Most of last week’s Top Chef D.C. post was me making fun of Amanda Baumgarten—one of this season’s two Jewish cheftestants—for serving middle-schoolers chicken in sherry jus. This week, it takes Amanda only to the opening Quickfire Challenge, a dessert competition, to start up with the alcohol again. “I decide to make an apple, rosemary, bourbon, and vanilla pie,” she says. But soon we will learn more about Amanda, and her apparent compulsion to serve booze gets a lot less funny. Just kidding! No, no I’m not.
The Quickfire guest judge is Johnny Iuzzini, a pastry chef who just so happens to be the host of the forthcoming Top Chef-esque Bravo series, Just Desserts. As Jack Donaghy would say, “Never badmouth synergy.”
Amanda’s apple pie is taking a turn for the savory. She is sauteeing her pommes like they’re pommes de terre. “I think that given that I’m not a pastry chef, I didn’t mess anything up too terribly,” she says as she presents her messy slice. “I think it’s kind of a cop-out to say you’re not a pastry chef,” Iuzzuni responds. “Like, my grandmother’s not a pastry chef, but she can make a pie.” And I’m not a professional asshole-detector, but I can still call you an asshole. How do you like them bourbon-soaked apples?
Meanwhile, Alex Reznik, the other Jewish chef, is making an almond crust with … something. “I see these almonds. I see this tapioca. I say, why not make a tapioca pie with an almond crust?” A Picasso, this guy. “I’ve never heard of this pie, I’ve never made this pie.” We’re about to find out why—right after one guy says watching Alex cook makes him laugh inside, and another calls him a slob with an “underdeveloped” thought process.
By the time the judges get to it, Alex’s almond crust is filled not only with tapioca but with white chocolate and chèvre, which is the French word for “goat cheese which incidentally does not belong in a tapioca pie”. And also, an egg! But the egg is unannounced. Maybe you’re supposed to guess that it’s there?
“Is there an egg in here?” Iuzzuni asks.
“There is,” Alex responds.
“So it’s more like a quiche.” Quiche Insane! And Alex is one of the two least favorites. Well done, dolt.
The Elimination Challenge is a picnic for Capitol Hill interns at Mount Vernon (Washington Slept There!). “A picnic challenge?” Alex is excited. “I’m excited.” Toldja. “Mount Vernon, never been. Home of Washington. Plus, I have never taken advantage of an intern.” Look creepier when you say that. Dare you.
At Whole Foods, Amanda is kind of acting like a crazy person, rampaging through the aisles. “Heaven help any women, children, or old people in my way,” she says. Then she confides: “I was out to lunch in my early twenties” (she’s 27 now). I hear that: One’s early 20s can be a tough, disorienting time. “I had a problem with cocaine, pills, and eventually anything I could get my hands on.”
Back to the kitchen, where, as if the Top Chef
gods producers had anticipated this morning’s write-up, the two Jews get into a fight.
AMANDA (carrying something heavy toward the oven): Whoa. Hey. Whose stuff is in this?
ALEX: I had it in there before anything was in there.
AMANDA: Yeah, but my name was on it.
ALEX: No it wasn’t.
AMANDA: Yes it was.
ALEX: No it wasn’t.
You can’t hear the rest of their bickering, because head judge Tom Colicchio has just walked in. Uh-oh. Tom has overheard all of this, and wants to know what’s going on. So he asks Amanda: What’s the deal? Are there labels on the ovens? “Well no,” she explains, “but generally, we label them. Prison rules.”
(Amanda has never actually been to prison, she says.)
Tom leaves, and Amanda is back to being a crazy person. “I hear Amanda running and screaming a lot,” says Tiffany, another cheftestant. “I have to stop looking at her cause she just starts stressing me out.” She’s stressing me out, and I’m just sitting in my apartment eating Indian take-out!
We’re back at the Kalorama mansion. Amanda is explaining that she’s going to serve ribs tomorrow, seared, braised with orange juice and red wine. Her fellow chefs want to know if she pulled the bones out?
The other chefs look like you have just told them that Paris, France, has up and moved its entire self to the mountains of Uzbekistan.
But don’t be fooled. Angelo—this season’s unusually subtle villain—insists that Amanda is very smart.
“But can she beat me?” he asks.
“She cannot beat me,” he answers.
I’m telling you, great villain.
We head to Mount Vernon. The guest judge is Jonathan Waxman, of Manhattan’s Barbuto. Never a dull moment for your Jewish-focused blogger!
Alex has grilled pork butt (sigh) with lemongrass glaze, and polenta and cucumber salad. “I wanna eat the ass out of this pig all day,” Alex says. No, please, be creepier. The lovely Gail Simmons is thrilled with Alex’s pork, she thinks it was brilliantly cooked; Waxman thinks his sauce was “a little on the sweet side. Throw a little habanero in there, have some fun, go for it!” Make it rain!
And what does Amanda have for us? Dry-rub baby back ribs (yup, more pork), grilled asparagus, bacon hazelnut vinaigrette. “I like Amanda’s rib much more than Tim’s ribs,” says the lovely Gail Simmons. “Grilled asparagus gets my heartstrings any day,” Waxman adds.
They are not the only effusive ones. Angelo—who, in addition to being the clear villain, is the contest’s clear frontrunner—says her dish is the best. “Even better than mine, to be honest with you.” He’s not just telling us. “Taste her ribs, man,” he tells other chefs, within her earshot. I guarantee you this is some crazy Machiavellian ploy to get in her head. God, what a wonderful nightmare.
But Angelo’s sinister machinations will have to wait for a future episode: Amanda is selected for the top four. “You killed me with the asparagus,” Waxman tells her. She beams. She glows. And she didn’t even need alcohol!
And I can’t tell if that’s supposed to be funny or heartwarming!
Earlier: Giving Booze to Kids