By Archana Ram
Updated September 02, 2010 at 07:21 AM EDT
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Image Credit: David Giesbrecht/BravoCongrats to Top Chef for taking home an Emmy last Sunday and upsetting seven-time champ The Amazing Race! But the excitement only reiterated just how friggin’ awesome last season was. Last season’s chefs — the Voltaggio brothers and my girl Jen — seriously out-shine D.C.‘s less-stellar cooks.

But I’m not going to get all negative Nancy on you because last night, we finally got — dare I say it—an exciting episode. All five cheftestants—Angelo, Kelly, Tiffany, Ed and Kevin — are pretty much on the same level, and the only thing separating them at this point is motivation, whether that be motivation to get further than they could’ve imagined or acquire a mail-order bride

Speaking of brides, hallelujah! We finally got answers about Angelo’s confusing back story. Well, some answers. To summarize: He got divorced last year because his ex’s family thought a man doesn’t belong in the kitchen (funny because the Beaumont, Texas IHOP didn’t think a woman belonged in the kitchen), but they share a child together. No word yet on the Russian bride-to-be.

For the final Quickfire of the season, Food & Wine editor-in-chief Dana Cowin stopped by to dish about vino. Everyone practiced their best swirl, chose their wine, and had to make a dish to be paired with their drink of choice. It was a dream come true for some (Angelo) and less so for others (Tiffany), but the one left with sour grapes (those puns last more than one episode, right?) was Kevin, whose braised pork failed in the pressure cooker. (Maybe he should talk to Roger Ebert.) Quail became the next best thing because, you know, a delicate meat like that always pairs nicely with a hearty merlot.

On the subject of meat, does anyone else wonder if the cheftestants actually wash their hands after messing around with raw meat? I doubt there’s much time to soap and lather, but don’t tell me all that Dial Nutri-Skin is all for naught!

Dana and waiter movie theater concession stand worker Padma gave Kevin’s strange pairing a thumbs down. Even without being a wine person, Tiffany managed quite nicely with a cocoa and black pepper-crusted Wagyu tenderloin, and Ed impressed with a different Wagyu interpretation, with grilled rib eye to go with Italian wine.

Angelo ended up taking the prize for his pairing of sautéed foie gras with white wine, but there seemed to be a glimpse of sadness that it was a trip to London and not cold hard cash. That Visa is still out of reach, my friend.

But that frown quickly turned upside down when Angelo and the gang were told the final four would be heading to Singapore, the first time TC has gone international.

Color me surprised that Asian cuisine-loving Angelo was positively dizzy with the news. “I feel Asian inside 100 percent,” he said. “I tingle when I think about it. Just to be in Singapore.” He feels Asian? He tingles? He has deep-set loves for Asians and Russians? This man is a riddle wrapped in an enigma.

But before going out of the country, they had to go to outer space. Well not really; they just went to NASA headquarters. Their mission was to create an out-of-this-world dish for NASA officials and astronauts. Anthony Bourdain joined to promote his new book, and considering his playful banter with Eric, I think the dinner table services to follow are going to lack a little something without him.

Two astronauts explained that they’d have to make a meal that’s edible at zero gravity — food that can be freeze dried. And even though there seemed to be a sense of doom, musically anyway, the female astronaut did a fun little swirly dance in her spaceship and the cheftestants were off on their way.

As much as Kelly calls herself a space nerd, can she diagram like Angelo? The confusing drawing and the notion of making short ribs seemed to disgust Tom and simultaneously shame Angelo, who went on to make his ribs with his knees shaking.

But Tom didn’t give Ed much confidence either. “I didn’t see too many Middle Eastern astronauts up there,” he says of Ed’s Moroccan-inspired dish. That seemed so beside the point. Anyone else find that comment a bit off?

As for Tiffany, she didn’t need Tom’s watchful eye to tell her that her pan-seared halibut was doomed. She had to toss her mussels after seeing that they froze and change around her dish in the 11th hour, much like Kevin in the Quickfire—and we all know how well that worked out for him.

But if we know Tiffany, we know nothing can break that girl’s spirit. Her positive attitude and hearty laughs are enough to make a girl forget about a failing dish. And so are the leather seats of a Toyota Avalon apparently. So smooth!

For the first time this season, all of the dishes were stand-outs, with only a small difference between the winner and loser. Didn’t that happen, like, every challenge last season?

Breaking it down, Kelly flexed her Provencal muscles with an artichoke barigoule that accompanied her pan-seared halibut. Eric practically had a culinary boner and Tom joined in on the praise. But NASA food scientist Vickie Kloeris was suspicious of how all the liquid would translate to space food.

In an effort to prove that white people can go ethnic, Ed stuck to his Moroccan spice guns and banged out a rack of lamb that pleased everyone except Eric (“too complicated”) and an astronaut, who said there’s no such thing as “trash” on spaceships, so that lamb bone would’ve become their little pet on board.

Kevin, who seemed particularly driven this episode, made a perfectly seasoned, well-cooked NY strip, that would hopefully remind astronauts of home. But leave it to Bourdain, who thought Kev played it too safe, to suck out any semblance of a sweet gesture: “It’s Top Chef sirloin. For god’s sake!” (Still love you, Tony.)

Well, that left us with Angelo and Tiffany. A too-sweet short rib (Angelo) or a pan-seared halibut sans mussels (Tiffany)? In the end, despite its inexplicable ginger component, Angelo, who looked totally battered emotionally and physically this episode, took home the win—that Toyota and the honor of having his dish served in space. I wouldn’t say I was surprised to see him win, but I definitely didn’t see Tiffany’s boot coming.

To be fair, like the judges said, the differences between the best and the worst were minuscule. It came down to Tiffany’s overwhelming pea shoots, mealy tomatoes and bitter pepper flavor—critiques that probably wouldn’t have thrown her out earlier in the season.

With Tiffany now gone, do we still feel invested in the show? Do we care who wins? Well, most of us probably do, but it won’t be the same without our Beaumont bride-to-be.

Next week, the top four head to sweaty Singapore where Ed turns tomato red, Padma gets sassy, and we find out who our top three will be.

What did you guys think of the episode? Did you see Tiff’s exit coming? Did someone else deserve to go home? Sound off below!

Episode Recaps


Top Chef

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