Top Chef Season 7, Episode 6: Trust No One

Paranoia and lots of talk about “playing the game” have been everywhere this season, but was especially highlighted in this episode. The fact that the producers took the chefs to U.S.S. Sequoia, a key location in the history of the cold war, just to sit and stew over the various alliances and back-stabbing going on and for no other culinary purpose, tells me that food is definitely taking a backseat this season.

To start things off, we had the ever-popular Offal and Exotic meat challenge. The treats ranged from pretty boring bison and yak to Duck White kidneys, the coy term for duck testicles. Thank god for the twist where everyone had to switch protein, because the thought of Angelo making testicle marshmallows was revolting.

Michelle Bernstein was the judge for this round, causing Andrea to blow a gasket since they evidently have a rivalry back home in Miami that exists solely in Andrea’s mind. In her opinion, how dare Michelle not take time off to start a family and focus on her career? But Michelle wasn’t exactly making friends with the other contestants, calling Stephen frog leg dish “insipid” and nailing Kenny for the weird textures in his rattlesnake dish.

The chefs who ended up in the top, Tamesha and Kelly seemed to use simplicity to their advantage. Neither of them were familiar with emu eggs (the shot of the yolk made me gag) and duck tongues, but their respective omelets and soup took exotic ingredients and made them familiar. I was happy that Kelly won with her omelet, if you can make a decent and simple omelet, sometimes that’s all you need.

For the elimination challenge, the chefs were asked to create a dish served cold. I was surprised to see that there weren’t tons of ceviches this round. The twist was that the chefs would be split into two groups and asked to judge the other group’s dishes. Kenny immediately went into paranoid freak-out mode, assuming that everyone would vote for him to leave because he’s just so awesome. Normally, I would agree, but it’s getting a little annoying coming from him and he’s letting his previous wins get to his head.

From Group A, the standout was Kevin’s “surf and turf” of sliced lamb and tuna. Combined with pinenuts, it just sounded delicious and looked beautiful.  Immediately though, the knives came out from the judging chefs, who tore Group A’s dish apart. Kevin’s dish lacked acidity, Ed’s salmon on pumpernickel dish was too dry, Kenny’s lamb dish was too busy and chewy. Eventually, Tom had to lay down the law and ask if they were busy finding critiques that didn’t exist instead of actually tasting the food? Regardless, everyone, even the Judges panel agreed that Kenny’s dish had too many elements for its own good.

Meanwhile, like the sight of oranges in “The Godfather,” the use of scallops in Top Chef tends to signal doom. When Tamesha started going on about her scallop dish, using rhubarb, long pepper, and a list of a hundred other different ingredients for her dish, I knew she was in trouble. Plus, her rhubarb sauce made the scallops look like they were sitting in a pool of blood, not appetizing. At least she wasn’t the only weak dish in Group B, everyone suffered from technical issues, Andrea’s three tartares needed seasoning, Angelo’s “sexy” sockeye salmon was good, but the salmon was overshadowed by its cilantro dressing, and Stephen’s beef with crispy rice lacked the flavor of well….beef.

Tiffany was the saving grace of Group B, making a delicious coriander and fennel-crusted tuna with a gazpacho sauce, which to me sounds like perfect summer fare. Tiffany also made the point that Angelo was involved with the two least successful dishes in Group B, Tamesha and Stephen’s. I think if she keeps cooking this way and keeps her eye on Angelo, she’ll make it to at least the top 4.

Kevin came out victorious with his surf and turf and poor Tamesha was cut for her overpowering rhubarb sauce and barely-seared scallops. Kenny was at the bottom with her and tried to share his “Angelo’s out to get me because I’m the Alpha Male” conspiracy theory. Michelle Bernstein was not having it though and offered a sorely needed dressing down to Kenny, “If I could sit here and actually talk about each piece that didn’t work that was on that dish, it would take me through to the end of the show.” Ouch. Hopefully Kenny will take this to heart and keep his mind of the “game” and back on his cooking.

~Julia

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