Top Chef Season 7, Episode 8: United Nations

Before we start, one sigh of relief.  Thankfully, last week’s producer-driven stunt of pea puree-gate was given little screen time this week. Ed and Alex commented on it once each at the beginning and we were done. Top Chef, you should know better, save the manufactured drama for “Real Housewives” or the other Bravo ilk.

I was very excited about Marcus Samuelsson being the guest judge for the quickfire. I like how his focuses range from Swedish and Scandinavian to African cuisine, and now he is featuring American eclectic on his menus. Plus, his life story is so interesting. The icing on the cake was that the quickfire was going to focus on Ethiopian food. I love the spiciness and heartiness of Ethiopian food. But considering that most chefs are only trained in European cuisines, I wasn’t surprised that this would prove a challenge.

Immediately, people are gunning for Alex for being aggressive and Angelo pulls another “I consulted for a specific cuisine* restaurant”  out of his hat. Say what you want about him, he does know his stuff. Meanwhile, Amanda obsessed over the “etiquette” of her ingredients, (what does that even mean?) and Tiffany tried her hand at making an Ethopian-inspired goulash.

In the end, there weren’t any surprises on the bottom 3, Kevin has been up and down and his dish of braised chicken with chickpeas looked boring. Alex’s lamb tongue stew was bland and somehow dry. How you can make stewed meat dry is beyond me, but Alex somehow did it. And poor perpetual loser Stephen failed with his dry lamb meatballs.

There were some surprises in the Top 3 as well, Amanda’s concerns about the etiquette of her spices paid off with a well-seasoned goat dish, Angelo coasted in again with his berbere spiced chicken doro, prompting Marcus to ask him if he was born in Ethiopia, and Tiffany’s goulash gamble paid off. Tiffany won the quickfire, earning her $10,000 for her Costa Rican wedding. She’s really becoming one of my favorites on the show; she knows her stuff, she’s humble and really tries to make the best of what’s thrown at her.

For the elimination challenge, the chefs had to select a country to creative a dish inspire by their cuisine. Some were obvious (would Angelo pick anything but Japan? really?), and some were surprising (Alex cooks Spanish food? Well, not really judging from his performance this episode). Stephen found himself with a target on his back once again, as he was stuck with Brazil as inspiration. I knew he’d be in trouble with his focus on steak, simply because he once went to a Brazilian steakhouse. There’s such a blend of cultures in Brazil, he could have really made something that would shine.

One of the tricks of the challenge is that they had to make something that could be reheated by sterno. As the chefs started getting their dishes together to present to various ambassadors at the Meridian International center, you could see how this was hampering some of the chefs; Amanda’s Beef Bourguignon for France was drying up and Stephen’s beans and rice for his flank steak dish were overcooked and getting more so as he reheated them.

As far the dishes, as much as I hate to say it, Angelo’s tuna sashimi looked beautiful, but I’m a sucker for tuna. Kelly’s beef carpaccio with a spring vegetable salad took advantage of the sterno restriction by being a cold dish, plus it sounded delicious. Kevin was covering his ass by noting that he didn’t make Indian curry chicken, but rather stewed chicken “inspired” by Indian flavors. At least it tasted good, otherwise it would have seemed like a cheap ploy to stay safe. Instead it got him into the top 3. But it was Tiffany’s tamales, which highlighted her ability to make simple, but tasty and well-prepared food, that won her the elimination challenge.

For the bottom 3, Ed’s tea-smoked duck breast with potstickers sounded awesome, and was seemed to be enjoyed by many of the ambassadors, but the judges were tough and believed it didn’t represent China. I’m sorry, but when someone from the embassy of China says your dish tastes authentic, I’m more inclined to believe him than the judges this time around.

Alex had additional pressure to perform, as Jose Andres was the judge for the elimination challenge. Unfortunately, his choice to do tapas with braised veal cheeks and jamon torta was suffering from lack of focus. Luckily, Stephen just fared worse than him this episode. Stephen was grilled (no pun intended) about his use of chimichurri sauce on the flank steak, which is more Argentinian in inspiration than Brazilian. Coupled with badly made beans and rice, his time barely avoiding being cut was officially at an end.

With Stephen’s cut, my sights are now on Alex and Amanda to go home next. With Restaurant Wars next week (!), the question is just how badly someone will need to screw up to get kicked off before those two. 

~Julia

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