Top Chef Recap
Foreign Affairs
By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis
August 10, 2010

Why did it have to be Argentina?

First things first. BOP wants to congratulate Jason Lee for his strong performance at his World Championships. We know he was a little disappointed, but that's because he's such a strong competitor that he becomes frustrated any time he doesn't win. We hope he enjoys the rest of his time in Norway.

Previously on Top Chef, someone stole someone else's pea puree, and the cameraman missed it. The cheater was punished by winning the challenge. That'll learn him. Also, Andrea was eliminated, and we may or may not be upset about that depending on which one Andrea was. Seriously, there have been some lousy contestants this year, and there are about four more we wouldn't mind seeing gone.

The episode starts with Kelly in that same reality competition situation we see from time to time, wherein she misses her friend and laments her elimination, but is relieved that she wasn't punished for her own mistakes. We'd put Kelly in the middle of the pack, not one who desperately needs to go, but also not someone who we think has a realistic chance of winning the competition.

As for the pea puree, it's still the focus of the conversation. None of the chefs, including Ed - whose dish is the one that went missing - wants to believe that a competitor would steal a dish. However, it's a little unlikely that they'd do the same dish. A number of commenters have said that it would be very difficult for Alex to have created the dish in the time he was allotted, but Tom Colicchio has said it can be done. It bears noting that even Ed has said after the fact he's not sure what happened and can't be certain that his own pea puree wasn't inadvertently thrown away. The good news is that if we are going to talk about Peagate, the subject matter isn't what you think it might be.

Today's episode is Tiffany focused. She's talking about the fact that she took time out from her wedding planning to compete on Top Chef. Given her performance so far, we think she made the right choice. Tiffany has finished in the top group three times and has yet to finish in the bottom set. The Kenny/Angelo feud has dominated the first half of the season, yet she has quietly demonstrated that she is in the conversation for strongest contestant.

The Quickfire features Marcus Samuelsson, the current reigning champion of Top Chef Masters. The challenge has the contestants cooking Ethiopian cuisine, a style of cooking that only a few of them have executed. The winner will receive immunity, and Tiffany thinks that would be "awesome!" She's never won a Quickfire, and now sure would be a great time to come out on top.

Angelo is confident, because he used to serve Ethiopian cuisine. Kenny points out that Ed and himself are the only two other chefs who have similar experience with the flavors. We're not sure if this gives them an advantage, as it's possible more will be expected of them if they bring it up. Angelo does get the best compliment of the three as Marcus is tasting the dishes. The Top Chef Master asks Angelo, "Are you sure you're not born Ethiopian?"

Overall, Marcus is generally pretty positive about the results from the contestants. He's such an upbeat presence in the kitchen. He does have to choose some dishes that were disappointing, though. He tells Kevin that his dish was a little too shy, which leads Kevin to remark that he's been at the top of the heap and the bottom of the pile an equal number of times. Worrying about his own inconsistency, he realizes he needs to step it up. Also on the bottom were Stephen and Alex, whose dishes were both dry and not juicy enough.

Marcus's favorites included Amanda's goat and potatoes, as well as Angelo, whose familiarity with Ethiopian cooking was obvious and served him well. Finally, we have Tiffany, whose hearty flavors were so strong that she earned the victory. Tiffany doesn't need to worry about going home at the next elimination.

Tonight's Elimination Challenge is wildly ambitious to the point where we're worried about potential train wrecks. Padma and Marcus bring in a world map, with nine countries highlighted. Each chef will create a dish represented by the flavors of one of the countries on the map. They'll make 100 portions of their dish and serve them to diplomats, ambassadors and world dignitaries, many of whom are hoping to find a taste of their homeland. Oh, and one other thing. There will be no stoves. The chefs will have only sternos to cook their food.

Did we say train wreck? We meant international incident.

The chefs draw knives to decide what order they will choose their country. The assignments are as follows:

Tiffany - Mexico
Kelly - Italy
Amanda - France
Kenny - Thailand
Alex - Spain
Angelo - Japan
Kevin - India
Ed - China
Stephen - Brazil

It seems to us that Stephen has a bit of a raw deal, because Brazilian cuisine isn't exactly something that seems well-known. He's already near the bottom of the heap, as far as we're concerned, so this might be a big challenge for him.

The chefs all scramble to compose original dishes in the spirit of their country, and Tiffany notes that while it's nice and cozy to have immunity, she totally wants to win this elimination. She's becoming quite the fiery competitor, and her fellow contestants probably need to keep an eye on her if they don't want to be dominated.

Ed tells us that Alex is a giant spaz in the kitchen, and the editing reinforces this as the bald, weird chef trips and almost knocks himself out by falling head first into the side of an oven. None of the other chefs have much respect for him, and we honestly have to agree based on what we've seen so far.

Tonight's guest judge is José Andrés, who hails from Spain and is the chef/owner of Minibar and Jaleo (among others). He files in with the regular judges, and Marcus returns as well, looking adorable in a chapeau.

The dishes have been tasted and the chefs head to the stew room, where Stephen is frustrated by his performance in the challenge. He realizes that he burned his rice and frets about the strong possibility that he'll be in the bottom three.

Padma arrives and requests to see Kevin, Tiffany and Kelly. The judges tell Tiffany that her tamale honored Mexico and was surprisingly moist and a delicious morsel. They acknowledge that Kevin faced a very tough challenge because he was unfamiliar with Indian cooking, but rather than try to make an authentic dish without any real knowledge, he instead adapted it to create something that was inspired by that nation's cuisine. Padma's compliments in particular are meaningful, because she admires the food that was based on cooking preparations from her home land. Finally, Kelly's dish was more true to Italy rather than taking a more creative approach, but it was done so well that they had to laud her abilities.

When it comes time to chose a winner, José names Tiffany as the best of the best for this challenge. In a surprise, they award her $10,000, which she says will pay for her wedding. Additionally, Top Chef and their sponsors match this amount with a donation to José's favorite charity, which touches him a lot. He really seems like a sweetheart.

We have to comment here on Tiffany's recent performance. She's really been stepping it up, doing more than just talking about making good food. She's also delivering on what she says she can do. She's very creative in her dishes and never takes the obvious route. Meanwhile, it seems to us that Angelo talks a lot but isn't winding up on top as much as he thinks he should be. The same goes for Kenny, even though we do like him.

The winners have to give the bad news to the bottom three, and send Stephen, Alex and Ed to Judges Table. Starting with Stephen, he is told that his rice was indeed terrible and overcooked. Tom tells him that his meat was also lacking in juiciness, the second time Stephen has had that problem in two challenges. For Alex's dish, José comments that he had been so looking forward to food from Spain, his native country, but it instead turned out to be "a little nightmare." Alex says that perhaps he got too complex with the dish, but Tom tells him that the flavors were just terrible, and there was nothing that reminded him of Spain on the dish. Finally, Ed's dish promised sweet and sour flavors, but they just weren't there. He also failed to render the fat from his duck, which Ed says he realizes and wishes he'd done a better job.

After discussing the failures of the three anti-finalists, Tom comments that any of the three of them could go home and be deserving. In the end, though, cooking bad rice will get you kicked off Survivor, let alone Top Chef. Stephen is in fact told to pack his knives, and he's very bummed to be going home because of a lapse in his cooking techniques. He has a good attitude about his experience, saying that of all the people they could have chosen to compete on the show, Top Chef selected him. He's honored to have had the opportunity. It's a shame everyone can't go out with such positive statements.

Next week: Restaurant Wars! And it looks *extremely* intense. Let's see who fights amongst themselves and who prevails.