Top Chef DC: Episode 3—Thank You, Captain Obvious

What do the judges find so funny? That Amanda suddenly confesses she's Lindsay Lohan in a chef's coat? Photograph courtesy of Bravo TV.

We open this week’s episode at the Top Chef abode with some clearly staged reflective moments. Amanda brushes her teeth while sitting on an exercise ball and staring at the bathroom floor. Kenny reads an inspirational card from his girlfriend. Angelo stares at a rock in the garden. Arnold pops his collar in the dining room. There’s so much talk of teamwork, isolation, and having to prove oneself that I check the TiVo to see if this is an Oprah Winfrey Presents episode. Can we get to the cooking, please?

The Quickfire is all about desserts so that Bravo can promote yet another TC spinoff—Top Chef: Just Desserts. TC:JD hosts Gail Simmons and Jean-Georges pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini help Padma judge. Padma announces that “we’re challenging you with a great American tradition: the pie.” The cheftestants have two hours to rock out a pie, and the winner gets immunity for the Elimination Challenge.

Kenny makes a delicious-sounding bananas-foster pie with Chinese five spice. Amanda bores with an apple/rosemary/bourbon/hazelnut pie. Stephen makes a curried-apple/whiskey/date/saffron pie that makes me want to beg for the recipe. Kelly’s spiced raspberry-and-chocolate-ganache is technically a tart, but whatever. Angelo says he’s never made a pie before but whips up a curried-sweet-potato one. Tracey takes two stabs at a blueberry/almond-crunch pie with cream and almond brittle that, both times, looked pretty awful. Ed does a really weird banana cream pie with salted peanuts and celery espuma. Alex makes a dry-heave-inducing white-chocolate/tapioca/goat-cheese pie with almond crust and raspberry purée.

The judges say that while they’re disappointed in Alex’s, Tracey’s, and Ed’s pies, they love Kelly’s tart/pie and Stephen’s curried-apple pie. Johnny gets to reveal the winner, and I’m thinking either Kelly or Stephen, but instead he says, “Kenny!” What? How can you win when you’re not featured in the Pies We Loved montage?

Padma says the Elimination Challenge is “another American tradition”—the summer picnic. Because people in other countries never have picnics. Turns out the chefs have to do a cookout for Capitol Hill interns. At Mt. Vernon. Sure, okay. . . .

Arnold complains that grilling clogs his pores, so he never does it. Shopping at Whole Foods, Tracey buys meat for sausage and says, “this isn’t gonna be hard.” Amanda tells us she was a cokehead and pill addict in her 20s and says that if you’ve survived that, you can do anything. Hear that, Lindsay Lohan? You’re gonna be just fine. You might even get to revive your acting career with a stint on Top Chef: Failed Child Stars.

Back in the Top Chef kitchen, Tracey’s constant nattering drives the other chefs crazy, and she runs out of time and doesn’t get to stuff her sausage. Alex and Amanda fight about the oven, which she claims she labeled, then tells Tom those are “prison rules.” I pause the TV to check her pupils ’cause I’m a jerk like that.

After prep time, the chefs head home and talk about what they’ve prepared for the challenge. Amanda does the whole “people don’t take me seriously, I’m gonna prove them wrong” bit. God—even the editors don’t care about this show anymore. It’s like they have a checklist for lines they have to cover every freakin’ year:

1) “You threw me under the bus.”
2) “I’ve gotta prove them wrong.”
3) “It is what it is.”
4) “Thank you for the opportunity.”

What am I missing? Hit it in the comments. Let’s do Top Chef bingo. Or a drinking game.

But I digress. . . .

The next day, Weber grills dot the landscape of Mt. Vernon, and Arnold spies on Kenny to find out how to light one. Tim says, “Women, by far, are not really excited about grilling,” and I want the dickwad to go home. The judges stroll down the lawn, and we learn that Jonathan Waxman (chef/owner of Barbuto in Manhattan) is filling in for Eric Ripert.

Arnold makes a sesame-lamb meatball, tabouleh salad, and gazpacho that the judges like. The judges call Angelo’s Vietnamese-style lettuce wrap and smoked egg salad a “magazine cover dish.” Alex makes a grilled pork butt with lemongrass glaze, polenta, and cucumber salad and says he wants to “eat the ass out of this pig aaallll day.” Which, first of all: GROSS. And second of all? Pork butt is a shoulder cut. Not the actual butt/ass.

Tim grills pork two ways—a pork loin and baby-back rib—and serves it with grilled vegetables. As he’s presenting his dish, a goose flies by and craps on the table, and Gail and Tom flip out and run away like the bird is filled with anthrax, while Padma and Jonathan are like, “Duuuuude, a biiirrrrrd.” Tom hates Tim’s vegetables and Padma replies “maybe that bird knew something we didn’t.”
Amanda’s baby-back ribs and odd-looking salad aren’t plated well, but the judges like the flavor of the meat. Kevin’s Puerto Rican-inspired grilled flank steak, rice and beans, and tomato/avocado salad don’t impress the judges. Neither do Tracey’s Italian-sausage sliders. Stephen’s bacon-wrapped bass is widely panned for being “not good at all,” but the judges end on a great note with Ed’s spicy grilled tuna loin with lentil hummus. Angelo heads to Amanda’s table for a taste and says he thinks her ribs are better than his dish.

There’s a short segment that shows Tracey claiming to be clairvoyant while she tries some hoodooguru stuff on Andrea, but I’m not really paying attention because all this clip is telling me is that Captain Obvious just stepped into the edit bay and Tracey is going home. I mean, she claims to be clairvoyant but thinks her dish was good?

Padma calls Arnold, Ed, Amanda, and Angelo to Judges’ Table because they made the day’s top dishes. I’m thinking Amanda is going to be crowned queen for the day, but it’s Arnold who gets to wear the proverbial crown.

Padma has them send in the chefs with the four most disappointing dishes. The judges universally loathed Stephen’s dish, while Padma called Kevin’s dish “the safest Puerto Rican food I’ve ever tasted.” Gail hates Tim’s vegetables. The judges spend a lot of time on Tracey’s sliders, telling her that she basically insulted the entire Italian culinary genre. When Jonathan says his ten-year old son could’ve pulled off what Tracey did, it’s no surprise she gets sent home.

In Tracey’s exit interview, though she feels some of the feedback was “pretty harsh,” she ends by saying, “It was fair. I deserved to go home. I’m okay with that.” And with that, I like her and will eat in her restaurant the next time I’m in Atlanta. Class act.

Coming up next week? Double-elimination time, baby. There’s eye-rolling, bossiness, canned beans, and appearances by Top Chef alums Mike Isabella, Spike Mendelsohn, and Bryan Voltaggio. Oh, and Ripert is back, so all is well with the my world.

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

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