Hey, anyway, it's another week of Top Chef. Are you having as hard a time as I am telling Ed and Stephen apart? Is there more confusion this season because there are five chefs with A names, four with T names, and three with K names? It's messing me up, I can tell you that.
The Quickfire pairs our chefs up for the Bipartisandwich Challenge. Design a sandwich with your partner...with only one hand per chef. It's a sack race, essentially. Immunity is at stake as the chefs pair off via knife draw. Arnold and Kelly appear to be the cutest team, sashaying around the kitchen with a chummy aplomb. Angelo and Kenny don't really take note of their
And in fact it is those two teams at the top of the challenge. A commercial break stretches out the suspense before Angelo wins his third of three challenges, gaining immunity for him and Wormtail. (Yeah, I went all Harry Potter on that diss.) At the bottom: Stephen and Jacqueline's onion, avocado and chicken on toasted white (really, guys?) and Lynne and Tiffany's unwieldy flatbread saltimbocca sandwich.
The First Lady's initiative to end childhood obesity takes center stage for the Elimination Challenge. The chefs must prepare a lunch for kids on a public school budget: $2.68 per kid, or $130 for each team of four to serve 50 kids. And unlike actual school lunches, these will have to be healthy.
Angelo and Tracey get to pick first of the other teams for their associates, and in a crafty move Angelo chooses Kenny and Ed. They are embracing the healthy versions of junky things, like burgers and PB with celery. Andrea, Kevin, Tim, and Alex group up to tackle mac and cheese, and Kevin volunteers for dessert. Arnold, Kelly, Lynne, and Tiffany are immediately under the thumb of Kelly's sassy hairdo, and her bizarre desire to serve feta and pickled onions on their team's tacos. But that's nowhere near the crazy of Stephen, Jacqueline, Tamesha, and Amanda's team, who has to deal with Amanda's intent to braise chicken thighs in sherry...for middle schoolers. Plus, Amanda is developing a serious Leah (Season 5) vibe.
We see major budget compromises at the food wholesaler (Jacqueline gives up most of her ingredients for the dessert grenade she chose to jump onto). Ed has apparently decided that what middle schoolers really want is to be treated like infants; he's whipping up a stunning sweet potato puree that looks as much like baby poop as it does baby food. Kelly demonstrates some serious local newsgirl Spanish pronunciation, as well as a strong need to be recognized and applauded. Arnold has clearly tired of The Cutest Team; he takes Kelly to task for her rampaging ego when the chefs return home that night.
So the chefs arrive at Alice Deal Middle School, with an hour to prep before the Cheeto-popping little brats come barging in. Angelo breaks his mousse gun, Jacqueline has no ingredients and instead breaks out the industrial-sized bag of sugar, Angelo works around his broken nozzle and downplays the significance: "I turned a rock into a wheel." As the judges arrive, we see that Sam has replaced Eric Ripert this week--sad, but not unexpected.
Team Andrea, Kevin, Tim, Alex: First, the biggest shock. Kevin's melon/orange kebab with yogurt cream nails it with both the kids ("It was yogurt, wasn't it?") and the judges. Alex's apple cider BBQ chicken is tasty and not-too-sweet. Andrea's mostly-yogurt cole slaw is great. Only Tim's mac and cheese with whole wheat crust gets dinged by the judges.
[Author's note: I've been told by a well-placed source that TImothy Dean is a less-than-savory character. Bad news, in fact. The Baltimore Sun reported in January about a $1.3 million judgment of defaulted debt against Dean, but by June (and his debut on Top Chef) the story had been retooled into a tale of obstacles overcome. Indeed, the story appears to have been scrubbed from the Sun's website. There is a cached copy here. And remember his comment about his wife dying? True. But it doesn't address the violent streak in the previous link, and in claims I've heard that he has accusations of domestic abuse in his past. Temper any enthusiasm you might have for him with this info, and keep your eyes on him as the competition gets more stressful.]
Team Angelo, Tracey, Kenny, Ed: Ed's puree is very peppery and of course ugly as sin. Kenny's bread pudding is fine, cooked properly, if maybe less than amazing. The chicken burger is pretty good, but it's a chicken burger. Angelo's celery with peanut butter mousse and tuile is nominally a vegetable and very sweet. Indeed, the entire meal has almost no vegetable content. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Spike v.2.0.
Team Arnold, Kelly, Lynne, Tiffany: It's a very colorful plate. Lynne's black bean cake has a tangle of crispy sweet potato strings perched jauntily atop. Arnold's salad is bright and fresh. And yes, Kelly, your carnitas are quite good and the kids seem to like them a lot. Tiffany's sweet potato and sherbet dessert devoid of any dessert-ish ingredient is surprisingly satisfying as a dessert.
Team Amanda, Tamesha, Stephen, Jacqueline: At last, the booze round. These kids have been waiting ALL DAY for this. The chicken thigh in sherry jus looks disgusting and is yet treated remarkably charitably by the judges at the table considering IT'S GOT BOOZE IN IT. Sam Kass tries to maintain a calm demeanor as Amanda describes the dish.
The judges call out Angelo's team and Amanda's team. The remainders all assume that they're the top two because that's how it always goes (it is?); they're wrong. These two are the bottom two performers, and they're in for a rough Judges' Table.
Stephen wanted to put a lot of veggies in his rice, but they were too expensive. Jacqueline wanted to put chocolate in her banana pudding, but it was too expensive; she ended up putting about two pounds of sugar into the recipe. But Amanda, you had enough money in the budget for sherry? A completely inappropriate ingredient given the challenge? Unsurprisingly, there's no rebuttal.
Ed gets a scolding from Mama Gail for making his puree so spicy. As Sam tells the whole team that sugary, starchy meals with no real vegetables are what's wrong with school lunches, Kenny chimes in to defend their reasoning. Oh, thank god, you think, right? He announces that he wanted to do green leafies and other veggies, but in the interest of budget, he made sure there was tomato on the chicken burger. Before any of us could say it, Sam reminds Kenny that tomatoes are fruits.
You could have fit a tomato into Kenny's gaping face when met with that Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?-level bon mot. Now that's disappointing. Stephen shakes his head from the team next door, but everyone's even more shocked when Angelo is asked whether he kind of scuttled his effort knowing that he had immunity. His answer? "I can't answer that right now." Listen, bro, I know this is Washington, D.C., but just because the original Constitution is in town doesn't mean you can plead the 5th on this one.
So where was the team leadership, guys? The judges wonder why no one stood up and said, "We need vegetables!" And then head-shaking Stephen jumps in to add his criticisms to the conversation, and the whole thing goes off. Kenny, you dropped the ball. Oh yeah, well at least my dessert didn't have two pounds of sugar! Do you know how much sugar is in processed peanut butter? It's terrible for you. Well, let it not be said that there's only one team who served sherry to middle schoolers here.
At this point, I figured the judges would either let the venting burn off, or step in and prohibit further back-and-forth (you guys like the alcohol references there?). But no. Gail jumps into the fray, asking what was the deal with that sherry anyway? Amanda says that she loves the taste of sherry with chicken thighs. Gail says there are a lot of things she likes that aren't appropriate here, and then busts out the line of the night, saying "I love vodka--not cookin' with it!"
In the stew room, Angelo is actually whistling while people talk about his immunity and whether he ambushed his teammates. Dude. Are you joking?
Lynne, Tiffany, Kelly and Arnold are called out to the table as the winning team, and for the best mix of color, taste, and nutrition, Kelly gets the recognition she's been struggling to ensure all night. GOOD JOB KELLY HEAD PAT.
Kenny, Ed, Amanda and Jacqueline all get called out for the ax to fall, and because the judges clearly saw nefarious gamesmanship on Angelo's team, Jacqueline's two pounds of sugar are the most unforgivable sin of the challenge. She gone, and that's fine. She didn't seem to bring much to the competition. We're still in harsh truth territory this season; I can say that.
Next week: picnic foods and more piling on Amanda. Fun!