Top Chef

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Brilliant Disguise

And then another mystery box arrives. Kevin is right there waiting for it, bouncing on the balls of his feet like a prize fighter. It contains jicama, which Amanda explains that she juliennes it and just tosses it in, and suddenly there are ten minutes left. People are running around, and sweating. Angelo admits that he sweated into the food. Yum! Salty. Everyone starts plating and Angelo is taking a torch to his plated food, so I guess he decided to go with hot food after all. Time is up! Everyone is panting and sweating. It's quite sexual, actually.

Alex serves first; he made rockfish with fava bean puree, ramp fondue, and sautéed squid. So he really kept the elements separate, and probably dumped the jicama and passionfruit and hominy into the sauces. Alex interviews that his dish is all over the place and he's horrible at Quickfires. And everything else, frankly.

Tiffany made fish stew, which seems like a cheat. Her fish stew has hominy, fava beans, saffron, and black garlic. You know what would have been interesting? If the cheftestants had been allowed to discard one of the mystery ingredients, but they had to decide immediately. So they could discard, say, ramps, but they would be taking the chance that the next ingredient up would be usable. I'm just spitballing. Anyway, Wylie likes her broth.

Kelly made Yucatecan seafood stew with black garlic, fava beans, and grilled ramps. Padma and Wylie comment that it's good and spicy. Amanda made crispy skin striped bass, squid fricassee, and leek and mushroom fondue. Wylie just wants to know if she used butter or oil; she used both.

You want a drinking game for this show that will get you really drunk really fast? Drink every time one of the cheftestants describes their ingredients as "a little bit of..." whatever. Seriously. Every time. A lot. Anyway, Kevin made pan-seared rockfish, hominy puree, and jicama and passionfruit salad. Wylie asks where the heat is coming from, and Kevin says he used red pepper flakes in the squid marinade. That was a good way to get a different flavor profile from the others, since they all used common ingredients.

Ed made rockfish sashimi with hominy-basil puree and grilled squid marinade. Wylie says that it's excellent. And finally, Angelo made smoky hominy pot-au-feu, squid, rockfish tataki, and passion fruit gel. Angelo tries to explain that he was going to serve the dish cold, but then he didn't, so the gel didn't set, and started to melt, perhaps because he blasted it with a kitchen torch? He's stammering and sweating all over the place. Tiffany interviews that she doesn't know Angelo's problem, but he's losing his confidence.

Wylie starts out by saying that they had "some unusual pairings" in their mystery ingredients and he doesn't envy their task. Padma is all business, asking him which cheftestants were the least successful. Wylie chooses Alex, whose components didn't come together. Kevin uses this as further evidence that Alex sucks. He is founding the He-Man Alex-Haters Club and he is also the President. Wylie's second choice for poor performance is Amanda, whose dish was a little too oily. Ah, that's why he asked if she used oil or butter. Note that she didn't get marked off for not incorporating the ingredients; she got marked off for poor technique.

Then we move on to the best dishes. Tiffany integrated the ingredients and had a lot of flavor. Kevin's fish was well-cooked and he balanced the dish well. Kevin explains why he needs the money from winning this challenge (baby on the way, moving), but the winner is actually Tiffany. Sorry, Kevin Baby! It's back to the dresser drawer for you! My brother slept in a dresser drawer as a baby. You'd think he was born in the Depression or something. But nope. It was 1969. Anyway, Tiffany is excited to apply the money towards her wedding, just like all of the other money she's won.

Padma announces this week's Elimination Challenge. Her script is super corny, so I'm not going to use her words, but basically each chef has to take a classic dish and "disguise" it somehow, and then serve it to members of the CIA, including director Leon Panetta. And by CIA, I mean Central Intelligence Agency, not Culinary Institute of America. They draw knives to find out their assignments.

Amanda: French onion soup
Ed: Chicken cordon bleu
Angelo: beef Wellington
Kelly: Kung Pao shrimp
Tiffany: gyro
Kevin: Cobb salad
Alex: veal Parmesan

Amanda is thrilled to learn that Leon Panetta will be eating her soup, and jokes that she might get recruited to "seduce some secrets out of the KGB." She really likes herself, doesn't she? I gather she tosses her hair around a lot and kind of gets what she wants. Interesting. Padma announces that the winner of this competition will win a trip to Paris. Ed says that his girlfriend (girlfriend?) has been bugging him to go on a vacation with her. Wow, he sounds like a great partner. Flirting with Tiffany and now has to be nagged to go on vacation? Sign me up!

The cheftestants head to the grocery store. Alex interviews that he's only been a chef for six years, and he used to be a videographer. He thinks this is an advantage because his lack of training makes him open-minded. How in the hell did he get on this show? Seriously? There are actual professional chefs sitting home right now, punching the couch pillows in frustration.

Kelly is trying to figure out how to cook Asian food, since that's not her area of expertise. She finds the Asian aisle at the store and looks at the list of ingredients in a bottle of prepared sauce and learns the flavor profiles. That's actually really smart. Angelo explains that traditional beef Wellington is beef encased in puff pastry. His concept is to cook puff pastry and put the beef on top like a pizza. I don't know how well puff pastry will work as substitute pizza dough. We'll see. Angelo decides to buy frozen puff pastry, which was enough to send people home in the past. Ed interviews that he wouldn't mind seeing Angelo go home, because he's a threat. At this point, who's not a threat? Oh, that's right. Alex. And Amanda.

The cheftestants head to the kitchen for their two-and-a-half hours of prepping and cooking. Tiffany interviews that she likes spy stuff, and her favorite spy show was La Femme Nikita. Not Alias? Even the first few seasons? Tiffany's goal is to make a deconstructed gyro, with everything separate, but when you put it all together, the flavor is familiar. Isn't that the definition of deconstruction? That's what Mike Voltaggio taught me last season anyway. And he won! So he must be right.

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