Welcome to week two of “Top Chef: D.C.” To spice things up, I’ve enlisted Ed Hardy, a professional chef in Manhattan, to watch along with me. Ed has worked for Danny Meyer and Marcus Samuelsson and has auditioned for “Top Chef” twice. [Full disclosure: I attended the French Culinary Institute with Ed and he’s a friend, but he totally understands that if he were on the show, I might root against him. In fact, he expects that I would root against him. And that’s pretty much why Ed should be on “Top Chef.”]
Before the titles rolled, I asked Ed if watching made him envious about not being a part of this season, and he said, “I don’t envy the cast being stuck in D.C. traffic while on their way to Whole Foods. Of course, if you’re in the van without Angelo, you have plenty of time to scheme against him.” (See what I mean about Ed?)
Tonight’s guest judge is Sam Kass, who is the assistant White House chef. He’s nice to look at, but he’s not all that nice to the contestants, as you’ll see. He and Padma present a ‘Bipartisandwich’ Quickfire Challenge that has an extra challenge within it a la “The Brady Bunch”(or any family picnic, really). The culinary equivalent of the three-legged race, the cheftestants must don special aprons that allow them the use of just one hand. This means that there’s shared chopping, pouring, sautéeing, carrying, and so on. Timothy thinks its genius, and says, “Who got high and came up with this idea?” I’m guessing it wasn’t Tom or Gail.
Lashed together by their apron strings, Kenny and Ed look like an abbreviated version of the three-headed knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Angelo, who owns a sandwich shop, is paired with Tracey, who confesses to a secret crush on him and happily rubs elbows and more with the frontrunner for the next half hour. Instead of crushes, the other pairs, including Tamesha and Amanda and Alex and Timothy, battle trust issues. Ed comments, “The Quickfire Challenge would be a bit scary for me. What if you end up on the wrong side with a cheftestant who can’t handle a knife?” I think Ed just read Alex’s thoughts.
* Angelo and Tracey: Flounder marinated in fish sauce, spicy sriracha mayo, and pickled red onions.
* Andrea and Kevin: Roasted pork, pickle, whole grain mustard, and Gruyere cheese.
* Amanda and Tamesha: Proscuitto, Swiss cheese, Dijon mustard, and pepper salsa.
* Timothy and Alex: Croque Madame with ground lamb, Mornay sauce, and egg.
* Jacqueline and Stephen: Saba vinegar onions, California avocado, and chicken. (Does anyone else wonder why there’s a tiny tree atop each side of the sandwich?)
* Kenny and Ed: Korean chili-rubbed ahi tuna, cucumber and mango slaw on multi-grain bread.
* Arnold and Kelly: Curry-rubbed grilled chicken, honey + sambal, cucumber, mint, dill and cilantro.
* Tiffany and Lynne: Flatbread saltimbocca, goat cheese, artichokes, peppers, and white asparagus.
Who failed it?
Ed said: Stephen and Jacqueline for “an out-of-control garnish atop a sad-looking chicken sandwich,” and Tamesha and Amanda’s “grilled something or other.”
The judges said: Stephen and Jacqueline and Lynne and Tiffany missed the mark the most.
Who nailed it?
Ed said: Kenny and Ed. “That plate looked beautiful. The flavors and the thought behind it sounded it excellent.”
The judges said: Tracey and Angelo. Angelo cackles over his win and no one else is happy, including my viewing partner Ed, who reveals, ” Angelo’s just cooking something from his restaurant – in fact, he cooked THE FIRST SANDWICH ON THE MENU. I hope I’m not pulling the curtain back too much, but the vast majority of plates that ‘Top Chef’ contestants put out are things they have done a million times.”
The elimination challenge…
Because we’re in Michelle Obama’s backyard with her personal chef, it’s not entirely unexpected that the show would take up some of the First Lady’s causes, one of which is ending childhood obesity. So, this week’s challenge is preparing a cost-effective, healthful school lunch. Padma claims the chefs will be given the same restrictive budget “as our public schools have — $2.68 per child.” I cry foul here and so does Ed, who exclaims, ” Most school districts get by on one dollar or less!” Anyway, each team’s budget is rounded down to $130 to feed 50 kids. Every team member is responsible for one item. They’ve got 30 minutes to plan, two and a half hours to cook, and one hour to reheat.
The Team: Angelo/Tracey/Kenny/Ed
The Dishes: They make a chicken burger with fiesta rice (Tracey). Peanut butter and celery crudite and tuile (Angelo). Sweet potato puree that looks like poo (Ed). Apple bread pudding with cinnamon yogurt (Kenny)
The Drama: Angelo wants Kenny gone, which is odd. If he’s so confident, why is he sweating Kenny, whom he’s beaten at every single challenge?
The Team: Andrea/Kevin/Tim/Alex
The Dishes: Yogurt cole slaw (Andrea), grilled, skinless chicken with apple cider sauce (Alex), melon with yogurt foam (Kevin), mac and cheese with skim milk and whole wheat crust (Tim).
The Drama: They refuse to let Angelo borrow a whipped cream gun, but this is more strategy than internal drama.
The Team: Amanda/Stephen/Jacqueline/ Tamesha.
The Dishes: Sherry-braised chicken thigh (Amanda), sweet onion rice (Stephen), green bean and tomato salad (Tamesha), and strawberry and banana pudding with skim milk (Jacqueline).
The Drama: The shopping trip hits a snafu because Amanda spends all their dough on sherry and Jacqueline gets short-changed on her ingredients. Can’t anyone add as they shop? Back to the sherry – everyone – including the judges — wonders why you’d cook a school lunch with booze.
The Team: Kelly/Arnold/Tiffany/Lynne
The Dishes: Braised pork carnitas (Kelly), black bean cake and crispy sweet potatoes (Lynne), roasted corn salad (Arnold), caramelized sweet potatoes and sherbet (Tiffany).
The Drama: Kelly appears to be taking credit for everything and she is reminded that there is no “I-I-I” in team. Later, when they’re all, “This was a team effort,” to Chef Tom, he stalks off in disgust.
So, what I want to know is why no one made pizza, the All-Time Official Favorite School Lunch of Children Everywhere since the beginning of time (or, at least, since it started getting served in school lunches). Ed says, ” I’m stumped. Flatbread with some veggies, a little protein, and cheese would have moved quickly and been a huge hit simply because it LOOKS LIKE PIZZA!”
Who failed it?
Ed said: “Besides Amanda? Stephen needs to find creativity or he’s done. Ed just needs to get back to cooking for adults. And, what was culinary instructor Lynne thinking with that black bean cake?”
Judges said: Team Amanda and Team Angelo are the bottom two teams, and they’re brought in first (which baffles the real winners). Sam Kass is a sass and his lame point about a tomato really being a fruit (which may be technically true, but it is treated and served primarily as a vegetable) is weak sauce, yo. Anyway, Kass doesn’t get to say much because, in an unprecedented move, the two teams begin attacking one another. Amanda’s boozy chicken and Stephen’s pilaf are called out for lameness, but Jacqueline’s sugary, grainy pudding earns her a ticket home.
Who nailed it?
Ed said: “Kevin with the colorful melon and yogurt whipped cream. I don’t know why he didn’t get more credit for this. I thought the judging was a bit wonky in this challenge.”
Judges said: Team Kelly gets the team win. Tiffany gets credit for using a vegetable in a dessert, but the big W goes to Kelly. The king is dead. All hail the queen.
“I’m not gonna cut you. At least not yet.” – Timothy
“I like to call it liquid love.” – Angelo
“I like that pickle in there.” – Sam Kass
“I love vodka.” – Gale Simmons
Side dish: On a show centered around health and obesity, we learned that Kelly and Amanda are smokers and that Tracey eats fast food once a week.