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Top Chef Recap: Episode 12—No Demons to Scorn …
This week's Quickfire is all about wine pairings and will be judged by Food & Wine editor-in-chief, Dana Cowin. Ed reveals he's Facebook friends with her (as am I), even though she has no idea who he is (uh, ditto). Each cheftestant must choose a wine from the options before them and create a dish to pair with it. They have an hour to cook, and the winner gets a trip to London, courtesy of the Ritz-Carlt… ha-ha! Faked you out didn't I? It's another Hilton vacation, and this time it's to London's Park Lane Hilton. They rush around and cook, and Kevin's braised pork belly doesn't braise, so he changes his course with seven minutes to go and grills pieces of quail.
Tiffany paired her Two Hands Shiraz with cocoa-and-black-pepper-crusted Wagyu ribeye tenderloin with spring risotto. Kevin paired a Tangley Oaks Merlot with grilled quail, shaved apple, and fennel salad with apple vinaigrette. Angelo paired an Evolution white with sauteed foie gras, black salt, a cumin-basil broth, and fennel salad. Pardon me while I wipe the drool from my chin. Kelly paired a Federalist Dry Creek Zinfandel with wild-boar tenderloin, blackberry conserve, mache salad, and a blue-cheese emulsion. Damn it. I'm drooling again. Ed paired his Il Poggione Rosso with a grilled Wagyu ribeye with spring potato risotto and mushroom ragout. Seriously? Drooling for the third time. These might be the best-looking and best-sounding dishes all season.
Padma tells the chefs that only four of them will go to the finals and announces Singapore as the location for the filming. A week or so ago, Bravo acted like it was a big reveal to announce Singapore as the Top Chef final destination—guess they didn't know Colicchio Tweeted from there a few months back, and that pretty much gave it away. Nice confidentiality clause.
Padma then tells the chefs they're headed to the Goddard Space Flight Center to learn about the Elimination Challenge. The editors show shots of the White House and the Lincoln Memorial to make non-Washington viewers think that NASA is in the majestic part of the nation's capital because it's too sad and depressing to show footage of Greenbelt, where it really is. A woman with braces—yes, I was too distracted by her dental work to get her name 'cause I'm a jerk like that—cues a video of two astronauts in polo shirts allegedly in the International Space Station (wouldn't it be funny if they were actually just in the zero-gravity training chamber in a conference room next door?). They show and let float the freeze-dried, packaged food items they eat in space.
The Elimination Challenge is to create a dish that's suitable for reproduction and freeze-drying at NASA's space food laboratory for deployment on a future mission. The dish shouldn't be high in sugar or have large pieces of food as part of the presentation. Tom tells them they'll be cooking for a table of eight: astronauts, "Nassau" scientists (uh, okay), and the judges. We know from the previews that Buzz Aldrin is one of the astronauts, and Anthony Bourdain is a special guest judge. Am I the only one with Bourdain fatigue? I am? Oh. Well then, go about your business.
The chefs have 30 minutes to shop with a $200 budget. Ed decides to go Moroccan, and Angelo slams his cart into an old lady. They all head back to the Top Chef kitchen where they have a few hours to prep their dishes. Tom works his way to each chef's station to check in and counsel the them about their food. He makes a face when Angelo talks about his ginger-lacquered short ribs and horseradish creme fraiche but thinks Kelly is on the right track with halibut and artichokes. Tom wishes Ed good luck with his Moroccan approach, consults with Tiffany on her halibut-and-mussel curry dish, and tries to assuage Kevin's nerves. With four seconds left of their prep time, Tiffany learns her mussels aren't just chilled, they're frozen, which means they're dead and unusable.
Back at the chef house for the night, Ed and Tiffany confer over beer and ice cream while Kevin shovels granola down his maw. The next morning, the chefs learn they'll be driving themselves to the challenge in a brand new Toyota Avalon, which the winner of the challenge gets to take home. They arrive at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center (which is not NASA, by the way) to do their final prep and service. Kevin says, "there are five chefs left and only four seats to Singapore; that fifth person, that person that's not going, is gonna be crushed." Which I hope means he's the one going home. Kelly thinks Ed's getting the boot. Tiffany talks about how far she's come from her days as a tenth-grade IHOP hostess, because girls weren't allowed in the kitchen.
Tom, Padma, my boo, Buzz Aldrin, Braces Lady, Bourdain, astronaut Sandra Magnus, and (hot) astronaut Leland Melvin arrive and are seated at a glowing table. Kelly's up first and serves a pan-roasted Alaskan halibut with artichoke-fennel barigoule and a salsa verde salad. Braces Lady says the dish has too much liquid (to which I say, powder it with tapioca maltodextrin, silly!) but Sandy Magnus loves the crunch of the artichoke and thinks other astronauts would love it, too. Ed's next with his yogurt-marinated rack of lamb with eggplant puree, a crispy couscous croquette, and hummus. Sandy is worried about the bone (TWSS), Tom loves the flavor, Eric thinks it's too complicated, but Bourdain thinks Ed "nailed it." Kevin presents his grilled New York strip steak with corn puree, bacon-jalapeno marmalade, and crispy Vidalia onions. Tom thinks it's well-seasoned, Sandy loves it, and Braces Lady—sorry, Vickie—says it'll be impossible to maintain the crispiness of the onions if this dish were to be spacetized.
Tiffany is next with her coconut-curry pan-seared halibut with steamed jasmine rice and snow pea shoots. Eric isn't loving it, but Bourdain loves the fish sauce. Angelo presents a ginger-lacquered short rib with pea puree (NNNOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!), pickled mushrooms, and horseradish creme fraiche. Buzz loves it, and Tom thinks it's too sweet but elegant and flavorful nonetheless. My boo (a.k.a. the Ripper, a.k.a. Eric) likes what the pickled mushrooms bring to the dish but thought they were a bit too acidic. Bourdain trots out some timesome fake banter about Eric's comment, and I'm thinking I have Bourdain fatigue because, meh.
The chefs taste each others' leftovers before heading to Judges' Table. Tom tells them the margin between the winning and losing dishes is small. All four judges agree that Ed's dish had a lot of ingredients, which means a lot of chances for things to go wrong. But, because everything was done really well, the dish was excellent. Tom tells Tiffany she could've gone without the tomato and the skin on the pepper, and Eric tells her she needed a bit of lime juice to brighten the dish. Tom tells Kelly she served the best-cooked artichokes he's ever tasted, and Eric agrees. Tom thinks Angelo's dish was too sugary, and Angelo interrupts with some ill-fitting analogy about making love to his short ribs. Bourdain and Eric loved the ribs, especially the hint of juniper and ginger. Tom liked Kevin's jalapeno-bacon marmalade but wishes the steak had been cut thicker. Bourdain thinks Kevin played it a little too safe. I try to stay awake because this might be the most boring episode in Top Chef history. There's no tension and no solid standouts or failures. No people to root for. No demons to scorn. Sigh … .
Not only will tonight's winning dish be freeze-dried and served on the International Space Station, the winning chef will also be invited to watch one of the two remaining space shuttle launches at Cape Canaveral (that might be the coolest prize in Top Chef history). And the winner is: Angelo, who wins not only the freeze-drying and the space shuttle launch and the Toyota Avalon, but also a copy of Bourdain's Medium Raw from the remainder bin at Books-A-Million. Angelo is seen back in the Stew Room stroking the key to the car and whispering, "thank you … thank you, Jesus."
We cut back to Judges' Table to see the four remaining cheftestants standing in a row, when we learn that headed home and not to Singapore is Tiffany. And with that, I really don't want to watch any more of this show. Especially when Kevin dramatically closes his eyes and stage-whispers, "thank you, Lord Jesus, thank you, Lord."
Up next week: Who cares? My girl Tiff's out of the game and we're left with a whiner, a Russian-bride orderer, a lucky hack, and Ed. Okay, fine. Up next week: They're in Singapore where they cook and sweat, and someone gets eliminated.
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