Recap: Top Chef DC, Episode 9, Restaurant Wars

It's everyone's favorite episode of Top Chef: Restaurant Wars! This week, the final 8 competitors split into two teams, and cooked for guest judge Frank Bruni, former restaurant critic for the New York Times. Who won? Who lost? And who named their restaurant after an annoying Rachael Ray catchphrase? The results might shock you, and it's all ahead in this week's recap!

[WARNING: Spoilers ahead!]

The Quickfire

The chefs walked into the kitchen and found Padma standing next to a huge pile of blindfolds. You know what that means! No, it wasn't time for a frisky game of "pin the tail on Padma," but for the dreaded tag-team cook-off. Here's how it worked: Each team of 4 had 40 minutes to complete a dish, and each teammate had only 10 minutes to cook. To make things even more intense, each person had to wear a blindfold until it was his/her turn to cook.

The blue team members were Kelly, Kevin, Kenny, and Amanda. The red team members were Alex, Angelo, Ed, and Tiffany.

The guest judge for the challenge was Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House and next in command after the Vice President. Being the consummate politician that she is, she noted that the competition between the two teams was "close"—but ultimately gave the win to the blue team. They made a sautéed shrimp with angel hair pasta, mustard sauce, and crispy basil that she just loved. In fact, Ms. Pelosi was so excited by the al dente angel hair that she almost cracked a smile.

Elimination Challenge

Finally! The restaurant wars challenge we've all been waiting for! The teams remained the same, as the chefs took over the Redwood Restaurant in Maryland. Each team had to create a three-course menu, with two choices for each course. The guest judge for this portion of the competition was Frank Bruni, former restaurant critic for the New York Times.


On the ride to Whole Foods, we saw Ed and Angelo concoct a plan to keep Alex out of the kitchen by making him the front of house manager. We were also repeatedly reminded, via up-close camera footage, that the Toyota Sienna turns on and off with just the press of a button. Wow! Such a cool feature for a minivan! That makes me want one, like, right now!

The blue team named their restaurant 2121, after the address of the Top Chef house. The toolbags on the red team, however, named their restaurant... EVOO. Yes, as in "extra virgin olive oil." Talk about a TOTAL FAIL. That has to be the single worst restaurant name of all time. Hey red team, Rachael Ray called. She said you're all morons.

Alex, on top of being a pea purée thief, is apparently also a huge jerk to his employees. While working front of house, he was unspeakably rude to his waitstaff. He just stood around in his cheap leisure suit, ordering them to scrub tables and polish glasses. Kelly, on the other hand, was really nice to her servers, and they in turn worked hard for her.

When the judges arrived at the red team's EVOO, there was no one at the host stand to welcome them. They had to wait for what seemed like an eternity before they were greeted and led to a table, and when they finally did get to eat, they had mixed reactions about the food. They thought Tiffany's crudo of black bass and yellowtail tuna snapper was way too salty, but loved Angelo's confit of tomato soup with squash and olive croutons. Meanwhile, Alex was nervous, awkward, and generally awful as the front of house manager. Even worse, when he handed his lamb chops to the judges, he told them they were "pork chops." Yep. I made that mistake once too, when I was seven.

The blue team was calm, cool, and collected in the kitchen (translation: they were boring to watch). They really seemed to have a plan, and for the most part, they were all confident about their dishes. That is, except for poor clueless Amanda, who made a strip steak with sunchoke and maitake mushrooms. After a few of her dishes came back for being overcooked, she tried to justify her mistake by saying: "I'm cooking grass-fed beef for the first time, and it's like cooking a wild animal!"

Unlike Alex, Kelly was there to greet the judges when they arrived. She clearly explained their restaurant concept and promptly had their food delivered, two things the red team didn't do. However, the judges didn't seem to like the blue team's food as much. They felt Kelly's corn soup was too watery, Amanda's steak was overdone, and Kenny packed way too many ingredients on his beet salad. The worst dish, however, was Kenny's aged goat cheese with strawberry rhubarb relish. Bruni hated it so much, he called it a "horror show" and then spent the next several seconds crinkling his nose up at it like a schoolgirl who didn't want to eat her broccoli.

The Judging

Much to my surprise, and despite their asinine restaurant name, the judges declared the red team (EVOO) the winner of the challenge. Ed was the top performer of the night; the judges raved about his turbot, eggplant caviar, and black olive jus. As a reward, he was given a trip to the Terlato Vineyard, and a gigantic bottle of wine.

This is Top Chef, and someone always does have to go home. The judges loved Kevin's food, and thought Kelly did a great job with front of house, so they were both safe. They also came to a consensus about how truly awful Amanda's steak was. Bruni said her tasty sauce was like having "a great pair of shoes with a mediocre suit," a comment which ultimately led to her making this animated gif-worthy face:


I must admit that this week's elimination totally shocked me: Kenny was the one sent home! How is this possible?! From the look on his face when his name was called, the guy was as surprised as I was.

And that brought this week's episode to an end. What did you think of the episode, Serious Eaters? Were you surprised to see Kenny go home? And would you ever eat at a place called EVOO?