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'Top Chef': Covert cuisine

August 19, 2010 |  2:45 pm

Covert cuisineLast night's Quickfire was like a progressive episode of "Chopped," where the contestants were presented with a mystery box of ingredients to start the meal, then, as they cooked, more unmarked ingredients were thrown into the mix, forcing them to evolve their dishes as time passed.

My guess is that as the agents with the aviator shades shuffled in boxes, viewers were wishing that Kenny would pop out and jump back into the competition. Alas, it was only a hodgepodge of hominy, black garlic, squid, fish, jicama, passion fruit and fava beans.

It was on odd mix, but the contestants ran with it. Tiffany's fish stew with hominy, fava beans saffron and black garlic edged out Kevin's top-notch pan seared rockfish plated atop a hominy puree, with passion fruit salad, winning her 10 grand. Alex and Amanda sunk to the bottom again, winning no sympathy from the judges for their confused concoctions.

The elimination challenge was to deconstruct and disguise a traditional dish into something only recognizable in flavor, but many of the remaining chefs' incarnations were uninspired and somewhat lazy. (Where's Michael Voltaggio when you need him?) 

When God handed them lemons, they made lemons. Amanda, who's quite proud of her classical training, was assigned French onion soup and transformed it quite literally into French onion soup.  Guest judge Wylie Dufrense called it dull as dishwater, but it wasn't enough to send her home. Then there was Angelo, who whirled himself into a Tasmanian devil-like tizzy during prep time, who opted to use pre-fab puff pastry for his beef Wellington. You think you can slip that by the CIA? I don't think so. That's the same mistake that dreadlocked hippie John Summerville made on Episode 1!

Lucky for the ambitious Michelin-starred chef, the judges dropped the guillotine on the heavily scrutinized Alex. His cover was blown when the chefs tasted his parched veal and Parmesan cheese tortellini with tomato sauce and tempura cheese. Though it hardly seemed like the worst-disguised dish, he was knocked out. The one question remains: Now who are all the other chefs going to pick on?

A couple of chefs took the challenge and ran, though. Kelly turned kung pao shrimp into an umami-bomb of a soup that the judges loved and Ed's chicken cordon bleu, though easily recognizable in appearance, had great flavors. But it was Tiffany who came out with a double victory, just like in the Foreign Affairs episode. Her re-imagined gyro -- made with a roasted leg of lamb with smoky eggplant, tomato and pickled onions -- pushed her ahead of Kelly and Ed. One more episode like this and we might have to start calling her "Two-fer Tiffany." Her winnings for this week: $10,000 and a trip to Paris. Hey when she's hot, she's on fire.

--Krista Simmons

Follow me on Twitter @kristasimmons

Photo: Contestant Kevin Sbraga looks on nervously as another mystery box arrives. Credit: NBC UMV