Top Chef DC Recap: The Bane of the Blind Boxes

After the unexpected slaying of Kenny in last week’s episode, the chef’testants were noticeably tense this time around on Top Chef DC. It suddenly dawned on them they no one is safe and sometimes the dice rolls just aren’t in your favor. Amazingly enough, Angelo seemed the most disturbed by the absence of Kenny than anyone else.

The Quickfire was watched over by the mad alchemist Wylie Dufresne of wd~50. Best known for his skills as a molecular gastronomist, Wylie also has unique insight and is a great judge for Top Chef because he was on Top Chef Masters and knows what it’s like to be on the other side.

But this challenge may be one of the best ones yet. While last week was about the blind relay, this one took a lot of inspiration from Chopped but instead of making three dishes, the chefs had to make one while continually getting new ingredients thrown at them. And if that wasn’t stressful enough, it was a high stakes challenge since immunity is no longer offered.

Each box came delivered by a “special agent” who looked like they just came from the Matrix. The first box contained stripped bass, fresh fava beans and a mystery can that turned out to be hominy. Kind of a weird combination, but the chefs got to work. During this first round, we found out that Angelo’s fiancée is still in Russia. And I thought he had a kid. Combined with the fact that he’s got three nipples, and he just keeps being a man of mystery.

The next mystery box included squid and black garlic, which is a type of fermented garlic that is kind of sweet. The next box threw ramps and passion fruit into the mix. Since Padma clearly enjoys tormenting others, the final box contained jicama which is terrifying because besides the roots, jicama is poisonous.

With such odd ingredients and a compassionate judge, the chefs did better than expected given the crazy situation. Amanda didn’t pull it together though and her crispy skin bass ended up being oily and Alex just failed to bring his dish together. Kevin pulled off a good dish that made the most of the ingredients, but Tiffany took the win once again by making a stew that came together and integrated everything. Looks like we’ve got a new front runner, given how Angelo seems lost without someone to focus his energy on.

The Elimination Challenge is another new one. The chef’testants got to serve their dishes to members at the CIA. They drew knives and got classic dishes like chicken cordon bleu and veal parmesan, but the catch was they had to disguise their dishes. So they couldn’t look like their classic dish, but had to taste like them. The winner would get a trip to Paris, which is pretty impressive.

Kelly showed some amazing innovation this time around and not knowing what went into a Kung Pau Shrimp dish; she ran to the Asian aisle and read the labels to see the ingredients! We’ve some so far since the box cake fiasco in season 1! But Angelo continued his descent into madness and bought frozen puff pastry for his Beef Wellington “pizza.” Remember when John was sent home for that exact same thing this same season? It’s like he’s intentionally being self-destructive!

Ed may not be a master of disguise, since his inside-out chicken cordon bleu was easy to recognize, but it was interesting and show technique along with actually tasting really, really good. Kelly pulled together her Kung Pau Shrimp in a soup-like dish that thankfully came together after Tiffany helped her out when her first batch of rice turned to mush. But Tiffany’s gyro took the win (I loved hearing it pronounced as both “gyro” and “hero” [I’m from Maine, the gyro and the hero are two different sandwiches]) by being nicely deconstructed and well executed.

Kevin didn’t get called in with the winners or the losers for his cobb salad which happened to be delicious and happened to be a cobb salad. Not the best disguise – unless it looked like a different salad.

The bottom of this round were the A’s – Alex, Amanda and Angelo. Have the judges turned alphabetist? Doubtful given how awful the dishes were. Amanda’s French onion soup got turned into a French onion soup that “Helen Keller would be able to guess.” Then it got called dish water by a judge. Ouch. Angelo’s downfall was his unraveling. His puff pastry was awful and the execution was sloppy. Tom said “anyone could do better” since the dish showed no creativity.

But the chef to be sent home was the one hated most: Alex. Between the pea puree-gate and the Kenny going home instead of him last week issue, fans have been clamoring for his head. At first, the judges thought he did a great job on disguising the dish because no one knew what it was. Then they tried it. Poor execution made it unintelligible and it failed on both levels.

About time! Next week the chefs make concession stands and the guy who looks like Rick Bayless but is actually the lord of the seas, Rick Moonen – another one who almost became a Top Chef Master.