The season is winding down to the finales, but before we get there, a few more chefs need to go and a few more DC locales need to be used. This week’s theme is all about the life of a spy, including disguises, intrigue and mystery.

Boxes of Mystery

The Quick Fire challenge brings with it Padma and Wylie Dufresne, and black boxes with white question marks on them, a la The Riddler. The boxes have the same ingredients, and the chefs will start with those. More mystery boxes will arrive throughout the challenge, and all of the ingredients must be used. Making matters more intense, this is a high-stakes challenge, with $10,000 on the line. Angelo really wants the cash so he can bring his Russian fiancé to the US. Wait, what? Russian fiancé?

Before we can ponder that too much, the boxes fly open and there’s a fish, fava beans (Hannibal Lector’s favorite), and a can of hominy. There’s some drama over not sharing can openers, but everyone gets started eventually. Alex wants to put together a composed dish, but has no idea what he’s doing. Angelo is more perplexed than usual, and is a bit frazzled. Another mystery box arrives, containing squid and black garlic. The man in black then delivers a third mystery box containing ramps and passion fruit. Tiffany doesn’t even know what part of the ramp to use and Angelo is still debating whether his dish is going to be a hot dish or a cold one. The final mystery box arrives with some jicama. Lots of running, sweating, and panic ensues as the clock winds down.

Wylie and Padma return to sample these dishes:
Alex’s rockfish with fava bean puree, ramp fondue, and sautéed squid.
Tiffany’s fish stew with hominy, fava beans, saffron and black garlic.
Kelly’s Yucatecan seafood stew with black garlic, fava beans, and grilled ramps.
Amanda’s crispy skin striped bass, squid fricassee, and leek and mushroom fondue.
Kevin’s pan-seared rockfish, hominy puree, jicama and passion fruit salad.
Ed’s rockfish sashimi with hominy-basil puree, and grilled squid marinade.
Angelo’s smoky hominy pot-au-feu, squid, rockfish tataki and passion fruit gel (that melted).

Wylie thought Alex’s dish really came together and Amanda’s crispy skin wasn’t so crispy. He loved Tiffany’s integration of components and Kevin’s puree was clever and the fish was cooked well. Kevin wants the money for his baby and moving houses, but Tiffany gets the win. She now has a total of $20,000, so that wedding is paid for.

Masters of Disguise

For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs will become secret agents for the CIA and disguise classic dishes. They draw knives to find out what dish they have to obscure: Amanda gets French onion soup; Ed gets chicken cordon bleu; Angelo gets beef Wellington; Kelly gets kung pao shrimp; Tiffany gets gyro; Kevin gets cobb salad; and Alex gets veal parmesan. They will be cooking for CIA officers and Leon Panetta, the head of the CIA, at CIA headquarters. And, on top of all that, the winner gets a trip to Paris. Ed really wants to appease his girlfriend’s desire for a trip and win the challenge.

Off to shopping at Whole Foods, where Alex looks for “double 0” flour, which is all too clever. We also learn he’s only been cooking for six years and was previously a videographer of weddings and whatnot. This surprises no one, as he kind of has that creepy California videographer vibe. Kelly is not experienced with Chinese cooking, so she looks to prepared sauces to get the flavor profile. Angelo wants to make Beef Wellington pizzas, but decides to use prepared puff pastry; Ed thinks that this could be the end of Angelo—it was for John, back on the first challenge.

Back in the kitchen, Tiffany is excited by the challenge and loves spy stuff. She’s planning on deconstructing the gyro. Amanda is a bit wrapped up in the spy idea, so much so she’s disguising her soup by making a soup. Kelly is also making a soup with kung pao flavors, but that makes it quite different. Alex tries to offer Kelly advice but she doesn’t want to put up with his yammering. Amanda has a soft-spot for Alex, and doesn’t think he’s so bad. Angelo isn’t worried about the purchased pastry, because it’s not the main component of the dish. Ed is disguising his chicken cordon bleu by putting the ham on the outside. Kevin is using the flavors of the cobb salad, but changing the textures; he’s not sure he’s changed it enough.

It’s off to the CIA for the final preparation and service to CIA officials, who can’t possibly be spies, lest they would not appear on national television. There’s just a mere hour and a half to get the dishes ready. Angelo is a bit frazzled after the QF and Amanda knows she didn’t disguise her dish enough. Alex is using all new techniques, the results of which do not impress Ed. Kelly has serious rice issues—she put it in a rice cooker and it turns out completely mushy. Plus, she’s used to cooking at 8000 feet where rice takes an hour to cook. Tiffany tells her to just put some on the stove and it’ll get done in the remaining 30 minutes, which it does. Tiffany also helps Kelly plate, on the theory that she wants to compete on top level of cooking, not just some plating accident.

The judges arrive (Eric is back!) and the first two dishes that come out are Angelo’s “Beef Wellington” of a tartlet topped with slivers of beef and Kelly’s “Kung Pao Shrimp” of a spicy shrimp broth with rice and Szechuan shrimp tempura. Angelo’s dish is so obviously Beef Wellington that Leon Panetta jokes that the dish would have been captured and hung. The dish isn’t well received—it’s salty and the pastry is tough. Wylie figures out Kelly’s dish first; Tom knows what it is too. They both like the flavor, though Wylie thought there was too much broth.

Next up are Tiffany’s “Gyro” of a roasted leg of lamb with smoky eggplant, tomatoes, and pickled onions and Kevin’s “Cobb Salad” of romaine lettuce, tomato, bacon, Roquefort, avocado, cucumber and turkey. Leon guesses the inspiration for Tiffany’s dish and Eric thinks it’s the most elegant gyro he’s ever eaten. Kevin’s Cobb Salad perplexed Leon Panetta, but his human resources person guessed it when she got to the cheese. Tom knew what it was, but he loves Cobb Salads. In the middle of tasting, Leon Panetta is called away on CIA business, but the rest of the CIA folks get to stay.

As they prepare their dishes, Amanda doesn’t like seeing Alex is having a problem with his execution; he’s the wise, old Jewish uncle she’s never had. For this round of tasting, Amanda serves “French Onion Soup” as consommé with oxtail marmalade, caramelized onions, and shaved gruyere. It’s obviously French Onion Soup but the marmalade was too sweet. Alex’s “Veal Parmesan” is veal and parmigiano cheese tortelloni with tomato sauce and tempura cheese. The veal is insanely tough and there are serious execution problems, though it was well-disguised.

Last up is Ed’s “Chicken Cordon Bleu” of a roasted chicken breast, ham and cheese croquette, and spring onion soubise. It’s obvious what it is, but it’s very tasty and there was a lot of work in the dish. The judges excuse themselves for super secret deliberations and the chefs pack up and depart the CIA. Back at the house, the chefs debate what Leon Panetta knows—who killed JFK, where the aliens are—and conclude Alex is an alien. As he says, “Ya never know!”

Fake moustaches are not disguises.

Time to sit in the Stew Room and wait for the judges. Padma calls in Tiffany, Kelly, and Ed to face questioning from Padma, Eric, Tom, and Wylie. These fine chefs had the best dishes; Kelly explains hers by saying she used soup to make it look different. Eric liked the rice counteracting the spice and Tom found it to be a good job. Wylie was impressed Tiffany turned a hand food into a dish; Eric liked it a lot even though he knew what it was. Ed’s dish was well-executed and Wylie thought the chicken was cooked perfectly. He then announces Tiffany as the winner—she’s got a honeymoon planned now. Ed knows his girlfriend will be disappointed, but he’s happy for Tiffany.

Back in the stew room, Tiffany sends Alex, Amanda, and Angelo to see the judges. Amanda knew that her dish was not disguised, and was going more for flavor. Tom finds taking a soup to make a soup weak and the marmalade was too sweet. Angelo knows he too failed to disguise his dish and should have taken it further. Tom is disappointed in the puff pastry and Wylie is disappointed that he didn’t go very far. Eric slaps the “sad” label on the dish. As for Alex, Wylie was disappointed because at first, it wasn’t obvious what the dish was; in the end, the disguise was just poor execution. Alex says he tried new techniques, which was a bad move at this point in the competition. Tom says he’s had better tortellini out of a box and wants to know why they’re cooking like they’re seventh best at this point in the competition.

The judges deliberate and find that they didn’t present good dishes and didn’t disguise it well. Alex did get the disguise part right, but failed miserably on execution. Amanda didn’t disguise and didn’t make a good dish. Angelo’s Beef Wellington would make Julia Child cry. And thus, they make their decision and the bottom three return to find Alex is going home as seventh best in the competition.

In his departure interview, Alex says he expected to win the whole competition; he doesn’t remain angry over the pea puree accusations and the Restaurant Wars tension but heads back to California to rejoin his alien family. Up next week is a challenge involving serving food at a ball game in what appears to be a close-quarters food truck or concession stand. No doubt tempers will flare with the heat.