Chef Tell: Cooking for Buzz and Beyond

First of all, TV fans, let me just throw you a cyber fist bump and wish you all a happy 9.02.10. Donna Martin graduates!

But seriously, last night was the last set of "normal" challenges before the Final Four set off to cook their way through the finale. It was tense and yet surprisingly lackluster, which was a disappointment especially since I'd had a dream that the dishes would include churros with soup and "giganti-sandwiches" (no idea) with lasagna sauce.

The show opened with various cheftestants talking about how they couldn't believe they'd come this far and how hard it's been to be away from family. Basic stuff. The stuff you get from people who really aren't that dramatic. Regular people as opposed to reality TV hams. Why this season of Top Chef has been a little bit boring in terms of prime time draw, save for the silver-haired judges, of course. Babies, distance, I deserve this, blah blah blah.

The Quickfire Challenge, too, was pretty lame, but then, if they'd known what was coming, perhaps that would've made more sense. Food & Wine's Dana Cowin was there to judge their ability to pick a wine and then create a dish to pair with it. Whoopty-do. 

Don't get me wrong, I don't have an issue with Cowin, and I realize the sponsor of the show is called, well, Food & Wine, but it just seemed as though any of these chefs should be able to grunch on through that challenge one eye open, even with a hangover.

Kevin had some trouble when his pork belly wouldn't cook through and he had to pair quail with merlot with only two minutes left on the clock. Those tiny little wings on the grill looked so meek and small and pretty damn tasty, but he knew and we all knew Cowin would bust him on pairing a bold wine with such a itty bitty delicate birdy. 

Cowin also didn't like Kelly's bleu cheese "It's an emulsion! It's a foam! Wait, you're both right!" addition. There was a weird fight over the terminology -- subtle but still catty. It was really the only entertaining part of the challenge, because at this point we know these people too well so it's interactions with outsiders that really make for special moments.

She gave our Tiffany Derry props for her waygu ribeye/Two Hands Shiraz combo, but it was Angelo who won a trip to London for his foie gras pairing. Yeah, whatever. I just really cannot handle the way he says, "To be honest whichoo" like he's a 3-year-old every five seconds. It's irritating.

But then Padma had a couple of announcements: The final challenges would not take place in the U.S., but rather, in the faraway city country of Singapore. Wow! Top Chef got all America's Next Top Model on our asses and went international. Angelo "tingles inside" when he thinks of it, so there's that.

The Elimination Challenge was gonna be out of this world [rimshot]! The chefs headed to NASA and received a message from astronauts in space. They were to make a dish that could be freeze-dried and enjoyed in a weightless environment. They were to make high-end space food. AWESOME! 

NASA chef lady offered three seemingly easy restrictions: nothing too sweet, keep chunks small for easier freeze-drying, and aim for spicy.

Understand then, why when Ed ordered a rack of lamb at Whole Foods I yelled at my TV. Can't freeze-dry that shit. Where are they gonna put a bone, dude? Tiffany bought mussels. What about the shells?! There's no big Glad bag hanging off the back of the space shuttle for shellfish bits and slobberbones, people! And they can't just paw at a saucy bit of meat. But, I was going to wait it out and see.

By the way, Tiffany's trailer comment of "Beaumont, we have a problem" was in reference to those damn mussels. She had placed them in the refrigerator to chill and they ended up freezing. But she was going to adapt the broth to be just as flavorful without them.

The chefs woke up to find that there was a new Toyota Avalon waiting to take them to their challenge, with a note that said the winner of said challenge would also be the winner of said car. 

While the chefs prepped in the Ronald Reagan Building of the International Trade Center, the judges were sitting down to a glowing white table. That table was kinda strange, I'm just gonna say it. It looked like a portion of the dance floor from Saturday Night Fever or Soul Train. I really hopped Buzz Aldrin would hustle down it with Anthony Bourdain (guest judges and diners also included astronaut Sandra Magnus, Expedition 18; NASA food scientist Vickie Kloeris, astronaut Leland Melvin, Space Shuttle Atlantis, along with Tom, Padma and Eric Ripert).

The panel seemed to like Kelly's halibut and Eric found it to be a near-perfect execution of the techniques of Provence. Eric found Ed's Moroccan dish too complicated and Magnus pointed out the bone issue (see?!), but Bourdain thought "The Ripper" was being too harsh and loved it. Kevin's was received well, but the fact that spoons are the "cutlery of space" was brought into play.

With Tiffany's halibut Eric thought, again, there were too many disconnected elements (especially pea shoots) and suggested more acidity for a brighter sauce. Bourdain loved the fish sauce element as he is a self-proclaimed "slut for fish sauce." Angelo's was deemed one of Bourdain's favorites but Tom found it too sweet. Angelo said he felt he'd made love to his spare ribs. Uh huh. 

Tom pointed out that the decision was a difficult one and that the difference between safe and eliminated was so slim; I thought for a moment they were going to let everyone go. But they didn't. Angelo won his car and became the third chef in a row to win both Quickfire and Elimination in an episode. And...sweet Tiffany packed her knives and went. 

Pepper skins and pea shoots. Everyone else had one complaint or none. She had those teeny two. Tiffany, or T-Derr, my favorite of our nicknames, went out with tears and an excellent attitude...and a completely paid-off wedding and honeymoon! Let's look at the bright side, people. 

But man, I can't lie, if it had been anyone else but Angelo to win that challenge it would've been so much easier to see Tiffany walk off. That guy just bugs. Best of luck Ed, Kelly and Kevin! 

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