Top Chef DC Recap: Out Of The Lunch Box, Into The White House Fire

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This is a Recap of Top Chef D.C. (Top Chef Season 7), Episode 2, entitled “Outside The Lunchbox”, originally airing June 23, 2010. If you read on without having seen the episode, I will spoil for you that Angelo did not actually rip off his a-hole-chef mask and turn out to be the world’s nicest man.

Ed kicks off Week 2 with the speech he wrote for his Intro To Reality Shows 101 class: “Too bad about John, but I’m here to win, so, it is what it is.” You’re here to win, you say? Most people go on reality shows to have their parking validated, and to make friends, in that order.

The good news – with John out of the way, we’re down to just 7300 remaining chefs:

Yes, that’s an actual shot of the remaining chefs, not one of those “All The Simpsons Characters”-style dorm posters with every Top Chef contestant ever, and also Scarface.

This week’s Quickfire Challenge: Make a BI-PARTI-SANDWICH. Yes, really. We’re only in Week Two, and that’s how far they’re stretching for puns. This is a slippery slope, people…

Week 3 Quickfire: Dish-trict of Cucumbers-ria

Week 9 Quickfire: The Taste-Sensation of Inde-peanuts

Week 14 Quickfire: President Cook Food

White House Assistant Chef Sam Kass explains that in Washington D.C., as in cooking, sometimes you need to wear a giant novelty apron with another person and cook with one hand. It’s so true — I’ll never forget the tear that came to my eye when congress reconvened after September 11th and everyone managed to toss their petty differences aside and put on giant novelty aprons and cook with one hand across the aisle. In retrospect, this was an enormous waste of time that greatly threatened our National Security, but man, did congress nail some sandwiches that day.

After the jump, Quickfire tension boils over into an Elimination Challenge that’ll have you saying “Holy Washington D.C., that is one WHITE HOUSE of a not really a surprise!”

The chefs kick off the Quickfire with another always-thrilling knife-draw — the Top Chef equivalent of showing a doorknob turning in a student film — and proceed to perfectly channel the Washington ideal of bipartisanship by cooking in a handicapped three-legged-race fashion, as all truly great chefs must do. Wolfgang Puck used to cook while sitting in a carnival dunk tank, and I don’t hear HIM complainin’, dag gummit!

Week 1 Runner-Up Kenny manages to pair with Ed to make an unfair righty-lefty combo, but they ultimately prove to be no match for the Bipartisan Machine that is Angelo & Tracey:

Angelo and (by proxy) Tracey win the Quickfire with a redundant fish sandwich with fish sauce, giving Angelo his third victory in as many challenges. The other chefs aren’t too happy, and shoot Angelo some glares:

Can Angelo keep his winning streak alive in the Elimination Challenge? We already know the answer to this, but I figured I’d throw that cliffhanger in there, in case radio serials start coming back into fashion and push blogs out the door. I need it on my résumé.

For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs must design a healthy, low-cost meal for a middle school cafeteria, a particularly pressing issue nowadays ever since Jamie Oliver’s show went on a competing network. Each group of 4 has a budget of $130, or $2.60 per kid, minus four dollars for labor or something (Sam subtracted only $4 for labor? Was that to simulate the school hiring 1910s immigrant mill workers?)

Before we launch into the Elimination Challenge, Bravo hits us up with some more iconic D.C. B-Roll…

There’s the Jefferson Memorial:

The Iwo Jima Memorial:

And the Washington Sleeping Woman:

Angelo and Kenny end up on the same team, which is kind of like what would happen in a super hero movie if the hero said “yes” during the obligatory scene where the villain is like, “Team up with me, Hero! Just think – with our two minor radioactive powers combined, we can rule the world!!!” Turns out, their team isn’t actually that good, especially after Angelo mayyybe sabotages his own meal, and Kenny and Ed narrowly escape elimination. Clearly, Angelo’s earpiece relaying the Bravo Producer yelling at him “BE THE VILLAIN!” is functioning perfectly.

Elsewhere, Team Kelly is debating whether children prefer gnocchi, something with feta cheese, or carnitas pork tacos. I kept waiting for someone to man up and just make pizza with chicken fingers on it and win easily, but they seemed determined to keep suggesting things that 8th graders don’t eat. I personally didn’t really get into gnocchi til summer before 9th, when I’d eat it while quoting Independence Day, and without the gnocchi.

Kelly raises a minor Top Chef red flag when she and Arnold argue over her being too selfish, but this is vastly overshadowed by Jacqueline making the A-Number One Top Chef Chartoppin’ Hit Mistake With A Bullet: “I messed up this dish, so I’ll try to fix it with this awful, awful solution and hope the judges don’t notice.” Factor in the “testimonials shot after the show” theory, where you can often tell how contestants did based on their voice and defensiveness during their testimonial footage, and we’ve got ourselves an early candidate for elimination! (“Candidate” = 25 Washington Points for me!)

Back at the house, Tracey delivers the backhandedly touching sentiment, “Kids are so much more important to me now that I have one in my life. I used to think they were just little d*cks that ruined plane flights, but they’re like, totally alive!” Too bad she didn’t earn immunity from being an A-Hole! Up top!

The chefs present their food to the kids, who appear to mostly like it, and also really want to hug Padma (You an’ me both, kids!!! Up top! I’m still up top from before!) The judges rave over Kelly’s team’s dishes (Psycheeed y’all outttt! The team tension was NOTHING! – Bravo) because if there’s one thing that middle school kids love to eat and always talk about wanting to eat and definitely know what it is, it’s carnitas. That and boner jokes. Carnitas is practically the boner jokes of food. Kelly tells the kids this, and this is why she wins.

The Bottom Four: Kenny, Ed, Amanda, and Jacqueline

While waiting backstage, Angelo arbitrarily throws Kenny under the bus:

Kenny is Dr. Cutz, so he’s not going anywhere, Ed’s sweet potato puree dish was spicy and weird but “not a bad restaurant dish,” and Amanda’s use of sherry on skinless chicken was gross and yielded plenty of way-too-foreseeable “you’re literally forcing kids to funnel vodka!” complaints, but it wasn’t gross enough to do her in this week (there’ll be plenty of time to eliminate her next week).

In the end, Jacqueline went home for her crappy pudding. The fact that I have never typed the words “crappy” and “pudding” next to one another seems to confirm this ruling in and of itself. And I type the word “pudding” a lot.

Episode thoughts? Is Angelo the clear favorite, or the clear a-hole? Who’s going home next? Other terrible D.C. pun challenge ideas? Leave ‘em in the comments!