Top Chef

Top Chef Recap: The Most Nightmarish Mystery-Box Challenge Ever

The big names came out again on last night’s Top Chef, with this episode’s guest-judging duties going to Wylie Dufresne and CIA director Leon Panetta. We’d like to think this, and the return of Eric Ripert, is a reward for sticking with the season, but we’re guessing it’s because August is ratings month. Anywho, the Quickfire asked the chefs to create a dish using ingredients from not one, not two, not three, but four mystery boxes, carted out by extras from Men in Black.

The mystery ingredients ranged from normal (rock fish, passion fruit) to less common (ramps, black garlic). Angelo appeared to be falling apart without having Kenny there to battle/bromance with, and sweated into his food “for the first time.” Please tell us this is not a regular occurrence. And of course, almost everyone complained about Alex, who finally noticed, saying, “This situation kind of sucks. I’m not getting along with anybody in the kitchen. I don’t care.” You know what else sucks? Being in the bottom, which Alex was for his rockfish with fava-bean purée and ramp fondue, along with Amanda for her crispy-skin striped bass, squid fricassée, and leek-and-mushroom fondue (Future chefs, take note: do not fondue things that are not cheese or chocolate). Despite not being amused by the task (“I don’t like surprises and I don’t like this challenge”), Tiffany took the win for her fish stew with hominy, fava beans, and saffron. She also won another $10K, ensuring that her upcoming wedding will be awesome.

Padma informed the chefs that they were “recruited as secret agents by the CIA” for the elimination challenge, and we’re not sure what infuriated us more: the fact that Padma referred to the challenge like the show was actually Top Chef Kids, or that the cheftestants reacted like they really were now secret agents (oh Lord, someone’s going to develop that into a show now, aren’t they?). “I could seduce some secrets out of the KGB,” said Amanda, who always wanted to be a spy named Natasha with a garter. Tiffany just loved La Femme Nikita, but Alex’s favorite spy is from Get Smart because “he had a phone for a shoe.” OF COURSE that is Alex’s favorite spy.

The real adult challenge was to give a new identity to a classic dish by disguising its appearance but keeping its flavors the same, which really wasn’t a bad idea. They also got to cook at the CIA kitchen, which Ed hilariously checked for hidden cameras and speakers. While most chefs got the flavors down fairly well, many struggled with the “disguise” aspect of the challenge. “I’m thinking I didn’t disguise it enough. Helen Keller could guess what this dish is,” an interviewed Amanda said, offensively. Considering Padma stressed that the dish had to be immediately recognizable by flavor, we’d hope for her sake that Ms. Keller could indeed recognize it.

The top three honor went to Tiffany’s elegant, deconstructed gyro; Ed’s inside-out chicken cordon bleu; and Kelly’s kung pow shrimp as soup. Even though silver fox Eric Ripert thought Ed’s dish was perfectly executed, he gave the win — and the free trip to Paris — to Tiffany (the dark horse! We called it).

Alex’s veal parmigiana disguised as tortellini, Amanda’s French-onion soup with oxtail marmalade, and Angelo’s beef Wellington tartlet took the bottom spots. Amanda’s dish wasn’t disguised at all, and Angelo’s dry store-bought puff pastry (used even though that’s what felled crazy-dreadlocks guy in the first episode) almost sent him home, but ultimately (thankfully) the judges told Alex to pack his knives. Of course, of course, he didn’t leave before he brought up the freaking pea purée yet again. Oh Alex, crazy Jewish uncle Amanda never had, we will not miss you.

Next week: We’re going to a ball game! Running concession stands! Kevin yells at everyone! Raw fish!

Covert Cuisine