Around the World in 80 Plates Recap: David Rees on Empanadas and the Antichrist

Photo: Bravo

Our four remaining chefs — Nookie, John, Liz, and Avery — arrive in Argentina. They stumble out of the airport and are immediately told to cook a bunch of empanadas (imagine a really tiny manila envelope stuffed with meat). Avery and Nookie team up. They commence making empanadas with a swiftness. Liz, meanwhile, allows a batch of empanadas to burn, much to the non-delight of her teammate John. Liz is coming across as semi-competent at best, and John can’t wait to be rid of her.

Once the empanadas are cooked, the teams have to go to a park and sell them for five pesos. The goal? One hundred and fifty pesos of empanada profits. Avery, bless her tattooed heart, miscalculates and assumes she and Nookie must sell all eighty of their empanadas to clear 150 pesos. John and Liz sell their empanadas at two for five pesos, and seem ready to snatch victory from the claws of defeat …

… until Nookie and Avery do some emergency recalculations and simply wholesale their remaining empanadas to a vendor, thereby winning the contest. They hop on a handsome old train to Puerto Madero, where they will rendezvous with Curtis Stone and Cat Cora (not a good driver). John and Liz take a cab.

Nookie and Avery disembark from the rickety old train, jog the final leg, and arrive before John and Liz! Nookie and Avery sing Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado in its entirety in celebration. Curtis Stone is flabbergasted: “Nookie, Avery, I didn’t think you were musical theatre fans! Sing something from Once Upon a Mattress!” And they do. (Nookie plays the mattress.) (JOKE)

That evening the chefs dine at La Tranquera, a restaurant famous for the excellence of its animal carcasses. The sound of sizzling meat is deafening. The manager and owner seem less than enthused to host our American friends — in fact, their body language suggests they’d rather be depositing sawdust into their own eyelids. It must delight them to know that in 24 hours their precious restaurant will be in the hands of these ravenous strangers.

After eating a slimy eggplant dish, Nookie suggests John make an eggplant dish — because he knows it will suck. Nookie is a canny strategist, and John continues his friendship with him at his peril!

Nookie and Avery, cashing in on their Exceptional Ingredient, consult with an Argentinian meat master who explains all about cooking animals properly. Did you know there’s a very particular way one should attach a goat carcass to an iron cross before cooking it by an open fire? I didn’t — maybe because I’m not an Argentinian Satan-worshipper?

Here’s the first result when you google “goat iron cross,” by the way. You have been warned.

In a weird aside, Nookie admits to having had a vivid dream about Liz — she was a whale and ate everyone. I’m not sure what to make of this.

It’s cooking time: Liz makes empanadas with corn and chorizo, which sounds normal enough but is, in fact, radical. (This is one of those esoteric food-tradition things that normal folks don’t think about: “I can’t believe the chef used butter and olive oil in his fried cod! Doesn’t he realize that flies in the face of 500 years of fried-cod-tradition? I guess we’ll have to impale him on an iron cross and cook him over an open flame until he confesses to being a witch.”)

Liz isn’t sure anyone will like her wacky empanadas, but if she “doesn’t take a big risk she won’t get a big reward.” Sure enough, Avery admits she’s impressed that Liz is still taking risks even after screwing up the earlier challenge. I’m starting to suspect Liz’s empanada recipe is one of the bravest documents in human history, and I can’t wait until future generations go to war and cause untold misery over the proper interpretation of this sacred text.

Meanwhile, Nookie and John tease each other in the kitchen and talk smack in a boring kind of way. (I think it was around this point that I inadvertently let out a sigh that caused my friend to proclaim: “Wow, you are really over this show, huh?”)

Avery, by her own admission, loves butchering and filleting so she has a grand old time impaling dead goats on the iron crosses’ hooks. Will the goats cook in time for the assembled hordes? Only Satan knows.

The diners show up: It’s the usual collection of super-glamorous aliens from Planet Billionaire. Cat and Curtis talk to a famous cookbook author who knows all about Argentinian cuisine and how it incorporates Turkish, Armenian, and Spanish cultures. For a brief, ecstatic moment, I am interested in Argentinian cuisine.

Liz works the front of the room while Nookie does all the work (according to him). Her empanadas are dangerously close to room temperature, and look dispiritingly post-coital upon a disheveled bed of watercress. But the diners love them! One even asks Liz for her secret empanada recipe! Has Liz redeemed her earlier empanada disaster?

Meanwhile, the response to John’s roasted vegetables is best described as bewildered umbrage. The flavors are okay, but the consensus seems to be that serving such a meatless mediocrity at La Tranquera is an affront to the bloodthirsty palates of Argentines. It’d be like showing up for a Gorgoroth concert and getting Carly Rae Jepsen instead.

Nookie’s skirt steak with chimichurri (not a black metal band) is similarly disavowed by the diners: “It’s a crime to cut the meat like that,” says one. (Apparently Nookie sliced the steaks too thin, or something — who can keep up with all the ways humans are able to out-snob each other when it comes to cutting meat into pieces?) And the sauce, having been deposited directly on top of the steak, is literally boiling! Nookie, what have you done?!

It’s up to Avery to prove that Americans are capable of properly murdering, cooking, and cutting up animals for the delectation of our Satanic southern neighbors. Fortunately, her goats-roasted-on-iron-crosses-in-honor-of-dark-lord-Baphomet is a smash hit! The goats’ meat is tender and juicy — each bite reminds the diners of the suffocating, bilious embrace of the Antichrist, and they very nearly break into a spontaneous performance of Immortal’s “Unholy Forces of Evil” in celebration of Avery’s talents.

The famous cookbook author is stunned to learn that Avery is female: “Never in this restaurant’s life, a girl took over the pit!” (Insert feminist slam-dancing joke here.)

Our four chefs are brought before Curtis and Cat. John’s vegetables are sacrificed on the altar of inconsequence; Curtis asks, “You can find this dish anywhere in the world, why make it in Argentina?” John doesn’t have a good answer. Nookie is criticized for slicing his meat ahead of time. He too, has nothing redeeming to say.

So the winning dish will either be Avery’s goat or Liz’s empanadas.

Avery’s goat was delicious. But “delicious” isn’t good enough. Indeed, Curtis Stone announces that Liz’s empanadas were “a triumph.”

And sure enough, we’re treated to a STUNNER: Liz wins most valuable chef! Her revelatory, revolutionary empanadas serve as the unstoppable dirigible upon which she sails to glory, leaving the other chefs to loiter far below in the scorched fields of her conquest. Nookie’s dream of Liz as an all-consuming whale was trenchant beyond his meager comprehension! Thar she blows!

Nookie, John, and Avery’s master plan is thrown into chaos. They each assumed Liz would be the next contestant to go home; now they squirm and avoid eye contact as they each make their case for staying in the contest.

Before you have time to say “I wonder, perchance, if the knives will now come out,” the knives come out: John votes to eliminate Nookie. Nookie votes to eliminate John. It’s like brother against brother up in here! Cat Cora helpfully summarizes the state of play: “That’s one vote Nookie, one vote John.” It’s up to Avery: She can pick Nookie or she can pick John. Who will she pick? She picks John.

John’s journey has come to an end. His strategy of cooking vegetables for a nation of flesh-addicts was his undoing. But he’s not complaining: “I’m gonna walk out of here with my head held high.” His affirmation, however, falls on deaf ears: We have already lost all interest in him.

Only three chefs remain! And one of them is going to win $150,000 and a brand-new Infiniti.

Next week’s episode — the finale — will take place in Uruguay. (I thought they were going to India! What happened?)

David Rees is an artisanal pencil sharpener.

Around the World in 80 Plates Recap: David Rees on Empanadas and the