Image Credit: Photo: David Giesbrecht/BravoBetween the lack of a standout favorite and the fairly predictable eliminations, it was high time Top Chef gave us a surprise, and boy, last night we got a doozy. Now that Stephen was gone, I would’ve guessed perhaps Amanda or Alex would be sent home next. But Tom, Padma, and crew—how you play with my emotions!

Kenny? Kicked off? Say what?! I mean, what was all the Kenny vs. Angelo build-up for? Wasn’t their rivalry supposed to be this season’s Voltaggio showdown? More importantly, what is going to be interesting about this season going forward?

The questions abound, but let’s begin at the beginning.

Before getting into the show’s grand Restaurant Wars tradition, they started with another: the tag team cook-off. They were split into two teams with each team creating one dish, relay style. The teammates waiting for their turns wore blindfolds and they had to try their darndest to figure out what the previous person was going for, much like an awesome game of telephone that ends with “purple monkey refrigerator.”

The blue team (Kenny, Amanda, Kevin, and Kelly) started out with mustard cream sauce and ended with sautéed shrimp with angel hair pasta, which was par for the course. Not much of a purple monkey refrigerator here. They were organized, focused, and foreshadowed their Restaurant Wars performance—their physical performance, that is.

The red team (Tiffany, Alex, Ed, and Angelo) gave us more of the mess we wanted. Tiffany was smart, Alex messed up the seasoning, Ed just prayed Alex didn’t screw it up, and Angelo had close to no idea what to make. They ended up with a salty red snapper, but because Nancy Pelosi was probably the most polite guest judge ever, she still thought it was “delicious” and “wholesome.”

In the end though, she awarded team blue with the win because 1) their food was apparently tastier and 2) she got to flex her TC knowledge, citing that the show first began in San Francisco and their food reminded her of SF’s natural flavors. Behind that pantsuit lies a foodie. Who knew?

Alex then landed a spot on the red team’s s— list and earned a new nickname courtesy of Ed: Skeletor. You say Skeletor, I say monkey. Potayto, potahto.

The fun of the elimination was that these were same teams for Restaurant Wars. Clearly the red team would be a disaster, given Alex’s place on everyone’s shizz list…or would they?

The blue team named themselves Twenty One 21 (after the Top Chef house address), which was clever and trendy but also sounds like an overhyped restaurant in Manhattan’s Meatpacking Distric. The red team called themselves Evoo, short for extra virgin olive oil. I suppose it’s better than Rachael Ray’s “e-v-o-o” saying but it still doesn’t roll off the tongue. It sounded more like “evil” and didn’t evoke Mediterranean food to me. Then again, Angelo was their self-proclaimed executive chef so he probably thought it was sexy.

When it came to team temperament, the two couldn’t have been more different than Toby and Eric Ripert, who by the way, I’m missing at the judges’ table. In other words, Twenty One 21 was a whistling dixie as Angelo put it, while Evoo was little shop of horrors.

Evoo collectively decided that Alex was better suited to greeting guests than touching the food, which I suppose was the greater of his two evils. But with that came some major ‘tude. Made me want to slap those lab glasses right off his face.

But Angelo wasn’t about to let Alex be the only rager, so he started yelling at his teammates and the poor waiters, too. Some choice lines: “No talking in the kitchen,” “I’m going to blast somebody,” and “You don’t want to see me mad!” No talking in the kitchen? So reminiscent of last season’s Jennifer. But Jennifer actually knew how to run a kitchen.

To top it off, Alex failed to greet the judges. But what they lacked in service, kindness, and human decency, they made up for with some pretty good food. The notoriously tough critic Frank Bruni dug Angelo’s soup; Tiffany made up for her bad crudo with a lovely striped bass; and Alex had a beautifully cooked pork chop lamb chop with pea puree. (Enough with the pea puree, Alex! You’re just asking for it now.) Ed’s turbot was the standout dish, which hopefully made up for the pea-gate stuff.

Twenty One 21 played a much nicer game. Egos had been checked, and Amanda thanked her lucky stars that she ended up on the supposedly better team. Without Alex, you can almost guarantee yours will be the better team. Still, they had their problems: Kelly’s corn soup didn’t taste like corn, Kenny’s beet salad was overloaded, Amanda’s strip steak was cut too thin and, my oh my, what a large piece of goat cheese that was on Kenny’s salad! Their saving grace was Kelly’s chocolate ganache tarte… but not really because the ice cream was bland. Progressive American cuisine? The judges begged to differ.

Their cool-as-a-cucumber ways were deceiving though. I could’ve sworn they had the win in the bag, but after I listed each team’s highs and lows I realized just how badly Twenty One 21 sucked. Their service may have been better, but the food certainly was not and when you weigh the two against each other, taste buds clearly win.

And as shocked as Twenty One 21 was to lose, Evoo was just as flabbergasted that they won. Ed took home the grand prize of a trip to Napa and crazy big bottle of wine. Cheers!

Seeing the members of Twenty One 21 on the chopping block was particularly rough, but it seemed rather enjoyable for Frank. He likened Kenny’s beet salad to Hamburger Helper (oh, you know Kenny did not like that) and said Kelly’s steak was like a nice pair of shoes without a nice suit. Bear in mind, Frank was also the one who identified the Coco Chanel quote so I think he just carries a bag of these similes, metaphors, and quotables wherever he goes.

Poor Kenny. I didn’t see that one coming. Kicking him off marked one of the first time the judges seemed to vote just on that one meal as opposed to the cheftestant’s history. I know that the judges always say they don’t pay attention to history, but usually even if the ongoing champ bungles up a dish, he/she gets a second chance. And if that had happened last night, Amanda would’ve been eliminated. But looking at it as an isolated event, making not one but two bad dishes threw Kenny in the ringer. Even Kelly’s potato sack outfit wasn’t horrid enough to get her voted off.

I, for one, was shocked to see Kenny go. Makes me think it’ll be Angelo, Kevin and Kelly in the top three now. What did you guys think? Who do you think we’ll be seeing in the finale?

Episode Recaps

Top Chef
Tom, Padma, and Gail tell the cheftestants to pack their knives and go.
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