Top Chef - Keep Angelo off your barnyard

Between Season 5's Stefan trying to lure Jamie out of lesbiandom and Season 4's Andrew and his culinary boner, who would have thought that Top Chef could ever aspire to new heights of sexual energy? This season aims to shatter the mold: Amanda "Mata Hari" Baumgarten led the way, but now we're seeing the emergence of two new oversexed players. Kenny, whose robe is straight out of Kramer's pimp outfit from Seinfeld, and Angelo. Angelo has made sexytime comments before, but his "I basically made love to that duck" line--and the awkward and unnecessary admission that he's had crabs--put him into the creepy stratosphere.

To say nothing of his Chef Whisperer routine. If Amanda is Mata Hari, Angelo is most certainly Svengali, the evil hypnotist of George du Maurier's Trilby. (Coincidentally, Svengali is also referenced in a Seinfeld episode.) He whispered confidences into Tracey's ear a few weeks ago, and then POOF, she was gone. He's doing the same now to Tamesha, who seems much more under his spell than Tracey was--even with her unconsummatable crush. Other chefs are starting to notice, so it remains to be seen if the wizardry can hold, or if speaking to his hypnotism cuts the connection. Bottom line: I do not trust Angelo. Even if he isn't up to something in a competitive sense, I think he's one creepy dude.



Anyway, the episode opens with some of Angelo's creepiness, including a remark about extracting things from Tamesha's spirit. I kid you not; the guy is Voldemort. On the flip side, Ed and Tiffany are developing into a cute, legitimate crushy situation that is only complicated by the continued team structure that keeps them from working with each other directly. But they're all high school-snuggly on the couch, and on Tiff's bed, and I think we're in for a night vision situation if things keep on going this way. But it's all right, because they're both equal players in the relationship, and like I said, it's kind of cute.

Hey, this is a food show, isn't it. How about this week's Quickfire Challenge: the blue crab. Patrick O'Connell, founder of the Inn at Little Washington (a restaurant I'm told is possibly the best in DC), serves as the guest judge, and the chefs generally fumble their way through prepping the crabs and arrive at respectable-ish dishes. Angelo goes Asian, but notes that Ed is going even Asian-er. Andrea's used to the bigger stone crabs of Miami, while Tamesha used to be allergic to crabs and has no clue. (Guess who helps her out?) Kenny goes for a three-pronged tasting plate, and Tim is happy as a clam to work with blue crabs; he's a Maryland guy, remember, so this is old hat.

So old hat that his beer steamed crab doesn't merit any attention at the end of the round. Andrea weighed her crabs down with potato; Amanda's "fascinating" salad with a Sauternes, ginger, and juniper gelee was unbalanced; Kevin's chowder with potato and celery was confused. On the other hand, Kenny and Angelo both highlighted the crab well, meriting praise from O'Connell. But it's slack-jawed Ed, love-struck Ed, who out-Angeloed Angelo and takes the Quickfire win and immunity for the week. Tim bitterly comments that Ed did some Asian shit with his crab, and derisively considers that maybe he should have "put some sooey sauce in there." Is that how Marylanders say "soy"?

The Elimination Challenge takes the chefs to the farm--Ayrshire Farms, specifically--for another "cook what we produce" dinner. This time, however, the chefs will be working as one entity to create no fewer than 6 dishes, served family-style. This leads to the predictable head-bumping between Kenny and Angelo, as the whole mess of chefs try to figure out a plan of attack. See, they don't get to know specific ingredients or working conditions until they arrive at the farm on the next day. The one thing everyone can agree on is that Stephen's idea of a collective signature dessert by way of large fruit plate is a bad one.

Arriving at the farm, the chefs find that propane grills and hot plates are their cooking surfaces, and they're going to have to play nice and get creative to each have the food they want to use (though the sponsor-branded mobile pantry is a boon to most menus). They'd all decided to stay in the teams they cooked in last week, and dedicate themselves to a distinct facet of their respective dishes. Kelly wheedles Tim until he gives up his beets (which leads to the non-starter incidental shoulder bump we saw in the teaser last week). Kevin is forced to improvise when his cauliflower couscous takes a digger; it had been perched precariously on the edge of the table. He goes with broccoli and starts over, which doesn't seem like much of a risk but this is the last minute we're talking about.

Andrea's worried about her pork loin cooking through with meager grill surface to spare; she splits them to speed the process. Angelo's culinary boner grows over Tamesha's cherries (this stuff writes itself, unfortunately). And Team Stephen/Amanda is going for the risky underwhelm-our-way-to-victory approach, with a salad and vegetable soup, respectively. "Progresso, eat your heart out," Amanda brags. Really?

Amanda: Country vegetable minestrone with smoked tomato broth. Rustic! And chef O'Connell means that in the un-complimentary way. Veggies of disparate size and doneness lead to an unpleasant dining experience. But hey, at least they're "country" vegetables, right?

Stephen: Farm salad of balsamic onion, egg, apple, cabernet vinaigrette, and garlic dressing. Another grasp at legitimacy with the name? Never heard of a "farm salad" before. Won't hear of this one anymore, either: it's wet, heavy with goopy dressing, and in a bowl. This might be its worst sin by O'Connell's measure, though Tom loathes the bruised lettuce leaves.

Kenny: Hot and sour curried eggplant with peppers and carrot tops, with Kevin's lemon zest-scented broccoli couscous. It's more of a unified dish, and everyone likes it. Padma thinks it's lovely, and Tom is pleased with the (high) level of heat.

Tim: Roasted turnips and asparagus with honey. Tim had wanted to do a turnip mousseline initially, but wasn't confident in the time and conditions. So he left them at a fairly small dice, and served them as-is. The dish doesn't register with anyone, leaving zero impressions.

Tiffany: Collard greens with Swiss chard, turnip, and chanterelles in duck broth. Undercooked greens, and not much more to say there.

Andrea: Garlic and five-spice-rubbed pork loin with shallot-apple balsamic jus, over Kelly's five-spice-roasted apples and roasted beets. This is how you do a roasted root vegetable, Tim. Padma likes the combination of the two dishes very much, and Eric has lovely things to say about the level of doneness on the pork, and the overall flavor.

Angelo: Grilled duck breast with ginger and oregano honey, with Tamesha's cherry compote with red wine balsamic vinaigrette and grilled asparagus salad. The duck is great, the spices are a wonderful combination. But unfortunately, Jonathan Waxman isn't judging this meal; the asparagus adds nothing.

Alex: Provençal beef tenderloin stuffed with Ed's ratatouille of eggplant, summer squash, and tomato. Nicely cooked beef, but stuffing the loin with ratatouille galls Eric Ripert's Gallic heritage.

And lastly, Kelly whips up an extra-credit strawberry-rhubarb crisp with basil-scented whipped cream. She had time to kill while her beets roasted, and that time produces a crowd-pleasing dessert--indeed, a rarity on Top Chef.

At Judges' Table, Kevin, Kenny, Andrea, and Kelly are called out first. No mystery here, they're the top four. A lot of big sighs and exhalations indicate that this has not been a fun challenge, exactly. Kevin's couscous turned out perfect for its troubled beginnings. Kenny gets props from Padma, who Tom notes is known for being tough on curries. Andrea, for being nervous about her cooking temperature, and for adding sugar to the sauce, is put off her concerns by universal compliments. Kelly's fruit and veg roast was rustic (in the good way, Amanda), and her dessert was a nice surprise at the end of the meal. But at the end of Judges' Table, it is Kenny's curried eggplant that takes the win. No mention of what he might have won, but whatever. A win's a win.

The suckas at the bottom are Tim, Amanda and Stephen. That's gotta suck for Tim, not having his cooking partner there to take shots with him. But it wasn't a team challenge, really. Their mistakes were made glaring by the overall high quality of the meal. Tim hears what he should have heard from his inner voices: you shouldn't have backtracked on your original plan at that point in your preparation, and the addition of asparagus solely on color contrast was a poor choice. Stephen's salad was overthought, overdressed, and poorly served. Amanda takes the worst of it, getting a lesson on amateurish technique and what a minestrone should be from Eric, and a downright knuckle-bashing from Schoolmaster Tom on proper chopping technique and cooking times for vegetables. "When we cook, why do we cut things uniformly?" I mean, damn. Talk about cutting!

Stephen and Amanda look like they might just barf, but they're saved by Tim's complete miscalculation and poor execution of his dish. The guy, as I've said already, looks to be a bad character personally, so I'm glad he's gone. "It's not one of those goodbyes that's forever," he says. No, Tim, it really kinda is. Out!

Next week: outright gamesmanship and the chefs judge themselves.