‘Top Chef D.C.’ Recap: Space Odyssey


S7:E:12: This week Top Chef  proved that the weeks of gimmicks and puns and rerun challenges have not been leading up to a rewarding finale populated by worthy and talented chefs but instead to an extension of that tired, fossilized formula. Top Chef began in the style of reality television pioneered by shows like American Idol, Survivor, and The Bachelor. But unlike those decidedly more trashy franchises, which have evolved with changing tastes and kept up with the expectations of more psychological pornography and more entertaining characters and exploitative situations, Top Chef has staid the course with stuffy challenges, uninteresting contestants, lack of hysterics and hard bodies, and a disregard for dramatic narrative.


This is not necessarily a bad thing and has kept Top Chef from going off in the direction of its more flashy cousin, Hell’s Kitchen. Top Chef remains classy and relatively high-brow, but has sacrificed basic reality show decency. Essential rights have been forsaken, like giving viewers a finale with engaging, attractive, interesting people. By this I mean that Tiffany is out. K. Sbrags and Mr. Ed and Kelly the wet blanket are still around. It doesn’t make sense, and probably never will.


Quick Fire


This Quick Fire was all about wine pairings. A Dana Corwin from Food and Wine Magazine joined the chefs and babbled about how important wine is to the enjoyment of a meal etc. Some cheftestants were excited and all a-twitter – Angelo could barely contain himself as he sipped and swirled and danced about, pontificating to the others about the importance of understanding wine flavors. Others, such as Tiffany, were not as comfortable with the challenge (Tiffany explained she has a “wine guy” at her restaurant).

K. Sbrags messed up his braised pork late in the hour and had to switch to pigeon meat, and Ed made steak while Angelo made a foie-gras slab. Dana was appreciatively less obnoxiously snobby than expected, and handed Angelo the win and a trip to London for his slab of liver.


Padma then announced that the finale of Top Chef: D.C. would be held in Singapore! The chefs were skipping with glee, but none more than Angelo – “I’m Asian inside, 100%. I’m tingling. I’m tingling inside.” I think that says it all.


Elimination Challenge


From wine pairings to space travel, this elimination challenge was the crown jewel of a season of themed challenges. They went all out for this one, traveling to a NASA command center, which was AWESOME. They teleconferenced with astronauts on the space station, which was also AWESOME. The female astronaut was hilariously camping it up for television, twirling around and making goofy faces. The challenge was to make a dish that could be freeze-dried and eaten in space! So good. I was disappointed they didn’t really get into how food is freeze-dried, what it looks like, and how they eat it, but no matter.


At the judging, the honorable Buzz Aldrin was presiding (who has had a funny turn in 30 Rock recently), joined several other food scientists and astronauts along with guest judge ANTHONY BOURDAIN. I love love love this man. Huge sloppy crush on him. I love No Reservations and watching him on Top Chef was like the The Jetsons meet the Flintstones. Eric Ripert and Tony are friends IRL and watching him get in a few digs to old “Ripper” was absolutely divine.


The dishes this time around seemed to all be very well executed. Angelo made a ginger-glazed short-rib, Ed whipped up a complicated Mediterranean dish with a croquette, Tiffany cooked a piece of halibut with curry rice while Kelly did halibut with a Provence sauce, and K. Sbrags made a sirloin steak and friend onions.


Tony Bourdain seemed to like most everything, he shat on Ripert for his “cynical jaded life view” and nitpicking. The astronauts had little to say except “yummm” and the unfortunate food scientist gurgled about the merits of freeze-drying: “you can’t have those sorts of excess fluids in space!”


Judges’ Table


The Judges this week were amicable and gabby. Tony and Eric bantered a bit, with Tom (a little intimidated by all the celebrity chef-ing) chiming in here and there. In the end, it was decided that Angelo’s glazed ribs, though too sweet for some of the judge’s tastes, were an elegant and delicious concoction destined for the far reaches of space!


Now to the terrible bad news. Tiffany was sent home. Yes. Arguably the most talented chef in the competition, she was sent home for a curry that tasted a tad too strongly of fish sauce and needed a pinch more acidity. The injustice was almost unbearable. Tiffany, usually so loud and jolly just burst into tears. She kept it classy and resigned. This is a sad dark day for us, Top Chef viewers. We are now staring down the barrel of a two-part finale with no Kenny, no Tiffany, half an Angelo, two boring white people, and a rotund guido. To infinity and beyond.