Top Chef Season 7: Covert Cuisine, Episode 10

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Photo by David Giesbrecht/Bravo
With the departure of Kenny, I wasn't looking forward to this episode of Top Chef. I thought it would be all about Angelo and his ego. And in a way it was; just not the usual bragging and posturing. Dude seemed off his game last night. What was consistent in this episode was Alex-bashing. He has emerged as the human soccer ball of Top Chef in terms of being kicked around by so many people.

For the Quickfire Challenge, the judge was Wylie Dufresne, from Top Chef Masters. The cheftestants were given identical mystery boxes and told to prepare a meal using those ingredients. Tiffany wasn't too thrilled with the task, however: "I don't like surprises and I don't like this challenge. I'm feeling this nervous energy. I'm just trying to stay calm and not freak out too much." It was also announced that the winner would take home $10,000. Then we learned an odd bit of trivia about Angelo, namely that he has a fiancé in Russia who needs a visa. Can we say mail order bride?

The first mystery box contained a whole fish, fava beans and an unlabeled can, which turned out to be hominy. For once on this season, Angelo looked lost. He couldn't decide whether to do a hot or cold dish. Then, another mystery box arrived with squid and black garlic. Just when everyone seemed thoroughly confused, another mystery box showed up with ramps and passion fruit. The last mystery box, and they were flying in pretty fast by now, contained jicama. Amanda whined, "I'm trying to roll with the punches, although there are several of them." The chefs were literally cooking until the last minute and looked exhausted. Normally cool Angelo was sweating into his food. Gross.

Alex's rockfish with fava bean puree, ramp fondue and sautéed squid did not impress Wylie, who questioned whether his ramp has been cooked. On the other hand, Tiffany's fish stew with hominy, fava beans, saffron and black garlic received an enthusiastic nod from Wylie. Kelly, Kevin and Angelo's dishes were generally well-received, while Amanda was called out for her "oily" crispy skin striped bass, squid fricassee, leek and mushroom fondue.

Predictably, Alex and Amanda were on the bottom of the Quickfire Challenge. Tiffany and Kevin were on top, with Tiffany taking home the $10,000.

For the Elimination Challenge, Padma threw out a lot of puns about national security and secret agents. Okay, we get it, the cheftestants are going to have cook for the CIA. Better yet, they had to take a classic dish and disguise it 007-style. Everyone drew knives to pick their entrée and they were French onion soup (Amanda), chicken cordon bleu (Ed), beef wellington (Angelo), kung pao shrimp (Kelly), gyro (Tiffany), cobb salad (Kevin) and veal parmesan (Alex).

When the cheftestants found out they would be cooking for the head of the CIA, Leon Panetta, I kept hoping we would get an interrogation scene where Panetta would waterboard Alex into admitting he stole Ed's pea puree. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.

At Whole Foods, we witnessed the chefs struggling as Angelo bought puff pastry and Kelly had to look at a bottle of kung pao sauce to figure out the ingredients for her dish. There was a lot of sniping among the cheftestants with Ed and Kevin bitching about Angelo's usage of store-bought puff pastry. Kelly also disparaged Amanda for making her French onion soup too "obvious."

Amanda and Alex, however, were having a love-fest. Of the much-maligned Skeletor, Amanda noted that, "I really like Alex. He's like the wise, old, Jewish uncle that I never had." Alex played into that description when he announced that, "My spy name would be Dr. Zhivago. My mom always wanted a doctor in the family." Oy vey!

As they walked into CIA building, Ed said, "This is where major shit goes down." You think? In the kitchen, it was pretty calm until Kelly overcooked her rice. Tiffany, who seems to be on a roll, took the time to help with not only the rice, but the plating of Kelly's dishes before they went out for service. Talk about sisterly solidarity. However, Amanda's self-deprecating humor won me over with the line about her noticeable French onion soup: "Helen Keller would be able to guess what the dish is." Oh, Amanda, I'm starting to like you finally. Angelo, on the other hand, had cruised beyond humor for his beef wellington and downshifted into full-on insecurity.

For the meal, we finally got the return of Eric Ripert. And CIA head Leon Panetta proved to be very knowledgeable about food. Is there anything this man doesn't know? (More on that later...)

Panetta immediately figured out that Angelo's dish was beef wellington. Said Panetta, "Poor disguise. They would have captured this individual and hung him." It was also decried that the wellington was too salty and the pastry too hard. Ripert chided that, "It looks like he took shortcuts." Kelly's kung pao shrimp soup was a winner, especially with the second batch of rice. Tiffany's gyro, once again perfectly outed by Panetta, was universally lauded. Ripert: "It was the most elegant gyro I ever ate in my life." Kevin's cobb salad landed somewhere in the middle, mainly because it remained a salad. And Ed's chicken cordon bleu was also safe.

Midway through the service, Panetta had to "dine and dash," which the CIA bigwig does often, apparently. No pea puree interrogation then. Amanda's French onion soup was criticized for not being creative enough. Worst, her too-sweet oxtail marmalade was compared to honey and lemon cough syrup. The most egregious error came from Alex, of course. His poorly-executed veal was overcooked, prompting this joke from Tom: "The veal was as tough as pulling a post in Yemen."

During the Top Chef interlude, we were treated to a discussion on conspiracy theories, none of which had to do with food. The cheftestants pondered whether or not Leon Panetta knows who killed JFK and where the aliens are hidden. Kelly was a firm believer in Aliens. Angelo was too, as he joked, "there's one in LA," and pointed to Alex. Then in an alien-robot voice, Angelo snarked, "Alex you are the first alien contestant on Top Chef." Cut to Alex saying, "You never know." Regardless if he hails from Jupiter, Alex has been called so many names on this show and is never ruffled by any of it.

At Judges' Table, Tiffany, Kelly and Ed emerged as the top three in the CIA challenge. Tiffany triumphed for her gyro, making her a double winner on this episode. $10,000 and a trip to Paris. You go girl! I only hope she isn't peaking too soon.

The bottom three were Alex, Amanda and Angelo. I knew Angelo wasn't going anywhere, although much earlier in the season John was sent home for using prepared puff pastry. And although Amanda's French onion soup was boring and too sweet, clearly, it was Alex's turn to pack up his knives and go. In the stew room, no one seemed too upset that Alex was leaving except Amanda. Who will Ed and Angelo make fun of now?

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