Things aren’t so cozy in the “Top Chef” household as the 7th episode gets underway. Kenny "the Beast" still thinks his competitors sabotaged him during last week’s “Cold War” challenge, and Angelo’s making sad puppy eyes because he no longer has Tamesha under his thumb (among other things). Tiffany, however, is on to Angelo’s mind game shtick. She’s also on to Ed’s stick. I mean shtick.
For this week’s Quickfire Challenge, the chefs are introduced to Representative Aaron Schock from Illinois who is the youngest congressman in the House. He tells them that the first day on the job is spent discussing ethics and a good deal of that discussion is based on food to ensure there isn’t any undue influence between lobbyists and members of the House. To make sure congressmen aren’t swayed by lavish meals, any meals served at a lobbyist event must be served on a toothpick. Stephen totally gets this. He says, “It makes sense because lobbyists could buy themselves some laws.” Lightbulb alert! The scarecrow finally got his brain!
In this “toothpick” challenge, the chefs will have 30 minutes to make a delicious h'ordoeuvre that packs the punch of a full dish. Winner gets immunity and $20,000, so the stakes are high and the kitchen is gettin’ a little crazy (i.e. Amanda is running around like a bull again). Stephen’s feeling good about his dish – a scallop and beef kabob with crispy potato. He totally feels the win in his stomach, though we suspect it might also be indigestion from tasting his last dish.
Alex the Molester is also confident. He says, “I’m great at party foods.” You know, stuffing canapés with ruffies, baking pot brownies, spiking some punch… good times, good times. Amanda’s not having as much fun because she doesn’t like making h’ordeourves. We’ve heard this before. She doesn’t like making pies. She doesn’t like emu eggs. She basically only likes cooking with Sherry. For children. Who she wants to run over in Whole Foods with her cart.
Kelly, Alex and Ed are on the bottom for failing to pack a punch on their picks, and Stephen, Angelo and Kevin are singled out for their dishes. Aaron loves all the meat on Stephen’s toothpick (he says, "Mmmm, meaty" when he tastes it), but is ultimately won over by Angelo’s cucumber cup with spiced shrimp and cashew that Angelo had been embarrassed to serve. Apparently cucumbers are like way “old school,” so Angelo seems genuinely humbled when he wins. It’s kind of shocking. Has the tinman finally gotten his heart too?
In this week’s Elimination Challenge, the top chefs will be taking on the Washington “Power Lunch.” They will take over the kitchen of the historic Palm restaurant where they will need to make lunch for 24 diners using 5 of the main ingredients on the menu – lamb, porterhouse, salmon, swordfish, and lobster. Each will draw knives for their protein, but the ten chefs will be competing against everyone regardless of their ingredient. Tiffany and Andrea pick swordfish, Kevin and Kenny will be working with lamb, Kelly and Amanda will be battling with porterhouses, Alex and Stephen will be swimming with salmon, and Angelo and Ed must contend with huge 4-lb lobsters.
Angelo and Ed are immediately at a disadvantage because of the time it will take them to break down the crustacean behemoths, but Ed does manage to eke out a pea puree to serve with his lobster by the end of the two-hour prep time. Amanda’s also at a disadvantage because she’s Amanda. And surprise surprise, she’s never cooked a porterhouse steak before.
It’s appalling, and even more so when Amanda begins hacking up the giant steaks. Kelly looks on and horror, observing, “Amanda’s taking her meat off the bone – it’s not technically a porterhouse any more if you take the bone away.” Kelly was so the girl who never let anyone copy her homework in school. We bet she tattled too. And never shared her toys in the sandbox.
Like Amanda, Alex is also a bit unsure of what he’s doing. He does know he wants to cut his salmon into smaller pieces, but when he leaves the kitchen for the day, he still doesn’t have a concept for his dish yet. It makes us a little nervous, but then again Alex always makes us a little nervous. Right?
Flash forward to Palm the next day. Ed’s pea puree has suddenly gone missing, and Alex is suddenly seen with a blender full of pea puree. Coincidence? The other chefs think not and keep saying “pea puree” over and over again like they are trying to start a “Top Chef” drinking game, and it starts to get really annoying, but not quite as annoying as Ed telling us how much he “trusts” Tiffany every... single.. episode.
Meanwhile, Kelly’s put an embargo on her salt and refuses to let Amanda use any. It kind of reminds us of the “Seinfeld” episode where Jerry’s girlfriend won’t “spare a square” of toilet paper when Elaine asks for some in the restroom at the movie theatre. Really, you won’t spare a square? There’s no square to spare? “I did not touch your pea puree!”
The salt embargo ends up biting Kelly in the butt – right next to the stick that’s lodged up it. She ultimately winds up in the bottom for oversalting her porterhouse with crispy potato arugula salad and roasted shallot demi-glace. The diners much prefer Amanda’s duo of NY steak and filet. Amanda’s super happy about this. She says with a smug little grin, “Kelly didn’t share her salt. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t share.”
Joining Kelly in the bottom are Andrea for her pan-seared swordfish with risotto-style couscous, asparagus and vanilla beurre-blanc sauce; and Kevin for his double-cut lamb chops with olive and goat cheese rissole, mache and tomato concasse. Even though Kevin overcooked his chops and his tomato concasse was too spicy, Andrea is sent home for the overpowering vanilla flavor in the beurre-blanc and her mushy couscous. All three contestants get a bit emotional about it – like actually emotional, not Angelo’s kind of fake emotional, and Padma is not a fan. “That’ll be all, thank you.” She says with a huff, dismissing the disgraced chefs to the stew room with a glare that could scare the grin off Stephen’s shiny scarecrow face.
Ed, Tiffany and Alex are in the top for the challenge. The judges love Tiffany’s swordfish with olive raisin tapenade and are also smitten with Ed’s poached lobster ballotine with eggplant caviar and English pea-asparagus fricassee. It’s a nice moment for lovebirds Tiffany and Ed who both thought they would be in the bottom, but it’s made bittersweet by Alex’s eventual win. Guest Judge Art Smith from Art and Soul restaurant tells Alex he could have eaten a bowl of his pea puree before announcing him as the winner. Ed and Tiffany exchange looks, but say nothing. Cut to Alex telling the camera, “You gotta cook from your own heart and soul. It’s gotta be your own food on the plate.”
It seems the mystery of the pea puree will never really be solved. It is clear, however, that none of these cowardly lions found their courage this week.