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Top Chef Week 3: Flank Steaks At Mt. Vernon

Top Chef excitement and intrigue continues into week 3! Whose cuisine will reign supreme? Will Kenny finally settle the score with Angelo?  Is Amanda just all talk or does she actually have something to offer? Who exactly is this Alex guy anyway?

Regular readers will be quick to point out that we missed Week 2. So, here is a short and sweet recap: The Quickfire is “bipartisan sandwich” – chefs have to wear a silly apron that joins them at the hip, and then make a sandwich together, scurrying around the kitchen in unison while using only one hand.  Angelo and Tracey win for their flounder sandwich, Angelo continues his reign of terror. Then, the elimination challenge involves cooking a school lunch within a budget of approximately $2.68 per child – which obviously puts shopping at Whole Foods entirely out of the question (they shop at “Restaurant Depo”). One chef astutely observes that they are being forced to compromise their food to fit within the budget….and that this must be the same problem that school lunch programs have.  Ummm…..YOU THINK?  Anyway, the dishes of note include Amanda’s “chicken thighs with sherry” – yes, she insists on serving sherry to school children, and not only that, but she blows her team’s whole budget on the sherry. Finally, she cooks gross chicken that no one likes.  Anyway, Jacqueline (who cooked grainy chicken liver mousse in Week 1), makes a banana pudding to which she ends up adding two pounds of sugar (!!) because the bananas are starchy. Jacqueline is obviously not cut out for this, her dish tastes gross and is totally unhealthy, so she is kicked off.  Amanda dodges a bullet, she really should have been the one to go.

So, on to Week 3! First they meet the pastry chef from Jean Georges, and Padma shills for some new upcoming show called “Top Chef: Just Desserts,” which sounds dull and is obviously another attempt to wring as much money as possible from the Top Chef franchise before everyone gets sick and tired of it.  The Quickfire challenge is “pie,” which is actually great because many of these chefs are thoroughly incapable of making a pie.  At judging time, Amanda makes the excuse that she is not a pastry chef, but Jean Georges guy tells her that’s a cop out, since his grandmother isn’t a pastry chef and she can make a pie. Pwned!!  In the end, Kenny finally wins a challenge, for his Bananas Foster Pie, which admittedly looks pretty good.

So, on to the elimination challenge, which is relatively straightforward – the contestants must cook a “summer picnic” for the Capitol Hill interns, to be served at Mt. Vernon.  Only in D.C.!!  Alex tells us in a cutaway interview that he is looking forward to the challenge because he has “never taken advantage of an intern.”  We’ll have to keep an eye on him. Then its off to Whole Foods, where Amanda’s motto is  “heaven help any women, children or old people in my way” as she tears around the store grabbing things off shelves.  At this point she needs to put up or shut up, IMHO, this sort of faux swagger makes her look like The Biggest Loser.

So the chefs start their dishes, most of which seem to be grilled flank steak.  Angelo is sure that his Vietnamese beef will land him in the top, and it turns out he is right.  Tracey tries to make sausage, but runs out of time and settles for sausage sliders, which does not bode well for her.  Alex makes pork butt, but Amanda actually takes his food out of the oven while it is cooking because she claims her name was on the oven.  Well, in the words of Chuck D,  there’s a five letter word to describe her character.

Meanwhile, Alex describes his pork butt dish enthusiastically, stating that “I could eat the ass out of this pig all day.”  He is turning out to be pretty entertaining, but his skills seem limited and he will probably be gone in a week or two.  Apart from that, everyone else seemingly grills flank steak or maybe some ribs, with the exception of an ill-advised bacon-wrapped chilean sea bass  (I mean, what picnic is complete without one?).

So, in the top four are Arnold, Angelo, Amanda and Ed.  Angelo seems pretty smug about his Vietnamese beef, but it is Arnold who wins this one for his lamb meatball.  I sort of suspect that this will be Arnold’s solitary Elimination victory, so I hope he savored it…but I could be wrong.  Amanda claims that she doesn’t care about winning, just being in the top 4 is enough, which sounds like some BS  to me.  However, in fairness to Amanda, the other chefs raved about her ribs so she seems to gave put a little substance behind her bad attitude, at least for now.  Also, the  judges/producers seem to like her, since they saved her ass last week after the sherry chicken debacle.

Ultimately Tracey is kicked off for her sliders, after the judges discuss how a ten-year old could have made her dish.  She says she had a bad day, and it cost her.  She is partly right, although she is kind of out of her league in general – however, she was also pretty entertaining so it is too bad to see her go.

Finally, something that has been bothering me: what the hell is “Food & Wine” magazine? Does anyone actually read this magazine? Not only do we have to hear about it every episode, but we have to put up with Gail Simmons –
“editor of Food & Wine magazine,” who is kind of obnoxious and adds absolutely nothing to the show.  I guess it’s part of Top Chef’s cross-promotional agreement with Food & Wine that she has to appear on the show, there’s no other good explanation.  I mean, bring back Eric Ripert!  At least he knows what he is talking about, and he obviously makes the contestants very nervous when they half-ass their seafood or french dishes.

Well, until next week….when TWO contestants are getting kicked off, apparently. In the meantime, if you read and enjoy “Food & Wine” magazine, feel free to let me know in the comments.

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