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'Top Chef': Fun with Andrew

March 20, 2008 |  8:16 am

Topchef300 Valerie went home for opting to make soggy blinis. Wylie Dufresne’s sideburns continue to impress. But all I wanna talk about is Andrew D’Ambrosi.

I’m not saying Andrew will win. I’m not sure he’ll even make the final four. But I’m really hoping he does. Why? Because he’s competitive in a spazzy, amusing way (unlike self-proclaimed bad-ass Dale). Cooking, for Andrew, is “like molten ... lava pouring out of you.”

He can also purr like a lion, and says things like: “We’re going to cook penguin? That’s dope! Game on!” with complete eager sincerity.

Ted Allen -- who will be back as a judge on next week’s episode! -- told the Chicago Sun-Times that Andrew’s passion for cooking “manifests itself in great food and some extreme facial expressions.” And head judge Tom Colicchio praised his winning dish, squid ceviche topped with balsamic tapioca “caviar,” calling Andrew’s decision to play around with molecular gastronomy in front of Dufresne gutsy on his BravoTV.com blog.

And so I present the results of an online background check. Here’s what we know about our 30-year-old spitfire:

He works as sous chef at Le Cirque. For those not in the know, Manhattan’s Le Cirque is like Mecca in the restaurant world. It's got three stars. Jackets are required. It’s legendary. And being sous chef means the dude is second-in-command. He’s practically running the kitchen's day-to-day. (How did he not know the recipe for mayo?!)

He may not have known the recipe for mayo, but he attended the prestigious Johnson & Wales. OK, he wasn’t cast on “Top Chef” for nothing. He’s got skills, as evidenced by last night’s win. But let this be a lesson to J&W’s culinary faculty: Your students need more drill and kill in cooking 101. And that includes realizing balsamic vinegar does not, in fact, count as a “salt, pepper, sugar or oil.” I cringed when Andrew used six ingredients in a five-ingredient challenge.

He is known as “Avante-Gaurdian” Angel on FohBoh.com. That’s a social network for the restaurant industry. There he’s prompted discussions about making cotton candy tuiles (super-thin baked wafers), dying monkfish tandoori-red (he calls it red, I call it hot pink) and making faux pasta using agar (a vegetarian gelatin substitute).

(And yet…) He says his favorite indulgence is strictly hot wings. "Hot wings, hot wings, hot wings. And duck confit. But hot wings."

He has a strategy. And it goes something like this: “One is to cook with honor. Two is to basically pour my soul on to the plate and basically pray to the gods that my physical can handle the stresses of working in this environment, very strange. And just come at them with tenacity, the likes of which they’ve never seen, tenacity ... and just, um, dominate. Like the black knight of the competition. ‘None shall pass.’”

He may have wet his pants after receiving praise from Wylie Dufresne. The wd~50 chef dubbed Andrew’s squid ceviche a success and appreciated his yuzu-mint gelatin “glacier.” The feedback, he said, was humbling.

-- Denise Martin

(Photo courtesy Bravo)

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