Photo: David Giesbrecht / Bravo
Is it just us, or does Kenny say something about his "beast" on every episode of Top Chef? After a few sad rounds of this self-proclaimed "alpha dog" scoring distinctly in the middle of the pack, this week he informed us it was, again, "time to unleash The Beast."
And if ever one needs to unleash his inner beast, it's during the Restaurant Wars episode. We look forward to this annual Top Chef ritual more than we do our own birthdays (especially at this age), and there was plenty this week that had us licking our chops. Even the preview teased us with capital-letter adjectives: Drama! Fights! Gross incompetence!
We knew we were in for something special when the teams, chosen during the Quickfire challenge, pitted the two early front runners against each other: Sniveling Angelo and Kenny, acting as executive chefs of each team. "The Beast versus the best," Kenny observed, although we wondered if that statement wasn't more than a little hyperbolic -- and premature.
Angelo's arrogant, evil-genius profile has mellowed over the last few weeks, whether due to editing or good medication, but Restaurant Wars gave him an opportunity to be presented as a barking, yelling control freak all over again, and we relished the return.
He and teammates Tiffany and Ed spared no opportunity to mitigate the contributions of sleazy Alex -- first taking over his butchering of the meats and fish (what was up with all those scales and bones -- is he trying to sabotage everyone?), then relegating him to a position front-of-house, where Alex got to feel bigger by acting like even more of an ass than he usually is to the servers and guests.
The Top Chef editors went out of their way to portray Team Angelo as a hurricane of late prep, frantic plating and last-minute recooking. In contrast, Team Kenny was a model of zen cool: their prep done way ahead of time, the professional Kelly working front-of-house (wearing what looked like a minimalist, gray potato sack), servers invited to taste and learn about the dishes... Not that, to hear the judges tell it, they were dishes worth learning about.
And therein lay the problem: Team Kenny simply didn't execute on their vision. Kelly's crab and corn chowder was watery and flavorless. (And she didn't even get bonus points for her awesome-looking salted-chocolate ganache!) Kenny's complicated beet salad was a mess of ingredients, prompting guest judge Frank Bruni to scold that someone needed to go all "Coco Chanel" on it and remove an accessory or two.
At least Kenny's bud Kevin served up a breathtaking piece of halibut, dressed in fennel fronds and served in a fennel marmalade. But even this couldn't detract from Amanda's wood-cooked strip steak, which was too dry and lifeless to win anyone's love.
Meanwhile, the hot mess that was Team Angelo pulled it together. Tiffany suffered a minor faux pas with her over-seasoned black bass crudo, but they bounced back with Ed's turbot with eggplant caviar, a dish so tasty, it left everyone wanting more. Even Alex didn't, um, totally embarrass them. That's about the best we can say.
When Team Angelo pulled off a win -- with Ed taking top honors for this flawless turbot -- that's when things got really weird. Let's just say two hotheads like Kenny and Kevin don't take constructive criticism well, and when told of their shortcomings, the first person they could think of to blame was someone on the other team -- Alex. Sure, his team basically put him in a corner while they redid his work, but is that any excuse for a pretentious plate of beets?
It all devolved into shouting in the waiting room as Team Kenny awaited the verdict: The alpha dog would be put to sleep. As Kenny packed his knives, he couldn't help but try to resurrect "The Beast" references one more time, but you could tell his heart wasn't in it. His head may be ever so slightly bigger than his talent, but Kenny is one egotist we can honestly say we're going to miss.