S7:E9: At the start of the ninth episode of Top Chef D.C. last night, it becomes clear that Amanda still clings to the dismal desert mirage that she does not completely suck. She reminds the camera that she is among the best of the best. This tragically delusional voice-over transitions into Amanda hamming to the audience squealing and gurgling to the camera-men as if she were an adorable ingénue in a Hugh Grant movie. Which she is not.
Kenny meanwhile ponders his own troubled disconnect between self-image and reality, between being a self-described “beast in the kitchen” and complete crap. He menaces around the kitchen and growls motivational “Stuart Smalley” affirmations in the reflective surfaces of his prized stainless cookware.
“I’m the beast. And that’s… okay.” “I’m in a shame spiral!”
The challenge this episode was… a tag-team cook-off! In which the chefs cook ten minutes each, picking up where the last left off until they have one complete dish! The chefs were broken into two teams, picked by eternal second-in-command types Ed and Kevin, who each stocked up on popular kids (Tiffany and Angelo and Kenny) before sulkily picking up Amanda and Alex. I wouldn’t bother noting the teams except as I suspected they kept them for RESTAURANT WARS later on.
(Red team: Ed, Tiffany, Alex, Angelo. Blue team: Kevin, Kenny, Amanda, Kelly)
The guest judge for this challenge was SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE NANCY PELOSI.
I was both very surprised and completely expecting this. Nancy was classy and a little bored, I guess she doesn’t have time to sit around shooting reality shows all day – she was in the show for all of 3 minutes, being like “okay this is good and this is good so well done all around, vote for meee my chickies, peace suckers!” and drove off on a motorbike with a nude Tom Collicio in a sidecar. She liked Kevin’s team’s prawns with mustard sauce and al dente angel hair pasta a tad better than she liked Ed’s fish because prawns reminded her of San Francisco and she hates fish on principle, plus the salt. This made everyone really angry with Alex because he salted the shit out of that thing.
Redwood Restaurant was the site of the action and each team was admonished to be responsible for a three-course menu and coming up with a stupid name. Judge Frank Bruni of the New York Times was announced as the guest judge, causing a flurry of gossip in hushed tones about his generally intimidating nature and natural charisma.
Bravo’s attempt to make a narrative out of their footage took the form of an ideological clash: we see the Red team under Ed (but really Angelo) being discordant and disorganized, running around Restaurant DEPOT all confused, grabbing stuff and throwing it on, and training by punching meat and running in the snow.
Meanwhile Kevin’s (Kenny’s) Blue team is training with state-of-the-art Soviet fitness technology and motion-capture, computerized feedback stuff. They are organized, and have lists.
Most upsetting of all, the chefs weren’t made to pick out décor and decorate their restaurants according to whatever hokey theme they had picked out! The funniest part of these restaurant wars is when they are at like, Pier One Imports and picking out elephant statues and hiring belly dancers for their Chinese-influenced “Shanghai Experience” restaurants.
The WARS begin, and soon it’s clear that the German-Nazi-Machine that is the Blue team with Kenny at the head looks down at the Red team (led by Angelo) as red-blooded, crapshootin’ American Cowboys! Minus the Russian, Alex, who everyone hates and who continues to mess up everything he touches, like Tiffany’s fish etc. Angelo and Ed decide to stick him at the front of the house so he can’t ruin anything, while Kelly is sent up front for the Blue team.
Eventually, the challenge is in full swing and the judges come up to the red team’s EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil pun…ha.ha.ha..not), noting Alex’s incompetence as hostess. The judges liked the first course from Angelo (a chilled soup) but not Tiffany’s fish crudo. After a short interlude between courses (Padma devolved into a cranky toddler “I want my SECOND COURSEEEEE”), the judges also enjoyed Ed’s striped bass and turbot from Tiffany. Finally, a third course of more meat (playing it safe, no dessert) arrived in the form of a lamb chop with pea purée (HAHA) and a rib-eye, both of which the judges appreciated.
The judges did not like either of the Blue team’s first courses, a thin corn soup from Kelly and a everything-but-the-kitchen-sink salad from Kenny. Kumquats and nuts and chorizo? Trying too hard Kenny.
Amanda’s steak was shit, while Kevin’s halibut with beans and fennel went over great. The third course was mixed, as Kelly’s chocolate ganache tart was obviously delicious but Kenny served a huge chunk of fried goat cheese that freaked everyone out.
After all the snooty-two-shoesing of the Blue team at the disorganized tempo of Angelo’s leadership, the Red Team WON! High-fives all around. Ed won the big one for his fish, even though Tom really liked Alex’s lamb dish.
The Blue team tromped in to the judges table huffy and pouty. As soon as they got in there they started pointing fingers at Alex (he didn’t make his own lamb etc etc), trying to get someone, ANYONE else eliminated.
However, PLOT TWIST, the judges showed no mercy and eliminated KENNY. The BEAST. This changes everything, as far as narrative goes. Truthfully his food has not been up to par the past several episodes, and the judges were right to let him go (even though Amanda deserved it).
Legend has it, if you squint really hard and listen closely on moon-lit nights, you can still hear the lonely cries of The Beast as he trolls the hills above the site of the Top Chef Mansion: “Beeaaaassssst!”