The mood is somber in the “Top Chef” house as the tenth episode gets underway. Everyone, especially Angelo, seems a little shell-shocked that Master K went home. “I think Kenny was the most fierce competitor,” Angelo admits, even though he gave no indication of this opinion during earlier episodes when he was making snide faces at all of the Beast’s dishes.
There isn’t much time to mourn or make faces, however. The chefs are soon shepherded into the kitchen for their toughest Quickfire Challenge to date. As they “ooh” and “aah” over guest judge Wyle Dufresne, arguably the most famous molecular gastronomist in the country, Padma informs them that for this high-stakes challenge, they will be working with a “mystery box.” Each chef must create a dish using the contents of the box. More mystery boxes will arrive while they are cooking and they will need to incorporate those ingredients into their dish, as well. Winner receives $10,000 which Angelo really really wants to win because apparently he has a fiancé in Brussels and he needs the money to help her move to New York. A fiancé? Yep, news to us too. We’re also curious as to why Padma stole her jacket from the nutcracker. Then again she has been kind of a ball buster this season…
All the chefs are a little thrown by the challenge and are struggling to figure out what to do with the ingredients in their first box that includes rock fish, fava beans and hominy. It seems the only thing that the chefs aren’t confused about is their collective hatred toward Alex, who every one aside from Amanda wants to shove into one of the aforementioned boxes so they can ship him back to Los Angeles. Or, more accurately, his home planet in a galaxy far far far away. (From here, it looks like the size of a pea.)
Angelo is particularly nervous about working with the mystery ingredients since he isn’t able to solidify his “vision” for a cohesive dish. It doesn’t help that someone from the Matrix keeps popping in with additional boxes containing squid, black garlic, ramps, passion fruit, and jicama. Angelo’s head is about to explode, he's talking to himself and he’s pouring sweat into the food which would be great if one of the mystery ingredients was body fluid, but it’s not.
Ultimately, however, Angelo skates by with his smoky hominy pot-au-feu with squid and rockfish, and Alex and Amanda are called out for having the worst dishes. There's no mystery here. The components in Alex’s rockfish with fava bean puree, ramp fondue and leeks lacked cohesion, and Amanda’s crispy skin striped bass was oily and not all that crispy. Tiffany and Kevin’s dishes receive the highest praise, and Tiffany wins it for her fish stew with hominy, fava beans, saffron and black garlic. Wyle is impressed with her effort – he knows how hard a mystery box can be -- especially one that keeps changing. Alex agrees. Back in LA, it’s really challenging to figure out a box. Which is why the prostitutes and eight-balls come in handy…
For this week’s Elimination Challenge the chefs will be taking over classic dishes and giving them a new identity that disguises the original dish. They will then serve their interpretations to Leon Panetta, head of the CIA, and other CIA officers at the CIA headquarters. The winning chef will receive a trip to Paris that Ed is really jazzed about because apparently (mystery box alert!) he also has a girlfriend. Sounds like the “Top Chef” producers have been doing their own disguising with the contestants personal lives. We also learn in this episode that Alex used to be a videographer which explains so so sooooo much that we finally feel like we understand the tall gangly chef. He claims he used to shoot Bart Mitzvah’s and weddings, but we’re not sure we believe him.
The contestants draw knives for their dish assignments and Amanda draws French Onion Soup, Kelly draws Kung Pao Shrimp, Alex draws Veal Parmesan, Tiffany draws Gyro, Ed draws Chicken Cordon Bleu, Angelo draws Beef Wellington, and Kevin draws Cobb Salad. They’re then off to Whole Foods where Angelo makes the brilliant decision to buy frozen pastry for his Beef Wellington. It’s appalling that the chefs keep making the same mistakes season after season, and we’re kind of wondering if there needs to be caution tape wrapped around the freezer aisle. “Enter at your own risk!! Only bad things will happen!”
Everyone besides Angelo seems super pumped about the challenge, however, because everybody wants to be a spy and have an awesome spy name like Nikita or Nastasshia. Alex just wants to be Get Smart so he can have a phone for a shoe and use it to phone home like E.T. Amanda kind of wishes she could Get Smart too. She’s having a hard time reconceptualizing her French Onion Soup and decides to make… soup.
Dinner is a little tense. Everybody agrees that Angelo’s Beef Wellington puff pastry pizza is a “poor disguise,” and are grim-faced even when they enjoy a chef’s dish, like Kelly’s spicy shrimp broth with rice and Tiffany’s roasted leg of lamb. Leon Panetta is called away in the middle of service, and Padma asks the CIA officers, “Are you used to Director Panetta having to dine and dash?” She’s really impressed with her alliterative inquiry, but the officers remain stoic. “It happens often.” One responds without humor. Padma looks down at her plate. Who’s cracking nuts now?
Kelly, Ed and Tiffany have the top dishes of the challenge. Everyone loved the flavors in Kelly’s well-disguised dish and felt Ed’s execution of roast chicken with a ham and cheese croquette was spot-on. Ultimately, however, Tiffany’s fancy gyro takes the win and she is awarded the trip to France. The late bloomer is easy to root for at this stage in the competition, but we still feel oddly sad when Angelo is called out on the bottom with Alex and Amanda. Despite his ego and effusive remarks about his flavors and broths, we aren’t ready for the fenu-geek to go home yet.
The three chefs are all reprimanded for the flawed executions of their dishes. Tom says of Alex’s veal tortellini, “I’ve had better tortellini out of a box.” The judges are similarly unimpressed with Amanda’s decision to disguise soup as soup, and were not fond of her sweet onion marmalade either. They also find Angelo’s disguised Beef Wellington underwhelming and are disappointed in his decision to use a tough frozen puff pastry. In the end, however, it’s Alex tough veal and poorly executed tortellini that they find most appalling. The creepy pea-puree stealing chef is finally sent packing. He says of the decision, “There is no margin of error. You screw up just a touch and you’re going home.” It’s a strange assessment considering that he’s screwed up more than just a touch on almost every single challenge, even admitting earlier in the episode that “Alex + Quickfire = Bottom.” Either way, we are not sad to see him go, and mysteriously enough, are pleased to see Angelo live to see another day. We hope he gets his mojo back soon. We’d love to see him and Tiffany duke it out for the win.