Chef Tell: A Presidential School Lunch

Sam Kass is the assistant White House chef, so OF COURSE he'd preside over a "bi-parti-sandwich" Quickfire Challenge. 

And of course, super cocky Angelo was really dramatic about the sandwich showdown because he owns a sandwich shop. But see, in TV-land, a talking head showing you're concerned about a challenge -- because you are an expert in the field -- before hearing the full details of said challenge, either means you'll ace it or you'll bomb. Because he's cocky, and because the knife draw didn't pair him with our Tiffany Derry, I was really hoping for the latter.

Turns out, though, the teams of two had to compete wearing a conjoined apron and using only one hand each. At so early in the season, and with so freakin' many contestants to follow, I'd normally have been bored out of my gourd, waxing some random body part just to entertain myself until the Elimination Challenge. But the slapstick, crazy knife-wielding antics of the politichefs added enough kitsch to keep me focused. 

Tiffany and Lynne were a duo, banging out a veal saltimbocco sammy. Tiffany felt she had it in the proverbial bag, but Kass thought the offering was hard to eat and was lacking in texture. He put Tiff and Lynne in the bottom two and named Angelo and Tracey the winners. 

We got words from T-Derry: "Angelo has been winning the challenges every single time. It's like, c'mon, freak, everything he touches is that good? Honestly?" 

And I thought, "That's what I'm saying!" I'm not even competing and I'm irritated. Either they've set up this season from the get-go or this guy is going to face-plant in a bowl of risotto in the next three episodes. His hair is too perfect. His skin is too clean. He's too pretty. He cannot win.

But then I got distracted from my hate because Padma had to intro the Elimination Challenge, which concerned topics near and dear to the Obamas and Kass: school lunches and ending child obesity.

The chefs had to orchestrate a school lunch for the same $2.68 per child budget (and food group requirements) that public schools have to adhere to. For 50 kids, that's $134. But Kass deducted $4 for labor and supplies so the chefs had to work within $130. Dang.

Four teams of four stood around planning their menus, and I got concerned because, again, we heard from Tiffany. If you've watched any amount of reality TV, you know that too much face time can mean either super success or tragic defeat. Couple that with "I'm not going home!" and we got worry.

She was grouped with Lynne, Arnold and Kelly. Kelly irked Tiffany and her teammates because, well, bitch don't listen. She took charge immediately and wanted to put feta and onions in a kiddie taco. Hmm. Not as bad as the chick who was using sherry in a school lunch, but still questionable. 

Their menu ended up being pork carnitas tacos with an oatmeal tortilla, roasted corn and tomato salsa, black beans and sweet potatoes and carmelized sweet potatoes with Abuelita chocolate sorbet. Now I know plenty of food-loving adults that would check that meal out, but I wonder if most school lunch-eating knee-highs are gonna mow it down when chicken-fried steak has been on the hot line for all their days. I hoped they did.

Back at the house after prep, Tiffany, Lynne and Arnold were getting testy about Kelly's taking ownership of their team efforts. The group took Kelly to task and she claimed to be flabbergasted...which in Kelly's world can also be pronounced "They're a bunch of asshats and I don't give a shit. This is my deal."

The next day in the school kitchen, Tom came in for his visit and Kelly leapt at the chance to say that the carnitas was her dish before Arnold offered, "Tommy! Tommy! I helped with everything! Love me!" Up until this point, I understood why the team was irritated with Kelly taking credit for the conception of the team menu, but there's no reason that the chefs shouldn't actually claim which dishes they worked on. Tom -- who is wise -- agreed with me and noted that if someone claims a dish and the dish sucks ass (clearly I'm paraphrasing?), everyone knows who failed.

When the judges sat down -- on the tiny chairs at the tiny lunch tables -- they were pleased to see vibrant color on the T-A-L-K Team plate. They dug Tiffany's combo of sorbet and sweet potatoes and, more important, so did the kids. As of taste testing, the taco meal seemed the most well-received. And, hey, I wanted to eat it.

When it came time for judges' table, I was still saddened by the lack of Eric Ripert this episode, what with these fantasies that I have about him, but I was more shocked that Angelo's team and Crappiest Looking Plate team got called first. Totally weird. Normally, the best team gets called first. Kelly said as much and I waited with baited breath (not really, because I was actually drinking some tea and eating a Nutri-Grain bar) for the comments.

It's still too early on to remember the names of contestants who aren't super-irritating or not associated with Tiffany, so: Blonde lady got called out for her use of two pounds of sugar. Vaguely hot brunette got slammed for using fucking sherry for a kid challenge. Average man was told his spice was too spicy. Kenny was informed that a tomato is a fruit. Angelo was asked if he'd have created a peanut butter/celery thingy if he didn't have immunity, and he refused to answer. 

Then the teams went after each other for using processed peanut butter and wearing Crocs and trying to turn children to drinking and being total dickheads and not knowing what vegetables were. Well, some of those at least. 

They went back to the Stew Room and the judges deliberated, producing what might be the most memorable quote ever uttered by Tom Colicchio: [Regarding the sherry-braised chicken] "It's almost if like someone put a big thing of turd on the table because the kids wouldn't go near it."


Padma then called Team T-A-L-K in to see the judges. They were awarded "favorite lunch" rights and Kelly smiled and nodded as though she was thinking, "'Bout right, bitches, and I'm wanna tell you what's up." But then each chef was praised for their dish and she was vindicated. 

Kelly's was named best dish and rightfully so. But, I do think her team forcing her to lose the feta made a big difference in the mouths of the innocents. Tiffany was complimented on the texture of her sugar-free sorbet. She was even told that a kid who hates sweet potatoes loved her dessert. 

Blonde lady regretted only demanding 10 percent of her team's budget (and then using two freaking pounds of sugar to make up for it) when she was asked to pack her knives and go. She said bye to everyone and was quickly forgotten because, well, clearly she didn't make much of an impression working within in her team, and apparently some of the other chefs just thought she was a crew member for the last two episodes. 

Next week, PICNICS!

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Merritt Martin
Contact: Merritt Martin

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