Photo: David Giesbrecht / Bravo
We're winding down on Top Chef. With five contestants and still no clear front-runner, anyone could go home. The tension is high. The challenges are ever-more bizarre. Padma is wearing a weird tuxedo-jacket-and-men's-necktie combo. And the need to get the hell away from the stifling thematic confines of Washington, D.C., are more apparent than ever.
The second man on the moon, Buzz Aldrin? NASA food scientists? Entrees meant to be freeze-dried and served in zero gravity? Really?
With just one elimination to go before a change of scenery, we were anxiously awaiting the announcement of the exotic locale. Apparently, we weren't the only ones.
"I tingle just thinking about it!" former front-runner Angelo gushed as Padma revealed the destination: Singapore. If there was any doubt that the semi-inappropriate, mangled-metaphor-loving Angelo of early episodes was long gone, his sound bites from this week confirmed that the man is back, in a big way: "I feel Asian inside, 100 percent!"
Um, no comment on that one. His cooking performance confirmed he's back, too: First he won the "wine pairing" Quickfire Challenge with black-salt topped foie gras that well-complemented an almost Riesling-sweet white wine.
Meanwhile, the laid-back, gracious and utterly cool Tiffany continued to make it look easy. No sommelier herself, she nonetheless was runner-up for the Quickfire, pairing a cocoa-crusted beef tenderloin with a caramel-y Shiraz.
That stage set, it was looking like a clear Angelo-Tiffany face-off for the elimination challenge. Even the usual death-knell signals -- the intimate chef interviews interspersed throughout the episode where someone waxes poetic about their spouse/child/dear departed mother -- were reserved for only three chefs: Kelly (she missed her husband), Angelo (missing his son), and Kevin ("I'm gonna keep fightin'," he said, in honor of his mother who survived off of life support for days).
And then something weird happened: There was Tiffany, being interviewed sporting a radically different haircut and reminiscing about the days when young ladies like herself weren't allowed into the IHOP kitchen.
No! It was like seeing the grim reaper appear over her shoulder. Worse, it was an obvious continuity gaffe that made us wonder just how long after this week's episode she was filmed (we didn't want to even think it was post-elimination). And when a key ingredient for her entree -- mussels for a curry-coconut fish broth -- froze to death in a too-cold fridge, we felt a different kind of chill enter the episode.
But surely, someone like the season-long spotty performer Kevin would produce a lesser dish, right? His sirloin and onion-ring combo was well-prepared, to be sure, but it sure as hell didn't look freeze-dry-able, and as guest Anthony Bourdain saliently pointed out, "It's Top Chef and you're using top sirloin?"
Mostly, Bourdain served the much-welcome function of taking down judge Eric "The Ripper" Ripert a notch or two. Calling Ripert out for his "dark, cynical and snarky worldview," Bourdain praised Angelo for his candied-ginger, juniper and breadcrumb-topped short rib. But even he couldn't swallow Angelo's gross, sexualized description of the meat-marinating process: "I made love to them," he gushed.
Bourdain also commended Ed on his Moroccan-inspired lamb shank and couscous croquette, which, of all the plates this week, looked the best to us. Similarly, Kelly knocked it out of the park with a lovely piece of halibut sitting astride an artichoke-fennel barigoule that made Ripert long for Provence.
When comeback-kid Angelo was announced the winner, that left Kevin and Tiffany -- the only two chefs with significant flaws in their dishes -- on the chopping block. The enthusiastic praise for all remaining chefs didn't help us much in sussing out who would go home. Sure, Tiffany's dish looked a little pedestrian compared to the others, but certainly the chefs would take into account her stellar performance all season.
Or not. With much hesitation and a furrowed-brow, Padma asked Tiffany to pack her knives, and Kevin praised the high heavens for being spared. If those of us at home were already picking our collective jaws up off the ground, it didn't help to see the normally ebullient Tiffany pushing away tears, explaining how being "so close" made it even worse. That goes for you and us both, Tiff -- now who are we going to root for?