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This week on ‘Top Chef D.C.’

Marc Tracy
August 26, 2010

The episode opens with Ed inexplicably cross-dressing. Maybe this is a side to him we simply haven’t met yet? Or maybe he is acting out after New York Times restaurant critic Sam Sifton panned his TriBeCa restaurant, Plein Sud, yesterday? Ah, I’m just breaking balls, I know this was taped well before Ed was Sift-bombed. But still: “The cooking at Plein Sud reveals itself to be lacking in flavor, texture, temperature, or interest: Room-service fare that leads to increased loneliness, raiding of the minibar, sleepless hours staring at the television in blue light, thinking about home. … This is grim stuff.” Indeed!

Kelly says she is gunning for Amanda Baumgarten, our only remaining Jewish cheftestant, now that Alex “Creepball Weirdo” Reznik has left the building.

Oh, also, Angelo, generally Joe Cool, has been freaking out. “Angelo’s been really weird some times,” Amanda relates. “He talks to himself, and says mantras, like, ‘You’re gonna win,’ stuff like that,” but you can’t hear the rest, because Amanda is collapsing with laughter. The notion that any chef thinks he is going to win is understandably very, very funny to Amanda.

Quickfire Challenge! The guest judge is former Top Chef Masters winner Rick Moonen. And the challenge: Cook a food idiom—like take a saying involving food but make it an actual thing—and the winner’s dish will be made into a Schwan’s frozen meal. Choose among the following idioms: Bring Home the Bacon; Hide the Salami; Sour Grapes; Go Nuts; Big Cheese; Hot Potato; Spill the Beans; Bigger Fish to Fry; and Hung Like a Horse. Okay I made the last one up.

“I choose The Big Cheese,” says Amanda. “I don’t immediately know what I want to do with cheese, but I like cheese.” She likes the kind that gets all stringy. What’s it called? Oh right, String Cheese. That’s another food idiom. She quickly decides on macaroni and tomato sauce. Sorry, I meant macaroni and cheese. Cheese.

Oh look, Alex’s replacement.

“I think my dish might make a good Schwan’s frozen meal,” says Amanda, “because the mac and cheese out there—it’s a little lackluster.” Do anyone but Jews use the word “lackluster”? “I’m a macaroni and cheese aficionado,” she continues, “because before I was the age of 15, that was all I ate.” At 15, she switched to French bread pizza; 16 was the year of Sloppy Joe; and at 17, it was whatever she could find in the Dumpster outside her studio on the outskirts of Buffalo.

“I’m not a big fan of Amanda,” says Ed. “She’s annoying. She’s a slob.” Better than a snob, am I right? Say, Ed, how did Sam Sifton review your restaurant again? “There’s just no technique,” he continues. “I think she’s just been lucky the whole time she’s been here.” Jews don’t have luck, Ed—they have seichel. Unless their name is Amanda Baumgarten, in which case, yes, they have been quite lucky.

“A lot of people talk a lot of trash about Amanda, but I think she’s a dark horse,” Angelo rebuts. He has been singing this tune for awhile. “She’s actually very smart. And she just sleeks by everybody.”

Amanda is acting like a crazy person, but so is everyone else (except for even-keeled Kelly). It’s like they’ve all caught up with her? Or regressed back toward her? What’s the word you use when a bunch of people all start taking drugs? “Angelo’s a little crazy, right?” observes Amanda, clearly very appreciative. “Ed looks like he’s about to die. He’s making gnocchi in an hour. I look across the kitchen and all I see is sweat and a red face.” Ed, red-faced? Probably because of that review! OKAY I’LL STOP NOW.

“I made my favorite way to make macaroni and cheese,” Amanda tells the judges. It’s with bacon and jalapenos and … a massive pork chop on the side?

Um, really? Didn’t someone else get the “I’m Carrying So Much Pork, I’ve Got Trichinosis” food idiom? (Yes, it was Phil Gramm.) “So you kept it nice and light,” Rick Moonen says in a deadpan (I think he’s joking though).

“With mac and cheese, you either go big or go home,” Amanda responds. Do you really want to give me an opening like that? More to the point, do you really want to give the judges an opening like that?

Kelly’s is Moonen’s least favorite. Apparently brussels sprouts and concord grape purée don’t go well together. Who could have guessed? Oh and he also didn’t like Amanda’s! “It was kind of a like a sledgehammer to the gut.” But in a bad way, you see.

Amanda would like to take issue with that assessment! “For the first time, I disagree with them,” she tells the camera of the judges. Which means that all the myriad other times this season that the judges have told her something of hers sucks, she has assented.

Moonen loves Kevin’s Bring Home the Bacon, which is super-unfair, because bacon is really delicious (I’m told). He also loves Ed’s gnocchi. Who’s red-faced now? And Ed wins! Vindication! Gnocchi with mushrooms and some herbs is now going to be flash-frozen and distributed to thousands of supermarkets throughout the land, courtesy of Schwan’s. Angelo notes that this is appropriate because Ed’s face looks like a potato. See?

Oops, wrong photo. Gimme one more try.


“For your Elimination Challenge,” says Padma Lakshmi, “you’ll be cooking for one of the oldest sports institutions in the country. We’re taking you out to the ballgame!” Yes, the Washington Nationals, a truly old and venerable franchise (Website here: founded in 1969. That’s so old! Like Madonna-old!

They’ll be serving high-end concession stand food, as a single team, making at least six dishes. Which is nuts, because if you’re at Nats Stadium, you’re going up against Ben’s. You’re screwed. They make amazing chili, and the half-smoke dog—half beef, half pork—is delicious (I’m told).

Amanda is scared of the team-y nature of the challenge. It positively teams with peril! “The last team challenge did not go well,” she recalls. Cue sepia-toned flashback: I see dead people! Spooooooooon!

Is Alex Reznik the Ghost of Top Chef Future, or Past? At first, the remaining cheftestants seem to be getting along better, maybe because one of the alpha dogs (Kenny) is gone and the other (Angelo) has gotten a lobotomy off-camera. Kelly seems to be the one in control now.

“I would love to do something cold, using crab,” Amanda says. If only there were some typical dish that used cold crabmeat.

“I’m thinking some sort of crabcake,” Kelly replies. Right, that’s it. Then she adds, “Can you go fish instead of shellfish?” Kelly, we’re trying to plan a meal, not play a children’s card game! Oh, wait, you meant Amanda should cook fish. Amanda, what say you?

“Yeah … yeah.” Kelly proceeds to make a crabcake instead. Hey, Kelly, you suck!

Walking out, a few folks shout their favorite teams’ names. “Go Red Sox.” “Go Phillies.” “Go Dodgers.” Oh, good, only two out of the three most annoying fanbases are represented—presumably Yankees fans are too busy enjoying their team being good and cheering an anti-Semitic tenor during the seventh inning stretch. (Seriously, though, has everyone else noticed that Phillies fans are the new Red Sox fans? Some teams just aren’t meant to win championships, you know. Really, the Yankees should just win every year so that they can give our lives meaning with the cleansing power of hate.)

“I wanna make a statement, so I’m going to make a tuna tartare,” Amanda announces. Fine. But then she tells us that she is tartaring—yes, it’s suddenly a verb, too—the day before rather than the day of; seasoned Top Chef viewers (no pun intended), confronted with the producers’ revealing this otherwise-random detail, should be able to sense nascent catastrophe. “I don’t want to have a temperature-sensitive mise en place project when I walk into a kitchen that I’ve never seen before,” is how Amanda justifies her tartarrible decision. Pride and the gratuitous use of pretentious French phrases cometh before a fall.

Meanwhile, Ed is going crazy! Angelo calls him the Tasmanian devil. “He’s yelling at Tiffany,” recounts Amanda, “he’s out of control. You fall victim to the pressure, then you’re not going to make good decisions, and you can be sent home for that.” Oh, the expert! Wait, she actually is the expert on this subject.

Back at the Kalorama manse, the chefs suddenly realize that they may have to take orders in addition to cooking. This could pose problems. Hilarious problems! Sexy problems! Actually, probably just hilarious ones. And then Angelo steps up and says he’s going to do it. Dunh-dunh-dunnnnnnh.

Woo, go Nats! “The Nationals Park is amazing,” says Kevin (it’s alright, it’s no Camden Yards), “you can tell that it’s brand-new” (it’s three years old).

Hey, why is Mr. Clean on the show and dressed like a hipster?

And we have a few players to join us before the game. Ladies and gentlemen, playing first base, and second in the National League in home runs, Adam Dunn! And pitcher Matt Capps, our one All-Star whom we traded shortly thereafter ☹, and pitcher John Lannan, who once wrote a great song called “Imagine.” (Unfortunately, Jason Marquis, the Nats’ Jewish pitcher, doesn’t show. Marquis’s ERA this season is 8.79. That’s not one of my exaggerated-y jokes. Jason Marquis is in fact giving up one earned run per inning.)

Kelly thinks the ballplayers are cute—apparently she doesn’t care about atrocious facial hair. “They are the largest men I think I’ve seen,” says Amanda, straining to remember them all. (That was a little mean. Bad Marc.) “All I can think of,” she adds, “is, ‘You, get the hell out of here.’ You and your tree trunks.” I just transcribe it, folks.

Back to the food. “As time is ticking down,” says Amanda, “I notice my tuna’s not red, it’s a little gray.” Dear catastrophe!

“She should’ve put oil on it so it doesn’t oxidize,” Angelo tells us, like it’s something any basic professional chef would know. Which it probably is.

The ballplayers come by and order one of each—Lannan and Capps, because I assume they’re not pitching that day; and Dunn, because he is old-school and awesome (he sticks his finger into the tartare and chomps it off: Sweet). Dunn says he wants a second of Tiffany’s meatball sandwiches to eat around the sixth inning. God I love ballplayers.

Kelly has crab cake, and used Old Bay, which gets points in my book; Tiffany has an Italian meatball sub; Angelo has sweet glazed pork on lobster roll (sort of like a Momofuku bun); Kevin is offering chicken kabob with shoestring fries; Ed’s got shrimp and corn fritters. Amanda? Yellowfin tuna tartare with fennel, meyer lemon and fava bean purée. One of these things is not like the other … .

Amanda further acknowledges that it is slightly risky to serve gray tuna tartare to Eric freakin’ Ripert. “But I actually really like the flavor,” she adds. Which means that if the judges don’t like the flavor, she will yet again be forced to take the bold step of registering her profound disagreement with the panelists behind their backs. “Hopefully, the judges are going to be judging first and foremost on the taste,” emphasis hers. Judges, take it away!

“I’m going to tell you something, man,” Moonen tells Padma (who is technically not a man, but we’ll let it slide). “Raw fish at a stadium: That takes some baseballs.”

Eric Ripert, how do you like it? “I really don’t want to eat a tartare with the color of the tuna being so gray.” He is judging by the color of its skin, not the content of its character, and we know what that means. Tom has some praise for her vegetables, though. The judges seem to be liking all the dishes. Except some people have some minor schtick with Kevin’s kabob. And they hate Angelo’s use of a hot dog roll.

Interlude! Angelo is talking to his fiancée, who lives in Russia! They have only met a few times! But they talk every night for “like five, six hours”! This is not at all creepy! Here is a picture of her!

Then they show Adam Dunn hitting a home run later that night. Go Nats!

Back to Judges’ Table. Ed is the winner! Sam Sifton, what say you now? Whoa, and he gets a trip to Australia? I want to win an Elimination Challenge.

Now it’s time for the fails, and for the judges to decide who is the epic-est of them. “When you put too much air with the fish, it oxidizes and becomes black,” Ripert explains to Amanda after Tom is done praising her vegetables. She knows, she knows. Tom says she should have tartared (there’s that verb again) on the day of. Kevin’s kabob was hard to eat, and the fries became soggy. Oops. They nitpick on Kelly’s crabcake, but she’s clearly not going home. Angelo’s problem was the bread. “The proportion of bread to everything that’s inside it is so important,” Tom insists. It’s math.

Now the chefs have returned to the pantry, and Ripert is still complaining about Kevin’s kabob. “The skewer for me was too long, and it was touching the bottom of my mouth,” he says. (Good thing this is a family blog!) Plus the fries were stupid. Kevin’s in trouble.

But then there is Amanda. “I was offended by the color of the product,” says Ripert. This is what he looks like when he’s offended.

Yet Tom is still standing up for the vegetables! And he likes the concept.

Finally, Angelo. That spongy, soggy bread!

The chefs are back. “Unfortunately, you made a few errors,” Tom tells them, and I’m actually not positive the pun is intended. Whom is going to be pinch-hit for? Whom is the manager going to yank from the mound? Some third baseball metaphor?

Wow. I mean, opposite of “wow,” but also, wow. 1, 2. Two weeks, two Jews go, and suddenly none are left. “Thank you guys so much, this has been an awesome opportunity,” is Amanda’s sign-off.

And it’s mine too.

Aww, just kidding. There may not be any more Jews, but we still have a blog to fill. See you next week!

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