“Thirteen chefs have fallen,” says Kevin, as if he’s talking about victims of a foreign war instead of willing reality show contestants, giving us a taste of the vacuous hyperbole that awaits us. Angelo, meanwhile, carps about his ex-in-laws, saying they “just didn’t believe in my profession. … Eventually it weighed on the relationship.” More so than his many delusions of grandeur? Who knows. All we can be certain of is that every time Angelo opens his mouth, crickets chirp and the universe shrinks a bit in protest.
But onto the Quickfire Challenge, which sees Padma doing her best Victor/Victoria homage in a rather unflattering suit and tie. Apparently she’s pretending to be a sommelier for the benefit of Food & Wine‘s Dana Cowin, who’s showed up to announce that the challenge will require the chefs to prepare — gasp — food and wine pairings. To liven things up a bit, the winner of this final, high-stakes Quickfire will get to go to London.
Things go horribly wrong for Kevin, who tries and fails to braise pork belly in an hour and ends up having to use quail instead. Cowin says it’s cooked perfectly, but can’t stand up to the wine. She’s also not overly impressed with the blue cheese emulsion accompanying Kelly’s wild boar with blackberry conserve. She declares the most successful dishes to be Tiffany’s cocoa-and-black-pepper-encrusted Wagyu steak and Angelo’s sautéed foie gras with fennel salad. Angelo wins and is duly ecstatic.
Padma announces that, for the first time ever in the entire long history of Top Chef, they’ll be “going international” for the finale. Specifically — dramatic pause — they’ll be going to Singapore. “I feel Asian inside, 100 percent!” Angelo exclaims as viewers across the country vomit a little in their mouths.
Before they can go to Singapore, they first have to go to the Goddard Space Flight Center to suffer through painful space puns and cook food for NASA. At the space center, they’re met by a lady wearing Earth’s biggest set of braces, and then they watch a live video of two astronauts at the space station who tell them their challenge is to make a dish that’s, cough, “out of this world.” And if that wasn’t blatant enough, the chefs should “shoot for the stars” with their dishes, which should be able to be freeze-dried and taken into space. The lady with the braces cautions the chefs not to make anything too sweet, and not to use big chunks of ingredients. Also, they’ll be cooking for Buzz Aldrin, which delights Kelly, a self-proclaimed space nerd.
Then it’s off to Whole Foods, where Angelo thoughtlessly plows into bystanders and generally makes us loathe him even more.
For the challenge, Ed decides to “go Moroccan” because astronauts crave spicy foods, while Kevin decides to make food that’s “down to earth,” meaning a very safe sirloin. Tiffany’s plan to make a pan-seared halibut with red curry and mussels is foiled at the last minute when she discovers that her mussels are frozen solid. Which means that she is pretty much screwed, as is our ability to feel any lingering interest in who actually wins this season.
The morning of the challenge, the chefs receive a note telling them they’ll be driven to the NASA kitchen in a sweet new car, and everyone gets really excited, presumably expecting a Maserati or at least a Prius to be waiting outside. And what they get is … a boxy black Toyota Avalon. Which kind of sums up this season in a nutshell.
At the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center, the judges, as well as Anthony Bourdain, Buzz Aldrin, the braces lady, and a few astronauts, show up to eat. Padma feigns interest in space travel while Aldrin gamely answers questions about what it felt like to walk on the moon.
Bourdain and Ripert share some playful banter about some of the dishes: When Ripert criticizes Angelo’s ginger-lacquered short ribs, Bourdain responds that, “I’m shocked by Ripert’s dark, cynical, snarky, and negative worldview, because it’s all about love and optimism for me now.” And he defends Ed’s Moroccan-inspired yogurt-marinated rack of lamb against Ripert, who finds it too complicated, saying “I wanna disagree with my colleague, Mr. Ripper. … I’ve BEEN to Morocco.” Which all provides some much-needed levity, but still isn’t as wonderful as the braces lady’s criticism of Kelly’s pan-roasted halibut with artichoke and fennel barigoule: “You couldn’t have this much extraneous fluid in space.” Thank you, and goodnight.
The judges also disagree about Kevin’s sirloin with fried onions and corn puree – Tom thinks the meat was cooked perfectly, while Bourdain thinks it was too safe. Or, as he puts it later at the judges’ table: “Sirloin? It’s Top Chef! Sirloin, for God’s sake!”
Ultimately, the judges reward Angelo for his short ribs, even though Tom thinks they were too sweet. And that means that Angelo gets a car, a copy of Medium Raw, and the promise that his food will be freeze-dried and shot into orbit. Retreating to the supply closet, he literally strokes his car keys and moans, “It’s too much to embrace as a human, to be honest with you.”
Despite the fact that they liked all of the dishes, the judges decide to send Tiffany home for her mussel-less halibut and curry. And that is very sad, because a) Kevin’s boring dish should have gotten him sent home, and b) Tiffany was easily this season’s most likable contestant. But at least she won’t have to fly coach to Singapore with Angelo, who, from the looks of next week’s episode, will do everything in his power to unleash his inner Asian.
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