Having made it through Episode 1 of Top Chef without being scarred by its trademark egregious puns, viewers had almost started to relax. But the show’s close proximity to our nation’s government proved far too alluring for its writers, and five minutes into last night’s episode, we were blindsided with the sheer horror of the “Bi-partisandwich.”
When Padma announced that the abomination would be the subject of this week’s Quickfire Challenge, all of the contestants laughed, presumably to mask their great pain. Sam Kass, who had been lured away from the White House kitchen to serve as the episode’s guest judge, smiled gamely, the glare from his handsome bald head helping to deflect the Bi-partisandwich’s worst ravages.
Not as lucky were the contestants. Having been told they’d have 30 minutes, working in pairs, to make a sandwich, they were feeling pretty good about themselves. Especially Angelo, who reminded us that he owns a sandwich shop and always seems to feel pretty good about himself.
But then Padma whipped out a conjoined apron, which she announced that the teams would be wearing while they made their sandwiches. Tim, speaking for reality TV viewers everywhere, asked, “Who got high and came up with this idea?” Everyone grumbled and groaned, except for Tracey, who was paired with Angelo. “I have a secret crush on him,” she confided coquettishly. “I get to have my arm around him for 30 minutes. It couldn’t be any better.” For his part, Angelo seemed enamored of the Asian fish sandwich he would make with a sauce he called “liquid love” that was like “sex on a plate.” He also described Tracey as his “twin sister,” presumably dashing her hopes even as he further convinced us that his greatest love affair is with his mirror.
But Sam was apparently feeling the liquid love, and he awarded Angelo and Tracey both the victory and immunity. Not as lucky were Jacqueline and Stephen, whose avocado and chicken sandwich tasted like “plain white bread,” and Tiffany and Lynne, who made a sloppy saltimbocca. Both, Sam read from his cue card, demonstrated that “it’s hard to form consensus and work in a cooperative way.”
Mercifully, it was time to move on to the Elimination Challenge. Sam Kass being Sam Kass, the challenge would be to make a school lunch for 50 students, using a budget of only $2.60 per child, which is about the same amount allotted to children in the real, scary school-lunch world. That meant a total budget of $130, which Arnold told us he spends on himself when he goes out to dinner.
The contestants were split into four teams: Angelo and Tracey hooked up with Kenny and Ed; Andrea and Kevin joined forces with Tim and Alex; Tiffany and Lynne partnered with Kelly and Arnold; and Jacqueline and Amanda teamed up with Tamesha and Stephen. Friction arose early on when Tamesha told us that she tries to stay away from bossy Amanda, while Amanda refused to make dessert because “take one for the team is not in my vocabulary.” What was in her vocabulary was alcohol, an ingredient regularly associated with children’s meals: Never mind the $130 budget, Amanda was bound and determined to make braised chicken with a sherry jus!
Over at Team Angelo, the gang made the dubious decision to make celery with peanut butter their one vegetable; elsewhere, Arnold told us he wasn’t happy working with Kelly because she was “trying to take control” of everything with her pork carnitas. The contestants were unleashed upon Restaurant Depot, a Costco-like warehouse whose prices were presumably better than Whole Foods’. Amanda alarmed both viewers and a store employee by demanding to know where the booze was kept, while Kelly helpfully told us that she was going to “think outside of the box.” Everyone came in way over budget, and ingredients and better judgment were sacrificed.
Back in the Hilton kitchen, the bickering continued, with Kelly and Arnold sparring over ownership of Kelly’s pork carnitas with whole-grain tortillas, and Amanda telling Tamesha that tomato paste just wouldn’t do for her kid-friendly sherry concoction. Tamesha plotted to kick Amanda’s ass, and viewers rooted for Tamesha to do it. Meanwhile, Jacqueline worried about making banana pudding with starchy bananas. But not everybody was having a bad time: “We’re working in harmony, cooking on all eight cylinders,” Tim said blissfully.
The next day, the chefs gathered in a school kitchen to prep their creations. Angelo’s foam gun wouldn’t work and nobody would lend him one because, with the exception of Tracey, they already hate him. But Angelo persevered with his peanut butter mousse, boasting that “I turned a rock into a wheel,” one that we silently wished would run him over.
Finally, a horde of hungry schoolchildren was unleashed upon the chefs. The judges showed up too, and overall seemed pleasantly surprised with what they ate. They particularly liked Andrea’s coleslaw with yogurt and apple, Kevin’s grilled chicken kebab, and pretty much everything from Team Kelly: the much-contested pork carnitas, Arnold’s roasted corn and tomato salsa, Tiffany’s sweet potato with chocolate sorbet, and Lynne’s black bean cake.
The judges weren’t as kind to Amanda’s booze and chicken; Jacqueline’s starchy, too-sweet banana pudding; and most of what Team Angelo put together. Ed’s sweet potato puree had too much pepper, and Angelo’s ridiculous peanut butter mousse with celery and tuile was neither a dessert nor a sufficient serving of vegetables.
Later, the judges pulled a switcheroo by calling in the two losing teams first. Angelo, Kenny, Ed, and Tracey, and Amanda, Stephen, Tamesha, and Jacqueline were asked to account for their sins. Jacqueline admitted she’d put a whopping two pounds of sugar in her misbegotten banana pudding, a confession that caused Tom’s eyes to bulge out of his head. Sam questioned why there was room in the budget to buy sherry, while Gail scolded Ed for his spicy sweet potatoes. “You gotta be careful,” she growled. “We’re cooking for kids here!”
More damning was the judge’s cross-examination of Angelo, with Tom asking if he would have done his awful celery thing if he hadn’t had immunity. “I really can’t answer that right now,” Angelo responded, revealing that beneath his pretty exterior lurks the soul of a true rat. And then the chefs all began accusing one another of trying to poison the children, with Kenny slagging the two pounds of sugar in Jacqueline’s pudding and Amanda demanding if anyone knew how much sugar processed peanut butter contained. No one did, but they all looked like they hated Amanda. Because at this point we do too, we cheered as Gail smacked down Amanda’s weak defense of her dish by saying, “I like vodka, but I’m not cooking with it.” Snap! Before sending anyone home, the judges called in the winning teams, and lavished praise on Lynne, Tiffany, Kelly, and Arnold. Sam praised Kelly’s carnitas for being “alive and vibrant” and having “nutrition at the forefront.” Kelly beamed, and Arnold did his best to appear to be happy for her.
Finally, the judges put everyone out of their misery by telling Jacqueline that she had to go home because, as Tom said, the kids treated her pudding like “someone put a turd on the table” and, as Sam said, the amount of sugar she used was “unconscionable.” And so we got to see another contestant’s hopes and dreams being dashed to hell by dessert, a fate as predictable on this show as bad puns, warring egos, and gratuitous product placement.
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