Top Chef Season 7: Foreign Affairs, Episode 8

Can we just skip this middling episode and embrace the fabulousness that is Restaurant Wars next week? The preview looks like the drama-filled, make-it-or-break it moments Top Chef is celebrated for. So excited.

In the meantime, with the exit of Andrea Curto-Randazzo (goodbye, Miami gal), we were left to ponder the remnants of Pea-Gate. Accused cheftestant Alex was still sticking to his guns that he made his winning pea purée during the last Elimination Challenge: "I had no idea that Ed had a pea purée. I really don't care what anyone else thinks. I feel good. I won the last challenge. I want to get out there. I want to cook. I want to win." 

Ed didn't seem too indignant by the potential thievery: "I'm not angry about the pea purée. I'm more confused. Did somebody take it or did somebody throw it away? I'm perplexed. Now I'm just trying to focus on moving on."

I cheered when I saw Top Chef Masters winner Marcus Samuelsson next to Padma. The always-stylish Samuelsson introduced the Quickfire Challenge, which had the cheftestants making a dish inspired by Ethiopian cuisine. Samuelsson introduced a few Ethiopian cooking staples to the crew, including berbere spices; injera, a sourdough, pancake bread; and wat, a spicy stew.

According to Angelo, "The challenge is not to overdo it with the spices." What, no Asian food? Apparently, our randy chef had consulted for an Ethiopian restaurant and had a leg up on his competitors. Kenny had dabbled in Ethiopian cuisine too. The remaining women -- Kelly, Tiffany, and Amanda -- seemed clueless when it came to Ethiopian food, though.

During the tasting, Alex's tongue concoction was called out by Padma for not being spicy enough, while Kelly was complimented for her seasoning. Kenny, unsurprisingly, prepared a duo of lamb. Does he know how to do only duos? Angelo was given the ultimate compliment by Marcus, who said, "Are you sure you weren't born Ethiopian?"

The least favorite chefs were Kevin ("too shy, not bold enough"), Stephen ("the lamb meatballs were not that juicy"), and Alex, whose tongue stew was too dry. The favorites were Amanda ("absolutely fantastic"), Angelo ("your dora wat was absolutely beautiful"), and Tiffany ("hearty flavors"). Ultimately, Tiffany won her first Quickfire Challenge and immunity. Ed's cattiness came out when he noted, "She beat Angelo. That's the best part."

For the Elimination Challenge, the cheftestants were given a choice of nine countries in order to prepare a meal for 100 diplomats, ambassadors, and royal dignitaries. The catch was that there would be no electricity -- only chafing dishes -- at the venue. Most of the chefs were able to select their favorite cuisines (based on a knife draw): Tiffany (Mexico), Amanda (France), Alex (Spain), Kelly (Italy), Kevin (India), Kenny (Thailand), and Ed (China). Mr. Asian, Angelo, pretended to take Brazil but went for his comfort level with Japan. That left Stephen with Brazil, a country whose cooking style he was not familiar with.

Ed, on the other hand, seemed to base his knowledge on Chinese cuisine on the fact that he had "several Chinese girlfriends in the past." OK, then. The cheftestants seemed to rise to the task with some innovative dishes. Kelly, Tiffany, Angelo, and Kenny were on a good course with the challenge, while Alex was literally flailing about in the kitchen, and Stephen seemed lost. It all went to shit for Stephen at the Meridian House, where his rice spent too much time in the chafing dish. Amanda, too, suffered from dry beef, and her solution was to cut it into smaller pieces, something for which she was criticized during the judging.

Speaking of judges, how dapper did Marcus look in that hat? Another guest judge was one of Spain's most famous chefs, Jose Andres. (Where, oh where, art thou, Eric Ripert?) I knew Jose would find fault with Alex's Spanish-inspired plate of braised veal with red wine sauce, olive salad, and torta. Stephen, too, was derided for his mushy rice and overcooked beef.

Onto the Top Chef commercial interlude, which seems to be salacious just to be salacious. This week, we were treated to a prank as Angelo covered the toilet with plastic wrap in order to have Stephen spray himself. How old are we?

At Judge's Table, Kelly, Kevin, and Tiffany were the top three. Tiffany said, "I treated this like I didn't have immunity." And everyone loved her chicken tamales, especially Tom, who noted, "The dish made perfect sense." Kevin, who had never before made Indian cuisine, was praised for his tender braised chicken. And though everyone adored Kelly's subtle beef carpaccio, Tiffany was declared the winner. She also received a surprise bonus of $10,000. "My wedding is paid for," Tiffany enthused. And all was right again in the world of reality TV.

Alex, Stephen, and Ed weren't so giddy. I was shocked Amanda wasn't called in for her disastrous dish, but I guess they want to keep this controversial character on the air for a few more episodes. Instead, every aspect of Stephen's dish was picked apart while Alex's veal was called a "little nightmare" by Jose Andres. Ouch. Ed was accused of overpromising and underdelivering, which meant he was safe for the night. And buh-bye, Stephen.

Next week is Restaurant Wars, and I can't wait for this culinary showdown.

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