Top Chef - Svengali strikes again

Yeah, so, remember what I said about Angelo being a creepy dude? How he was basically gathering the immortal souls of his fellow contestants to fuel his infernal machinations? How he'd already absorbed Tracey's essence, and now he was after Tamesha?

That's Svengali 2, Goodness of Humanity 0.

There was, of course, an hour of cookery and whatnot that occurred between curtain-up and lights-out. Y'know, if you're interested in that sort of thing. (But let's not forget that Andrea refers to Angelo as "the one who tries to possess peoples' minds" during the mid-break vignette; the villagers are starting to turn on the mad scientist.)

Angelo kicks off the hour by talking about his constantly shifting strategy--the one that always results in Southeast Asian flavors. Then we meet Andrea's arch-nemesis: guest judge Michelle Bernstein, also of Miami and also kinky-haired and blonde. Bernstein will preside over a freaky protein Quickfire Challenge. Emu eggs, rattlesnake, duck testicles that aren't specifically called testicles, and foie gras. Foodies will shout that foie isn't really that freaky, and they're right. But when there's one obvious glamour item in a knife-draw challenge, you can bet that something else is lurking in the weeds.

This time, as the chefs settled into their preparations, Padma announces that everyone needs to shift one station to the left--but leave the protein. This takes Alex from his precious foie, and plops him right in front of Kevin's ostrich. Angelo drops his duck nuts and picks up crocodile instead. Tamesha goes from llama to duck tongue, and her idea of a tongue soup sounds dangerous with only 20-some minutes to go.

But lo, Tamesha pulls one out, pressure-cooking her tongue to the great enjoyment of the judges. She is joined at the top by Kelly's creamy, delicious emu egg omelet with goat cheese and fennel salad, and Amanda, who took Tamesha's llama and roasted it with leeks, a date-bacon compote, and sauce soubise. But the win, and immunity, goes to Kelly. Considering how awful Jill's ostrich egg quiche was back in Season 5, Kelly's fortunate she found a good preparation. Less lucky are Stephen's "insipid" seared frog leg, Alex's dry ostrich, and Andrea's undercooked boar.

The Elimination Challenge takes undercooked to new heights, tasking the chefs with serving a cold dish. Yes, it can be cooked, but it must be served chilled. The chefs will be split into two groups; Group A will cook and serve to Group B (and the judges), and then Group B will cook and serve to Group A. Each group will have a chef selected for the win, and one selected to be sent home. For brainstorming, why don't y'alls head out for an apropos-of-little cruise on the USS Sequoia?

On the boat, Angelo is mixing with the whole crew of chefs, giving advice to anyone who makes the mistake of letting him speak (you must run him through with an enchanted blade before he speaks!). Fishing for a new victim, Angelo? Take heart (literally)--Stephen appears ripe for the picking. So is sockeye salmon, the latest member of the animal kingdom to be found sexually attractive by Angelo. The rest get their shopping done without necrobestiality, and their two hours of prep begins.

Andrea's still fuming about Michelle Bernstein getting to criticize her cooking on national TV; the secret ingredient ain't post-feminist sour grapes, lady. Amanda's doing a galantine--chicken rolled and stuffed with chicken--that was called a "ballantine" throughout the Bocuse D'Or episode from last season. (TV.com explains that this was an erroneous portmanteau of "galantine" and "ballotine," the roasted and warm version of the cold, poached galantine.) Angelo swears he's not playing games, but is leering over Tamesha all over the kitchen. Alex is most definitely playing games; Amanda asks him to try her galantine, and he intentionally withholds the presence of cartilage in his bite.

The first group starts cooking, and when plates hit the table, the real judges stay mostly silent while the competitors speak their piece. Amanda's chicken galantine with plum chutney is too salty (Tamesha), congeal-y (Angelo), or overly cartilaginous (Andrea, with the only real criticism of the dish, in my opinion). Kenny doubles up his lamb--grilled over greens and sliced as carpaccio--alongside a pretty cool mustard seed tuile, but runs into the buzzsaw of crafty opponents. Too chewy for Tiffany, too slimy for Angelo. Alex's sous-vide lamb with beet purée, tzatziki, and (a really interesting, actually) pumpkinseed dust offers tzatziki that's too heavy (Tamesha) and beets that needed something (Andrea).

Kevin's pairing of tuna and veal with romaine, pine nuts, and "Mediterranean condiments" seems like it's going to break the streak; Stephen begins to call it "beautiful," but then says that it needs acidity. Andrea agrees, wishing for citrus or something. At this point, Tom Colicchio can take no more; he scrinches up his face and asks if no one noticed t, he Meyer lemons on their plates. Only after this passive slapdown does Tiffany chime in, calling the dish "nice," and saying the acidity is fine. In the post-Tom era of this round, Ed's sockeye salmon on pumpernickel with cucumber vichyssoise gets far too much credit. Angelo wants things to be more separate and distinct, and Tamesha finds the lemon chunks too big, but what they all should be saying is that it's a really derivative and obvious dish that doesn't have the pizazz to be presented in an Elimination Challenge.

Not too surprisingly, everyone picks Kevin's dish as the best (even Tiffany, who explicitly said that she would like to vote for Ed), and Kenny's as the worst. This might have been the fair choice, but it's also a little transparent. Only Andrea goes with her conscience and votes for Amanda to go.

When the cooking group sits down to judge, and Tom gives them the "you should have heard what they said about you," it's clear that they're going to be a lot less nitpicky than the first group was. Gotta be the bigger people and all.

Tiffany's peppercorn-crusted ahi tuna with gazpacho sauce gets raves all around, and rightly so; flipping the script on gazpacho is just the kind of move her paramour Ed couldn't make with his soup and salad course. Angelo slow-poaches sockeye salmon (just like Ed, who we learn also slept with Angelo's girlfriend once...or vice versa; draw your own conclusions), but loses Kenny and Amanda with his last-minute addition of more condiments, drowning out the flavor of the salmon. Andrea goes for a tartare trio--steak, tuna with chili oil, and mushroom-fennel with roasted beets--and succeeds with the general concept, though her beef was underseasoned by Kenny's measure.

Stephen needs more than a little flavor with his chilled beef; Ed can't taste it at all over the crispy rice and jalapeño oil, and Kenny's socks remain firmly on his feet. The worst, however, appears to be Tamesha, who served almost-but-not-quite-raw scallops with long pepper and pickled rhubarb. It's way too spicy for Amanda, and Kevin finds the scallop to be the least pleasant part of the dish.

At the end of the course, Kevin alone picks Angelo to win (new toadie, perhaps?); the rest pick Tiffany. Tamesha gets universal scorn and a trip straight to the bottom two.

Amanda, hearing about the cartilage, thinks she's doomed for sure. Kenny's bewildered to learn that he's been relegated to the cut list. Padma calls out the top two first.

Thankfully, the judges announce their basic agreement in the selection of Tiffany and Kevin as the best two dishes. Gail praises Kevin's textural contrast, while Tiffany's perfect sear and refreshing flavors get kudos from Tom and Michelle. With a big fist pump, Kevin gets the win he's sorely needed. He also gets a six-night trip to Hawaii, which everyone needs, at least a little.

Tamesha and Kenny head out for judgment. Tamesha is surprised, of course. She thought the long pepper would be balanced with the sweetness of rhubarb and the scallop. That scallop was pretty gross, however; essentially raw but just cooked enough to highlight that it wasn't raw. As for Kenny, he hoped to bridge the two parts of his dish with shared seasonings. He failed in that regard. He suspects that he's being targeted for the threat he represents, but Michelle puts him in his place, telling him that she really didn't enjoy the dish at all. In other words, you to can suck from time to time. All that said, as soon as Tom says that Tamesha's dish was "shockingly bad," we know who's going home.

Tamesha gets the bad news that her association with Angelo the Svengali would portend; she thinks it's "some bullshit," but really, no. Once the spell fades, though, she breaks down under the weight of her mistake; "Angelo is a mentor to me, but I should have taken more control." Whoops.

Next week: Um, Tiffany's engaged? And Alex steals Ed's pea purée and actually serves it to some acclaim? This could be an interesting week for our man Ed.