Top Chef DC: Episode 2—Back to Middle School

Sam Kass, the Obamas’ personal chef, and Padma judge chef-designed healthy cafeteria meals. Photograph courtesy of Bravo TV.

Welcome back to Top Chef, the lowest-rated premiering show in Bravo history. Well done, Washington. We’re a reality-show killer. Excellent.

We start off with Ed “the touch, the feel of” Cotton using what might be the most overused, annoying reality-show phrase ever: “it is what it is.” Ed, I really want to like you. Knock it off.

First up? The Conjoined-Apron Quickfire, in which two chefs suit up side-by-side in a two-headed apron and are allowed to use just one hand each for a “bipartisan-wich” competition. Barf. The Obamas’ personal chef, Sam Kass, is on the scene to help judge. Kass advises them to leave their egos at the door (et tu?) and get to work. Crushes and trust issues rear their ugly heads, and struggles for power threaten some of the duos. While some of the chef teams moved well together, others looked like So You Think You Can Dance rejects.

I wanted Kenny and Ed’s open-face Korean chili-rubbed grilled tuna with mango-and-cucumber slaw to jump off the screen and into my gaping maw. While Angelo and Tracey serve an Asian-style fish sandwich with Sriracha mayo, greens, and pickled onions, Kass makes a back-handed comment about Tracey’s appearance, and now I’m all Team Tracey!! (only not really).  Tim and Alex do a terrible-looking riff on a croque madame that looks like something you’d find on the floor of the bathroom at Ben’s Chili Bowl at 3 AM. Andrea and Kevin make my mouth water with a “Philly Cuban” sandwich of roasted pork, pickle, wholegrain mustard, and Gruyère cheese. Andrea winks at Sam Kass as he walks away from her table, and I’m thinking she thinks she’s Sarah Palin or something.

Bottom two sandwiches are Stephen and Jacqueline’s (a rosemary-stabbed thing with chicken, avocado, and marinated onion that’s just plain depressing) and Lynne and Tiffany’s (a veal-saltimbocca sandwich that Kass says is hard to eat). Kass and Padma liked Kenny and Ed’s creation, but it’s Angelo and Tracey’s fish sandwich that they ultimately choose as their favorite, and they get immunity for the Elimination Challenge.

This week’s Elimination Challenge is all about Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign to combat child obesity, and the chefs are told they have to make a school lunch for $2.68 per kid at Alice Deal Middle School. I know there’s a ton of talk about obesity and school-nutrition programs, but are we really gonna pretend this is how you solve the problem? Barf, part deux. I guess a reality show about the real core issue here—overblown agriculture subsidies—wouldn’t be a ratings bonanza (or would it?), so we’re stuck with this contrived challenge. Kass relays that each one of them will be responsible for one item on the cafeteria tray, and he explains that a typical school lunch includes a main (protein), a few sides (that must include at least one vegetable), fruit, and a dessert.

Because they won, Angelo and Tracey get to pick another chef pair to be on their team, and they select Kenny and Ed. I smell trouble. The remaining chefs pair up with other duos and head off to Restaurant Depot (thankfully without the dorky aprons) where they end up spending quite a bit of time adjusting their purchases to meet the budgetary constraints.

Angelo, Tracey, Kenny, and Ed serve a chicken burger with fiesta rice, celery and peanut-butter mousse, sweet-potato puree, and apple bread pudding.  

Kevin, Alex, Andrea, and Tim pull together a lunch of BBQ chicken, cole slaw, mac and cheese, and compressed melon skewers with yogurt foam.

Ed, Jacqueline, Tamesha, and Amanda do a sherry-braised chicken thigh (where Amanda channels Sandra Lee by cooking for kids using alcohol—woot!), rice with vegetables, green-bean salad, and strawberry/banana pudding.

Tiffany, Lynne, Kelly, and Arnold present a colorful tray with carnitas tacos, roasted-corn salad, black-bean cake with sweet potatoes, and a caramelized sweet potato with chocolate sherbet.

After their prep time, they retire to the Top Chef house where Kelly bitches about her team, and they bitch back at her. The camera then focuses on a particularly unflattering shot of Tracey as she chokes up about her own unhealthy eating habits as well as the diet of her partner’s young daughter, and she vows to do better for both of them. Aw, sniff sniff.

At the school the next day, kitchen space and time are issues . . . as is Angelo’s interview hat from the Hamid Karzai Collection. In the kitchen, Angelo’s foam-gun valve is broken so he asks to borrow Kevin’s, who tells him to go foam himself, in so many words.

As the judges saunter in, it hits me: no Eric Ripert in this episode? We’re stuck with Sam Kass the whole time? Boooooooo, Bravo. Booooooooooo *pause to take a breath* ooooooooooooooooooo.

The judges sample everything and offer their commentary, one kid pretends to spit out the strawberry/banana pudding, and Kelly bitches and moans that her team doesn’t like her.  Wah.  “Padmom” does an informal survey with some of the kids, then has a hug fest with them.

Padma calls two teams to appear before Judges Table: Amanda, Stephen, Tamesha, and Jacqueline; and, Angelo, Kenny, Ed, and Tracey. Kelly whines because “the top teams are always called before the judges first” or something like that. Quite frankly, all I heard was the Charlie Brown teacher voice because she’s such a complainer. Turns out, the two teams called to the Judges Table first are the bottom two. Wha-what?

Kass calls out Amanda for buying sherry for braising chicken thighs rather than allowing Jacqueline to buy chocolate for dessert. Ed is told his sweet-potato purée was too peppery. Tom asks Angelo whether he would’ve made his lame celery-and-peanut-butter side dish if he didn’t have immunity, and he gives a vague “I can’t answer that right now” mumble. Kenny, the chef behind the apple bread pudding, wavers on why he didn’t speak up about there being no green vegetables. Ed then jumps into the fray from the other team and calls out Kenny. Kenny fires back over Jacqueline’s pudding, Amanda lobs back a peanut-butter insult, Ed slamdunks a sherry-wine dis, and all of a sudden this feels like a Real Housewives episode, and I’m wondering which one of them is going to cut a dance single.

Padma sends them back to the Stew Room, and the judges talk about the losing dishes (Tom says that Amanda’s sherry-braised chicken looked like a turd and that the kids wouldn’t go near it—ouchie). We cut back to the Stew, where we overhear Angelo whispering to Tracey, “I don’t like Kenny.” Middle school, indeed.

The judges loved the pork tacos meal that Kelly, Arnold, Tiffany, and Lynne put out, complimenting the well-roundedness of it, the inclusion of many vegetables, and the amount of food they were able to provide within their budget. The judges also liked the barbecue chicken that Alex, Kevin, Andrea, and Tim put forth and complimented their ability to make healthier versions of cafeteria favorites.

The winning team is Lynne, Tiffany, Kelly and Arnold, and the individual trophy goes to whiner-whiner-49er, Kelly. Can I boo again, or would that be rude?

Kenny, Ed, Amanda, and Jacqueline’s dishes are ranked lowest among the losing dishes, and it’s Jacqueline who’s sent home—which is no big surprise, since I thought for sure she was going home last week. But seriously? Turd-on-a-plate-Amanda gets to stay? 

Coming up next week: Trash-talking, yelling, picnics, smoking, boobs, bitchiness, and the we-hear-it-every-freakin’
-season they-don’t-take-me-seriously-I’m-gonna-prove-them-wrong spiel.

Oh, and PS, Bravo promo editor: You’re getting sloppy. In the clip of the upcoming NASA challenge, I can see what looks to be the final five: Tiffany, Angelo, Kevin, Ed, and Kelly. If I’m right, can I shoot Kelly into space?

>>For more Top Chef DC coverage, click here.

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