Top Chef Recap: Episode 12: Nerd Alert

Fidel Gastro spots proof of Eric Ripert’s murdering ways and more in his recap of Episode 12 of Top Chef: Washington DC.

After weeks of not-so-Top Chef challenges, the cheftestants are finally presented with a reasonable Quickfire: pick a wine, then make something that pairs well with it. Angelo seems to have his swagger back, spouting nonsense about his wine choice, reminding us that he is not only confident, but a huge douche as well.

Kevin takes a monster risk trying to braise a pork belly using a pressure cooker. My man’s got chops, but it was pretty obvious that a pressure cooker may not be in his wheelhouse. Midway through the challenge, his belly’s still as raw as cocaine straight from Bolivia, so he calls the audible and starts angrily breaking down quail to pair with a Tangley Oaks Merlot. Although perfectly grilled, it had no chance of standing up to such a meaty wine, so Kev winds up in the basement alongside Kelly, whose zinfandel/wild boar pairing was sabotaged by a blue cheese foam. Tiffany, ever the hustler, claims to know nothing about wine, but still winds up at the top with a cocoa & black pepper-crusted wagyu tenderloin with spring risotto. It was enough to wow judge Dana Cowin, but not enough to best new-and-improved Angelo and his sautéed foie gras with black salt & fennel salad. Angelo wins airfare and hotel accommodations in London (it’s unclear whether Bravo pays for anything else, but I doubt they do).

Next, it’s off to NASA, where the cheftestants are greeted by Vickie Kloeris, head food scientist at NASA and huge nerd. The elimination challenge is to create a dish that can be freeze dried and sent into space. I’m not sure how a meal destined for dehydration shows off cooking skills, but it’s an interesting challenge nonetheless. In addition to queen nerd Ms. Kloeris, a few more nerds, including old timey nerd Buzz Aldrin, join the judges. Also magically appearing (to promote his new book), a really nice guy posing as Anthony Bourdain, who calls Eric Ripert “the Ripper,” further proving my hypothesis that he’s killed a man. In the kitchen, the cheftestants are intensely focused, knowing that even the slightest fuck-up will cost them a trip to Singapore. It’s not great television watching, but the results of the intensity are evident on each cheftestant’s plate. These were by far the best dishes of the season.

Ed nails his Moroccan flavors, but forgets that bones aren’t the easiest thing to deal with in zero gravity. Ripert also thinks his plate was too “bizzee” and prefers Kelly’s classic dish of pan-roasted halibut with artichoke & fennel barigoule. Kevin gets accused of playing it safe with sirloin, even though it was a perfectly cooked rendition topped with delicate onion rings. Maybe it’s because my allegiance now lies with the cherubic Puerto Rican, but I thought he was the only one to really pay attention to the astronauts’ requests. Angelo—still flying high—makes his short ribs too sweet, but after admitting to the judges that he humped them, proves that love conquers all by taking home the win. With it, a Toyota Avalon, Tony Bourdain’s new book, Medium Raw, and attendance at the next shuttle launch. The nerds, on the other hand, win months of headaches trying to figure out how to freeze-dry crème fraiche. Perhaps the best scene of the whole episode was Angelo stroking the car keys and repeating “thank you Jesus” like he was Gollum and the keys were the precious.

Although every cheftestant had a strong showing, there is only room for four in Singapore, and Tiffany’s pan-seared Alaskan halibut with coconut curry and jasmine rice was just not as impressive as the rest of the dishes. I really thought she would pull a Carla and go all the way. We’ll miss her, but probably not as much as Ed will.