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'Top Chef' recap: Life's not always a picnic

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Top-Chef-Padma

Top Chef contestants have been through some pretty tough challenges like, say, cooking for Joel Roubuchon a.k.a. “Chef of the Century.” Yet somehow when Padma announced this week’s quickfire, the expression on their faces looked as though she had said something atrocious, something in the vein of, “Toby Young is back.”

Thankfully, it was less frightening; they had to make pies for Padma and “pastry god” and Cry-Baby extra Johnny Iuzzini, the head pastry chef at Jean Georges.

But, you see, making a dessert is a fast way to end up like the dreadlocks on Jon-we-hardly-knew-ye: dead and kind of smelly. And the excitement in the room was palpable:

“I never cooked pie in my whole life.” — Angelo

“What did I get myself into? Now they’re doing a dessert challenge?” — Tim

“I don’t really like pie.” — Amanda

“I think pies live in the clouds with unicorns.” — Arnold

Even though we’re in the year 2010 and he still pops his collar, bless that Arnold.

It took me seven hours to cook my first from-scratch blueberry pie last Thanksgiving (go ahead, ridicule), but in TC land, they had just two. And in those two hours, Ed ripped on Alex’s talent (Oh Ed, you know what that means for you, right?), Tracey dubbed her pie “top secret” because she actually didn’t know what she was making, and Angelo, out of convenience for his pie-less résumé, tricked his mind into thinking this was a curry challenge. That makes sense.

In non-shocking news, Tracey’s pie looked the worst. Blueberries, almond, crunchy bits – it was a hodgepodge that even she seemed to be concocting as she went. When I was a kid, I pretended to cook by throwing my Barbie shoes, hair clips and bracelet into a pot. I think my pie would’ve tasted better.

An equal WTF moment was Alex’s white chocolate, tapioca, and chevre pie. This actually reminded me of that episode of Full House when Michelle created a dessert using inexplicable ingredients and cheese. And hers would’ve probably tasted better, too.

The glory and immunity went to Kenny, who won for his spin on bananas foster pie, and thank goodness for him because “Juicy” (his wife we presume) sent him a letter instructing him not to play second fiddle to Angelo. Juicy, your words were heeded.

The judges also liked Kelly’s dark chocolate ganache tart, which I admit, did look good, but the producers are forcing me influencing me to not like her – look at the way she stole Arnold’s unmarked table space! So I’m glad she didn’t win. Producers, you win this round.

For the elimination challenge, TC relied on another D.C. hallmark that’s plagued congressmen and government officials for quite some time — interns! But not in that seedy way, even though Alex told us, “I have never taken advantage of an intern!”

The cheftestants had to create picnic-appropriate food for a cookout for Capitol Hill interns. It was held at Mt. Vernon Estate, which was specifixally named only so Tom could make that strained reference to history and making food history at judges’ panel.

But there were two shining moments during the cooking process. The first was Arnold proclaiming that he’s not a grill guy because “it’ll clog [his] pores way too fast.” The second was Tracey telling her meat to “put your back into it.” Oh also, she’s a psychic. Keep bringing the crazy. I really think that if you mixed the cuckoo quality of last season’s Robin with Real Housewives of New York‘s Ramona’s crazy eyes and Bret Michael’s penchant for bandanas, you’d have Tracey. That, my friends, is the perfect answer to who you’d want at your last supper.

But there was also a somewhat jarring bit on Amanda that really could’ve used a segue. She talked about her massive drug problem in the past, saying she was out to lunch in her 20s, and I thought Oh, that’s nice. Then she said she used cocaine and anything she could get her hands on, and then I thought, Wow, that’s sad. Then I thought, Wow, why didn’t they save this for a D.A.R.E. episode? I’d love to hear more about this alleged cracked-out Amanda in the future. She did use alcohol (again) in her Quickfire dish (apple pie with bourbon). Just sayin’…

She said she’d come a long way. And I mean, clearly she has. She brushes her teeth and sits on an ab ball in the mornings. She’d spent the bulk of the challenge knocking down grandmas and little kids in Whole Foods, while Tracey pushed out her Play-Doh-like sausage and Tim made some misogynistic remarks about women who grill. So really, good times all around.

At the cookout, everyone was fairly confident in their dishes. Alex, who made pork butt, mentioned he’d want to “eat the ass out of this pig all day.” Something tells me he made the dish just so he could say that joke.

Elsewhere, in either a surprising or totally calculated move, Angelo said Amanda’s ribs were delicious. “I think it’s even better than mine.” That’s probably as nice as he can get, so I’ll take it. On the other end of the spectrum, Tracey, after tasting everyone’s food, said, “I haven’t tasted anything worse than mine.” You keep that confidence high, girl!

It came down to Arnold (sesame lamb meatballs), Ed (spiced tuna loin), Amanda (dry-rubbed baby back ribs) and Angelo (Vietnamese lettuce wrap), and I thought, perhaps with all the build-up (a.k.a. editing) showing an eager Amanda looking to show everyone that she could cook, she’d take the win. Though his dish was magazine-cover worthy, I have trouble getting behind Angelo, but I think it has to do with him making his food erotic (“clean, sexy flavors” this week; “liquid sex” last week).

But it looked like Arnold stopped by Sephora for a pore-refiner because, in the end, he took home the win for his full-flavored meatballs. I’m sorry, but no pun there? Do we need Penn and Teller to return for some obvious genitalia jokes?

The bottom four were an unsurprising cast, including Tim (pork two ways), Stephen (bacon-wrapped sea bass), Tracey (Italian sausage slider) and Kevin (grilled flank stank). But what we did get was one of Tom’s more memorable sound bites: “If that’s what you call Italian food, then it’s almost insulting to Italians, including me.” True to her spineless personality, Tracey simply wallowed and said, “Sorry.”

But then again, I suppose we can appreciate her honesty. Her patty looked worse than the shady meat at fast food joints that are shaped like famous people. And so she bid adieu to the cast, hopefully moving on to more promising endeavors, like palm reading.

Next week is a big ol’ reunion with Mike Isabella, Bryan Voltaggio and was that Spike I saw? Plus, Eric is back. Yipee!

What did you guys think of the episode? Does anyone else sometimes forget that Tiffany, Lynne, Andrea and Tamesha are even on the show?

Photo: David Giesbrecht/Bravo