Food

Top Chef: ‘I’m More Than a Vuitton Bag’

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Morning in the Top Chef household this week means 10 seconds of obligatory mourning for Tracey and Arnold’s happy conclusion that after last week’s challenge, “I guess the grill is my friend.” But there’s no time for introspection, because soon, the chefs have more pressing concerns: making baby food for consenting adults.

Which, in this case, isn’t a euphemism, but the Quickfire Challenge: Padma, wearing a shirt emblazoned with what might be a black hole, blank TV set, or homage to the Deepwater Horizon, announces that because she and Tom both recently replicated their DNA, the chefs’ Quickfire Challenge would be to make baby food that “satisfies Tom and I” and also wouldn’t poison their offspring. The prize for their efforts: $10,000, coughed up by the good folks at Dial NutriSkin.

All of Lynne’s choices in life flash before her eyes as she realizes, “Oh crap, I’ve never had a baby,” while Arnold, channeling Pollyanna, says he’d donate his winnings to AIDS orphans in Thailand. Alex, last seen plotting to defile Capitol Hill interns, wants to buy himself “a nice hooker and an eight ball,” a choice that’s sadly way more convincing than Arnold’s.

Also no joke: baby food! In between heartwarming photos that show us who among them has reproduced, the chefs scramble to shove ingredients into a Vita-Prep. Kevin dedicates his pan-seared duck to his unborn child, while Lynne frets over her lack of prior baby-food consumption. Amazingly, Amanda does not raid the liquor cabinet.

Ultimately, Padma is grossed out by the pool of blood lurking underneath Kevin’s duck (a dedication to child birth?) and annoyed that Kelly’s left lemon seeds floating around in her baby food. The judges declare Tamesha the Quickfire winner for her vegetable chowder with lobster stock, Thai basil, and licorice oil. She doesn’t say what she’ll do with the money, but it’s not important, because now it’s time to meet the guest judge, some lady in charge of the food they serve at the Hilton.

The Elimination Challenge, Padma says, will be super-duper high stakes because not one but two chefs will be sent packing. Their task: In teams of two, they’ll create breakfast, lunch, and dinner dishes that can be served at the Hilton, with each successful team being given immunity after each meal.

Amanda and Stephen pair off because no one else wants to be partners with them. Alex and Ed choose each other, despite Ed’s earlier assertion that Alex is a slob. Angelo chooses Tamesha, Tiffany chooses Tim, and Andrea and Kelly, who are basically interchangeable at this point, choose each other. Arnold partners with Lynne and says this challenge will prove to everyone that “I’m more than a Louis Vuitton bag.”

And the rest of the episode is a very, very long slog. There’s a lot of running around and fretting and tasting, and a cringe-inducing segment in which Angelo hits on Tamesha with the prowess of an acne-ridden seventh-grader.

The chefs serve their food to a panel that includes past Top Chef contestants Bryan Voltaggio, Mike Isabella, and D.C. homeboy Spike, all of whom look slightly embalmed. Eric’s there, too, wearing a look that says, in charmingly accented English, “I’m way too regal for this shit.” Amanda and Stephen and Tiffany and Tim win the breakfast challenge for, respectively, their poached eggs with pancetta and crab cake eggs Benedict. Everyone else grumbles back into the kitchen to prepare lunch. Angelo’s “fuming inside” and Arnold grapples with the stress of “putting my life on the line,” as if he’s parachuting into Afghanistan.

The judges bestow immunity upon Alex and Ed for their ricotta gnudi with scallops and Angelo and Tamesha for their beef carpaccio. Angelo throws his arms around Tamesha, who gingerly half-hugs him back.

Andrea, fuming that she was one of Food & Wine‘s Best New Chefs in America, is sent back to the kitchen with Kelly, who is “frustrated and bitter.” Arnold and Lynne, meanwhile, fight over the proper cooking time for fresh pasta, and Kenny and Kevin do something to beef short ribs.

Despite the bitterness that went into its preparation, the judges like Kelly and Andrea’s braised beef short ribs with polenta, shiitake mushrooms, and citrus gremolata enough to crown them the winners of the competition. The prize, six-night trips to Spain and Italy, allows Padma to say “Hilton” four times in one sentence.

While the judges fault Kevin and Kenny for the lack of horseradish flavor and glaze in their beef short ribs, they reserve their worst judgment for Arnold and Lynne, sending them home for the undercooked pasta in their curried mussels. Lynne, wearing her best Debbie Downer expression, says she made the mistake of “letting a younger chef take the lead,” while Arnold admits this “totally sucks.” And so he’s denied the chance to prove to the world he’s more than a piece of designer luggage, and viewers are left to anticipate yet more fighting and gratuitous ego displays in next week’s episode.


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