The final DC-based challenge has finally arrived, and the five remaining chefs feel the pressure. Kevin knows he’s dodged several bullets along the way to remain in the competition. Kelly is really missing her husband, whom she’s never previously been apart from for more than a few days. And we suddenly get some background on Angelo’s life; it seems he was married and did have a child with his wife a year ago, but they are now divorced because her family had a problem with his chef profession. We also remember that he has a Russian fiancé, so I’m thinking there’s more to the story than that. We need to find the gal who dated both Angelo and Ed, and maybe add another layer of drama to this tepid tale.
I’ll have a glass of each, please.
In the Top Chef kitchen, the chefs are met by Padma and Dana Cowin, EIC of Food & Wine Magazine. Dana, Ed’s Facebook friend, knows both her food and her wine and challenges them to pick a wine and make a great dish to pair it with. This QF is the last high-stakes QF, bringing a six day trip to London to the winner. The chefs draw knives for order of selecting wines, and it’s off to cook. Kelly is pretty confident about her pairing; her husband acts as the sommelier at their restaurant so she has enough knowledge not to worry about the pairing. Angelo loves wines, vineyards, and all wine related accessories, so he’s pretty jazzed too. Tiffany only knows to consult “the wine guy” at her restaurant, so she’s a bit more lost. Ed is still buzzing on his ballpark win. The only one in the weeds during cooking is Kevin. He started out wanting to brine pork, but realized that it wasn’t going to be done on time. He switched to quail, which he knows is not really going to hold up against his merlot.
The wines and dishes served to Padma and Dana are:
Tiffany’s Two Hand shiraz with cocoa and black pepper crusted wagyu tenderloin with spring risotto.
Kevin’s Tangley Oaks merlot with grilled quail, shaved apple and fennel salad, and apple vinaigrette.
Angelo’s Evolution white wine with sautéed foie gras with black salt and fennel salad.
Kelly’s Federalist Dry Creek zinfandel with wild boar tenderloin, blackberry conserve, mache, and blue cheese emulsion.
Ed’s Ill Poggione Rosso with grilled wagyu rib eye with spring potato risotto and mushroom ragout.
Dana found Kevin’s pairing to be wrong; the quail was beautifully cooked but not right for the wine. He knew that going in, however. Dana also didn’t like the blue cheese on Kelly’s dish; it could have been the sight jockeying over whether it was a foam or an emulsion. Either way, I don’t like blue cheese at all, so it’d turn me off as well. Dana did like Angelo’s balance of textures and Tiffany’s elegant reduction and gives the win to Angelo. He’s got his mojo back after not winning for three episodes. Tiffany’s a bit bummed because she wanted the London trip to go with her Paris trip.
Padma then reveals that the two-part finale will take place in Singapore; this thrills Angelo to no end, as he is “Asian on the inside”. However, before they pack their bags and bust out their passports, they will have to survive the final DC challenge, which will involve NASA. The news of a space-related challenge is just what Kelly needed to put her in a good mood; prior to a life as a chef, she was a big space nerd and even went to space camp as a kid. So, off they go to the Goddard Space Flight Center to find out more about the challenge.
“I walked on your face!”
At NASA, Tom introduces the chefs to Vickie Kloeris who is the Head Food Scientist and they get a message from a couple of astronauts on the International Space Station. They show the freeze-dried packets of coffee, scrambled eggs, and chicken fajitas. The chefs are challenged to create a dish that can be freeze-dried and the winning dish will be produced and sent to the ISS. Vickie says that the basic guidelines for this challenge are not using much sugar, not having large pieces of food, and the spicier the better. They will be cooking for eight folks—the judges, Vickie, and some astronauts including Buzz Aldrin. Aldrin absolutely was amazing on 30 Rock last season, so I have high hopes for entertainment value.
With a budget of $200, the chefs run through Whole Foods one last time to gather ingredients. Ed is going to bring the spice with a Moroccan dish, while Angelo is planning on getting short ribs. It’s not clear at this point what Tiffany is making, but she’s grabbing a lot of ingredients that tend toward a Thai flavor profile. Kevin took away the message from the astronauts on the ISS that they enjoy flavors that are of comfort food back at home, so he wants to do something “down to earth”. Surely no pun was intended.
The chefs return to the kitchen where they will have two hours to prep their dishes. Tiffany got some mussels and she needs to keep them cold, so into the refrigerator they go. She’s mostly concerned with bringing out a good flavor and keeping the dish simple. Kevin becomes a bit concerned that he’s not doing ethic food like the others. Tom arrives to see what every one is making. Angelo is preparing ginger-lacquered short ribs and horseradish crème fraiche. Tom’s face contorts into a question-mark, but Angelo is confident. Kelly shares her plan for pan-roasted halibut with artichoke and fennel barigoule. Ed is making a yogurt-marinated rack of lamb and grilled satay of lamb. Tiffany plans on a pan-seared Alaskan halibut with coconut curry, steamed mussels and jasmine rice. And Kevin stays close to home with a New York strip steak with bacon, jalapeno marmalade, and corn puree.
Tom departs and the two hours are up; it’s back to the house for one last night as the final five. Before they leave, however, Tiffany finds that the mussels have frozen solid and are dead; she can’t use them at all. She sulks a bit back at the house, trying to figure out a way to save her dish. The next morning the chefs awake to find a mysterious card on the house kitchen counter. I want it to be a date card, errantly delivered from The Bachelor/ette, but it merely informs them that their ride is outside and the winner of the EC will get to keep the Toyota. Angelo drives the rest of the chefs to the site of the meal and it’s time for one hour of prep before service.
Prep is entirely too intense; the kitchen space is small and there’s pretty much no interaction because each chef is really focused on his or her dish. We do get some charming background on Tiffany; she started out in the food business at IHOP (don’t laugh—I love IHOP and they actually can do crepes, unlike some fancier restaurants I’ve been to). When she started, she was a waitress because they didn’t allow women in the kitchen. She proved them wrong and got in there eventually.
Service time arrives and our judges are Padma, Tom, Eric, and oh-thank-heavens Anthony Bourdain. Tony, how I’ve missed you so. Buzz Aldrin is there as well, as his moon walk video plays in the background. He’s become fairly prevalent in media lately; I’ve got a Buzz Aldrin-Betty White talk show to pitch if anyone’s interested. Anyway, Kelly’s dish comes out first; the general consensus is there is too much liquid but the astronauts like the crunchiness of the artichokes, as “crunchy” is something that you don’t get in space food. Ed’s lamb chop is quite tasty, but he left the bone in. As the astronauts point out, that’s trash and you can’t just put it out on the curb on the ISS. Ripert starts ripping Ed’s dish for being too complicated but Bourdain interrupts, saying he’s been to Morocco and Ed nailed it. Kevin’s dish has a nice sauce but they worry that the crispy onion rings won’t translate well to a freeze-dried food. As for Tiffany’s dish, Ripert isn’t excited about the connection of ingredients but Bourdain is all orgasmic for the amount of fish sauce in the dish. Finally, Buzz thinks Angelo’s dish would be hard to keep together in space, Tom thinks the ginger is too sweet, Ripert thinks it is too acidic, and Bourdain actually calls Ripert “snarky” and thinks the dish would work well in space. Back in the kitchen, each chef tastes the dishes and knows that the competition is going to be tough.
Four to Singapore.
All five chefs face the judges where Tom assures them they all did an amazing job and the competition is very close. Ed’s first up to face the panel and explains he wanted to embrace the call for spicy foods and do something different. Bourdain stands by his initial assessment and thinks Ed pulled off the dish; Ripert sticks by his “it’s too complicated” criticism, which is apparently his new mantra. Tom concedes there were a lot of ingredients but it all worked together. As for Tiffany, her fish was cooked perfectly but Tom finds fault with the mealy tomatoes and her leaving the skin on the peppers, which added an unnecessary bitterness. Eric thought the dish lacked acid and Bourdain wanted a stronger fish to stand up to the awesome broth. Kelly’s dish got praise from Tom for having the best artichokes ever and Eric loved the use of Provence-style cooking. Angelo’s short rib dish left Tom with too sweet of a ginger taste; Angelo says he “made love” to the short ribs, which Bourdain has no clue how to take but knows he liked the dish. Finally, Kevin had a perfectly cooked steak according to Tom, though he would have liked the meat cut thicker. Bourdain, while still liking the dish, found it to be a bit safe.
The chefs are sent to the stew room while the judges mull over who should win and who should go home. Tom sees Ed of having a plan and sticking with it; Bourdain notes that any one thing could have gone wrong with it and tanked it, but nothing went wrong and the dish worked. Ripert thinks Kelly’s dish is the best and classic, but Tom wonders how much originality was put into it. Tom also still is stuck on the candied ginger Angelo used, though Padma loved it and Ripert sees originality in it. They see that Kevin paid attention to what the astronauts wanted, Ripert loved the onion rings, but Bourdain is a bit stuck on the use of sirloin for a high-end meal. Tiffany’s dish gets high praise from self-confessed fish sauce slut Bourdain, but Ripert thinks the pea shoots that were in it killed the taste. Tom is still hung up on the skin being left on the peppers. The judges realize they are really just splitting hairs because all of the dishes were really good.
With a decision made, the chefs return to learn that the winner not only gets the car, gets the winning meal produced and sent to the ISS, the winner will also get to go to one of the two final launches of the Space Shuttle. Bourdain admits it was a tough call and announces Angelo as the winner. Angelo also gets a copy of Bourdain’s latest book and the key to the car, which he gently caresses back in the stew room.
As for who is going home, Tom says it was a really difficult decision. Kevin elevated home cooking. Kelly’s dish was effortless. Tiffany’s flavor leapt from the plate. Ed’s dish was full of flavor. But ultimately, Padma tells Tiffany to pack her knives and go. Kevin lets out a little “Thank you lord Jesus” as Tiffany walks back to the stew room for one last hug from Angelo, who thought she was safe. Tiffany cries and is disappointed; she really wanted to go to Singapore. I’m right there with you Tiff…I wanted you to win the whole thing. At least you’ll still have Paris.