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'Top Chef': Visualize whirled peas

July 29, 2010 |  6:00 am

Alex Reznik has always struck me as being a couple of fries short of a Happy Meal.

He joked — it was a joke, wasn't it? — several weeks ago that he'd use the cash from a "Top Chef" quick-fire prize on "a hooker and an eight ball." Several of his recipes felt more like an attempt to clean out the pantry (white chocolate, tapioca and chevre pie, with an almond crust and raspberry puree, or pork butt, lemongrass glaze, polenta and cucumber salad) than create something memorable.

No matter how odd he and his dishes come across, though, we never thought he might be a thief. Until Wednesday night, when Ed Cotton's English pea puree vanished, only to materialize a few minutes later in Alex's saucepan.

The elimination challenge — to cook a power lunch using ordinary proteins in a restaurant kitchen — wasn't inspired; it was yet another lackluster attempt by the "Top Chef" producers to use the show's Washington, D.C., setting for some vaguely political effect. But the episode's quick-fire challenge to comply with congressional ethics rules (by creating a dish served on a toothpick) did provide a good backdrop for the shady dealings that unfolded in the kitchen soon thereafter.

Alex drew salmon as his lunchtime protein and was immediately stumped. "I still haven't figured out what I'm doing. That's my problem," he said. "I can't decide what to do."

By the time we saw him the next morning, though, he had somehow figured it out. "My whole game plan was based around pea puree," he announced, right about the same time Ed's very same dish mysteriously vanished from his cooler.

Alex has made no secret of his Machiavellian moves — a week ago, he purposely didn't tell Amanda Baumgarten that bits of inedible cartilage were doing the hokey pokey in her chicken galantine. His "truthiness" is a little suspect, too. Earlier in Wednesday's show, he boasted that "half of my menu is canapes," a claim that quickly can be disproved by downloading the menu at his Hollywood restaurant, Ivan Kane's Cafe Was--unless Alex wants his diners to eat onion soup and bouillabaisse with their fingers.

And his defense — "I didn't even know he was making a pea puree," Alex said of Ed — was immediately impeached by a "Cold Case"-style flashback, where we saw Ed's dish being discussed right in front of Alex. Encyclopedia Brown could have solved this one.

Amazingly, and unfairly, Alex made the shortlist for having one of the three best lunch dishes, with guest judge Art Smith praising his potentially purloined peas. At the very least, Alex is a liar. At the worst, he's a thief. Chefs poach recipes as often as they do eggs, but rarely do they boost ingredients from another chef.

That Alex won the challenge probably says more about the morality of Washington than anything you'd hear on Fox News or MSNBC. "There's nothing better than people wanting to eat more of your food," Alex said after winning. There's one thing better, actually: people wanting to eat more of food you actually cooked.

— John Horn

Photo: Tom Collichio, left, and Alex Reznik. Photo credit: David Giesbrecht / Bravo.