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You’re Tearing Me Apart, Maryland!

This week on ‘Top Chef D.C.’

Marc Tracy
July 15, 2010

As a Marylander, I am sworn to crabs, particularly Chesapeake Bay blues; as a Jew, well, they are trayf. My solution has been to eat the crabs but hold the pork (I’ve heard this called “New Orleans kosher,” but it works for us Maryland Jews—who include such luminaries as Karl Shapiro! and David Brooks!—as well). Tonight, my dual loyalties will be tested again.

The Quickfire Challenge is this: Cook crabs, and make them good. And the guest judge is Patrick O’Connell, of the legendary, and outrageously delicious, Inn at Little Washington.

Okay, who’s going to be the one to make the joke? “Well, I had crabs,” says Angelo, this season’s resident villain. “So it just brought back bad memories.” Dude.

Everyone goes to work, slicing and dicing, in some cases while the critters are still alive. “There’s crabs everywhere, it’s flying all over,” says Alex Reznik, one of two Jewish cheftestants. “I got crab shit everywhere.” I usually pull for the Jews, but tonight I’m rooting for Tim, who hails from Baltimore, and therefore knows his way around a crab. “That’s the star,” he says. “Give it the microphone, and let it sing.”

Question: Do you think the crabs know that when the chef pours Old Bay on them, it’s basically T minus 45 seconds from there?

Amanda, the other Jewish cheftestant, announces that she is going to prepare her crabs with Sauterne. Yes, of course you are.

“Wow,” says host Padma Lakshmi upon tasting Amanda’s.

“Is that a wow, yes, yummy?” asks Amanda hopefully.

“It’s pungent,” is Padma’s response. On the list of things chefs don’t want to hear from their eaters, I believe “It’s pungent” ranks immediately below “I think I just ate a piece of your own skin.” Amanda’s dish is one of Patrick’s two least favorites. The other? Tim’s! And Tim now looks like he is going to cry! Now I’m maybe going to cry! (Meanwhile, the winner is Ed, who happily exclaims afterward, “I feel like I’m coming out of my shell a little bit.” You did not just say ‘coming out of my shell’ after a crab challenge!)

The main challenge will see all the contestants presenting a single family-style meal for a couple dozen people. They will be cooking and serving at a Virginia farm from which all the produce and meat comes.

But first, at the chefs’ Kalorama manse, there is a debate over how the gigantic amoeba of a team should be organized, with Angelo and Kenny, who have arguably been the two best chefs thus far, duking it out over … well, it’s not quite clear what the substance of their argument is, but it is pretty clear that the real disagreement is basically over whose is bigger. “Who is the bigger alpha male?” Bravo asks viewers of Angelo and Kenny during a commercial break, directing them to an Internet poll. In a lighter segment, several other chefs reveal their nicknames for Kenny, who is as lovable as Angelo is evil and Alex is creepy. “Black Magic,” recites Amanda. “Black Lightning. The Black Angus.” Why, yes, Kenny is African-American. Why do you ask?

Kenny asks the group if everyone just wants to work with the same partner from the previous episode (in which two chefs, constituting one team, were eliminated). Everyone raises their hands, including Ed. Ed then proceeds to lower his hand, with words: “I’m up for working with somebody else. I mean, no offense,” he adds, looking at his partner from last time. “I’m game for anything.” His partner from last time? That would be Alex. Awkward!

Ed proceeds to confide in the viewer. “I didn’t really care to work with Alex again,” he says. “He’s just annoying.” Don’t worry, Ed, your secret’s safe with us.

Amanda, meanwhile, is concerned that they will end up with “six separate starches on the table,” but I think she counts vodka as a starch because you make it with potato.

They arrive at the farm. Amanda is going to do a vegetable minestrone. “I’m trying to have a nice, robust, rustic flavor,” she says. Alex and Ed are stuffing a filet with ratatouille, probably because Alex saw that movie. Tamesha, Angelo’s partner and would-be love interest, is doing a cherry compote. “It’s very luscious and tart, and it’s just super-sexy,” he says. (At this point, I think the producers are basically obliged to inform Tamesha of Angelo’s cancrine history.) He adds, of the protein he is cooking up, “I basically made love to that duck, to be honest with you.” We appreciate your candor, and are duly making a mental note to not make love to that same duck.

But back to Amanda’s soup, which, in case you are not a subscriber to Amanda’s Daily Crazy Bulletin Journal, is awesome. “Progresso, eat your heart out!” she says, because alienating the show’s sponsors is a strategy for success. “I think I’m good enough, strong enough, fast enough,” she tells the viewers. “I think I should win something, eventually.”

The judges sit down. Eric Ripert is rocking the scarf and blazer look; Patrick has got a crazy-loud-plaid jacket working just fine for him. Amanda’s country vegetable minestrone, with smoked tomato broth, has a “shocking rusticity,” according to Patrick. “I don’t want carrots to be so hard,” Eric complains. Head Judge Tom Colicchio wonders why the leeks are so small. Uh-oh.

Alex and Ed’s dish is basically fine, although it does lead to this wonderful exchange:

RIPERT: The quality of the meat is exceptional. I’m not a fan of stuffing the meat with ratatouille in the middle, because it doesn’t bring anything to the meat.

O’CONNELL: We learned that stuffing technique from the French, by sticking the truffle in the center!

RIPERT: Truffle is different from ratatouille!

Ahahah! Vee are such charming brilliant chefs!

To Judges’ Table. The winner is Kenny, whose eggplant curry scores big even with Padma (“That’s high praise, cause usually she’s tough on curries,” Tom says, prompting every regular Top Chef viewer to roll their eyes and nod vigorously). Kenny also wins the alpha male poll, 63 percent to 37.

And Amanda and Tim, the Quickfire bottom two who tonight are conveniently representing the two equally maligned sides of my own identiy, are in the bottom three (along with Stephen, who I’m fairly certain is an eight-year-old in a 40-year-old’s body).

“It was grandmotherly, as though grandma might have done it with her axe,” says Patrick of Amanda’s soup, perhaps unaware that Amanda’s grandmother was likely more a borscht than a minestrone type. Amanda chopped her vegetables about as well as you or I would, which leads to this amazing, catechism-like exchange:

TOM: When we cook, why do we cut things uniformly?

AMANDA: So they all cook the same way.

TOM: Why did you not cut things uniformly?

AMANDA Yeah [inaudible].

Not the most dogmatically rigorous response; it looks like Amanda may get excommunicated. Padma sums it up: “It felt amateurish.”

But Amanda is not the one who will go home. Everybody say bye-bye—bye-bye!—to Tim, the Marylander. Sad-face. Tonight’s result was bad for my state pride, but good for my Thursday morning blogging gig.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.