Top Chef DC Recap: Epic Encounters

This season of Top Chef hasn’t exactly gone as expected. Kenny got kicked out too soon, Amanda lasted way too long and everyone has an unnatural obsession with pea puree and short ribs. Many writers think that this season is just lacking some spice. The Kenny-Angelo dynamic made for an impressive first episode, but then it faltered. There’s something wrong when viewers are more excited about a guest judge than any of the chef’testants.

Since this show is more about the chef’testants than the food they make, we learned more about Kelly whining about how she misses her husband and how Angelo got divorced (finally explains where his kid came from!). But that’s boring and the Quickfire is more exciting since loot is involved. Remember players, only tell someone your back-story if they really, really want to know (speaking of which, go donate to Of Dice and Men).

The challenge is simple in idea: pick a bottle of wine and make a dish to pair with it. The catch is Dana Cowin, the editor of Food and Wine Magazine is judging. She kind of knows a thing or two about food and wine from what I’ve read. She explained that 10% of pairings are horrible, 10% are excellent and the rest are passable, the chefs wanted to be in the top 10%. So they cook, Padma wears some horrendous looking outfit and lets everyone know this is a high stakes one with the prize being a trip to London!

But the pressure is finally on these final 5 as Kevin begins to unravel further and tries to braise pork belly in an hour. Of course that doesn’t work, so he switches up and goes with quail instead because, you know, those two proteins are so interchangeable.

Tiffany grabbed a bottle of Two Hands Shiraz and made a cocoa and black pepper crusted Wagyu tenderloin with spring risotto that I personally thought looked undercooked, but was deemed “beautiful” by Cowin.

Kevin’s attempt at pairing his grilled quail and apple-fennel salad with Tangley Oaks Merlot didn’t fair as well, but it wasn’t his original plan so what would you expect? Angelo’s sautéed foie gras and fennel salad with Evolution wine was deemed “interesting.” But Angelo knew what he was doing. Also, the sheer amount of product placement in this episode is absurd.

Kelly paired up her Federalist Dry Creek zinfandel with a wild boar tenderloin and bleu cheese emulsion, while Ed grabbed one of the Italian wines, Rosso Del Montalcino, and made pretty much the same thing as Tiffany – he made a Wagyu rib eye with spring potato risotto. Those two many be too much in sync.

Kevin knew he screwed up when he was told his quail and wine didn’t match up, and Kelly got a swift kick for her bleu cheese which destroyed the delicate balance of the dish. Tiffany’s dish matched well, but Angelo took the win for his impeccable contrast. So with his first win in three episodes, basically since Kenny left, Angelo is back on top! It’s like he suddenly remembered that two d10s aren’t the same as one d20.

While Top Chef still refuses to go internationally, they’ve got not problem going intergalactic! So the chefs headed to Goddard Space Flight Center! They met some people, talked to some astronauts and learned the challenge:

Create a dish that is out of this world, and the winner will have their dish freeze-dried and sent to the space station. So they’re given some guidelines, like low sugar levels, no large pieces and it’s got to work in a zero gravity environment. And then all of that is promptly thrown out the window and ignored.

So the chefs got to work for devising their dishes and began prepping and also learned that the prize for this challenge was a brand new car! Which is kind of disappointing, since I was hoping for a spaceship.

Tiffany made the horrible mistake of making sure her fresh mussels got cold by freezing them solid. Seeing as the pressures on, that seems like a terrifying lapse in judgment. But we saw the same thing happen in Top Chef Masters season 1. But the best part of this episode was the judges and guests. A single table contained:

Tom, Padma, Ripert, Anthony Bourdain the world traveler as a guest judge, Buzz Aldrin, the second man to ever walk on the moon, Sandy Magnus, Leland Melvin and Vickie Kleoris! It was a terrifyingly awesome table, made even better by the fact that Ripert and Bourdain clashed at every turn!

Kelly made pan roasted halibut with artichoke fennel barigoule that was well cooked and had a nice crunch, which is evidently a texture they don’t have in space. Ed went Moroccan with a rack of lamb, eggplant puree, cous cous croquette and hummus which was brave, out of his normal area but suffered because he left the bone in. You can’t really have trash in space.

Instead of going into space, Kevin went down to earth with a NY strip steak in a bacon and jalapeno glaze with a corn puree. Is this Top Chef Baby Food? Because I’m sick of purees. It was good, but impossible to recreate in space. Tiffany had to get creative with her absence of mussels so she added extra fish sauce to her pan-seared halibut and coconut curry which Bourdain loved and Ripert didn’t like. Angelo’s ginger lacquered short ribs with another pea puree were a mixed bag. Tom though they were too sweet, Ripert thought they were too acidic and Bourdain called them both out on missing the point that it was completely delicious!

At judges table, they stressed that there was little difference between the best and the worst dishes of the evening, which is like when your parents say they love all their children equally but you know it’s a lie. Ed got two votes in his favor from Bourdain and Tom since he “cooked his heart out” according to Bourdain, but Ripert thought he did too much. So evidently this shows Padma has absolutely no impact on the judging and it comes down to a vote of three.

Tiffany had too much going on and she made the error of using peppers, which Tom seems to hate. But the big issue was that halibut isn’t a strong enough fish to hold up to curry, so the absence of mussels was felt.

Angelo’s judgment can best be summed up by this exchange:

Angelo: I made love to the short ribs.

Bourdain: I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I loved it.

Of course Padma had to say something and chimed in with, “I really loved Angelo’s plated food.” Great contribution there!

Kelly made a solid French dish that Ripert loved, but he loves anything French and seems to be confused by most American dishes. Ripert defended it by saying she was “cooking without a safety net,” while Tom countered that there was nothing new on the plate.

Kevin’s dish did what the astronauts wanted, but I’ve never heard someone so disgusted by a NY strip. “Sirloin? It’s Top Chef for god’s sake,” Bourdain muttered.

But a winner must be named, and Bourdain made the final call and gives it to ANGELO! Total prizes for the episode: a trip to London, a new car, his dish served in space, a chance to visit Cape Canaveral to see a spaceship launch AND a signed copy of Medium Rare by Anthony Bourdain! That is an epic loot drop. So Angelo knows he’s going to Singapore for the final, which is great since he loves being Asian or something.

But someone has to go home and in a single stroke, Padma dealt the fatal blow and told Tiffany to go home.

Next episode, the chefs are in Singapore and Padma asks someone what’s wrong with them while Tom gets angry about having only four dishes. Maybe we’ll finally see a dish that doesn’t have short ribs or a puree in it. But I doubt that. This is worst that the ceviche season.