Last night’s Top Chef never really left the Hilton kitchen, perhaps since last week’s Just Desserts shilling gave the producers a hunger for more product placement. For the (Dial-sponsored) high-stakes Quickfire, the chefs entered the kitchen to find a display of baby toys. “They can’t have us cooking baby food!” exclaimed Tim, who apparently has not watched a second of any reality-competition show ever. Tom and Padma, who have a new 8-month-old and 2-month-old, respectively, asked the cheftestants to create an adult dish and a baby-friendly version. Technically, the only cuisine appropriate for 2-month-olds is breast milk or formula, but we’ll let that slide owing to procurement difficulties.
Every chef with a child immediately began pining for home, while childless chefs like Alex complained that they “practice making babies, not baby food.” Sadly, Tom and Padma, and not their surely adorable children, tasted the food. Tom gave his winning pick to Tamesha’s vegetable chowder with licorice flavor and grilled salmon, while Padma gave hers to Kenny’s curried chicken with Bulgar wheat and mushrooms. Angelo, of course, glared in the background while we tried to think of a single child who would prefer puréed duck to mashed bananas.
The elimination challenge, to be cooked in the Top Chef Hilton kitchen, required the chefs to make a new signature dish for Hilton’s restaurant menu, which had to please guest judge Beth Scott, Hilton’s VP of restaurant concepts. Did you know that Hilton is a sponsor this season? You do now. The chefs competed in teams of two to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner tournament-style, with the best two teams safe and free to stop cooking after each round. Unlike past team challenges this season, after the dinner round, two chefs were going home. Extra guest judges also popped up, including Nora Poullion and old Top Chef contestants Mike I., Bryan Voltaggio, and Spike. (Of course, none of them could hold a candle to silver fox Eric Ripert. But we digress.)
Breakfast began with some interesting cooking advice when Amanda asked Stephen how to tell when hollandaise sauce was done. His response: “When it tastes really good.” OH. Okay. However, semi-useless advice turned out to be a big help, as Amanda and Stephen were immediately safe for their poached egg with pancetta confit and potato rösti, along with Tim and Tiffany for their crab-cake Benedict with bacon-potato hash.
At lunch, Kelly got upset that the judges weren’t giving feedback, complaining that if she ended up cooking dinner, she’d “feel like [she’s] cooking to not go home.” Perhaps she felt that way because that was exactly how Padma explained the challenge. Angelo expressed his frustration with a strange metaphor: He wanted to get out of the pool because a piranha was trying to bite him. What kind of pools does he swim in, exactly? We didn’t get to find out, as his and Tamesha’s beef carpaccio with jicama-Asian pear salad was safe, as were the ricotta gnudi and sea scallops that Ed and Alex “cooked the shit out of.” Not everyone was so lucky with seafood — Padma remarked that if she’d received Kelly and Andrea’s crispy red snapper at Le Bernardin, she’d send it back, to which Eric Ripert replied that he’d never even send a dish like that out. Don’t say we didn’t warn you about cooking seafood, cheftestants.
Both Team Kenny/Kevin and Team Andrea/Kelly made braised short ribs for dinner (side note: Has anyone noticed how Kelly always sounds like she’s yelling out what she made?), while Arnold and Lynne opted to go a bit more outside the box and make pineapple-red-curry mussels with squid-ink pasta. Lynne reassured both Arnold and the audience many, many times that she knew how to make pasta and that it should get cooked at the last minute, so no one was surprised when her pasta turned out to be undercooked (see evidence below). The judges liked both the short ribs, but the lack of glaze on Kenny and Kevin’s gave the win to Kelly and Andrea, who also won weeklong trips to Venice and Barcelona. Padma didn’t think Lynne and Arnold’s “avant-garde” and “direct reflection of who [Arnold] is as a person” black mussels on black pasta would work on a hotel menu, and they got sent home. Plus, it’s much too soon to break up Kenny and Angelo’s budding bromance.
Next week: cooking in teams! Again! The battle of Kenny versus Angelo heats up! Outdoor cooking! Pushing food over! And (we hope), Tom gets all the glaze his heart desires.