Top Chef Season 7: Covert Cuisine, Episode 10

With the departure of Kenny, I wasn't looking forward to this episode of Top Chef. I thought it would be all about Angelo and his ego. And in a way it was; just not the usual bragging and posturing. Dude seemed off his game last night. What was consistent in this episode was Alex-bashing. He has emerged as the human soccer ball of Top Chef in terms of being kicked around by so many people.

For the Quickfire Challenge, the judge was Wylie Dufresne, from Top Chef Masters. The cheftestants were given identical mystery boxes and told to prepare a meal using those ingredients. Tiffany wasn't too thrilled with the task, however: "I don't like surprises and I don't like this challenge. I'm feeling this nervous energy. I'm just trying to stay calm and not freak out too much." It was also announced that the winner would take home $10,000. Then we learned an odd bit of trivia about Angelo, namely that he has a fiancé in Russia who needs a visa. Can we say mail order bride?

The first mystery box contained a whole fish, fava beans and an unlabeled can, which turned out to be hominy. For once on this season, Angelo looked lost. He couldn't decide whether to do a hot or cold dish. Then, another mystery box arrived with squid and black garlic. Just when everyone seemed thoroughly confused, another mystery box showed up with ramps and passion fruit. The last mystery box, and they were flying in pretty fast by now, contained jicama. Amanda whined, "I'm trying to roll with the punches, although there are several of them." The chefs were literally cooking until the last minute and looked exhausted. Normally cool Angelo was sweating into his food. Gross.

Alex's rockfish with fava bean puree, ramp fondue and sautéed squid

did not impress Wylie, who questioned whether his ramp has been cooked.

On the other hand, Tiffany's fish stew with hominy, fava beans, saffron

and black garlic received an enthusiastic nod from Wylie. Kelly, Kevin

and Angelo's dishes were generally well-received, while Amanda was

called out for her "oily" crispy skin striped bass, squid fricassee,

leek and mushroom fondue.

Predictably, Alex and

Amanda were on the bottom of the Quickfire Challenge. Tiffany and Kevin

were on top, with Tiffany taking home the $10,000.


the Elimination Challenge, Padma threw out a lot of puns about national

security and secret agents. Okay, we get it, the cheftestants are going

to have cook for the CIA. Better yet, they had to take a classic dish

and disguise it 007-style. Everyone drew knives to pick their entrée and

they were French onion soup (Amanda), chicken cordon bleu (Ed), beef

wellington (Angelo), kung pao shrimp (Kelly), gyro (Tiffany), cobb salad

(Kevin) and veal parmesan (Alex).

When the

cheftestants found out they would be cooking for the head of the CIA,

Leon Panetta, I kept hoping we would get an interrogation scene where

Panetta would waterboard Alex into admitting he stole Ed's pea puree.

Unfortunately, that didn't happen.

At Whole

Foods, we witnessed the chefs struggling as Angelo bought puff pastry

and Kelly had to look at a bottle of kung pao sauce to figure out the

ingredients for her dish. There was a lot of sniping among the

cheftestants with Ed and Kevin bitching about Angelo's usage of

store-bought puff pastry. Kelly also disparaged Amanda for making her

French onion soup too "obvious."

Amanda and

Alex, however, were having a love-fest. Of the much-maligned Skeletor,

Amanda noted that, "I really like Alex. He's like the wise, old, Jewish

uncle that I never had." Alex played into that description when he

announced that, "My spy name would be Dr. Zhivago. My mom always wanted a

doctor in the family." Oy vey!

As they walked

into CIA building, Ed said, "This is where major shit goes down." You

think? In the kitchen, it was pretty calm until Kelly overcooked her

rice. Tiffany, who seems to be on a roll, took the time to help with not

only the rice, but the plating of Kelly's dishes before they went out

for service. Talk about sisterly solidarity. However, Amanda's

self-deprecating humor won me over with the line about her noticeable

French onion soup: "Helen Keller would be able to guess what the dish

is." Oh, Amanda, I'm starting to like you finally. Angelo, on the other

hand, had cruised beyond humor for his beef wellington and downshifted

into full-on insecurity.

For the meal, we

finally got the return of Eric Ripert. And CIA head Leon Panetta proved

to be very knowledgeable about food. Is there anything this man doesn't

know? (More on that later...)


immediately figured out that Angelo's dish was beef wellington. Said

Panetta, "Poor disguise. They would have captured this individual and

hung him." It was also decried that the wellington was too salty and the

pastry too hard. Ripert chided that, "It looks like he took shortcuts."

Kelly's kung pao shrimp soup was a winner, especially with the second

batch of rice. Tiffany's gyro, once again perfectly outed by Panetta,

was universally lauded. Ripert: "It was the most elegant gyro I ever ate

in my life." Kevin's cobb salad landed somewhere in the middle, mainly

because it remained a salad. And Ed's chicken cordon bleu was also


Midway through the service, Panetta had

to "dine and dash," which the CIA bigwig does often, apparently. No pea

puree interrogation then. Amanda's French onion soup was criticized for

not being creative enough. Worst, her too-sweet oxtail marmalade was

compared to honey and lemon cough syrup. The most egregious error came

from Alex, of course. His poorly-executed veal was overcooked, prompting

this joke from Tom: "The veal was as tough as pulling a post in Yemen."


the Top Chef interlude, we were treated to a discussion on

conspiracy theories, none of which had to do with food. The cheftestants

pondered whether or not Leon Panetta knows who killed JFK and where the

aliens are hidden. Kelly was a firm believer in Aliens. Angelo was too,

as he joked, "there's one in LA," and pointed to Alex. Then in an

alien-robot voice, Angelo snarked, "Alex you are the first alien

contestant on Top Chef." Cut to Alex saying, "You never know."

Regardless if he hails from Jupiter, Alex has been called so many names

on this show and is never ruffled by any of it.


Judges' Table, Tiffany, Kelly and Ed emerged as the top three in the

CIA challenge. Tiffany triumphed for her gyro, making her a double

winner on this episode. $10,000 and a trip to Paris. You go girl! I only

hope she isn't peaking too soon.

The bottom

three were Alex, Amanda and Angelo. I knew Angelo wasn't going anywhere,

although much earlier in the season John was sent home for using

prepared puff pastry. And although Amanda's French onion soup was boring

and too sweet, clearly, it was Alex's turn to pack up his knives and

go. In the stew room, no one seemed too upset that Alex was leaving

except Amanda. Who will Ed and Angelo make fun of now?

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