Chef Tell: Dishes in Disguise?

Last night's episode of Top Chef provided A) the best text messages sent by friends watching the show before I was, and B) the most quality "sheesh"-inducing insults during tasting and Judges' Table so far this season.

I knew the Quickfire was going to be good because well, I got a text that said "best quickfire idea in a while :)" from my BFF and fan of Top Chef (but not of any cheftestant in particular), Jen.

So after much belaboring that Alex was still there and Kenny had been wrongfully sent home, the chefs walked into the kitchen to find Wylie Dufresne (molecular gastronomy mastermind) and Padma standing there...and big menacing boxes with question marks emblazoned on the sides at all their stations (all chefs got the same stuff, just to clarify). It was a "mystery box challenge" in food TV speak. Only, the chefs weren't going to have to tackle just one box, but several, as more unanticipated ingredients would be presented throughout their cooking time. Neat! And hard. I liked that. None of that "Make your best dish, but pureed" or "Try your hand at a zany sammich" BS. 

The first box contained striped bass, fava beans and a can of hominy. Hmmm, K. 

No one would give Alex a can opener and Amanda appeared to not know what the hominy was. Ed explained that one could come up with an idea but would then have to hope that the next box's contents would fit in with it. And then Amanda lamented that the second box arrived too quickly and therefore she hadn't had time to come up with a complete vision. What? Why on earth would she want to do that? I thought, "Hey, asshat, what you should have done was start thinking, but filet the fish in case the box came with more goodies so surely by the time the fish was prepped there'd be more to work with." Amirite? Of course I am.

Angelo was clearly freaked. He was also unshaven and sweaty. Like, real, real sweaty.

Second box: squid and black garlic.

Third box: ramps and passion fruit. Our Tiffany Derry was confounded by the ramps but persevered.

Fourth box: jicama. Amanda had become increasingly irritating by that point. I would rejoice if she never had another talking head, creepy low headband or no.

Tiffany and Alex placed in Wylie's faves and...T-Derr rocked the win with her fish stew. A high-stakes $10,000 win, btw. How she worked that passion fruit in, I'm not sure, but WD loved it and loved it hard. After the 10 Gs from her ambassador challenge win, she's now paid for her wedding and her honeymoon. Eat that, Angelo/Amanda.

Padma then explained that the Elimination Challenge was of "national security" and would take place at the Central Intelligence Agency, with CIA officers and CIA Director Leon Panetta as guests. The chefs drew knives to find out what classic dish they'd have to reinvent or "disguise" while keeping the taste recognizable. Sort of an homage to undercover agents, but you know, without compromising their flavor. No one likes an a dish (or an agent) with compromised flavor.

Since there were only seven chefs left I'll just tell you what they drew: Amanda -- French onion soup, Ed -- chicken cordon bleu, Angelo -- beef Wellington, Kelly -- kung pao shrimp, Tiffany -- gyro, Kevin -- Cobb salad, Alex -- veal parmesan.

As far as their disguised dishes, some got more inventive than others. Kelly, for instance, served her shrimp atop a small globe of rice (which Tiffany totally helped her save after a rice cooker incident because she said she wanted to compete against and beat someone at their best, not because something small went wrong), in a spicy shrimp broth showcasing the same flavors and would be in the usual glaze we're most familiar with. Tiffany deconstructed her gyro into a classy knife-and-fork plated dish that presented nothing like street food. Amanda, however, disguised her French onion soup as...soup. Yeah. Gotta love that spirit. I'm also assuming that's what Jen's second text, "she fucking would," was referring to.

At this point, I'm going to quit with the recap (I'll tell you who won at the end, don't worry) in favor of highlighting some of the most entertaining quotes from the tables (JT denotes Judges' Table comments):

Angelo's "Beef Wellington" (pizza tartlet thing):
"Poor disguise. They would have captured this individual and hung him." - Leon Panetta
"I guess I was just excited to see where you were going and unfortunately it didn't go very far." - Wylie, JT
"It was probably one of the challenge where you had the most freedom to express your creativity, and we ended up with something that was...kind of sad." - Eric, JT
"Angelo's beef Wellington would make Julia Child very sad...Anyone could do better than that, who knows how to cook." - Eric, JT deliberation

Kelly's Kung Pao Shrimp" (soup):
"I know what it is. For once, I know something you don't." - Wylie Dufresne, to Panetta

Tiffany's "Gyro" (deconstructed entree):
"Probably the most elegant gyro I have ever ate in my life." - Ripert

Kevin's "Cobb Salad" (salad with purees):
"I thought it was something Mexican." - Panetta

Oh, I lied. Quick recap tidbit. At that point in the dining, a man in a vest came in and served Panetta a note, which he surreptitiously read and said, "You'll have to excuse me because business calls." He said he enjoyed his time and the food, and then am-scrayed...while all the other one-named officials looked somber and sorta irritated, as though always-working dad had to leave Christmas dinner early again. Padma asked them if he dined and dashed often and the response was of the affirmative. Totally awkward. It was then that a text I'd received from another BFF, Marla, made sense...and made me laugh out loud: "I think that note to Panetta said, 'is this when you wanted me to come in?'" 

Amanda's "French Onion Soup" (um, soup with marmalade and grated cheese):
"It was like honey and lemon cough syrup it was so sweet." - CIA official with no on-screen ID
"I certainly would've liked to have seen you try to disguise the dish." - Wylie, JT
"You took a soup and made a soup!" - Tom, JT
"Amanda's efforts just didn't meet any of the criteria. If you weren't gonna hide the dish, then you had to at least make a good dish, and I think she failed on both counts, unfortunately." - Wylie, JT deliberation
"Four hours is a long time to make a dish." - Eric, JT deliberation
"A long time to just make a...dishwater." - Wylie, JT deliberation

Alex's "Veal Parmesan" (veal with parmesan tortelloni):
"The veal was as tough as pulling a post in Yemen." - Tom
"I would prefer to see less disguise and a better dish." - Eric
"It turned out your disguise was really poor execution." - Wylie, JT
"Ah, let's see where to start here: The meat was tough, the fried mozzarella, I've had better at a bad street fair and I've had better frozen tortellinis out of a box." - Tom JT

Ed's "Chicken Cordon Bleu" (inside out CCB):
"There's clearly a lot of labor on this plate." - Wylie Dufresne

So...Kelly, TiffDerr and Ed landed Top Three. Tiffany won! And with that win came a trip to Paris, so she exclaimed, "I got a honeymoon!" and danced around a bunch. And I smiled for her until the camera cut to Ed who looked like he'd been shot in the heart with a fiance dart. Poor gent. You just can't hide a reaction like that. And, it really didn't look like just an "Oh, damn, I lost" face. He said his girlfriend would be would be upset but he was happy for Tiffany. Just prolly not happy to imagine her cavorting blissfully as a newlywed in Paris. But he'll be fine. He cooks a mean chicken after all.

The three As made up the B3, as expected from the comments above. And though, Soup-in-Soup's-Clothing should've been kicked to the curb for having no imagination whatsoever, Alex got the boot. Wylie and Eric were clearly pulling for him and the vision of his dish, but something tells me that the incident last week had Tom and Padma overruling for his knife-packing. So farewell, Creepy Bald Dude.

Next week: The chefs run a stadium concession stand, or, the producers have run out of relevant challenges for chefs of their caliber.

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Merritt Martin
Contact: Merritt Martin

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