Top Chef Recap: Episode 9—This Is War

The episode opens at the Top Chef house, as always, where Amanda says, "the best of the best are still in the competition." Uh, honey?  Look in the mirror.  Not so much.  Kenny says he's gonna "unleash the beast" and I try not to stab him with my mind. 

The Quickfire Challenge is a tag-team cook-off in which the eight competitors are split into two teams and each chef has 10 minutes to contribute toward making their group’s dish. There’s no menu planning, no coaching from the sidelines, and the chefs have no knowledge of what's been done before them because they have to wear blindfolds before they take to the stove. They draw knives to determine team leaders. Ed leads the red team of Tiffany, Angelo, and Alex, while Kevin takes charge of the blue team of Kenny, Kelly, and Amanda.  There's no immunity up for grabs, but the winning team splits $10,000.  

Tiffany gets things started for the red team and does a great job prepping for all the steps in the red snapper dish she has in mind. Then, Alex steps in and screws it all up by salting the fish way before it's time to saute it, which results in three out of four team members salting it. D'oh! The blue team seems to have it more together. 

Our guest judge, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, shows up in a lovely aubergine suit. While she says she likes the red team’s overly salty snapper with wilted greens and maitake mushrooms—ever the politician, that gal—she loves  the blue team's sauteed shrimp with angel hair pasta and mustard sauce, saying the flavors remind her of home. The blue team wins and Tiffany all but says, "Way to eff up my dish, Alex" and I don't blame her one bit.

It's full steam ahead to Restaurant Wars, and the teams stay the same, much to the disappointment of those stuck with Alex. Kenny says this is his perfect opportunity for a throwdown against Angelo. Something about "the best versus the beast." I realize I like Kenny less and less whenever he a) does a duo; and b) spouts off about this whole "I'm the beast" nonsense.  

Tonight's guest judge is former New York Times food critic Frank Bruni. Bill and John Terlato of Terlato Wines provide the wine for the dinner, held at Redwood in Bethesda. Ed's team names themselves Evoo, because they are morons. I'm sorry. It's because they plan to focus on Mediterranean flavors. They are not total morons, though, because they decide to kick Alex out of the kitchen and have him run the dining room. The blue team calls their restaurant 2121, because it's the address of the chefs’ house.

Angelo assumes the position of executive chef for his team, and Kenny takes charge of his. When the teams get to Redwood, Angelo realizes that Alex has screwed up the butchering and prep work, and he and Tiffany have to redo it. Kenny gloats from the other side of the kitchen. Amanda confesses she's never used a wood-burning grill. Kelly is nervously training 2121's dining room staff while Alex runs Evoo's front-of-house like a bitter divorcee.

The guests and judges arrive and are seated. After Alex stammers and spit-talks his dish explanations, the judges dig in. While they love Angelo's tomato-confit soup, they think Tiffany's black bass and yellowtail crudo is oversalted and overdressed. Bruni loves Ed's turbot and the lamb chop, and the Terlato boys think the rib eye is super. They decide that although Evoo’s service was lacking, the food was good.

The judges head to the other side of Redwood's dining room for 2121's menu. They are warmly greeted by Kelly, who explains the restaurant concept as "progressive American cuisine—of the moment, and of the season." And then, in April, they are served corn soup with crab salad. Way to stay on message.

Tom thinks Kelly's corn soup is too thin and lacks flavor, and says that Kenny's beet salad with chorizo dressing is too cluttered. Frank and Gail think Amanda's steak is overcooked, but everyone raves about Kevin's halibut. The meal ends with what seems to be a well-liked chocolate-ganache tart from Kelly, and a giant ball of deep-fried goat cheese from Kenny that the judges say is "soapy," "too salty," and "awful." Frank notes that both teams' declarations of intent—2121's progressive seasonality, and Evoo's Mediterraneanality—weren't followed through.

Back at the studio, Padma calls Ed, Tiffany, Angelo and Alex to Judges' Table and declares Evoo the winning restaurant. They give Alex negative feedback about his service skills, but somehow like Tiffany's crudo, which earlier in the show was deemed oversalted and one of the failures of the team's menu. They loved Angelo's food and leadership skills, but it's Ed's halibut that earns him the trophy for the evening—and what a lovely trophy it is: a magnum of Terlato wine.

Kenny, Kevin, Amanda, and Kelly appear before Judges' Table as the evening's not-winners. While the judges liked Kelly's “clumsy charisma,” they thought her soup was too thin. Kenny steps in and tries to change the subject by sandbagging the winning team, saying their communication in the kitchen was crap, and that Alex didn't cook anything. Which, shut up, Kenny. Gail hammers home the point that it doesn't matter what was going on in the kitchen. This was about pulling together a great meal. Kenny looks as though he might cry. Then, Bruni twists the knife a little deeper by telling Kenny that his beet salad was "done through the guise of Hamburger Helper." Kevin seems pleased the judges liked his fish dish, but Amanda seems shocked that her "I've never cooked grass-fed beef before" beef was dry. Then , it's back to Kenny for a discussion of his goat cheese lump that leaves Frank Bruni without words. Kenny fires back with a duo of bitterness and sore loser and reiterates how much he thought the other team sucked, and that he and Kevin think that Alex needs to go home.

As the judges decide who's going home, Kevin and Kenny get belligerent, juvenile, and pretend-gangsta back in the Stew Room. The judges agree that Kelly and Kevin are safe, and focus on Amanda and Kenny. Bruni rightfully notes that Amanda was responsible for just one dish, and managed to screw it up. Gail says that Kenny should be commended for taking on the leadership role, but all the judges agree that both his dishes were poorly executed.

So who goes home?  They killed Kenny.  YOU BASTARDS. That goat cheese really must've tasted like a sweaty soccer ball covered in mulch. In his exit interview, Kenny talks about how now that he's gone, "it's anyone's game."  Dude. While I think we all  would've rather seen Amanda get the boot, it's pretty clear Kenny's mouth has been writing checks his food can't cash. The hissy fit at Judges' Table certainly couldn't have helped. So don't let the door hit you in your massive ego on the way out. And remember, "alpha males" and "beasts" don't act like crybabies when they don't get their way.

Up next week: the cheftestants cook at the CIA, where WD-50 chef Wylie Dufresne tries to one-up CIA director Leon Panetta. It's a Top Chef Nerd-Off! 

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