Top Chef - You can't spell "remedial math" without ED

The word around the campfire is that Kevin is shopping for real estate and his job at the horribly-named Rat's Restaurant is vacant. Does this mean chicken-on-a-stick is enough to distinguish a chef in this lackluster crowd? I hope not. With the lookatmeee antics of Ed (wearing Tiffany's dress) and Angelo (talking to self, describing Judges' Table as "heart-piercing"), it seems like culinary chops are in woefully short supply as we slouch toward the finale.

But hey! It's Rick Moonen, one of my favorite Top Chef Masters competitors, here to judge the Quickfire Challenge. This challenge is heretofore named "THE PUNS, THEY HURT"; create a dish based on a food idiom. The winner will be turned into a Schwan's frozen meal. (Appropriately, if you're up on your German, one of the idioms is "hide the salami." What was going on in the planning meeting for this one?) Note, though, that Padma never instructs the chefs to craft their dish with frozen meal-itude in mind--at least, not on-camera.

At this point in the competition, it's time for the producers to show more of the sniping against the weakest chef in the bunch. This time, the consensus appears to be that Amanda is the hanger-on. Only Angelo calls her "a dark horse"; it's like he needs to feel like the competition is higher in order to excel. That failure of self-motivation might bite him in the ass if he makes it to the end. It's fitting that he chooses "bigger fish to fry," as he's always looking for the next nemesis to frame his efforts. Kevin ("bring home the bacon"), Amanda ("the big cheese"), Kelly ("sour grapes," natch), Ed ("hot potato"), and Tiffany ("spill the beans") round it out.

When you've got Ed whipping up herb and roasted garlic gnocchi in an hour, you know that Tiffany's canned beans aren't going to pass muster. Kevin plates a bacon threeway--sorry, bacon three ways--and tops it all with a poached egg. This earns some confessional scorn from Angelo for not being freezer-friendly, but remember: Padma never made that part of the instructions. Angelo's over-explanation of his "ancient Chinese technique" on his tilapia might be great for becoming the next member of the Wu-Tang Clan, but doesn't earn him any points with seafood guru Moonen.

The bottom two end up being Kelly, whose Brussels sprout leaves and Concord grapes don't really work well together, and Amanda's "sledgehammer to the gut" macaroni and cheese. Again, Matamanda looks dumbstruck. Funny thing about that. As for the top two, Moonen likes Ed's light and well-conceived gnocchi and Kevin's bacon that achieves "a new level of lightness." And when Padma turns to Rick and asks, "Which would make the best frozen meal?," you know that Kevin never had a chance. Seems kinda shitty, but Ed takes the win for an impressive effort.

Speaking of shitty, please excuse me for a moment as I engage in a little search engine optimization:


Okay. That'll boost the Google hit count. And it's not completely off-topic. The Elimination Challenge this week is to prepare high-end concession stand food for a pre-game crowd at the Washington Nationals ballpark. The chefs will all work as one team in this one (and we know how smoothly that went last time), and must prepare at least six dishes. Kelly takes over the organization duties without anyone's input or approval, and then proceeds to ask Amanda to not make what she was planning on making because Kelly wants to use crab instead. And Amanda wilts and accedes--big mistake.

Adrift without her original concept, Amanda decides to make tuna tartare. Say what? Angelo buys yet another pre-made item--hot dog buns for his steamed bun-esque concept--but at first glance it seems like a natural fit. Ed's doing shrimp and corn fritters, and details to the camera the amount of work he's taken on. He's figuring three poppers per diner, and there will be 150 diners, so that's 550 poppers to make in three hours. You know, with three hours to prep, you'd think Ed would have had time to find a calculator or something.

Back at the house, it dawns on everyone that they might have to take orders as well as cook, and there's no more Alex to throw out there. Angelo, who later thinks that detail-oriented Kelly left that task unspoken in order to force someone else's hand, decides he'll do it. And then proves that Kelly would have been smart to leave it to someone else; he starts tossing pads around to every other chef before Kevin takes Kenny's place and starts barking at Angelo to stop passing the buck. In this argument, I'm rooting for salmonella to take them both out.

Nationals players Adam Dunn, Matt Capps, and John Lannan (the largest men Amanda's ever seen, apparently) will be dining alongside the judges, and also making Kelly swoon a little. I think she probably meant Dunn and Capps more than Lannan, but hey, I'm not a woman.

Lookit mah sexy.

Tom's presence has always unnerved Amanda (also not a good sign for her chances), so she does manage to bust out a funny line to the confessional: "Tom, get the hell out of here! You and your tree trunks--leave!" They do, in short order (ha!), and service begins with Kelly worrying about the thickness and saltiness of her bacon. Thick and salty--kinda sounds like Kevin this week.

Kelly: Open-faced crab cake BLT, herb aioli, sweet potato fries. The flavor of the crab stands out nicely, but Padma and Tom do indeed find it to be a bit too salty. Good for spurring on beer sales, though.

Tiffany: Italian meatball sub, fennel, basil pesto, fresh mozzarella. Along with Kelly's BLT, these two are flying off the menu at a vastly disproportional rate. The judges, Rick in particular, like it a lot; Eric struggles to handle it.

Amanda: Yellowfin tuna tartare, fennel, Meyer lemon, fava bean purée. This stuff looks hideous, and looked hideous well before service. It's oxidized and gray, and Rick notes how ballsy it is to serve tartare at a ballpark. Eric's horror is understated, but he lets it be known that he's not comfortable with how shitty this dish is.

Angelo: Sweet glazed pork on "lobster roll" with sweet sesame pickles and Asian pear relish. Take note of how many times that description uses the word "sweet," and tuck it away for later. There's too much bread, and it's sucking out what little finish there is on the moderate heat.

Kevin: Chicken kabob, romesco sauce, shoestring fries, smoked paprika aioli. This one isn't getting many orders, if you can believe that people are bored by the idea of chicken on a stick. Eric doesn't like the fries atop the skewer, as they're sogging out. The skewer itself is too awkward.

Ed: Shrimp and corn fritters, jalapeño aioli. Rick loves these, a lot I'd say, and Tom points out how sweet the corn is. No word on where the extra 100 went. Maybe he skipped 'em, since he offered to work on Angelo's plating while Angelo took orders.

The players all sampled everything at their own table, preferring Tiffany's meatball sub. My wife, horribly, wants one of them to get diarrhea so she can sing the "sliding into first" song. See, we're made for each other--both rooting for gastrointestinal maladies! And since there's no better time to point it out, can I also highlight the mid-break vignette? Wherein we learn that Angelo and his "girlfriend" have "only seen each other a couple times"? Uh huh.

Anyway, Padma calls all six chefs out for Judges' Table. Good. They all need the feedback at this point in the competition, and it'll be fun to put 'em all in front of Tom and Eric's criticisms, yes? Angelo, Kevin, and Tiffany all sort of play verbal bumper cars with the narration of the decision-making process, and Tom looks like he'd prefer to have gone to the bathroom during this inning. Ed's dish was "terrific," says Rick; "very tidy," says Tom. Not so for Tiffany's sloppy meatball sub, but Tom's okay with it and Tiffany (love her) apologizes for nothing, saying that a good burger better leave something running down somewhere. They were the top two dishes, and the winner goes to Ed. He pulls his own double-play (PUNS) after Tiffany did so twice in recent weeks--he also gets a trip to Australia and the Hilton Sydney. Well then.

As for the other four… Amanda's choice to pre-tartare her tartare was a poor one, and the riskiness of serving raw fish at a ballpark should have been paired with the risk of preparing it closer to service for freshness' sake. (I also have a strong dislike of "tartare" as a verb; don't know why.) Eric acknowledges that he was offended by it. Kevin started out with a good idea, but tried too hard to get everything into each bite. Plus, the double-hitter (PUNS) of sauces was too much. Kelly respected her crab, but the BLT-ness was a false promise. And wouldn't you know, Angelo's hot dog buns were unwieldy and too absorbent. And remember that thing about sweetness? Yeah--too much.

Tom tells the chefs that they all made some errors, which is true and I refuse to accept it as a pun. This week, Amanda's luck has run out; "the only sous chef [to] make it this far" is going no further. Ply your charms elsewhere, Mata Hari!

Next: NASA and walking pop culture parody Buzz Aldrin, and it's the last challenge before the finals--in Singapore?