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'Top Chef': The wrong chef sent packing

August 12, 2010 |  1:07 am

Pretty much everyone -- and we'll include the president of the United States -- knows all too well that Washington, D.C., isn't always very fair.

Yet rarely is the capitol as unjust as it was in Wednesday night’s “Top Chef” restaurant wars, when Kenny Gilbert was dispatched home while Alex Reznik survived to make a mess of one more dish down the line.

If elections can have a recount, why can’t we petition for a new vote on who gets booted off?

When even the members of the winning red team were openly critical of Alex, you realize that it’s not just you and your culinary contacts who believe he’s a black hole, a gastronomical vortex that sucks everything in his vicinity into inescapable doom.

And yet there Alex remained at the end of Episode Nine, smirking in his usual unsettling way, as creepily content as Hannibal Lecter after a side dish of fava beans.

“Alex needs to go home. Bottom line,” Kevin Sbraga, a member of the losing blue team, told the judges just before the mandoline fell on Kenny. For a fleeting moment, it looked as if they considered breaking protocol and exiling someone from the winning team, but sadly there would be no constitutional crisis in “Top Chef” this evening.

Typically the best episode in the “Top Chef” lectionary, restaurant wars didn’t disappoint this year, starting with the interesting politics of which chefs picked which teammates.

Choosing first for the blue team, Kevin picked Kenny, and Ed Cotton selected gal pal Tiffany Derry for his red squad. Kevin had a chance to grab Angelo Sosa with his third pick, but instead chose Kelly Liken, a decision that may have doomed the blue team’s fate.

Ed quickly grabbed Angelo, and when Kevin selected Amanda Baumgarten to complete his blue team, Ed was forced to invite Alex -- the same chef who purportedly stole Ed’s pea puree two weeks ago.

In the Quickfire relay challenge, Alex immediately made a critical mistake for his squad, salting a piece of fish so early and aggressively in the process that it was nearly brined within a few grains of a sodium overdose. “Alex completely ruined it,” Tiffany said.

No sooner were menus sketched out for the elimination test than the red team tried to minimize Alex’s role as much as possible. “We all question Alex’s ability, basically, to cook,” Ed said.

Like the aspiring football player told to fetch water bottles, Alex was sent to work the front of the house, but not before he hacked up his proteins like a Weedeater tearing into some crabgrass. “He’s … destroying it,” Angelo said of Alex’s lamb carving, just before Tiffany found scales and bones in what was supposed to be Alex’s striped bass fillets.

But Alex couldn’t even fetch water. He treated his serving staff rudely, failed to greet the judges when they entered the restaurant, and described one dish to them as “braised” or “broiled” pork chops before deciding it was in fact pan-seared lamb.

1 Kenny, who has been inconsistent throughout the season but has shown distinct talent, stumbled badly. He may have deserved to be on the losing team, but teammate Amanda's food (an overdone steak) wasn't demonstrably better.

Former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni, the evening’s guest judge, icily described Kenny’s fried cheese course as “a horror show” and labeled his beet salad as if “done through the guise of Hamburger Helper.”

What frustrated Kenny so much -- and who can blame him? -- was that Alex was riding the coattails of his more accomplished teammates, collecting marks for a test he didn’t even take. “There was a representative on the team that didn’t cook their dish,” he complained, but the sentiment (though totally accurate) fell on deaf ears.

Kevin was even more blunt in his assessment of Alex’s cooking away from the judges, but by then it was too late. The wrong cook was heading home.

-- John Horn

Photos: (top) Alex Reznik, Tiffany Derry, Angelo Sosa and Ed Cotton in "Top Chef." Credit: David Giesbrecht / Bravo

(bottom) Tom Colicchio and Kenny Gilbert in "Top Chef." Credit: David Giesbrecht / Bravo