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“Top Chef”: The challenge might have been a cold war, but tensions were simmering

3 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

SmartBrief’s Amanda Yeager tuned in to this week’s episode of “Top Chef D.C.”

This week’s episode featured drama of both the culinary and interpersonal varieties. An old rivalry resurfaced, current rivalries continued to heat up and, oh yeah, you can’t forget those duck testicles.

Quickfire: This round seemed to be all about creating as big of a shock/gross-out factor as possible by ambushing chefs with the most obscure and, frankly, unappetizing ingredients that could be found. Each cheftestant had to work with a different protein, ranging from emu eggs and duck “white kidneys” (er, testicles) to the comparatively mundane foie gras and frog legs. Part of the way through, they were ordered to switch ingredients with the person standing next to them — a lesson on the need to be flexible when cooking, if ever there was one.

Cold War challenge: In an eerily timely challenge (spies next door, anyone?), the cheftestants were split into two groups and taken for a cruise on the Potomac to plan meals that they would prepare and then serve to the other group for a peer review.

The theme of the challenge: cold food, and, as they say, revenge is a dish best served cold. Could that have been at play in this episode? Well, maybe not quite revenge, but the cheftestants did seem to put a lot of thought into who would be the best opponent to ax in order to create some “breathing room” for themselves. And even if the final decisions were made based on the quality of the food, it was curious that the bottom two had been a couple of the more consistently praised competitors. Hmmm.

Some takeaway lessons from the episode:

  • Keep a clear head in the kitchen. It turns out that the guest judge this week, Michelle Bernstein, a James Beard award-winning chef and owner of Michy’s in Miami, is an acquaintance of cheftestant Andrea Curto-Randazzo and something of a rival for her. The thought of being judged by Michelle on national television got under Andrea’s skin from the start and resulted in her dish getting called out as one of the bottom three in the quickfire challenge. She admitted that if she hadn’t been so preoccupied with her annoyance, she could have done a much better job.
  • Don’t get so carried away with creativity that you overwhelm a dish with flavor. A lot of cheftestants chose bold seasonings for their dishes as a complement to the cold food, which, done right, is a good plan. But Tamesha and Kenny proved that sometimes, a dish really can be too flavorful for its own good. The judges criticized Tamesha for using too many strong ingredients in her scallops with pickled rhubarbs, cilantro and basil jus, which also had powerful tastes of long pepper and ginger. The judges reprimanded Kenny for overpowering his lamb dish with about 25 ingredients.

One final thing to ponder from the episode: Conceptual vs. technical errors. Which are worse? Judge Tom Colicchio posed this question to Andrea during the peer review segment, when she was struggling to decide which bothered her more: the huge piece of gristle she found in Amanda’s chicken galantine or the lack of cohesion in Kenny’s dish. She went with the technical error, and Tom seemed to agree.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Image credit: Xaviarnau, via iStockphoto