Thursday, November 24, 2011

No Brisket For You! The Top Chef Texas recap

You know what they like in Texas?
You know what kind of chili they like to eat in Texas?
Texas chili!
You know why there’s no beans in Texas chili?
Because if you know beans about chili, you know that chili has no beans!!

Ugh. Can I borrow someone’s 10-gallon hat, holster, and gun so I can SHOOT MYSELF?

Look, I don’t want to turn this entire blog into a Texas-bashing zone. After all, Friday Night Lights was, like, an awesome show. And I’m sure there are tons of totally cool people who live in Texas—even outside of Austin.

But boy oh boy, was there even the slightest chance that Team Green—which made beanless chili and had Sarah, whose father was in the rodeo—was going to lose?

“One of them is from Texas…born and raised Texan”- Old Man Whitaker said approvingly of the Green Team, munching happily on their meaty chili.  Because dagnabbit. Food just tastes better when it’s made by hands born and raised in Texas.

But I digress. (A Texas-sized digression, you might say.)

The show starts with the gang discussing Keith’s exit.

“Did you guys turn against each other?” someone asks.

“I don’t think we turned against each other,” says Lindsay, eyeing Sarah. Do you, Sarah?”
(If you have to ask.  . .)

“Either have something good on the plate or shut the [bleep] up,” Umlaut says, in solidarity with the Mean Girls. (In the pack, it’s always best to be on the side of the alpha dames.)

Nyesha, meanwhile, is beginning to notice that happy time is over. Shit is getting real.

“It’s turned cutthroat all of a sudden,” she says. “It’s not so fun anymore.”

And with that, it's time for the Quickfire Challenge.

The task is easy: Create a dish highlighting one chili pepper. The hotter the pepper you use, the more money you win—up to $20,000. The wimps can use a jalapeno. The “go big or go home” types can use the dread “ghost pepper.” (In case you were wondering, this ain’t no friendly ghost.)

I love this challenge, partly because I learned something new (I’d never heard of the Scoville scale of pepper hotness . . . I wonder where Dr. Pepper lands?) and partly because I love me some hot peppers.
One of my constant complaints about living in Baltimore is that it’s hard to get really good hot food. Everything is watered down for the gringos.
(Although I did once make the mistake of ordering something called “Suicide Curry” at a Thai restaurant in D.C. I couldn’t feel my tongue for a week. File that under: live and learn.)

The two guest judges are Mary Sue and Susan from the Border Grill. (They are adorable and I would very much like to go around the country sampling hot sauce with them and getting mani-pedis.)

Turns out, only Paul has the cojones to use the Casper the Mean-Spirited Ghost (pepper).

The other chefs mostly go with habaneros and Thai peppers.

However, Beverly is the only one who gnaws on the raw peppers to see which one she wants to use.  (Mas macho!)

In the end, though, Beverly got a little cute and didn’t bother to cook her pepper (well, guess that’s one way to highlight its flavor.) So she lands in the Bottom 3, along with Chuy (ay carumba! Someone’s got some ‘splainin to do!) and Richie “Bottom 3” Farina.

The Top 3 are Heather, Grayson, and Paul.
Fittingly, Paul wins. No guts no glory. This is Top Chef, people. Not Top Hedge Your Bets.  (Or Top Scallop . . . never forget.)

Now time for the Elimination Challenge: A Chili cook-off! Fun!

The gang are split into five groups.

Red team: Whitney, Chris from Chicago, Dakota
Green Team: Chuy, Sarah, and the Not!Sexiest Man alive Chris
Black Team: Richie, Nyesha, and Beverly
Blue Team: Edward, Heather and Paul
White Team: Umlaut, Grayson, and Lindsay

They have all night to cook (at home) for the Tejas Rodeo. The winner will be chosen by the cowboys and rodeo regulars.

Nyesha is bummed to be paired with Beverly because she thinks she’s “meek.” Clearly she has never seen Beverly at the meat department of Whole Foods.

Speaking of which, the meat department is a frickin’ free-for-all—lots of grabbing and shouting and jockeying for position—it’s like the Kardashian sisters in the Lakers locker room. (Too soon?)

Dakota Weiss, who apparently needs to spend some time around my family’s dinner table to gain some assertiveness training, misses out on the brisket. (As the saying goes: “A tisket, a tasket—you’ve got no mother fucking brisket in your basket.”)
She settles for shortribs.

The house is free for all, part deux.
The refrigerator is under siege.
And maybe I’m on crack, but did I hear someone say: “Nobody touch my breast milk, okay?” (WTF?)

One of the few things I don’t like about Top Chef is when there aren’t enough stations for everyone to cook.
I like even playing fields, but there’s limited space in the fire pit. It gets a little ugly.
Also, Nyesha grabs all the beer. (Whether this is for drinking or cooking is never fully established.)

It’s getting late and people are getting loopy. Chuy is a little tipsy—literally . . . he keeps falling off a wooden hobbyhorse. He also does a strange belly dance that I can now not unsee.

Some cheftestants go to bed, others pull an all-nighter.
Those who stay up all night judge those who go to sleep.
“I’ll just be here chopping cilantro,” Chris says disdainfully, as though his ability to chop cilantro deep into the night is a sign of superior moral character.
But I am firmly on Team Nighty-Night. I, for one, need my beauty sleep. And who knows. . .maybe they’ll be forced to cook again the next day to save their own asses. (Just wild speculation on my part.)

The next day, Whitney “even I’m not sure who I am” Otakwa gets one of her first featured lines of dialogue in the whole show and it's: “We hop in the Toyota Siennas and head to the rodeo."

Some curious things happen at the rodeo:

First, Gail can’t open her beer bottle because of a “weird bagel accident” (?) (between that and the breast milk, I swear, I’m hearing things today) and she asks Tom to do it. He tries and fails and Padma impatiently yanks the beer out of his hands and opens it with her teeth. (Not really. She uses her strong, supple, supermodel hands.)
It’s an awkward moment, made doubly awkward by the fact that Gail says: “Never send a man to do a woman’s job.” Ouch. I’m sure that was bracing for Tom, although to his credit, his adorable smile never fades. (Let me comfort you, boo boo.)

Then Beverly cries again. (Obviously, Beverly crying at random intervals will be a recurring theme this entire season.) She cried at the Quinceañera because her father wasn’t there. Now she is crying at the rodeo, because. . . her husband isn’t there.
“There’s no crying in cooking,” Nyesha says. (Which also might explain how Tom C. kept such a poker face after being completely emasculated by Padma.)

Later, Padma comes out to announce the results of the vote, looking radiant atop a horse, and there’s lots of hootin’ and hollerin’ from the crowd.
Then Chris (hair gel, not Chicago) compares Padma to Fabio on the cover of a romance novel, possibly the gayest thing every said by an allegedly straight man on reality TV. (Until next week, that is, when he will exult: “John Besh is a handsome man!”)

And the winner is. . .well, I already ruined the surprise. Heh. Sorry bout that.
Team Texas! I mean Team Green.

And the bottom team is the Black Team. (And you thought Beverly was crying before. . .)
But there’s no time for tears. It’s time to suck it up. Because the Elimination Challenge has its own elimination challenge. It’s the Russian nesting dolls of Elimination Challenges. This could go on indefinitely.

Beverly, Richie, and Nyesha have to repurpose their mole chili into a new dish. And they have half an hour to do it.
I’ve never seen three contestants look so spent, so deflated, so completely over it. (See the sad little photo above).
But they have to snap out of it.

Meanwhile, every time Chicago Chris talks about Richie, it’s so patronizing, right?
“He’s my best little buddy,” Chris says. (I’m surprised he hasn’t dressed Richie up in a little organ grinder costume.)

Seriously, not to rag on Chris, because I haven’t fully figured his “deal” out yet  but I can’t help but feel that one of the reasons he wants “his best little buddy” to stick around is because he knows he can beat him. (Anyone else picking up on that? Or am I just a deeply warped and cynical human being?)

But in the end, Chris’s little buddy, the pocket chef, the man who puts the “short” in short order cook is going home.
(If you’re keeping score at home, the flavors on his pork were not as developed as Nyesha’s tiger shrimp or Beverly’s winning seared tuna.)

(Oh, and what was up with Padma when Tom confessed that he didn’t realize Frito’s were from the Midwest? “The Village next door called, they want their idiot back,” she retorted. Harsh! As if her beer-opening vanquishing of Tom wasn’t enough!)
(Also didn’t you get the sense that she had heard that line someplace—some chic, New York literary party filled with her fellow Beautiful People perhaps?—and was just looking for an opening to randomly insert it? Because Tom’s innocent Frito mistake hardly seemed to warrant such vitriol.)

Anyway, damn, Richie is so dear. Everyone is bumming. Eliminating Richie is like repeatedly kicking a puppy—or calling Tom Colicchio an idiot.

Richie and Chris hug, and their foreheads touch, which is so damn cute, I get verklempt, and I’m beginning to reconsider that whole “Chris is a Jerk” theory I had 3 paragraphs ago. (I’m fickle like that.)

Tune in next week to see if there’s more clues to his true nature one way or another.

Until then, yeehaw! I’m done like Texas toast.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Snakes on a Plate: The Top Chef Texas recap

It's incredibly obvious that Beverly is either a really big Journey fan (“Don’t Stop Believin’!”) or that she has read—and possibly memorized—that Oprah-powered paean to blind optimism, The Secret.

Because last week, she was all “I can, I must, I will!” and this week she has a sign over her bed that reads: “Congratulations, Top Chef Beverly Kim!”

Must be awkward for her roommates.

Anyway, up until this point, the show has been fun, but has seemed a bit like throat-clearing, right? An amuse bouche, if you will. 
Now we’re really in the thick of it. We’ve got our 16 finalists, and I even know some of their names!

(Although, quite literally, as the show ended, I saw some chick allegedly on the Green Team and I had no idea what her name was, what she had cooked, and whether she was some sort of Borat-like imposter or if she was an actual contestant on the actual show).

(Edited to add: It was the riveting and unforgettable Whitney Otawka.  . . .).

Also, speaking of names, I’m extremely annoyed that I have to create a special little macro on my damn computer just so I can do a one-click typing of Ty-lör Boring’s name. (Or should I just call him Ty? That’s so ugly American of me. But then again, I don’t think his name is European. I think it’s from the region of Pretentioustan.)

Quickfire time: Padma is standing there with Chef Johnny Hernandez of La Gloria and a bunch of rattlesnakes.

“I don’t like snakes,” says the ginormous Keith Rhodes. He really meets both the criteria for “Gentle Giant.”

As for Dakota Weiss, who is not my sister—my actual sister’s name is Carolina Weiss—she is really not a fan of snakes.

“I have this massive fear of snakes. Slithering and coiling and ewww.” Geez, when you put it like that, ’Kotes. . .

“When the time is up, I better see some motherf*cking snakes on some motherf*cking plates,” says Padma, inexplicably channeling Samuel L. Jackson from Snakes on a Plane (Snakes on a Plate?).

Everybody has a little wooden box in front of them and—good Lord, are there going to be live rattlesnakes in those boxes?

(If so, and if Edward gets stung, he will have someone suck out the deadly venom as he continues to cook). (After last week’s wound-be-damned heroics, Edward has at least temporarily graduated from "Unsteady Jaw Guy" to  “Chuck Norris in an Apron” guy . .  .).

Anyway, they open the boxes and. . .psych! The rattlesnakes are already dead. (Or maybe they were just frightened to death by all the tattoos?). But still tricky to cook.

Surprise! In an hisstorical upset (sorry), Dakota Fanning Weiss (yeah, I’ve done that about 3 times already) wins the Quickfire—and immunity—with her fried rattlesnake fritters.

If she keeps this up, I may have to search for some sort of genealogical connection.

It’s time for the Elimination Challenge. The contestants are divided into two teams: The Green Team and the Pink Team.

“You’ll be creating a meal for a very important event.”
And in walks in
  . . . a very cute, very unassuming, very unfamiliar 15-year-old girl.
“Hey,” she says.

The contestants exchange looks: Is she some bigwig on the Disney Channel they are just not aware of? Has she created a viral video—“Viernes” perhaps?—that has made her a beloved/reviled YouTube sensation?

Nope, she’s just Blanca Flores, a cute kid having a Quinceañera—or a big 15th birthday party.

The teams will compete to make the best upscale Mexican food for the party including a—gasp!—birthday cake.

Luckily, Dakota has immunity, so she can sacrifice herself to the cake gods for the Pink Team (and create a cake so tacky it looks like My Little Pony threw up on it). Meanwhile, Heather, from the Green Team, used to be a pastry chef (apparently in a region with no gravity, but more on that later), so she can leche it up with the best of them. Done and done.

Cutie-patootie Blanca huddles with the teams and tells them what she likes (napa cabbage leaves) and what she doesn’t like (too much spice).

The Green Team definitely has an advantage because Chuy is on their side. He is Mexican, and although boys don’t get Quinceañeras where he comes from—“they’re just taught to kill a goat,” he sighs—at least he
knows the difference between corn and flour tortillas. 

I think the teams go like this (don’t shoot me if I’m wrong): 

Pink Team:

Bossypants Lindsay and her undersecretary of Bossiness Sarah.

Plus “Gentle Giant” Keith; Ty-lör  “You can call me Ty” Boring; Nyesha “hoping to get a speaking part in future episodes” Arrington; Chris “Not People’s sexiest man alive”  Crary; Dakota “not maxthegirl’s sister” Weiss; and Whitney “even I’m not sure who I am” Otakwa. 

Green Team:

Chuy “the goat murderer” Valencia; Chris “just call me the Skipper” Jones; Richie “but don’t call me Gilligan” Farina; Beverly “I think I can, I think I can” Kim; Paul “Keep on (food) Truckin’” Qui; Edward “Chuck Norris Fears My Jaw” Lee; Heather “Leaning Tower of Leche” Terhune, and Grayson “Is it Tequila o’Clock yet?”  Schmitz.

So Pink Team’s Keith makes the horrible mistake of purchasing cooked shrimp for the shrimp cocktail and Lindsay and Sarah really let him have it. 

Who would buy cooked shrimp in a cooking competition?” says Sarah. “The point is to cook the shrimp!"

 (Okay, fair enough. But by that logic, why did they buy premade tortillas, too? Isn’t the point to cook the tortillas? But I digress.)

There’s too much food to go into specific detail—especially since, let’s face it, this blog is really more about the “making fun of people” than it is about the “food”—but some of that shit looked delicious:

Exhibit A: Delicious looking shit (Beverly’s Beef Short Rib Asada with Pina Kimchi):

Still, there are some duds,  mostly on the Pink Team:

Ty’s boring fritters (heh). Keith’s enchilada that was actually a burrito. Lindsay and Sarah’s surprisingly bland conchita pibil (pork). And Dakota’s cake that was apparently as sickening to eat as it was to look at:


Over on Team Green, most things are great, except for Heather’s tres leches cake, which a strong gust of wind away from being a total party foul.

Aaaand. . .The Green Team wins! No surprise there. (But there is no individual winner? Isn’t that unusual? Is it just sort of Chuy by default? I’m a bit confused.)

From the Pink Team, Keith, Lindsay, Sarah, and Ty are asked to go in front of the judges.

Keith smells something coming and it’s the exhaust fumes from bus that he’s about to be thrown under.

It’s actualy funny to watch Sarah and Lindsay fight for their lives because they are both obviously very talented and very confident and have massive chips on their shoulders and are pretty much FREAKING OUT at the prospect of possibly going home first.

I mean, I think I actually see smoke coming out of Lindsay’s nostrils at one point.

But yeah, it’s blame Keith for everything time.

Your fritter sucked? It’s because Keith bought cooked shrimp.

Your pork was underseasoned? It’s because Keith used flour tortillas.

You got a late fee on your credit card? Keith’s fault.

You get the point.

That being said, Keith’s default excuse was “nobody told me not to”—which would make sense of this show was Top Chef: Apprentice. But it’s Top Chef and dude should’ve known not to buy cooked shrimp and he should’ve known not to use flour tortillas.

So he goes home. But  he still sees it as a triumphant story of man conquering adversity.

“Dream big, dream hard because dreams come true and I’m a testimony to that—peace,” he says.

Apparently, the size of a man’s dream can not be measured by the size of his. . .chef’s coat. Keith really should’ve hung out with Beverly so he could dream a little bigger.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

No Exit: The Top Chef Texas recap

All reality shows are a social experiment to a certain extent. But this whole, “we’ll put you together in an isolation chamber as you await an unknown fate” was particularly brutal, wasn’t it? 

And at first, Edward, aka “FlopJaw” made light:
“We’re like prisoners in a room starting to bond,” he said. 

But, almost inevitably, by the end of their detainment, he had changed his tune: “If they leave me here in the stew room long enough, I’m going to kill the 5 other people to get that jacket.”

They will be watching this video in sociology classes for decades to come.

Meanwhile, back at the other, less “Hell is other people”-ish end of the competition, we get to meet the final group of would-be cheftestants.
(Oh, and also new judge, Hugh “The Eyebrows” Acheson. Somewhere, Rod Serling is rolling in his grave, thinking, “Bitch stole my look.”)

There’s the totally adorable Chaz Brown, who notes that he used to have a picture of Padma in his middle school locker. (Thus proving, once and for all, that Padma does not wield Heidi Klum-levels of power on Top Chef. Can you imagine Klum ever letting such a reference to her age get past editing?)

“I still think she’s the most beautiful woman in the world,” he says.
Later, while everyone is boasting of various James Beards nominations and the like, Chaz says: “Nominated by mom as one of her two favorite sons.”
(Spoiler alert: Why couldn’t you plate your damn dish, darling Chaz? Why? Why?)

There’s also some girl named Kim Colicchio, but Tom insists that just because his daughter is in the competition he will not play favorites. (Just kidding, she spells her name: C-A-L-I-C-H-I-O).

And drawing yet again from the this close to greatness file, we have John Baltazar, who is in no way affiliated with famed Balthazar Restaurant in New York. Bummer.

So this group’s challenge is to pick one of several ingredients on the table and make a signature dish. There is one catch though—next to each ingredient is a cloche. 

“Do not touch the cloche,” Tom says. (This is Top Chef’s version of “Do not release the Kraken.”)

Time for the big reveal: Under each cloche is a designated time: 20 minutes, 40 minutes, and one hour.
Oxtail and octopus take longer to cook, so they get an hour. Mushrooms and trout take less time, so they get 20 minutes. Etc.   

(The common denominator here, of course, is: There is NOT ENOUGH TIME!!!! But hey, you want to cook in a slow, leisurely fashion, there are a few restaurants in Baltimore I could hook you up with.)

So the first three are up:
Paul, representin’ for Food Truckers across America, makes a grilled trout and is be-coated.

Then there’s Kim, who makes greasy pan seared lamb and is dunzo.

Then there’s Andrew, who serves his roasted mushrooms and poached egg on a messy plate and is on the dreaded BUBBLE.

He skulks back into the Lord of the Flies waiting chamber.

“What are you in for?” LooseJaw asks him.
“Manslaughtering mushrooms,” Andrew says. (Okay, he didn’t say that, but it would’ve been funny.)

(And yes, I know it’s mean that I keep making fun of Edward’s jaw when it’s probably some sort of medical condition and he obviously can’t help it anyway. Edward, if I ever go on a reality TV show that you happen to blog about, you have my permission to call me “The Shnoz.”)

Next group:

The old French guy (duck with arugula).
Some other chick (short ribs).
Not!Balthazar (brussels sprouts)
My one-day TV boyfriend Chaz (risotto)

Old French guy is on the bubble. (“Merci beacoup for that opportunity,” he says. Because he’s French.)

Short rib girl fell short and is out.

If he hurries, Not!Balthazar might be able to hop on a plane and get an 8 pm reservation at Balthazar, because he’s out.

As for Chaz, well, Houston we have a problem: You see, he never got his risotto on the plates. He’s serving the judges. . .nothing. (Talk about a diet plate! Ba-dum-dum!)

Tom and Hugh look at Padma beseechingly. You can see that Tom is trying to decide if they should all just hover around Chaz’s risotto, trough style.

Padma will have none of it: “Chaz, please Pack your knives and go,” she says firmly.

“It kinda feels like she’s breaking up with me,” Chaz says. “I want my CDs back, we have to split up our friends. . . You cut me deep Padma.”

Awwww. Goodbye TV boyfriend I will have long forgotten about by next week’s episode. It was real.

Final group:

We have Beverly, who has Stuart Smiley-style note in her pocket: “I can, I must, I will.” (She so has her life coach on speed dial.) She makes octopus.

Then we have Ashley, who has no idea how to use a pressure cooker so, naturally, decides to cook her oxtail in a pressure cooker. (It’s the Curse of Carla’s Sous Vide all over again, people!)

Then there’s Lindsay, who is one of these hyper efficient, doesn’t-suffer-fools types who scare the shit out of me. She actually helps Ashley open her pressure cooker (“run it under cold water”) which is nice, but does it in such an impatient, annoyed, “can the real competition please start soon so I can get away from these plebes?” sort of way, it seems slightly less than gracious.

So. . .
Ashley obviously couldn’t handle the pressure [cooker] and is out.

Lindsay’s braised veal is magical and marvelous and better than your faves and she’s IN.

Beverly’s motivational pep talk to herself apparently worked, because her Korean-style octopus was delish. Coat for her!

Now back to Satan’s anteroom, where LooseLips is asking Molly where she works:
“I cook on the Allure of the Seas for the Royal Caribbean,” she says.
“Oh, a cruise ship,” he says. Then he gives a villainous laugh. Nice.

There are 6 contestants on the bubble and only 2 chef coats.
You do the math. (Feel free to use a calculator.)

“You have 45 minutes to make one dish that shows us why you should be here,” says Tom.

Meanwhile, some of the contestants tell us more about themselves: 

Apparently, when she was 15, Grayson was asked by her mother what she wanted to do with her life.
“What do you mean, Mom? I’m 15, all I want to do is drink,” Grayson replied. 
At which point, her mother immediately checked her into rehab and she hasn’t been seen or heard from since. . .or, she let her get a job at restaurant, so she could booze it up to her 15-year-old liver’s content.

The very funny Janine tells us the very unfunny story of her partner breaking up with her a few weeks after their commitment ceremony because she didn’t like her VOWS. (Duuude.)
“A post it note would’ve been more touching than that,” she says.

Reverse Lockjaw has the confidence of a man with a much firmer jaw. 

“As long as I keep my nerves steady, there’s no way I can screw this up,” he says.

Cue the scene, moments later, where he cuts himself with a knife and his hand is positively gushing with blood. 

We’ve seen cuts on Top Chef before, but nothing like this. It’s almost a cartoon level of blood. Aron Ralston would be watching this and thinking: I could not survive that. 

As the medic is trying to save his gruesome, dangling appendage, FlopJaw just keeps on cooking. He’s an animal. Eventually they just shove his hand in a hefty bag and call it a day.

The sad thing is, everyone on the bubble cooked well. . .But not well enough.

Frenchie’s scallop tartare was grey-grey, so he’s done.
Molly’s shrimp was overcooked, so she’s “cruisin’” on outta here. 

FlopJaw’s dish was bloody delicious, so he’s IN!

Andrew, who’s from Austin and soooo wanted to represent for his home state, is out.

So it comes down to Grayson vs. Janine and I am bumming, because I like them both.
Grayson (bacon wrapped shrimp with polenta), despite her ABC Afterschool Special teen alcoholism problem, is pretty adorable. And if you recall, she’s on the bubble through no fault of her own. She was victimized by “Stone. Chef Tyler Stone” and his disappearing tenderloin last week.

Then there’s Janine (seared scallop), who is that rare contestant I laugh with, not at.

And Grayson is IN!  (And as of now, my favorite. We’ve been through a lot together.)

We have our final 16. .  .except my DVR cut off and there’s some sort of online competition to determine if Janine or Andrew make the show?

Okay, I just looked over at Bravo’s site: It’s called Last Chance Kitchen and it’s for ALL the eliminated chefs, not just Andrew and Janine. They’ll compete head to head every week and the last person standing will get to compete in the final of show. Kewl.

(Not to belabor the point, but it was kind of unfair to pit Janine against Andrew, right? Why couldn't they go up against one of the garden variety rejects, like greasy lamb girl or overcooked pork boy? Instead, they have to go up against each other, a one seed against a one seed, if you will. Or maybe I'm just bitter because I've already watched the video and I know the results. . .Sigh.)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Supersize Me! The Top Chef Texas recap

Life doesn’t always give you gifts. You don’t always get to see the asshole who tailgated you all the way down the expressway getting pulled over for a speeding ticket. The guy who broke your heart in high school doesn’t always show up at the reunion bald, fat, and broke.

So we must savor these moments.

So, for example when young master Tyler Stone—that’s “Stone. Chef Tyler Stone” according to his cringe-worthy audition video—a little twerp who saw himself as a real contender, who boasted about being twice as good and half the age of most of his competition, gets kicked off the show because he can’t seem to locate the tenderloin of a pig—don’t let this moment pass you by without fully appreciating it. Bask in it. To borrow a food term: Let it marinate.

You might be asking yourself: How could Tom Colicchio be so cavalier as to boot one of his contestants from the show before it had really begun? Well, he’s got 29 chefs and only 16 snazzy Top Chef chef coats to give out. You do the math.

I’m afraid that’s going to be the theme this Texas-sized season: Everything’s bigger on Texas Top Chef!  A mere 16 contestants is for those pussy cities like New York and Chicago. In Texas, this one goes to 29 contestants!

(References to Texas doing everything bigger will most certainly be a fun-for-the-whole-family, fast-track-to-inebriation drinking game. The other one? Every time someone says “BAM!” or makes a play on the word “BAM!”—now that Emeril Lagasse has been installed as a permanent judge. Shoot me now.)

So the 29 contestants line up—they’ll be breaking into 3 teams and competing for those 16 slots—and it’s hard to know who to really pay attention to at this point. Why get attached to one particular neck tattoo when it could be gone by the end of the show? (Yes, once again, this is a very tatted up bunch. It looks more like the opening scene to MSNBC’s Lockup than Top Chef.)

But of course, I couldn’t help but to notice Richie Farina, who wore a pink bandanna with a pencil stuck in it, thus making him look like a gay Geisha gangster. Once he took the bandanna off and revealed his neo-Sanjaya haircut, I sort of understood why he wanted to distract attention away from his hair. But he’s strangely adorable, right?

There’s also a mini drama with Richie and his boss Chris Jones, the sous chef at Moto in Chicago (by the way, there are more Top Chef contestants from Chicago than there are corrupt politicians in Chicago). (That last joke was brought to you by the year 1955). And Jones, who made some sort of precious, Richard-Blais-style faux-caramel apple out of his pork, seems like he might be a contender.

There’s also the guy who looks like the love child of Billy Bush and Bradley Cooper, who remarked out of the gate that Padma looked “hot” and that was why he needed to stay in the competition. Ugh. (I must say, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather when his duo of rabbit was proclaimed one of the best of the night. Didn’t see THAT coming from hair gel boy.)

Then there’s a man named Ty-lör Boring. Um, say what? Look, maybe the guy was born with the name Ty-lör Boring, in which case his parents are horrible people. But if his actual name is Tyler and he figured that he was far too interesting a cat to have a first name Tyler and a last name Boring, so he decided to add an umlaut, a dash, and in inexplicable “o” to the spelling—well, he’s already on my list.

There’s a girl named Janine, who compared seeing Padma and Tom in person for the first time to “going to a wax museum” and later, upon discovering that she would be cooking with rabbit, proclaimed “rabbit orgies are awesome!”
“Please let her get a chef coat” I wrote in my notes. (She got put on the bubble. She claimed it was an anti-tattoo bias—a reasonable theory, frankly—and will have to cook for her life next week.)

Who else? Who else?
There’s a kind of lovable giant, who I kept thinking was going to break into that ukulele version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” who actually DID go to prison for dealing drugs, but  now the only thing he “cracks” are eggs. (No, I have no idea if he actually went to prison for crack. It could’ve been the heartwarming but illegal distribution of medical marijuana to cancer patients, for all I know.)

Crack guy (sorry) seemed like a pussycat, but I was secretly relieved when Simon, with his particularly elaborate neck tattoo and scary scowl, was told to leave. (However, I did fear for Padma’s life when she told him to “pack up his knives.” I make a point of not mentioning knives around guys who look like that.)

There’s Edward Lee—also on the bubble—who has some sort of condition that I have diagnosed as “reverse lockjaw.” Did anyone else notice this? Every time he talked his jaw was flopping around like a beached fish. It was disconcerting.

Another possible contender is a girl named Nyesha, who worked alongside Chef Robuchon and has a serious intimidation factor.

Then there’s a guy named Chuy (pronounced “Chewie”). Anybody named after my favorite Star Wars character is alright in my book, but anyone who says “Booyah, Beeyotch!” upon winning a chef’s coat—especially when moments earlier he was shaking in his boots like a little girly man— is NOT alright in my book, so I remain on the fence.

Anyway, I appreciated the fact that they didn’t try to cram all 29 contestants into one episode. Next week, it seems, we’ll get the final group and the bubble folks to cook for their lives.

Say it with me people: A first episode so big and Texas-sized, they had to split it into two! BAM!