Chef Tell: Take Them Out To The Concession Stand

Last night Top Chef opened with our fair Tiffany Derry's boisterous guffaws. Ed, the cheftestant who is her show BFF and who totally adores her, was parading around in one of her dresses. At that point, with just six left in the contest, a little unflattering cross-dressing seemed an appropriate tension-breaker. Oddly, it wasn't the strangest moment in the first five minutes.

That would have to go to Angelo describing his childhood room decked out with lit candles and clipped photos of four-star chefs before whom he'd kneel and pray. Now, don't get me wrong, I had all manner of ballet dancers all over my kid lair, but I didn't pray to them. In fact, in my teens I'm pretty sure I only lit candles for Baryshnikov and Gudonov during REM state three-ways. But that's neither here nor there.

The chefs walked into the Quickfire to find Padma and Rick Moonen (big time seafood chef and Top Chef Masters alum) standing there spouting things like "big cheese" and "top banana" before explaining the challenge would be to develop a dish inspired by a food idiom. The winner would have their dish included on the Schwan's home delivery menu.

Shockingly, no one chose "hide the salami," but Kevin got "bring home the bacon," Amanda got "the big cheese," Kelly got "sour grapes," Ed got "hot potato," Tiff got "spill the beans," and Angelo got "bigger fish to fry."

Amanda was generally super irritating, needy and really chatty while she made her mac and cheese (really inventive there, Headband) and unnecessary pork chop. Ed looked like he was going to explode after he decided to prepare a fresh gnocchi and spring vegetable dish in one hour. Tiffany used canned beans because dry ones would take too long to cook, and at first that worried me, but she seemed really secure and in control. Angelo, however, looked like he had completely lost his shit and just kept spouting random sayings like, "just one of us" and "done playing games" while he ran around like a madman.

Kelly and Amanda were "bad eggs" [rimshot!] and landed on the bottom, allowing for more of Amanda's immature, grating narration and talking head. Kevin's bacon three ways with poached egg (which Angelo pointed out would not do well as a frozen dish) and Ed's gnocchi were called out for being the best. Ed won. Yay, nice dude!

Padma then informed the chefs that the Elimination Challenge would be a bit of a team venture: They would have to run a "high-end" concession stand at a Washington Nationals baseball game and serve 150 people.

At that point, Angelo shared that as he is half Dominican, baseball is "in his blood" and that "until that day" he'd wanted to be a pro ball player. Which, based on his turn of phrase, leads me to believe that either the challenge was so cool he changed his mind and wanted to be a concessions cook instead, or that thanks to the challenge, his balling dream had died. 

You might think I'm taking Angelo too literally and that the "until" was a mis-statement, but he's just so dramatic that I can't put it past him. Maybe someday he'll write a memoir and say, "I really dropped the ball that day...the baseball and the meatball." Or something like that. Something he'd think his inspirational muse Anthony Robbins might like. And he'll tell of a childhood dream squashed by a crowded stadium kitchen and his sabotage of another contestant and a faraway Russian bride. Wait, what? Yeah, I'm getting there.

So the "team" started planning and Kelly just kept talking while everyone else sort of stared at her. Amanda made the first leap and said she'd like to make a cold crab dish, but Kelly pushed her to go with fish so Kelly could use crab for crabcakes (crabcake BLTs, specifically). Amanda complied. First mistake.

Everyone was running around Whole Foods grabbing their goods when Amanda announced to the viewing audience that she was making...tuna tartare. With chips or something to scoop it up with? Nope. Just tartare. Hmm mmm. Outside at a baseball game. K. Second mistake.

Tiff, inspired by a particular vendor at the South Texas State Fair in her hometown of Beaumont, was going to make an Italian meatball sub with peppers and mozzarella. Noms.

Everyone was working their dish when Amanda consulted with Angelo on using a meat grinder to tartare her tuna the day before service. Ed was suspicious, saying that it was a competition and why would anyone really trust Angelo at this point. And I thought, yeah, remember Tamesha and Stephen? Hello, Headband! I don't even like you but wise up! Third mistake...and remember, this is a baseball challenge.

It wasn't until prep time was over and everyone was back at the chef crib that someone realized there'd need to be a person to, um, you know, take orders from people and expedite. No one wanted to do it. Angelo reluctantly said he would. The next day, in the stadium concession kitchen, that decision wound up being a huge fiasco because Angelo didn't think anyone would help him make his dish, and he got into it with Kevin. But I didn't really care because neither of their dishes looked that awesome to me and it wasn't that entertaining an argument. Boo. Peeps kept on cooking and Angelo would take orders while Ed helped prepare his dish for him.

Tom came in -- looking especially hot-bear in a plaid button-up -- with three really tall Nationals (Adam Dunn, Matt Capps and John Lannan) to distract the chefs and make them feel short and poor. I liked Amanda for all of five seconds when she said, "There's 25 minutes left and all I can think of is like, 'Tom get the hell outta here! You and your tree trunks leave!'"

The customers showed up and it was clear that Tiffany's meatball sub was the most popular dish, followed, probably, by Kelly's crabcake BLT. The ball players came back and ordered one of everything. They proceeded to feed each other, question how to eat the tartare (she should've used chips), and announce that the meatball was the favorite. They thought they were really funny. I'll give them sorta funny, but not really funny.

Then the judges (Tom, Padma, the lovely Eric Ripert for whom I have not built a candle-lit shrine, and Rick Moonen) showed up. The big downer was the grayed tuna (it had oxidized from being cut, exposed and warm for too long). T-Derr's dish was deemed messy but delicious. Eric didn't like that the skewer Kevin used for his chicken because it was too long and touched the bottom of his mouth. [Joke...too...easy...can't...do...it.] Ed's shrimp and corn risotto fritters were a huge hand-held success. Angelo's pork sandwich was suspiciously sweet and soggy soggerton...kinda like his personality.

During the extra footage break, we were privy to a reeeally-not-private moment between Angelo and his Russian bride-to-be wherein we learned that they'd only met in person twice, but that they speak each night for about five hours. He said that "when" he wins the money from the show, the first thing he's going to do is work out all her visa issues and bring her over here from Russia. I hate watching people on TV have romantic phone calls...especially when I can't reason how much they must be spending on international calls. It's gotta be a fortune. He wasn't using a computer or smart phone...just a cell. Maybe that's what's got Ang off his game. Maybe in normal life they Skype. Or Sexp. Skypenis?

Anyway, at Judges' Table, Angelo tried to gloss over the fight about who would take orders but Tiffany -- keeping it truthy as she has from the beginning -- called him on it. Tom seemed amused but we didn't get to see any comments from the panel. Like last week, the judges rated Ed and Tiffany the top dishes and named Ed the winner. He won Rick Moonen's book and a trip to Australia, so hopefully his girlfriend won't still be pissed that he lost the Paris trip to Tiffany last week. Double win for her, now a double win for her admirer. I'm kinda fine with that.

The judges told Amanda that she should've waited to do the tartare the day-of to avoid the oxidizing effect that made it appear the fish wasn't so fresh. Kelly got knocked for her lack of crunch and thickness of the bacon, but complimented on her crab. Kevin, long skewer and sog. Angelo, sweetness and sog.

And, as you've guessed by now, what with three strikes on prep day and two seafood experts on the panel, Amanda Headbanda packed her knives and went. Bases were loaded and she was out. While I was so ready for her to go weeks ago, I wouldn't have minded one bit if Angelo had gone this episode. I'm over him too. But thankfully, we won't have to hear that whiny voice or look at that bizarre hair accessory placement anymore. She was proud to be the only sous chef to have lasted so long, but I think her time is more accurately described by the phrase "flew under the radar"...which, if I stretch, brings me to...

Next week: NASA (because of the radar, see? No? OK) and Buzz Aldrin. Last challenge before the final. Tiffany says, "Beaumont, we have a problem." Eric Ripert. Eek.

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