Thursday, June 24, 2010

Reactions to Top Chef DC Episode 2

A new day dawns over the nation's capital and a new episode of Top Chef starts, showing us our cheftestants engaged in their daily morning rituals - shaving, brushing teeth, and pushups. Pushups? Wait - this must be an anti-obesity episode.

Padma's introduction of White House chef Sam Kass confirms it - the episode will tie in with the First Lady's Let's Move Campaign. Personally, I like my food filled with butter and cream but then again, I'm not an eighth grader with no choice about what I eat for lunch.

But enough of the preaching and onto the Quickfire...the Bipartisandwich Quickfire. This season really does offer all kinds of opportunities for ridiculous made-up words, doesn't it?

The Quickfire itself seems too easy at first - Tamesha even calls it, saying, "30 minutes for one sandwich? Really?" Oh, Tamesha, even though it's only the second episode, you should know by now that nothing is ever as it seems in Top Chefland.

And that is how pairs of chefs end up in stitched-together red and blue aprons, each only allowed to use one hand. Timothy wonders who got high and came up with the idea...and I can't say I don't share the sentiment. The footage that follows is ridiculous, a little hilarious, and potentially very, very dangerous, but somehow everybody escapes with all of their fingers. But dignity? Not so much.

The resulting sandwiches arrive on their plates as big, sloppy messes and the PAs don't even make them prettier before filming them individually.

Angelo (who has a sandwich shop...and still has an ego) and Tracy (who has a girlfriend with a daughter...and a crush on Angelo) take the win with their tuna and Asian slaw sandwich, and they get immunity. Kenny and Ed come in a close second and Kenny feels foiled again. Oooh drama. The mild sort.

Onto the Elimination Challenge: cooking school lunches for 50 middle schoolers, sticking to the set budget of about $2.60 per kid. Or, as I like to call it, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. I realize it's on a different network, but I can't help but feel like if Top Chef really cared about its cause, they would've thrown Oliver a little bone. He's worked hard to improve school lunches and deserves some credit.

The chefs divide into groups of four and Sam Kass explains the components of a school lunch, saying each meal must have a main course and a couple of sides, including a vegetable and fruit and probably a dessert and, of course, must be delicious. Interestingly, while the chefs do have to adhere to the budget, there's no mention of the stringent nutritional guidelines that tie the hands of actual school chefs. And Jamie Oliver. Oops, there's the soapbox again.

The next thirty or so minutes run along predictably: the chefs shop in a warehouse and all have to make sacrifices to make budget. There's some in-fighting between Kelly and Arnold - the latter thinks the former is taking too much credit. Sexy Amanda decides to booze the kids up with sherry-braised chicken. Kenny grumbles about the lack of veg in his team's dish, but fails to speak up loud enough. Jacqueline's chocolate-less pudding is bland, so she adds more sugar. Oh, and we learn that Colicchio's mom ran a school lunch room for 20 years, so this is a cause that's close to his heart.

After a little time in a tight cafeteria kitchen, service begins. Here's what our intrepid cheftestants serve the kids:
  • Tracy/Angelo/Ed/Kenny: chicken burgers, sweet potato puree, celery and peanut butter (which was supposed to be foam but...wasn't), and apple bread pudding
  • Kelly/Arnold/Lynne/Tiffany: black bean cake and crisp sweet potatoes, braised pork carnitas with pickled onions, roasted pork salad brushed with chili oil, carmelized sweet potatoes and sherbet
  • Andrea/Timothy/Kevin/Alex : BBQ chicken, cole slaw made with yogurt, mac and cheese with a whole wheat crust, melon skewers with yogurt "whipped cream"
  • Amanda/Jacqueline/Stephen/Tamesha: braised chicken thighs with sherry jus, sweet onion rice with tomato, carrots, and green onions, bean and tomato salad with pickled onions, banana pudding with skim milk and strawberries on top
The biggest surprise of the whole episode comes back in the stew room, when Padma asks for Angelo and Amanda's teams...and it turns out they are the bottom two. THEY MIXED IT UP! And it only took seven seasons.

Ultimately, Kelly won for her braised pork carnitas (confirming her bossy approach? Maybe.) and Jacqueline went home for her sugar-laden banana pudding, but not before Ed and Kenny had to sweat it out and everybody wondered if Angelo took advantage of his immunity to try to sabotage his strongest competition (Kenny).

As usual, the episode left me with a few questions:
  • How is it possible that Amanda served boozy chicken (even if there wasn't any alcohol left) and didn't get kicked off? I suppose at least somebody from her group - whose meal looked like bad food somebody's grandmother would make - went home.
  • Could Gail Simmons be any better? "There are a lot of things I like...I like vodka." Me too, Gail. Me, too.
  • How did it take SEVEN seasons before they called the losers first? HOW?
  • Have we ever seen the judges so blatantly suggest that a contestant (Angelo) was out to sabotage someone else?
  • Similarly, have we ever seen the losers from different teams scrap it up in front of the judges, the way Stephen did with Kenny? Or, maybe we see that, but this early in the season?
It's still so early in the season that it's hard to tell everybody apart - Alex and Kevin, in particular, are strictly background for me so far. I'm anxious to whittle it down to five or six stronger contenders. But what about you? Thoughts? Praise? Complaints? Reasons to call your congressmen?

Please leave your thoughts in the comments!


MJ said...

Enjoyed the recap Minx. Fun and agree with just about everything you said.

Laura K said...

Sam Kass... Rawr.

theminx said...

Heh, Kit - as usual I'm struck by how we notice the same things, particularly the omission of Chef Jamie Oliver from this episode. Guess Americans don't want to be reminded that we didn't think of the "just say no to fat kids" initiative first.

Cliff O'Neill said...

Sorry it took so long to get to this!

Yeah, it's the first time they've called the loser in first. But didn't they start (maybe the last) season with having the tops and bottoms together and only figuring which is which during questioning (ala Project Runway)?