Top Chef DC: Episode 5—Grandma’s Got an Axe

Kenny opens tonight's episode reminiscing about Arnold and Lynne leaving the house. Angelo cozies up to Tamesha while Ed and Tiffany shoot the breeze, and it feels like the director wants us to believe there's chemistry and sexual tension here when there isn't.  Jeesh.  No one loved the Hosea and Leah season, so let's not try to re-create it, shall we?

Tonight's Quickfire requires the chefs to cook Maryland blue crabs.No guidelines, no instructions, just cook… oh, and throw the obligatory "I've got crabs" joke. Patrick O'Connell, chef/owner of the Inn at Little Washington is on-hand to assist Padma with the judging.  After an hour of the chefs hacking, whacking, and chopping, Padma and Patrick make the rounds for a taste of each dish.

Tiffany's hot-and-sour crab soup with chiles and leeks sounds good to me, as does Ed's salad of jumbo lump crab, Thai basil, mango, and cucumber. Patrick can't shovel Angelo's lemongrass-and-ginger-infused blue-crab broth in fast enough, while Timothy's beer-steamed crab with passionfruit, avocado, and heirloom tomato looks like something you'd see at Applebee's. Amanda's crab salad with a Sauternes/ginger/juniper gelee makes Padma say "wow," but not in a good way. Kevin's blue crab chowder with espelette and bacon seems good, but Padma's facial expression is telling me otherwise. We don't see Alex's or Kelly's dishes, but they can't look worse than Andrea's warm crab salad with chile-infused citrus gastrique, which looks like it has chunks of raw bison strewn throughout. Patrick says, "it's not your mother's crab salad." Yikes. Kenny's three-way of crab—Korean bisque, bruschetta, and a warm crab with sesame butter and mango—makes him feel damn fine about himself, and he should. 

Patrick and Padma's three least favorite crab (Ha! I typed "crap" instead of "crab") preparations were Andrea's, Amanda's, and Kevin's. They loved Ed's, Kenny's, and Angelo's dishes. Tim, who bragged earlier about his Maryland heritage and how he was gonna win the challenge, looks like he's about to cry.

Patrick declares Ed the winner, and it's all Ed can do to suppress his smile and maintain his usual curmudgeonly look. When he finds out this win earns him immunity for the Elimination Challenge, Ed's face breaks wide open into a big ol' smile and we see that he's actually adorable, and now I'm rethinking the Ed and Tiffany chemistry 'cause they both have toothpaste commercial-worthy smiles.

After Tim grouses about Ed's win (shocker, I know), Padma announces the Elimination Challenge will take place at Virginia’s Ayrshire Farms, where the cheftestants will have three hours to cook for 40 local chefs and farmers. And, for the first time, the chefs will work together on one team to create the family-style meal. They won't see their ingredients or cooking equipment until they arrive on the farm the next day. Something new!! Fina-freakin'-ly. The only thing that would make it better is if they actually have to slaughter their own protein.

They head back to the house to figure out a game plan. Angelo and Kenny puff out their chests as they struggle  for the leadership position, while Tiffany struggles to cut through the b.s. to get people focused. They bicker and talk over one another, and Tim unsuccessfully tries to broker some sort of detente, but no one pays attention. A few chefs suggest everyone work with their partners from the last challenge, and I start yelling at the TV, "TIFFANY, KELLY, WOULD ONE OF YOU JUST STAND UP AND TAKE FREAKIN' CHARGE?!!??!?!?' 'cause I think they could both rock it hard when it comes to leadership, organization, delegation, and planning. However, nobody listens to little old me and they decide to team up with their old partners. Then Kenny says, "It is what it is," and I want to throttle him. Tiffany is less than thrilled to be working with Tim for another challenge, so she does some planning on her own before Ed ditches Alex to sidle up to her for a flirty menu strategy session.

The next morning, the chefs head out to the farm. They survey the meat and produce laid out before them, grab what they want, and set up at their outdoor work-stations, augmenting their farm finds with staples the producers threw into the back of their minivans. As they cook Stephen says, "I don't want to be the forgotten side dish; I want to be the front runner," which means his dish will be unforgettable but for all the wrong reasons. Tiffany abandons Tim, and makes it clear she's doing her own thing and lets Tim work on his own. Smart girl. Angelo talks a good game about his duck, but we see him move it around the pan too much and too soon.

Then, rather mysteriously, Kevin's cauliflower couscous gets knocked into the grass. Tamesha jumps back like maybe she did it. Kenny looks worried like maybe his heavy-handed chopping caused the mess. Kevin thinks the wind blew it over (t didn't), so while Angelo and Tamesha scoop it up and put it in a bowl I swear I can hear Gordon Ramsay yelling across the spectrum from another network, "YOU STUPID, STUPID $(%@(#$% (#$@(#$@#, DO NOT TAKE FOOD THAT'S BEEN IN THE GARBAGE AND SERVE IT TO YOUR CUSTOMERS!!!!" Because Kevin is smart, he chooses not to use it and scrounges up a Plan B, creating a couscous dish with broccoli. Andrea and Kelly adjust their plans for the pork because the grill isn't hot enough and they have a large loin (*snerk*).  The chefs finish their dishes, taste one another's food, and Kelly decides to whip up a last-minute strawberry/rhubarb crisp because she has some extra time and the ballsy inclination to take a risk on making dessert. Still, where she found strawberries and rhubarb on a Virginia farm in March makes me curious.

There's a brief interlude where we see shots of Kenny in a velour bathrobe and learn all the nicknames the girls have for him, but all I can do is wonder why Bravo didn't just buy the rights for 30 seconds of Shaft to play,  'cause it would've had the same effect.

Back on the farm, the guests—including Equinox's Todd and Ellen Gray and Vermilion's Tony Chittum—arrive bundled up in their coats and scarves for an outdoor meal at a beautifully set long table in a meadow. A dapper-jacketed Patrick O'Connell joins Tom, Padma, and Eric Ripert on the judging panel. Remind me to find out where Padma got her earrings because they're gorgeous. Meanwhile, it's kind of a relief to be down to 12 chefs so we can spend a little more time hearing what they've made and what they judges think about it.

Patrick calls the rusticity of Amanda's minestrone "shocking" while Eric and Tom criticize the uneven texture and mismatched size of her vegetables. Padma calls Stephen's egg/apple/lettuce salad "wet and heavy" and Tom is not pleased with its presentation. Kevin and Kenny's broccoli couscous and curried eggplant is "lovely" and "hot." Tim's turnips and asparagus "didn't register" with Patrick or any of the judges. Eric lauds Andrea's pork loin for being cooked perfectly and tasting great, and the judges love Kelly's spiced apples and beets. Kelly scores big points with Tom for not just attempting a dessert, but for making it taste good, especially the crisp's
basil/lemon whipped cream.

Back in the Stew Room, the chefs Monday-morning-quarterback their dishes while Padma calls Kevin, Kenny, Andrea, and Kelly to Judges Table. Their dishes are deemed the afternoon's best, and Kevin breathes an incredibly loud sigh of relief. Padma tells Kevin his couscous was cooked perfectly, and Padma and Tom laud Kenny's curry, which he says he made extra hot because he knew the guests might need some warmth while eating outside in that weather. Tom and Eric loved Andrea and Kelly's pork loin with roasted vegetables, and heaped extra praise on the sauce. Patrick loved the "elegant, rustic" approach they took, and Kelly shared credit with Andrea for the much-appreciated dessert, which I thought was pretty cool of her to do. So who was tonight's winner? Kenny's sweet-and-sour curried eggplant, which Patrick said was the very first thing he tasted and that nothing else measured up to its "striking clarity." They say this cat Kenny is a bad mother—shut your mouth . . .

Tim, Amanda, and Stephen are sent to Judges Table to represent the afternoon's failures. Padma couches the upcoming critique by saying that because they had some truly outstanding food in a beautiful setting, it made the worst dishes stand out even more. Eric and Tom rip into Timothy for not executing the mousseline he'd intended as well as his claim that he added asparagus to the plate for color, and not taste. Eric wonders how Tim spent three hours turning out mediocre, flavorless vegetables. Patrick schools Stephen for serving his salad in a bowl and likens his dressing technique to a cement truck dumping its load. Eric quizzes Amanda on what a minestrone is, and she fails miserably by forgetting the main ingredient: pasta. Tom tears into her, Q&A-style, on why she didn't cut her vegetables uniformly, and Padma visibly cringes as she calls the soup "amateurish." Patrick takes it a step further by saying the soup was "grandmotherly . . . as though grandma might've done it with her axe." And let me say, big ups to Patrick O'Connell for being the first judge in a long, long time to provide meaningful, relevant, provocative analogies in his critiques tonight. Who knew he had it in him?

So, who's going home?  Why, it's Baltimore's Timothy Dean, who ends his time on the show talking about seasoning being "salt and pepper." It's no wonder he's outta there—salt isn't a seasoning because it doesn't change flavor; it enhances flavor inherent in an ingredient. Pepper is a seasoning because it changes flavor. They're two different things.  Cooking 101.  Shoop.

And, may I just say how happy I am that we finally had an episode where I didn't have to wish I'd had Derek Brown's drink recipes to test beforehand to help ease the pain?  Are things turning around for this season? We'll see next week when the cheftestants are asked to do some peer judging and Tom looks like he's giving them all the stink-eye.

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