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'Top Chef': Finally, a shocking exit

February 17, 2011 |  6:30 am


The surprises in the eighth season of “Top Chef” have been few and far between. But Wednesday night the judges blew the lid off the pressure cooker, sending finals favorite Angelo out the door for a potato soup that even Tom Colicchio, who has a seemingly spiritual connection to sodium chloride, found too salty.

You can’t say it was the wrong call, although Tiffany (a mushy jambalaya) and Carla (an insipid apple soup) must have assumed it was really their turn to exit. In a challenge that felt far less gimmicky than some of this all-star season’s sillier tests (having to make stuffing with neither cutlery nor utensils comes to mind), the remaining seven cooks had three hours to assemble a kitchen, shop for and prepare a meal inside a Target for 100 store employees. In the middle of the night, with no apparent sink and ingredients—let’s be honest about Target’s groceries for a minute—that don’t exactly include baby asparagus, heirloom tomatoes or organic celery root. And good luck finding a chinois on Target’s shelves. 

Given that professional chefs typically cook at incredibly high heat on both the cook top and in the oven, the lack of searing flames compelled several contestants to run for cover and make soup, which seems both safe and stupid. The food the judges deemed the most enjoyable came from chefs who somehow found a way to cook pork two ways (Richard), grill cheese sandwiches (Dale, who brilliantly used a steam iron, perhaps set to “linen,” to brown the top half of his bread) and poach eggs (Antonia, or did she fry them?).

Dale won the elimination challenge (and a $25,000 prize), a nice double after taking the Quickfire for his pretzel and potato chip shortbread cookie.

Angelo decided to make a deconstructed baked potato, or as he called it when served to the judges, baked potato soup with bacon, onions, sour cream, potato skins, scallions and grated cheddar cheese. It looked good enough, but apparently tasted like salty Spackle.

Angelo claimed that his palate was so fatigued he couldn’t detect how thick and off the concoction was, but what was Mike’s excuse? He was working incredibly closely with his bff, and while he counseled Angelo that the soup was a bit thick, Mike didn’t stage the necessary culinary intervention.

The happiest guy at the end of the night? Richard. We assumed they would keep Angelo around, if only because he’s been strong all season, with two wins (two more than Tiffany) and several top finishes. With Angelo knocked out, it’s a bit like losing Duke in your NCAA pool in the Sweet 16. Who can beat Richard now?

It’s hard to make a really strong case for any of the other remaining chefs.

Carla always seems thisclose to serving nothing but air on a plate, Dale’s lack of range is sooner or later going to be a problem, Tiffany has more bottom finishes than any of the remaining chefs and Mike — well, we can’t quite figure out why he’s even still around. Maybe it falls to Antonia, then, to beat out Richard. With Angelo gone, we have no idea who else might be able to.

--John Horn

Photo of Angelo Sosa in "Top Chef":  David Giesbrecht/Bravo