Thursday, August 5, 2010

Reactions to Top Chef DC Episode 8

This episode started in an exciting way for me, when my DVR didn't record it, so I missed the first seven minutes. The drama continued when a thunderstorm knocked my satellite out for ten minutes mid-ep. So if this is a little shorter than normal, my TV apologizes.

When I finally go to the party, Padma and Marcus Samuelsson were judging the cheftestant's Ethiopian Quickfire entries, gently telling Kevin that his flavors were too mild, Stephen that his lamb meatballs weren't juicy, and Alex that his stew was dry, even if his tongue was bold (which I don't even want to think about).

On the flip side, Samuelsson tells Amanda (she's still there???) that her combination fo goat, spices and potatoes is fantastic. He moves on to a preening Angelo, saying his cooking is beautiful and he obviously knows a lot about Ethiopian food. But it's Tiffany who wins with her dish, which was hearty with flavors that really showed the similarities between goulash and Ethiopian cooking. So she gets all smiley and excited that she has immunity, while Ed's just happy that his ladyfriend beat his nemesis, Angelo.

Next up: the Elimination Challenge, and a talking head shot of Creepy Alex saying that he just never knows what's going on. So many curve balls or something. This three-second section sort of wraps up what's wrong with the show this season: a contestant who's boring in an unappealing sor of way looks at the camera and says something that's so banal it's hard to believe it made it through the edit. On one hand, I wonder if this is a casting and editing problem. On the other, I wonder if it's a problem with the show itself: are we out of new and interesting ways to look at food in this format? I hope not, but this season hasn't done much to convince me otherwise.

But I digress. The big unexpected move that Alex is referring to is Padma wheeling in a big chalkboard with a map of the world on it. Contestants will draw knives to choose order, then will each pick a country from the nine highlighted. They'll cook 100 portions of a dish inspired by that country and will serve it to foreign dignitaries and other big deal types at the Meridian International Center. They won't have cooking facilities at the event, only sterno, but nobody seems terribly ruffled by this.

There's not a lot of drama during the knife pull or the selection, and here's how it ends up:
  • Tiffany (who picks first because she's having a very lucky day) - Mexico
  • Kelly - Italy
  • Amanda - France
  • Kenny - Thailand
  • Alex - Spain
  • Angelo - Japan
  • Kevin - India (he has never cooked Indian before, which means he'll either win or go home)
  • Ed - China
  • Stephen - Brazil (it's not entirely clear if Stephen even knew Brazil was a country, but he has been to Fogo de Chao)
Next stop: Whole Foods, where Kevin has to ask where the spices are hiding (he hasn't figured that out by the ninth challenge?) and my Direct TV takes a little break.
When the show resumed, everybody was running around the kitchen frantically and screaming for extra storage space. I take a moment to think about how much this looks like every other episode of Top Chef ever.

Once food is packed and hands are up, we venture back to the cheftestant abode, where Kevin talks to his kids and pregnant wife, in a move that confirms that he's either leaving or winning. Kelly, on the other hand, gets a care package from her husband and it includes a bottle of whiskey. I think I like her husband.

The next day (or the same day?) everybody trucks over to the Meridian House, which I have to admit is an impressive building. They scurry around chopping (Tiffany) and bragging (Ed), prepping and waiting for the arrival of the guests, which include ambassadors from their represented countries.

Amanda discovers that the boeuf in her boeuf bourgignon is dry, so she decides to solve the problem by cutting it into small pieces...which actually makes sense. Stephen then realizes that his rice - one third of his dish - is overcooked. Everybody knows that overcooked rice is just as bad as an undercooked scallop, so I start mentally saying goodbye to Stephen right then and there.

The judges enter, bringing with them Samuelsson AND Jose Andres, who is a giant of Spanish cooking, molecular gastronomy, and the DC scene. It's got to be a little thrilling for the cheftestants. And Alex must be wetting his pants.

Overall, the chefs seem fairly pleased with the food. They're quick to note that Stephen's rice is off and they say Alex's veal cheeks and jamon torta lacks focus and Ed's tea-smoked duck breast doens't have enough flavor. But their criticisms - at least the ones that end up on camera - sound pretty mild. Plus, they're interspersed with a bunch of ambassadors raving about the food. Especially Mr. Bahamas, who thinks Tiffany's tamales are the best, best, best ever.

It seems, though, that Amanda's dry beef will be saved by her delicious sauce, and Kevin's lack of Indian experience is overcome by the fact that he did a really good job incorporating Indian flavor into a personal dish of stewed chicken.

Back at Judges' Table, Padma calls in Kelly, Tiffany, and Kevin, telling them that they're the top three (while Angelo and Kenny scowl back in the stew room. Andres tells Kelly she honored Italy with her gorgeous local carpaccio of beef. Kevin hears that he took Indian flavors and made them his own, or something like that, and Tiffany's tamale was rapturous. Well, I'm paraphrasing, but that's the gist, and Tiffany continues her lucky day with a big win that comes with $10K for her and $10K in her name for Andres' pet charity, the DC Central Kitchen. Tiffany looks thrilled and Andres looks genuinely surprised and touched that the show would do such a thing...which warms even my cold-to-reality-TV heart.

The bottom three, on the other hand, are Alex, Stephen and Ed (who everybody thinks is a pretty good chef). Amanda skates by for another week, and I really hoping that Alex's pervy face will go home, all the while knowing that there's no way the judges can keep Stephen after his overcooked rice debacle.

And so it is Stephen who goes home. He says goodbye with grace and thanks...wholly unaware that the DVR buster has just shown him getting the old plastic-wrap on the toilet seat prank courtesy of Angelo.

Way to go out on top, Stephen.

So what did you think of the episode? And the season so far? Am I the only one who's sad that she's bored? Please leave a comment with your thoughts...


DebbyT said...

Am I the only one who noticed that during Tom's walk-through, Alex told him that Whole Foods didn't have veal cheeks, so he used shanks?
Later, Alex calls his dish veal cheeks.
Is it me???

Kristine said...

No, Debby, I was going to post about that as well. He used shanks. And I think Tom called them cheeks after tasting them, so does he not know the difference? Sorry to see an Ohio boy (you know, from that "small country town"-Cleveland) go home, but he just did not impress.

theminx said...

During the judging, I think Tom referred to them as "beef." So maybe he had a couple too many drinks with dinner. :)

DebbyT said...

And if I heard whatshisname say "SHASHIMI" one more time...
my TEETH were itching!
And NO, I am not making fun of a speech impediment...that was pure mispronunciation!

theminx said...

Actually, it was "schafing dish."

MCWolfe said...

This season has been a total snooze (and I'm not even comparing it to last, which was the best ever to my way of thinking). I'm having a really hard time working up any enthusiasm for any of the cheftestants and both Angelo and Alex creep me out in a big way. I'm not even finding the food particularly interesting.

Yeah, and the whole "shafing dish" thing was really getting on my nerves.

MoHub said...

I've heard lots of folks say "shafing dish" under the mistaken impression that "chafing" is a French word.

These are the same people who pronounce French and German words as if they're English and Italian as if it's either French or German.

I'm almost past caring as long as they don't do the consonant shift—as in "chi-POL-tay," "MAR-sca-pone," and "ba-SAL-mic."

theminx said...

I've never heard "shafing" dish before. And chi-POL-tay," "MAR-sca-pone," and "ba-SAL-mic" really get on my nerves. Especially when I see those ingredients spelled that way.

Cliff O'Neill said...

OK, so I'm glad I wasn't the only one who heard "shaving" dish.

And also that they let Alex get away with saying they were veal cheeks when he had mentioned he didn't get veal cheeks.

Cliff O'Neill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.