Top Chef 7/28: Top Theft?
When we rejoin our intrepid chef contestants, Kelly comments that her room keeps losing people. Kenny is still angered that he was in the bottom in the prior challenge due to strategy, not cooking skills. Angelo pays some lip service to being sad that Tamesha is gone, but as Tiffany observes, Angelo helped Tamesha, who was eliminated, and Stephen, who had a bad dish. And it becomes official—Tiffany is my favorite contestant because she can cook and comment well, which hardly ever happens with a likeable contestant.
At the Top Chef Kitchen, the chefs find Padma and Rep. Aaron Schock, the youngest congressman in the House. He explains that new congressmen have to take an ethics course, a lot of which has to do with dining. (I believe him—years ago I worked for a government agency and the rules on food acceptance were difficult to parse out, even with a team of lawyers.) So that lobbyists don’t sway members of congress with lavish foods, the rule is that whatever is served has to be served on a toothpick. Thus, the chefs have to come up with an appetizer that is representative of an entire meal. The winner of the challenge gets not only immunity but also $20,000, which sends Andrea into dreaming of paying off debt.
The 30-minute prep time starts and the chefs run to the refrigerators to find protein. Stephen is certain he could win, but Alex thinks Stephen has too much going on. Tiffany is making a roulade that she’s familiar with and notes Amanda, who is working next to her, does not seem to have a clue what’s going on. Ed struggles with his dish as well; he doesn’t know how to reduce his concept down to a toothpick. After all the mad dashing, chopping, and cooking, the dishes served are:
Kevin’s grilled pork and mushroom kabob with sherry vinegar.
Andrea’s buttermilk fried chicken, pecan cheddar waffles and black pepper maple gravy.
Ed’s duo of tuna: tuna confit, grilled tuna with avocado, sweet & sour watermelon.
Tiffany’s crispy pork roulade with prosciutto, dates and red pepper coulis.
Amanda’s lamb kabob with heirloom tomatoes and salsa verde.
Kenny’s tandori spiced sockey salmon and shrimp with mango mojito relish.
Angelo’s cucumber cup with spiced shrimp and cashew.
Stephen’s scallop and beef with crispy potato, béarnaise sauce.
Alex’s scallops with crispy bacon, strawberries and basil essence.
Andrea’s scallops with watermelon and watermelon vinaigrette.
Rep. Schock thought Alex’s dish had too much going on, Ed’s dish looked better than it tasted, and Kelly’s lacked flavor. He did like Kevin’s, Angelo’s, and Stephen’s dish and picks Angelo’s old-school cucumber dish. Somewhere Hung (I think) is pissed off at a dude winning with a cucumber appetizer.
Possible thievery at the Palm.
For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs are tasked at catering a power lunch at the Palm for 24 diners. They will cook either pork chops, porterhouse, salmon, swordfish, or lobster. Two chefs will cook the same meats, but it isn’t a head to head challenge—they will all be competing against each other. They head to Whole Foods to shop where Stephen is confident in his salmon recipes and Andrea plans to do something with swordfish that takes away what she doesn’t like about the fish.
Back in the Top Chef kitchen, Angelo and Ed struggle with the enormity of their lobsters—they are four-pound beasts, still alive, and with claws that could kill a person. Alex cuts down the giant pieces of salmon he’s been given and Amanda takes the meat off the bone of the porterhouse steaks. Kelly, who also has porterhouse as her protein, observes that Amanda really now has New York strip and filets, not a porterhouse; she’s keeping her steaks whole to cook the protein she was given. Kevin is cooking his lamb chops sous vide; he is confident he can pull off a power lunch due to feeding the Philadelphia mayor lunch weekly. Angelo isn’t that familiar with the whole power lunch deal, so he’s just focusing on taste. Ed spent most of his time breaking down the lobsters, so he’s freaking out that he won’t have enough time to get everything done at the Palm.
The day runs down and it’s back to the house. Man alive, they have a lot of empty liquor bottles on the kitchen counter—Maker’s Mark, vodka, and a couple of others. How do they get up in the morning? Alex laments that he hasn’t yet figured out what he’s going to do; he has too many ideas in his head for the salmon. He does have some peas, and Kenny says Ed had some and they looked good before Ed pureed them. Meanwhile, Ed and Tiffany are discussing his pea puree in the bedroom and then he whines that he’s going to be on the bottom. Tiffany makes a point of interviewing that there is no flirting with Ed—she has a man, and it’s not Ed.
The next day, the chefs arrive at the Palm and are welcomed by Bruce Bozzi, Jr., the executive VP of the Palm. He does an unintentional Tim Gunn impression by asking the chefs to gather ‘round and puts the pressure on the chefs—no one else has ever cooked in the Palm’s kitchen and Tom will be in the kitchen with them. Plus, he says, the winner will get his or her face on the walls of the Palm, right along side of politicians and other political-types and the winning dish will go on the Palm’s menu.
Prep begins and it’s madness. Amanda didn’t bring salt and Kelly won’t share; Kelly keeps salting her steaks like there’s no tomorrow to prove she doesn’t have enough to share. Alex decides to make a pea puree with the hope that it will work. Tom arrives in the kitchen, intimidating Amanda. He finds Tiffany in a back corner working away from the ruckus. Andrea asks Kelly if she has extra butter, and Amanda offers her extra up in a move to spite Kelly. Ed then starts looking for his pea puree and he can’t find it anywhere and neither can Tiffany. He’s pissed off, suspects Alex may have stolen it, and then just decides to substitute a vegetable.
Lunch is served.
Padma and Gail each host a table at the Palm; they’re guests are politicians, political correspondents, and guest judge Art Smith, who was much beloved on Top Chef Masters. Meanwhile, Tom tastes the dishes in the kitchen, standing up, and aggressively attacking each dish like it’s an enemy. First up are the steaks; Kelly serves her porterhouse on the bone with crispy potato-arugula salad and a roasted shallot demi-glace and Amanda serves a duo of New York steak and filet mignon and red wine with pommes Parisienne and arugula. The diners like Amanda’s dish but think Kelly’s steak was too salty.
The swordfish is the next to come out. Tiffany presents her swordfish with olive-raisin tapenade, broccolini and bacon while Andrea serves pan-seared swordfish with “risotto style” couscous, asparagus and a beurre blanc flavored with mustard and vanilla. Andrea has made the sauce many times before and seems very proud of it. Andrea’s dish seems heavy with the butter and some diners have a problem with the vanilla. Tiffany’s dish pretty well received but the fish was cooked a little too long; she knows the fish was over-cooked and is certain she’s in the bottom.
The third round brings the salmon dishes. Stephen serves salmon with warm vegetable salad and a Worcestershire vinaigrette and Alex presents applewood smoked salmon with black forbidden rice and English pea puree. They love Alex’s dish—the pea puree is great and the portion is perfect. Stephen’s dish is a bit messy and heavy.
The giant lobsters are served; they’ve been broken down into Angelo’s poached lobster with lobster froth and jicama, arugula and Asian pear salad and Ed’s butter poached lobster ballotine, eggplant caviar and English pea-asparagus fricassee. Angelo’s lobster is chewy and some diners don’t like the foam. Ed’s dish is much better received, except the peas seem unnecessary.
Finally, the lamb chops come out. Kenny serves a peppered lamb with fig-pistachio bread pudding and vanilla-morel demi-glace and Kevin presents a double-cut lamb chop with olive and goat cheese rissole, mache, and tomato concasse. Kenny’s dish is sweet and the lamb is good, but needed some supporting vegetables. Kevin’s dish is spicy and overwhelming to the diners.
The guests leave and Tom joins Padma, Gail, and Art to discuss the kitchen action. He says that a lot of the chefs were sloppy in the kitchen and there was a lot of running around. Art, who is all about love in food, thinks some of the dishes had a lot of love in them. Back in the kitchen, there is still a kafuffle over the missing pea puree and whether Alex stole it.
In the stew room, the chefs are still talking about the pea puree incident. Alex claims he didn’t even know Ed had made a pea puree, but the Magical Elves help us out by flashing back to the prior night when Kenny told him about Ed’s puree. Padma arrives and calls out Alex, Tiffany and Ed to face the judges. At Judges’ Table, Padma tells them they had the top dishes, which causes Tiffany to shed tears of relief. She says she knew the flavor was there but worried about overcooking the fish. Tom says it wasn’t overcooked, but cooked too soon, however since there was a lot of juices to it, it didn’t get dried out. Art saw that Ed was challenged with his giant lobsters, but he didn’t show his challenge on the plate. Alex admits it was hard to figure out what to do with salmon, since it is so diverse. Art thought the fish was cooked beautifully and the pea puree made the dish—he could have eaten a whole bowl of that alone. Art announces Alex as the winner, which pisses off Ed to no end. Maybe the Palm will call his dish “Pea-gate Salmon”.
Alex sends back Kelly, Andrea, and Kevin, but not before Kenny comments that it is absurd that Alex had the time to make such a great pea puree at the Palm. The judges start with Kevin, with Gail asking what was in the tomato concasse. He says tomato, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Gail thought it was too spicy; Tom had issues with the cooking of the lamb and Art found the butchering of the lamb to be off. Andrea starts out by saying that swordfish isn’t her favorite fish and she doesn’t cook it often. Art has issues with her couscous; she capitulates that perhaps a salad would have been a better option. Tom didn’t like the heaviness of the vanilla, but she says that the vanilla and mustard sauce is something she does all the time. Gail tersely replies that if they wanted to eat her regular food, they’d just come to her restaurant. That doesn’t seem terribly fair to me, because after all these seasons, the judges have to get that the contestants are making stuff from their regular repertoire, even if it is just a matter of changing up a thing or two. Kelly said her dish was a traditional steakhouse dish, but gets that she made the mistake of over salting her dish. Padma dismisses the trio with a “thanks, that’s all” and the chefs go back to the stew room.
Kelly breaks down in the stew room, while Amanda gloats that it was the salt that Kelly wouldn’t share that put Kelly in the bottom. Back at Judges’ Table, Tom finds fault in Andrea’s dish sitting under the heat lamps for seven minutes and Art doesn’t think it is an excuse to perform poorly because the chef doesn’t like the fish. Gail gets Kevin’s idea but there was nothing to hold the dish together. Tom sees sous vide as idiot-proof cooking that runs the risk of over-cooking. Kelly’s dish was over salted, which calls her sense of taste into question for the judges. Kelly says, back in the stew room, that she pushed herself for an aggressive flavor because when she seasons delicately the judges don’t seem to like it. I blame the politician from the QF—what does he know about food, anyway?
The decision is made and the bottom three return to learn their fates. Tom says Kevin’s lamb was over cooked, Kelly’s steak over salted, and Andrea used too much vanilla. Padma then tells Andrea to pack and go. Kevin falls to the floor and Kelly and Kevin hug Andrea but this goes on too long for Padma who tells them to get out with a “that’ll be all, thank you.” Man, these judges are extra snarky this episode.
Andrea takes her departure well—she doesn’t need four people sitting behind a table to tell her whether she can cook because she knows she can. Next week, the chefs have to cook for diplomats from around the world and another Top Chef Masters alum joins the judging panel.
Re: Top Chef 7/28: Top Theft?
I just finished watching the episode again. Right after they told Alex he had won, he looked like he was going to say something, but then stopped. Wonder what was on his mind.
I still think he stole the puree. Otherwise, why would they have shown the pan of peas just sitting there, and then 5 seconds later, shown him walking around stirring "his" puree. Even with the "editing" excuse, there was a hint of something hinky there.
ETA: Karma will raise its ugly head because of this. Alex is going to get NO help from anyone after this. And he needs to watch for the headlights of an oncoming bus, 'cause there's a whole room full of cheftestants who will happily throw him under it.