Top Chef - Mount Vernon, meet Mata Hari

By now, you've all hopefully had the chance to watch last week's episode of Top Chef, entitled "Capitol Grill" and thereby fulfilling this season's pun quota for the week.

If you haven't, I recommend heading over to The Washingtonian for my buddy Carol Blymire's tasteful and incise (and prompt) recaps, or to The AV Club, where the estimable Scott Tobias breaks it all down in businesslike fashion.

Today, I have a few basic thoughts. First: there are personalities a-plenty this season. Very few total snoozers, and in their unremarkable shoes stand a lot of apparently distasteful jerks. I refer, of course to the producer-branded co-villains Kelly and Angelo, and the iffy character that is Tim Dean, but also to Ed (who doesn't appear to really like anyone and finds this whole exercise taxing) and the emerging Mata Hari of Season 7, Amanda. Seriously, how she's convinced so many chefs and judges that she's as impressive and formidable as they think she is…well, look up Mata Hari. Then check out Amanda's bio picture on

This episode was also the on-screen official roll-out of the new Top Chef spinoff, Top Chef: Just Desserts. Regular judge Gail Simmons will be joined by Johnny Iuzzini, pastry chef at Jean-Georges, who looks like the new kid from the last reel of The Shawshank Redemption.

One is Tommy, the other Johnny...but which one is which??

The Quickfire Challenge was a pie-from-scratch challenge, and most did a serviceable job (exceptions: Tracey's roadkill pizza of a blueberry-almond pie and Ed's nonsequitur inclusion of celery spuma with a banana cream pie…topped with peanuts?). Kelly's chocolate ganache tart pushed the limits of what I think was the spirit of the challenge, but got props for a smooth filling. But the win went to Kenny, who himself veered close to cake territory with his bananas Foster five-spice pie.

The Elimination Challenge asked the chefs to cook a picnic for a passel of Washington interns at George Washington's Mount Vernon home. Ribs and beef and pork butt (a cut that Alex might think is actual butt, though I'm not sure) made their expected appearances. But let's get to the real meat of the order: Amanda is a former cocaine and pill abuser? Well then. More power to her for getting off 'em, I guess. She and Alex got into a fairly stupid argument, one that Amanda didn't sell very well to Big Tom. Stephen tried to impress Tom by talking up his "Chilean sea bass, from Whole Foods," like he's the only one who shopped there and the rest were at the Social Safeway hot-bar. (You won't find many shout-outs to DC in these recaps, but that's one.)

Some classic lines in this one. Tracey and Kenny on grill mechanics: "How do you turn this grill down?" "There ain’t no turnin' it down." Gail to Ed in the Quickfire: "And how does this compare to your grandmother's celery spuma?" (By the way, how awful is that word in an otherwise English sentence? Ugh.) And my wife, on hearing Arnold describe how he's never been "the bitch," meaning an intern: "I think that's a lie."

Jonathan Waxman took the role of guest judge, which is fine, though he ended up giving Matamanda Hari far too much props for her grilled asparagus (yes, just grilled asparagus) while knocking the hell out of Kevin's simple and safe Puerto Rican plate.

Angelo's lettuce wrap and smoked egg salad sounded great, as did Andrea's root beer skirt steak, though the former was much, much more successful than the latter. The final four on top were Angelo, Ed (who pronounces "tartin" as "tar-TEEN," which is annoying), Amanda and Arnold. Arnold, who had to copy Kenny's grill technique to know how to start the damn thing, took the win for his lemongrass-skewered lamb meatballs with tabouli and gazpacho. He's a happy little man. Pore Power!

The bottoms were Tim, Stephen, Tracey and Kevin. Everything that Stephen hoped wouldn't go wrong with his bacon-wrapped bass (and that he thought he'd prevented), did in fact go wrong. Tim's vegetables were off (as was, unfortunately, the aim of the goose that almost shit on them), and it was underseasoned and underconfident. Kevin's flank steak was home cook quality, though not offensively bad. No, the "offensively bad" comment went to Tracey's Italian sausage slider, which was too big, too rare, and too disgusting to be called Italian--if Tom's opinion as an Italian means anything.

His outrage was, as it often is, defanged by having to deliver another awful, hammy, punny segue to the final decision. Tracey got the boot, but having declared herself clairvoyant during the little mid-break vignette, she had to have seen it coming.

Next week: a double elimination challenge, the return of Eric Ripert, but also the return of Isabella and Spite. Blech.