Photo: David Giesbrecht / Bravo
Okay, Top Chef. Time to bring it. The first three episodes in D.C. have been, well, a bit underwhelming. As we awaited episode four, we were beginning to wonder if those lackluster ratings have less to do with the unsexy locale and more to do with the mostly simpering cast of characters Bravo's assembled this time around.
Sure, there have been sparks of life here and there: Frizz-haired Andrea never ceases to bring the sass. Headstrong Arnold can't give up feeling put-out by his snotty colleagues -- even as he snottily complains about barbecue grilling clogging his pores. And Alex -- well, Alex is one of the biggest jackasses the show has put in front of us in a long time. (Asked what he'd do with a Quickfire cash prize: "A hooker and an 8 ball, please!") But at least we loathe him, eagerly awaiting his every Andrew Dice Clay-ism. Did we mention he's from Hollywood?
But mostly it's been the Kenny and Angelo show, both to Top Chef's benefit and detriment. We hate Angelo and his ridiculous malapropisms (this week: "It's like you want to get out of the pool and the piranhas are biting you!"). But we have to say we kinda-sorta admire his "magazine cover food," to use guest judge Jonathan Waxman's description. Sure, it's not what we'd make -- like this week's marinated "beef slivers," everything he makes looks dainty and fussy, like it should be presented in lettuce cups or rice-paper baskets -- but it takes skill we can't deny.
And if we grudgingly admire Angelo, we find ourselves playing the apologist for the talented-if-not-quite-stunning Kenny. Just as overly confident but not as douche-y, Kenny serves up manly plates of food week after week, and talks a good game to boot. (We're 99% sure his blathering on about the "sodium level" of his short rib this week was an excuse, but it sure sounded good.)
But does anyone else have any skills to pay the bills, or are we stuck with several months' worth of episodes just to end up with a Kenny-Angelo showdown? Last night's fast-paced team challenge -- cook three meals fit for a Hilton hotel menu -- gave us hope that there might be some worthy challengers... Until, of course, the best ones ended up on the bottom rung.
Andrea and Kelly paired up to out short-rib the unstoppable Kenny, and did just that. Kelly, for all her inarticulate bluster, is quite the chef, and will stop at nothing to broadcast that fact. But when she's left to slow-cook meat, look out: their gremolata and shiitake mushrooms ended up being the perfect complement, and if we heard the judges say one more thing about their perfect glaze, we were going to glaze over ourselves. Despite having to be put through the paces -- ranking middle of the pack for breakfast and lunch -- they easily secured a dinner victory, and a win overall.
Tiffany can be alternately inventive and pedestrian, and on first glance, we thought her crab-cake benedict brunch dish was just that. But one taste from the judges indicated that she -- and her cohort Timothy -- nailed it, offering up the perfect balance of citrusy hollandaise and creole seasoning. And as for Tom's comment that it didn't need the potato hash that went with it -- when is bacon-laced hash ever unwanted?
Kenny, of course, pulled off a decent short rib, no thanks to his partner Kevin, who thought Kenny was adding too much horseradish (turned out there wasn't enough).
That left Arnold and Lynne, two of the most stubborn of a the bunch -- which on Top Chef is saying something. We know Arnold well, and admire his southeast-Asian influenced choices. Lynne has been harder to get to know -- a taciturn assistant professor at the CIA, we thought her "been there, done that" attitude meant she would go far.
Their choice of squid-ink pasta and red curry mussels sounded a bit dark for a hotel menu, a choice Arnold defended to the end. But his irreverence wasn't the judges problem; rather, it was the undercooked pasta, the timing of which Arnold and Lynne bickered about to no end -- or rather, to their end, as they were both send home. Ever-emotional Arnold had tears welling up in his eyes, but Lynne betrayed no real loss -- regretting only that she "let a young chef take the lead." It makes sense to us: Outside the cloistered world of the Top Chef studios, teachers like Lynne eat Arnolds for breakfast every day.