OK, so everyone finally got what they want: Alex is gone. But he didn’t go home for alleged cheating, he didn’t go home for not pulling his weight. The reason he’s gone is the reason everyone goes: he made the worst dish of the episode. More on that, below.
And for folks still upset about Kenny’s departure last week: This is a single-tournament style competition. It’s not the World Cup, where you can lose a match but still progress. It’s not a cumulative competition, for a host of solid reasons that all serve the quality of the show, not the least of which is that if it were, it would render the weekly guest judges irrelevant. If you lose a game, you’re out. It’s always been that way. Our cheftestants are talented chefs, and our viewers develop their favorites, and only one of the group will never find him/herself eliminated at some point along the road for giving us the weakest dish in the challenge at hand. A bad day can cost a strong contestant the whole competition. As I say all the time, it’s all about that day’s food.
But before we get into the food, let’s talk about CIA Headquarters in Langley, in McLean, VA, a few miles west of DC, along the Potomac. It was so interesting to shoot an episode there. Security was incredibly tight, as you can imagine. Getting into the building was a process. But once you’d passed the spy museum on the ground floor, the rest of the building looked like any other office building. And yet you knew you weren’t in an ordinary building. We didn’t just have to turn off our cell phones, we had to turn them in. Those of us working on the show could not use our normal means of communicating during production. They make the shoot run smoothly, so that aspect of production was more challenging, but in a fun way. And once we were on the premises, we had to stay in our small areas. If anyone strayed, however inadvertently, some official type would appear at your elbow to put you back where you belonged. It really makes you wonder just what’s going on in that building. But they couldn’t have been nicer. They loaded us up on the way out with all sorts of CIA goodies, such as cufflinks, sticky notes, and attaché cases for our computers. I can keep feeling like a spy for a long time to come … as long as my seventeen year old doesn’t abscond with absolutely everything I brought home.
Most interesting to me is that Leon Panetta is a real foodie! I’d actually met him once before at a food event in Monterey –- it was the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Leadership Conference, and he was attending one of the parties. He is quite knowledgeable about food. In fact, all of the CIA folks at the table at Langley were selected because they really loved food and/or they really loved the show, which meant that we had the pleasure of receiving really insightful feedback from them about what they were sampling.
So the challenge here was to “disguise” a well-known dish This was an opportunity for chefs to get really creative and playful, to have a great time showing us their skills. Two of the chefs who wound up on the bottom failed in the creativity department: Amanda turned a soup into … a soup. nd Angelo seemed to have phoned it in, presenting us with what was seemingly Beef Wellington in Groucho Marx glasses. In addition, the dishes were not executed particularly well. As you saw, the marmalade in Amanda’s dish rendered the whole dish excessively sweet, and Angelo’s beef was tough. Unfortunately for Alex, however, his dish failed by going too far in the other direction. While he tried very hard to disguise his dish, Wylie was correct in stating that the disguise was ultimately simply its bad execution. Stunningly bad. Chefs have gone home for overreaching –- here, Alex tried to do things he’d never done before, and every single component of the dish was disastrous. I didn’t mean to be harsh for harshness’s sake when I said that the meat was tough, I’ve had better fried mozzarella at a state fair and better tortelloni out of a box. Sadly, that was just straight-up honest and true.
As for the three top dishes in the challenge –- the chefs met the criteria for the challenge and executed terrific dishes. Kelly’s broth was flavorful and her “disguise” a true re-conceptualization of the original dish. Ed executed a complex array of components beautifully, and Tiffany presented a wonderfully creative “disguise” of a gyro that was simply delicious. Really delicious. Some of our contestants started strong and have been losing ground. Tiffany, however, has been bringing it on as the pressure’s mounted.
We’re down to six and closing in on the finale. As is true for those fine Americans working for the CIA, and as Alex himself said in his exit interview, there will be absolutely no room for error from here on out.
The After the Knife webisodes are much more interesting than the actual show. I'm bored with this season of Top Chef. Six more weeks? Seven? I'm not sure I can take it. Just be glad you're not on opposite Project Runway!
Tiffany is a winner already. In helping Kelly keep her head together with the rice and saying that she wanted to beat your best dish, not something you messed up, she showed what she is made of. She is a true competitor and thankfully for us, a really intuitive and gifted chef. Go Tiffany!!!
HaHa! I keep calling her a Beaumont girl. I grew up there too and keep trying to claim her :) Go Tiffany!
I would have an easier time praising Tiffany for helping Kelly if she hadn't flat out refused to let Alex borrow a can opener earlier in the episode (and refused to work with Tim in the team challenge; and refused to talk to Alex about their shopping lists...seems to be a theme). Alex was annoying, but at least he was up front and didn't buy into the high school-esque clique BS that seems to be going on with Tiffany and Ed.
No reason to snark! Alex went home for bad food. Tiffany won for good food. And thank you Keith for reminding us how Tiffany had Kelly's back and helped her rethink the rice. Tiffany said she doesn't want to win because of someone's mistake. She wants to win against good food. That's the Top Chef attitude!
I like Tiffany I hope she continues to do good and win Top Chef, what she did with Kelly was very honorable and I agree that is a Top Chef attitude. Tiffany continues to improve througout this compitition, I hope she keeps it up til the end!
Is there any way you guys could make the replies look more like a reply and not just another new comment? I know you're working on the website. I appreciate that!
The quality of the chefs and the challenges is so inferior to last season. If you can't ever equal Las Vegas, perhaps you should shut down production. Compared to the deconstructing challenge of last season the dishes selected were odd and the quality was so off.
You may not have as much say as you'd like in casting or development of the challenges but unless you step it up this show is history. Money from Dove Nutriskin body wash is NEVER going to be a substitute for a chance to try out for the Bocuse D'or.
Mediocrity will just spawn more and more mediocrity.
p.s. I'll take the hit that I fell for the whole Alex took the pea puree drama. But YOU take the hit that the producers (and you're one of them) edited the show to seem like he cheated.
Amazed at how some of this season's chefs don't realize their behavior on the show affects their reputations from a PR POV. Last season's chefs seemed to get this for the most part. They were professional, and the top 4 reputations were enhanced not only by their exectional food, but by their attitude and behavior. My impression of Kenny, rightly or wrongly, is that of a pompous, sour grape whose ego is bigger than his talent. Kevin is a big baby who spends mor time whining and worrying about the other chefs than his own food. Tiffany and Kelly come across as determined, talented and classy. Alex is a doofus. The show is about the food, but how the chefs handle the stress and pressure is a big part of the show as well. Whether Tiffany, Ed or Kelly win or not, I would like to eat their food and will follow their career. The others, not so much.
I don’t if this is the spot to blog about a production boo-boo. I was surprised to see my rice cooker with its brand label being shown. I think the brand should have been blurred out. This rice cooker works fine for me, but the technique for using it requires using their measuring cup and suggested liquid amounts. Also the rice must be rinsed first. Kelly got mushy rice, I never had. (It also makes great brown rice.) I don’t think the rice cooker’s manufacturer would appreciate the negative publicity.
Kenny was no more arrogant than Michael V.
I heart Tiffany and hope she continues to build momentum all the way to the final!
One question Tom. If one contestant was dismissed for using store pastries, why was Angelo given a pass?
Man, oh man, it happens every year, people. Some skate by for a while, a disappointingly, some of our favorites get sent home early. This is nothing new! Go Tiffany! You rock!
I didn't even read your blog Tom I just wanted to say how utterly mean and rude you were to the chefs who are working so hard and under a lot of pressure. To call someone "7th best" with a look of disgust on your face is downright mean. I am sure you are just the perfect chef who never created a bad dish. You demeaned those talented people and I think an apology is owed.
Just wanted to say that I've enjoyed this season and I got a kick out of this challenge. But as a resident of DC, I haven't really enjoyed the portrayal of DC itself. I thought that the Chicago season, for example, did a great job of exploring Chicago and introducing the diverse elements of the city and its food scene. But in the Las Vegas and DC seasons, everything is so touristy-kitschy. I feel silly watching it. Everything this year is Congress! Politicos! Cool government organizations with toys! This city has so many unique neighborhoods and restaurants and markets, but you'd never know from the show. I could be wrong, but I've never seen the chefs leave the Northwest quadrant -- unless they're heading out of DC entirely. Why is that?
Lou5, this is a competition. It's not cooking school. By the time the chefs reach the level they're at in the competition they should know what they're up against. Colicchio is a tough, but fair, judge, and he's right to expect top notch results from the chefs for every challenge. To do otherwise would negate the title of the show as "Top Chef" and make it "Sorta Kinda Good Some of the Time Just Had a Bad Night" show.
pray tell Tom, why? we could have endured Alex one more week to watch you judges be true to your own code of cooking ethics.......and MylaBaby is right TIFFANY is the bomb.........she is sort of like Carla, warm and nurturing but she has blinders on when it comes to doing HER food......she checks out the noise surrounding her but doesn't let it affect her flow........love her!
I wanted to go to the CIA headquarters! The production team is so lucky to have such an opportunity. Let me know when you are ready to put all those CIA goodies on Craig's List.
As for the challenge, it was interesting and I thought it was one of the most thought provoking challenges the chef's had to face. Kudo's to whoever came up with that idea on the production staff. Good episode, very enjoyable.
Ed says he hopes Angelo goes home because he is a tough competitor. Tiffany helps Kelly with her rice because she wants to win against the best dishes. Tiffany is a winner no matter what happens. To be the best you've got to beat the best...not hope they twist an ankle and can't play.
Go Tiffany and Kelly
17 year old daughter or 17 year old wife?
c'mon tom, you're too young to be having children who are that old.
as always, wonderful blog - i love that you clarify all of this information as a post-cap to each episode. keep up the great work.
Why is it so hard for people to stay on topic? This blog is about the CIA challenge, not restaurant wars. Alex went home for bad food which we all knew would end up happening.
STAY ON TOPIC. Post Restaurant Wars grips on the appropriate blog.
Also, Sapphicgirl, is you want to complain about President Obama, send him an email not b!tch about in on Top Chef blogs.
To everyone who is complaining about the gifts they got from the CIA- whocares??? What did these people do wrong? All of the people included who recieved anything did whatever they needed to do to BE THERE. ( works their butts off) The ecomony is the way it is and it is not because of cufflinks. I don't see anyone else complaining when THEIR jobs do something nice for them- bonuses, gifts, offer 401k, health insurance, buys lunch or breakfast occasionally, holiday parties, birthday cakes for some people, contests or incentives or any other PERK!!! Sorry!
Lets see, I dont see what the fuss about Kenny going home was about-he was loud, boisterous and at the top less than half of the time. Alex and Amanda dont appear to have a clue. Angelo is wearing down. How long is Kevin going to be hanging around masquerading as a chef next to Tiffany, Ed and Kelly? Chef, I enjoyed this challenge-it was fresh and exciting. Question--when will Houston be on the list? I would love to be a part of a tasting challenge! Idea--I am a teacher and love to cook. Could you partner an amateur/fan with a top chef and the amateur does all of the cooking? The judges would judge the chefs on their teaching ability. Just a thought!
Is it just me or do 95% of these comments seem so cranky and entitled! I just don't expect each season to beat out the one before it. Last season was unusually good, and everyone knew it. Maybe this season is unusually weak. So what? It will just make season 8 that much more enjoyable. If you hate the show so much, just stop watching it.
Good blog, though I don't understand how it matters whether World Cup was progressive and TC isn't. Not calling someone on breaking the rules because you don't want to take the time to see if it's true or not - is the same for both. Could care less whether it was Alex or Kenny that went then or now- it's the idea that the rules don't matter.
On a more important note: Here's what I kept wondering watching the CIA episode - why are the judges eating off of their knives?? Is this a new trend? or did some of the judges want to appear more daring in front of the CIA?
Wow, sounds like some of the Real Housewives viewers are crossing over to Top Chef, lol. Anyway... I'm thinking that the reason one season (like the most recent one) is better than others (this one) is that you can choose talented chefs, but there's no way you can predict how they'll perform under the unique pressure that is Top Chef. Hence, you get a Tiffany that rises to the top (good at the constant pressure) and an Angelo that begins to wilt. When he said he was mentally exhausted, I believed him. It seems like the pressure is relentless and the chefs' ability to survive that is a key factor here. So that's how we occasionally end up with a Hosea winning or a Carla crashing. That's my take on it. And I'm still with ya...
I thought the episode was great! Especially, when Director Panetta had that note slipped to him during dinner and excused himself... Must have been important. I would have been one of the ones being escorted back to my area... lol.
My last thoughts on the previous episode, I don't know how the Kenny elimination got so controversial. When Kenny was eliminated he was pointing fingers and blaming everyone but himself.
Last night, Alex was actually a gracious loser. I don't think he deserved all the ugly comments he got from fans and other contestants. Yes, he wasn't that great but he had to have some talent to get on a show like "Top Chef". I think the season will only get better! I'm cheering for Tiffany Derry all the way!
Great blog Tom!
Here's food for thought...Angelo is distracted because he was so focused on beating Kenny that, now that Kenny is gone, Angelo has lost his focus. Either that or he was in love with Kenny and is heartbroken...nah, I think he's lost his focus.
I thought he was just trying to light a fire under their rears. I had a coach in high school who would say a lot worse to a bunch of 15 year old girls in high school.
Tom, in terms of Alex - I think what people are upset about is that we're watching a show with rules, and despite his violating those rules last week by not truly being responsible for a dish, he wasn't sent home. You say that because he was on the winning team, he couldn't be sent home, but that really doesn't make any sense. Either the guy violated the rule or he didn't. If he didn't, then he shouldn't have been sent home. If he did, he should have been, no matter what. If there are rules, they should be enforced. If they are not going to be enforced, then they really aren't rules, they are suggestions.
She wasn't blaming the cooker I don't think... She explained that she cooks in a different environment where she has to cook her rice longer-- she lives in Colorado where it's a different altitude than Virginia. It was her mistake not the cooker's.
I think she just didn't want her name associated with their work. She said she didn't want to work with Tim because he had been on the bottom quite a bit. It's a competition... I'd rather be paired with someone who was on top rather than the bottom of the list. It could cost you your spot in the competition.
Lou, I also noticed this and felt like it was unnecessary baiting- Amanda and Alex were lucky to skate through so many times, so his remark was clearly aimed at Angelo who never before had been on the bottom or even close. But, the defeat and shame Angelo felt was evident on his face- it didn't need to be rubbed in so aggressively.
Glad Restaurant Wars and Pea Puree controversies are behind us. Alex is gone, and should be. I'm confused about Amanda also. How is it she works at Water Grill yet has a hard time executing fish dishes? Then again, she has a hard time executing beef also (see RW). Angelo had an interesting idea for the Beef Wellington, essentially turning it upside down, but didn't execute. Angelo reminds of Stefan Richter in a way - all the tools, all the technical knowledge, but no soul.
Kevin had a tough one last night: re-inventing cobb salad. That one would have been virtually impossible to win with, but he could have lost very easily. I thought Padma's comment about Ed's dish was a little unfair, granted I don't think wrapping the chicken with the pork was a great disguise either, but it was a disguise nonetheless. Kelly owes Tiffany an assist, but give Kelly credit for figuring out the Kung Pao flavor on the fly. Tiffany had a great day again; I don't think ultimately she has the depth or experience to beat out Kevin, Kelly, or Ed, but I would eat at her restaurant any time.
This competition is finally starting to feel like a season of Top Chef. The chefs this season that have already been eliminated, with the exception of Arnold, Andrea and Kenny, didn't seem to be able to pull out a good dish to save their lives. John didn't even make a third of his dish, Jacqueline didn't make healthy food, Tracey killed her dish, Lynne's cockiness got in the way of food, Timothy just missed the mark somehow, Tamesha didn't cook her scallop in a way that showed any skill, Stephen was in WAAAY over his head, Kenny overestimated his abilities, and Alex couldn't cook.
I, too, am surprised to hear that Kenny's elimination sparked such controversy. He was someone I really liked in the beginning of the season, but since about episode 3 he's been talking a good game, but not doing much of anything else. It seemed like he was suffering from severe over confidence, and was not only shocked but offended when told that his food was not up to par. The best chefs, like those at the top of any profession, take and learn from criticism. Kenny lacked the ability or inclination to do that.
On Alex: Not a guy I really liked, mainly because he just got on my nerves. I'm not sorry to see him go. He reminds me a little of Lisa in season 4. Someone who is undoubtably good, but somehow managed to last well beyond their skill level. Also, she was kind of irritating.
I loved the CIA challenge. During the commercials, my husband and I sat around talking about how we'd "disguise" not only the dishes the cheftestants were given, but anything else which popped into our heads.
Here is the real "Beast" - Tiffany.
Look at her track record in 10 elimination challenges: Bottom rated 0 as in never Middle rated 4 times Top rated 4 times Won 2 times
Let me remind everyone of Kenny's track record in 9 elimination challenges: Bottom rated 3 times Middle rated 3 times Top rated 1 time Won 1 time Eliminated
Kenny was a fan favorite for whatever reason, but the results of the challenges don't lie & tell a different story about which chef should be viewed as the contender. Even Angelo's elimination challenge record pales compared to tiffanys. Her track record exemplifies her skill, not luck.