Cafe Society

Top Chef D.C, round ten: From spy to bye-bye

Alex finally got sent home on this week's Top Chef D.C., which should appease his legion of detractors. In addition to his usual disjointed kitchen antics and incoherent decisions, he tried using sous vide -- which he'd never done before -- for the Elimination Challenge, and his veal came out tough and unappetizing.

More interesting to me, and slightly depressing, is Angelo's long, slow slide. What has happened to this talented and once-so-cocky contender, the guy we were sure would win the whole thing unless Kenny pipped him at the post? "I feel just a little bit lost," he said during the Quickfire. And later, sadly and humorously, "I sweated into the food."

For the Elimination Challenge, Angelo chose to use store-bought puff pastry for his beef Wellington. Had he gone mad? Had he forgotten the fate of poor, wild-eyed, dusty-haired John Somerville, sent home in the first episode for the very same offense? (A confession: I once bought Whole Foods's expensive, buttery puff pastry myself when I simply didn't have time for all that folding and rolling, and it was delicious.) It was almost as if Angelo wanted to get sent home.

The setting for this episode was the CIA building, and the food would be tasted by several CIA higher-ups. For the Quickfire, everyone was given a mystery box that turned out to contain fish, fava beans and a tall can of hominy, and told to create a dish with it. No sooner had the chefs decided on a direction than they were interrupted by grim-faced men in dark glasses bearing new boxes, the contents of which had to be incorporated. And then again. It was like The Sorceror's Apprentice.

There were ramps, which Tiffany said she'd never seen before, and squid, jicama, black garlic. The contest was judged by Wiley Dufresne. Tiffany and Kevin had the two best dishes, with Tiffany coming out on top. It was Tiffany who won both challenges during the Foreign Affairs episode, and she was about to repeat this feat. For the Elimination Challenge, each contestant was given a traditional dish (hence Angelo's beef Wellington) and told to disguise it. CIA. Disguise. Get it?

This concept isn't as silly as the bipartisandwiches of episode two, but I tend to dislike the idea of disguising food. I think the best cooking showcases the glories of first-rate meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables. But then, I don't like experimental fiction, either. And I've never tasted molecular gastronomy --if we're still calling it that -- and Dufresne is one of the masters, so maybe the challenge was apt. "This isn't me," said Angelo, contemplating his own work. "I've no idea what's going on in my head."

In the middle of the dinner, CIA head Leon Panetta was called away, doubtless to discuss the overthrow of some Latin American ruler. Kelly, whose dish was kung pao shrimp (she cleverly studied a label at Whole Foods to deconstruct the ingredients), ran into trouble with her rice -- she's used to high-altitude cooking, she explained--and Tiffany helped and calmed her, and later helped her plate. Classy. Both of them ended up in the top three, along with Ed; Eric Ripert said that Tiffany's work as the "most elegant gyro I have eve r eaten in my life."

On the bottom, in addition to Alex, were Amanda (whose time is surely coming) and--for the first time, if memory serves--Angelo. She didn't feel bad for him though, Kelly explained later. If he was told to leave, she'd give him a hug, but she is, after all, in it to win.

Why does she have to do this again just when I'm beginning to like her?

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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman