed skirt steak and potato salad. Stephen serves bacon-wrapped sea bass, ratatouille and olive pine nut couscous. Finally, Ed makes a spiced tuna loin with lentil hummus and we learn that Ed is overly confident because his daddy was an executive chef and said that Ed was a better cook than he. The judges find Ed’s dish picnic friendly, but Andrea’s dish was too heavy on the root beer. Tiffany’s dish was just bland, which is sad for having a glaze and Stephen’s sea bass/bacon combo failed miserably on both proteins’ preparation.
Seeing the future is simple when it’s practically written on the wall.
It is back to the Stew Room for the chefs and Tracey is showing off her psychic/clairvoyant skills with Andrea, which freaks Andrea out a bit. Stephen is feeling fairly confident about his sea bass dish, but it sounds like self-esteem bolstering nonsense. Padma arrives and calls out Arnold, Ed, Amanda, and Angelo to face the judges. They have no reason to be as worried as they appear because they had the top four dishes. The judges praise Ed’s bold use of flavors, Arnold’s delicious lamb, Amanda’s asparagus and ribs (though her salad was unnecessary), and Angelo’s crisp and enjoyable lettuce wrap. Jonathan then gives the win to Arnold for his lamb meatballs. I guess he was a grill guy after all.
The top four return to the Stew Room where Arnold informs Tim, Stephen, Tracey, and Kevin that the judges have requested their presence. Unlike last week, the bottom four aren’t terribly argumentative, or, if they were, that part was cut out. Stephen is called out for not having a proper char on the bacon while the fish inside was hard to cut. Tom is particularly annoyed with Stephen’s greasy, bland couscous. Tim’s chastised for his bad vegetables—some were cooked, some were not. Kevin’s rice and beans suffered from over-cooked rice and under-cooked beans and he just didn’t put out professional-level food. Tracey is not surprised she’s there and thinks maybe she should have crushed the fennel seeds before putting them into the meat. Gail complains her slider was raw and Tom found her plate to be insulting to Italians.
Deliberation amongst the judges is brief. Stephen made a bad choice of cooking something on the grill that probably shouldn’t have been, resulting in an inedible mess due to his lack of confidence. Tim’s dish was, at the very least, edible. Tracey’s sliders are something Jonathan’s 10-year-old could make. Kevin at least got the meat part of his dish right but the rice and beans were a sad mess.
The chefs return to learn the judges’ final thoughts from Tom. He tells Stephen that his dish should be made in a restaurant, not at a picnic and the couscous was nasty no matter where it would be served. Tim’s dish lacked flavor, especially on the side dishes. Kevin couldn’t translate his inspiration to the plate and Tracey went from an Italian food concept to white bread and slimy onions and peppers. Padma then announces Tracey is out (which she already knew and called in the Stew Room, though that hardly proves her clairvoyance). Tracey takes it rather well, noting she had one bad day and she’ll be okay in the future.
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