Thursday, December 22, 2011

Karma’s a bitch (and so am I): The Top Chef Texas recap

I know that everyone thinks Beverly is sweetness and light and a basket of kittens and stuff like that, but I have a new theory on her: She’s scary.

Seriously, she’s some kind of wicca, or shaman, or voodoo sorceress.

Because yes, there might be karma in the world—and yes, it can be a powerful thing. But it’s not usually instantaneous. It’s not usually, like, a vending machine, where you put your quarter in for cosmic retribution and it comes popping right out at you.

But in Beverly’s world, that’s exactly how it works. It’s like instant messaging: She texts “T8k Hthr dwn” to the universe and the universe promptly responds.

Hey, speaking of instant messaging, holy shit! Twitter has only been around for four years? I guess all those fond memories I have of me live Tweeting my 4th grade holiday pageant are false.

I mention Twitter, because it was apparently popularized at the SXSW festival, which is relevant for two reasons:

a. The chefs have now made their way to Austin

b. I can at least briefly stop making fun of Texas because Austin is awesome.

The Quickfire challenge is make a dish based on live-Tweet requests from Top Chef followers.

Some cat named @DentonBiety (everyone follow him, it’ll be fun!) tweeted, “Everything is better with bacon. Let’s see if that’s true.”

So Tom and Padma tell the chefs they have 45 minutes to make a dish with bacon. Lame, right? I mean, I don’t presume to know @DentonBiety, but I don’t think that’s quite what he (she?) had in mind. I think @DentonBiety was thinking more along the lines of “If everything is better with bacon, can you make lemon meringue pie better with it?” Something a little more, you know, challenging.

But of course, this was only Part One of the challenge.

As they’re cooking away, Tom drops in another live Tweet, from @habitat67: “Do a hash for a hashtag challenge” (I see what you did there, @habitat67).

Finally, a third Tweet comes in: “Chefs, choose a pantry ingredient and hand it off for someone else to use in their dish.” (Oooooh, sneaky.)

So there’s all sorts of consternation about sriracha sauce, which is just silly if you ask me. Take @DentonBiety’s tweet, substitute “sriracha” for “bacon” and you pretty much have my culinary philosophy.

Tom does the judging.

The bottom 3 are Grayson (her puff wasn’t puffy), Chris J (his dish was too salty) and Ed (his hash was too ashy).

And the top 3 are Beverly (the karma begins!), Sarah (her bacon was nicely smoked), and Paul (his dish was wonderfully weird, just like Austin).

And . . . Paul wins!

Then they all go to the hotel lounge where Patti LaBelle comes on stage and works out “Lady Marmalade.”

As if on cue, Padma struts in and I have a feeling this is now in her rider: “Patti LaBelle must sing Lady Marmalade every time I enter a room.”

So Patti is a chef herself (who knew?) and was inspired by her mother. The elimination challenge is this: Make a dish to honor your cooking inspiration.

Amazingly, it’s not Beverly who cries, but Sarah, because her grandparents are her inspiration and they are both dead. Oh, wait. . .this just in: Both her grandparents are alive. But they will die some day. (Especially if they tick off Beverly somehow.)

Okay, the next sequence on the show I’d like to call “Both Max and Malibu Chris are still terribly confused about his sexuality.”

I should, of course, mention an earlier scene, the road trip to Austin, where Chris—now nicknamed “Malibu Chris” by Grayson—said the following, “If you were on, do you think we’d be compatible?”

To whom do you think he said this:

a. Grayson

b. Paul

c. His hair gel

If you guessed “b” you’re right. (And if he’d only known that just one car away, Heather was professing her love for John Besh, Chris would be all like, “Back off, bitch. He’s mine.”)

At this point, I’m fully convinced that the producers of Top Chef know that Chris’s sexuality is a source of great debate in the blogosphere and are just messing with us. To wit: The following triptych back at the house:

First, Chris sees Chris Jones’ butt crack and can’t look away—but must.

“Crack kills,” he says half-heartedly.

Then, Umlaut and Ed are sitting around a table discussing the size of Ed’s balls (really).

“I have balls and I’m going to show them,” Ed says. (Off camera, Chris has his hands over his ears: ‘”La, la, la, la, la. I can’t HEAR you!”)

Finally, they head to the challenge site and Chris J, brandishing a piece of fruit, happily announces, “I have my banana!”

Oh. the. Humanity.

Cooking time and I learned a new word: You know that gunky white stuff you sometimes see on overcooked salmon? You no longer have to call it “that gunky white stuff you sometimes see on overcooked salmon.” It’s called albumen. Malibu Chris had some on his salmon and he tried to shave it off and was hoping that the judges “wouldn’t notice.” (Good luck with that!)

Heather’s beef stroganoff contained some kind of mystery meat that Patti LaBelle identified as “Big Foot.” (Heh.)

Sarah was concerned that her pork sausage stuffed cabbage looked a little too “Creature from the Green Lagoon”-ish, but the judges floved it.

Grayson made a plate of meat and potatoes so unappetizingly enormous that even Texans would be like, “Girl, show a little restraint!”

Edward’s vegetarian bibimbap was so delicious that one of the guests was allergic to it but STILL ate it.

Beverly’s Korean braised short ribs were a revelation and the judges were particularly impressed—karma alert! karma alert!—with her masterful use of the pressure cooker.

Judgment time.

Padma asks to see Grayson, Heather, and Malibu Chris.

They exchange looks. Could it be that they read the tea leaves wrong and they’re secretly awesome? No, they’re the bottom 3.

“Your tributes fell flat,” Padma says.

Padma found Grayson’s beef to be “Sinewy and spongy”. I truly can’t imagine two words, used in concert, that would be less appetizing.

“Sorry,” Grayson says. Because really, what else can she say at this point?

As for Malibu Chris? Suffice it to say, the judges were all-bummin’ because of the albumen.

Then onto Heather’s karmic retribution, aka her beef stroganoff.

The judges tell her the meat was so grisly they couldn’t cut it.

Heather explains that she considered using the pressure cooker, but feared it might make her beef stringy.

“Beverly used the pressure cooker,” Tom says pointedly. “And she’s. . . not here.”

Knife, meet heart.

Okay, off they go to stew in their sinewy and spongy juices.

Now the good news! The top 3 are Beverly, Sarah, and Ed.

“You put your heart and soul on that plate,” Patti said to Ed.

“Everything had a purpose,” Tom says to Beverly.

“You showed a lot of technique in that dish,” Emeril says to Sarah.

And the winner is. . .Sarah! (In a sad note, the news is so exciting, her grandparents both drop dead on the spot.) (Joke.)

And the other winner is. . .Karma!

Because, yes, Heather is gone.

“Don’t be upset,” she says to the gang in the holding room. And they’re all like, “Who ya callin’ upset?”

“There is a personal satisfaction,” Beverly meekly admits, adding under her breath, “Mwahhaha!”

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Am Not an Animal! The Top Chef Texas recap

I would like to make an addendum to last week’s recap: Nevermind.

Because Heather kinda emerged as a supervillain this week, huh?

I mean, she made Beverly cry, which, granted isn’t exactly the hardest thing to do—Beverly cries at office park openings—but still. . . awww, widdle Beverly!

And Heather’s the worst kind of supervillain, too: the kind who’s constantly shooting herself in the foot. She’s the Plaxico Burress of supervillains. (At this moment, I’m actually envisioning the thought bubbles with question marks over all my readers’ heads.)

Seriously, how did she not see that sabotaging Beverly was also sabotaging herself because they were on the SAME FRICKIN’ TEAM?

When Grayson, who fried several brain cells due to teenage alcohol poisoning (I kid, I kid), sees the error of your logic, you know you’re in trouble. But Heather was on a roll. She was going to complain again (and again . . . and again) about Beverly peeling those shrimp if it was the last thing she did. And damned if it nearly was. (She would also like to complain about the premature cancellation of Freaks and Geeks, the Florida Supreme Court presidential ruling of 2000, the 1919 Black Sox scandal, and other things about as relevant to this challenge as Beverly’s shrimp.)

And I don’t want get all grassy knoll on y’all, but the minute I found out it was a double elimination and saw which teams were paired up, I knew who was going home. Dakota and Nyesha were going to have to smoke the competition (figuratively, that is) to avoid the whole, “You have no clearly delineated character or storyline so bye-bye” fate. Just sayin’…

So. . .yeah. The Quickfire Challenge. More shameless product plugs for some tequila brand. Remember when TV shows and commercials were two different things?

The guest judge is Tim Love, who is an actual chef and not a chef in a porn film, in case there was any confusion.

The assignment is to create a dish that pairs beautifully with the tequila of your choice. . . and man, Love is a meanypants!

“I felt like it was a new special at a chain restaurant,” he says of Heather’s rock shrimp.

“The chicken was dry on my palate…it stuck in my teeth,” he says to Chris Jones. (Luckily, Chris is able to pull the bone from his Pebbles hairdo to help him pick his teeth.)

Love also isn’t a fan of Sarah’s undercooked risotto but she trots out the old “your palate is meaningless to me; I’ve been to Italy” line, albeit somewhat unconvincingly.

On top? Not!Fat Chris, who is quietly emerging as a contender.  Lindsay, for her perfectly seared salmon, and Umlaut, who was the only chef clever enough to know that clams and tequila are the Ashton and Demi of food/liquor pairings.

And the winner is: Umlaut! (Does this mean there’s hope for Ashton and Demi, too?)

Now, for the Elimination Challenge.

Team up with the person you are “coincidentally” standing next to and definitely not “standing next to because the producers told you exactly where to stand” (Beverly and Heather? Quel surprise!).

I’ll call this challenge: The NRA’s Revenge. (Or, conversely, PETA’s Raging Bile Duct). Turns out, Tim Love loves game and he’s having a dinner party for his fellow game-loving chefs, including Vinny Detolo from the restaurant Animal, who looks like Tobias Funke from Arrested Development and apparently used to hunt gators (!). When bearded hipster nerds do macho things, it puzzles.

I kill gators

Nyesha and Dakota get venison for Brian Caswell

Sarah and Paul gets squab for my Top Chef Masters homie Anita Lo

Grayson and Chris J get elk for Tim Love

Chris and Lindsay get boar for John Shook

Heather and Bev get duck for Jon Currence (would it be too obvious to make a “currant” sauce?)

Ed and Umlaut get quail for the aforementioned macho hipster Vinny Detolo.

And there is a catch: The bottom 3 teams will be determined by a jury of their peers, meaning each other. Oh that won’t be awkward at all.

The kitchen is positively oozing with body fluid. Everyone is sweating and when they are not sweating they are crying and when they are not crying they are probably farting. It is like a petri dish in there and it is gross (and pretty much the reason why I don’t like to look into the kitchens of my favorite restaurants—frankly, I’d rather not know.)

In a completely shocking move, Chris J has decided to make some sort of snazzy sweet potato “chain link fence.” Because potatoes taste so much better when they’re shaped like a chain link fence. Wait. . . no.

First up, Not!Fat Chris and Lindsay.

They have made roasted wild boar with peach BBQ sauce and Kohlrabi slaw.

The judges seem to like it and so do their fellow cheftestants (“It’s a nice, playful way to do BBQ,” says Sarah) except for Paul, who—perhaps because he possesses the clearest conscience of them all—is the only one willing to step up to the plate and do a little criticizing: “The slaw is a little watery,” he says.  Upon hearing this, Lindsay’s face freezes into a rictus of despair. “It’s gut wrenching,” she says. (This may be when the farting took place.).

Next up: Heather and Bev, who—spoiler alert!—haven’t really been seeing eye to eye.

Bev wants to do her Asian thing and Heather wants to do her farm-to-table thing and Heather says, and I quote: “It’s like a knife to the heart.” Good lord, people. Take a “chill pill” as we used to say back on Long Island.

They end up creating five-spice duck breast with creamy polenta and pickled cherry.

The judges think the plating is a little confusing and all over the place.

Back in the kitchen, and true to form, Sarah declares the duck breast “perfectly cooked and super tender.”

Paul thinks the skin needed to be crisper.

Next up Chris and Grayson and their jumbo roasted elk with sweet potato chainlink fence bouquet.

“Is there a reason why the sweet potato looks like this?” Padma says. (You have to wake up pretty early in the morning, do a juicing cleanse, an hour of pilates, and read several chapters of The Satanic Verses to fool Padma.)

“I. . .I was trying to do an elaborate technique and I didn’t quite accompli—” sputters Chris.

“It IS how we wanted it to be,” interrupts Grayson. “We wanted to get height and we accomplished that.”

As they exit, stage right, you can hear Grayson saying, “Don’t TELL them that!” Now kids, play nice.

So the sweet potatoes are a sour note, but the elk is cooked perfectly.

Next up, Umlaut’s Redemption Tour 2011 is almost complete. The chefs love the Sorghum quail with pickled cherries he made with Edward as do his fellow cheftestants.

Then, Dakota and Nyesha, who are making sacrificial lamb. Just kidding, they’re making rack of venison. “I’m racking my brain trying to figure out how to cook this,” Dakota says, no pun intended. (Literally, the pun was unintentional.) (Punning is a dying art people. . . I’m only one woman.)

While their Kobocha squash and beet gratin is delish, the venison is way undercooked. It’s just the opening the judges need to eliminate them without controversy. Whew!

Finally, squab two ways with Sarah and Paul.

Sarah is totally freaking out about her squab sausage.

She is violating the three rules of the kitchen: Never let them see you sweat. Never let them see you cry. Never let them see you have a nervous sausage breakdown.

“The scariest thing is not that I would be eliminated. It’s that something I did would make Paul go home, I’d be devastated,” says Sarah. “That sausage killed me, you guys.”

(So, in case you were playing the home game: The competition is “gut wrenching,” a “knife to the heart,” “devastating,” and “killing” one of the cheftestants. I can sure see why everyone wants to be on the show!)

Padma pads in: “Can we see Ed and Ty?” she says. They win!  Umlaut is on fïre.

Now it’s time for the cheftestants to pick the bottom 3 teams.

“Why don’t we just vote?” Grayson says, logically enough.

“But you’re not going to vote for yourself!” counters Heather. (At this point, I’m beginning to consider the very real possibility that Heather simply isn’t bright enough to be a supervillain.)

“Neither are you,” Grayson says, barely able to contain her contempt.

The vote takes place. Chris and Grayson, Beverly and Heather, and Nyesha and Dakota are in the bottom 3.

So an elk, a duck, and a venison walk into a bar. . .

“Obviously, your fellow chefs felt you served the three worst dishes at dinner,” Padma says. She just loves to dig that knife in a little deeper, doesn’t she?

(This, BTW, is the portion of the show where Heather starts attacking Beverly over her shrimp from last week’s challenge and, in case you can’t get enough of it, the Top Chef website has conveniently posted a video called,  “The Most Cringeworthy Parts of Heather Vs. Beverly.” Heh.)

Anyway, once Dakota and Nyesha were in front of the firing squad it was a foregone conclusion, right?  Kinda sucks for Nyesha, who did the “delicious” part of their meal and obviously didn’t deserve to go.

“I took Nyesha down with me and that sucks,” says Dakota. (Awww, love ya, sis. )

In closing, double eliminations are gut wrenching, a knife to the heart, devastating, and they may one day kill us all.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cattle balls: The Top Chef Texas recap

Will the real supervillain please step forward?

I think I’ve finally figured out the one flaw with this otherwise kickass season of Top Chef: There’s no villain. There’s no 5-star egomaniac, just a series of 2-star egomaniacs. We need that one jerk, that one contestant we love to hate, who throws others under the bus with impunity, who crows endlessly about his or her own culinary prowess, who is bullying, combative, who acts like every personal failure is somebody else’s fault. (In short, we need Stefan Richter from Season 5.)

They tried Heather on for size last night. Sure, she’s brassy and a little pushy, and she wasn’t particularly “nice” to Beverly. But she strikes me as a gal I’d love to belly up to a bar with. “Fun to go drinking with” is rarely a good quality in supervillains.

That being said, I figured I’d go through the remaining contestants, ranking them on the Stefan scale.

0 Stefans = absolutely no villain potential.

4 Stefans = Ralph Fiennes, dust off your resume. (It’s a Voldemort joke, people. Keep up.)

Edward Lee

Villainous attributes: Shifty jaw might reflect shifty moral character; outsized ego
Mitigating qualities: Chuck Norris-like ability to play through pain; invited Beverly and her hubby to his restaurant
Final VPS (villain potential score): 3 Stefans

Paul Qui

Villainous attributes: Too adorable?
Mitigating qualities: Hard-working, sweet, and loveable. Is that mitigating enough for ya?
Final VPS: 0 Stefans

Beverly Kim
Villainous attributes: Went all Kanye on that Whole Foods meat counter that one time. (Never forget.)
Mitigating qualities: Cries at the drop of an onion; has secret food crush on Edward Lee
Final VPS: 1 Stefan

Lindsay Autry

Villainous attributes: Unmistakable air of superiority; alarmingly good posture
Mitigating qualities: Really hasn’t done anything villainous since episode one; made Vienna sausage homage to her pappy
Final VPS: 2 Stefans

Dakota Weiss 
Villainous attributes: Nobody with that many tattoos can be all good
Mitigating qualities: My sister from another mister.

Final VPS: 1 Stefan

Heather Terhune

Villainous attributes: Seriously would NOT shut up about Beverly’s shrimp
Mitigating qualities: Prefers Dynasty to Dallas.
Final VPS: 3 Stefans

Whitney Otawka
Villainous attributes: It’s always the quiet ones. .  .
Mitigating qualities: Grew up as a poor sharecropper during the potato famine in Ireland, or something
Final VPS: Does it really even matter at this point?

Sarah Grueneberg

Villainous attributes: Control freak; plays the “I grew up in Texas” card shamelessly
Mitigating qualities: I like her smile. (So sue me.)
Final VPS: 2 Stefans

Chris Jones

Villainous attributes: Condescending attitude toward “little buddy”; Pebbles Flintstone/Samurai delicatessen (h/t Cliffie) judging hair.
Mitigating qualities: Much to my great annoyance, still hasn’t actually done anything “villainous”
Final VPS: 2 Stefans

Chris Crary

Villainous attributes: Resemblance to Billy Bush.
Mitigating qualities: Sexual confusion playing out adorably on national TV; used to be a fatty.
Final VPS: 1 Stefan

Ty-lör Boring

Villainous attributes: Umlaut abuse.
Mitigating qualities: If you slice him with an oyster knife, will he not bleed?
Final VPS: 2 Stefans

Nyesha Arrington

Villainous attributes: This is the SECOND reality TV cooking show she’s appeared on.
Mitigating qualities: Considering her affiliation with Chef Robuchon, could be so much more of a diva.
Final VPS: 1 Stefan

Grayson Schmitz

Villainous attributes: “Sauces ain’t no thang to me”
Mitigating qualities: America’s sweetheart
Final VPS: 1 Stefan

So there ya have it. Looks like Edward and Heather are truly our last hopes. Go forth and be shitty, guys!

Anyway, onto the show, which was actually kind of boring (or, as Umlaut might say,
böring) hence my “vamping” above.

The Quickfire challenge is about the 5 mother sauces—Veloute, Béchamel, Hollandaise, Espangole, and Tomate.

Each cheftestant gets assigned a sauce and then they are asked to create a dish using their sauce in an innovative way.

“Ready for the mother of all Quickfires?” Padma asks.

And the chefs all laugh like she has just said something “funny.”

Guest judge is Dean Fearing and he's throwing out all sorts of misdirections involving the words "clarified butter," "roux" and “hmmm.”

“What was your roux?” he asks Paul, who nervously responds he didn’t have one.
“Hmmm,” says Dean Fearing.

“Did you clarify your butter?” he asks Grayson, who nervously responds that she used whole butter.
“Hmmm,” says Dean Fearing.

I only mention this because both Grayson and Paul end up in the Top 3, along with Chris C. (That Dean Fearing: So saucy!)

So the winner is Grayson, who also gets immunity.

(Oh, for what it’s worth, the bottom 3 are Dakota, Nyesha, and Beverly. Particularly awkward for Nyesha, because saucing is apparently her life.)

Now onto the Elimination Challenge. After weeks involving chili and rodeos and Texas state troopers, it was surely time for some elegant fine dining, right? Right?

Uh. . .no.

Instead we get steaks—prepared for the Cattle Barons ball at the Southfork Ranch from the TV show Dallas. (Yes, it’s a real thing.)

“For Texans, steak is one of life’s most important pleasures,” says Padma
I give up.

Also, the winner of this challenge gets a car, by some German car company, I believe. Nyesha grabs the keys to das auto like she already owns it. (Does she know something the rest of us don’t?) (Spoiler alert: Only that Heather might let her borrow the car one day.)

Very little of drama happens:

At Whole Foods, the cheftestants break shit like a bunch of bear cubs in a grocery store.

There’s some brief flare-up of Edward accusing Heather of stealing his cake recipe, but even the show can’t be bothered to follow through on that.

As mentioned above, Heather is annoyed with Beverly for taking too long to peel and poach her shrimp and, miraculously, Beverly does not cry. (New rule to the “Blubbering Beverly” drinking game: Any episode where Beverly does not cry, you must take the tasty beverage you are currently enjoying and spill it down the drain. It seems only fair.)

The steak thing ends up being all about Umlaut, because he used to work at big New York steakhouse and he has volunteered to grill the steaks.

Then he cuts himself with the aforementioned oyster knife and it’s bloody and gross—so he’s sent off to the hospital for stitches. (Edward Lee doesn’t need to go to no stinkin' hospital for stitches: He sterilizes a steak knife, grabs some dental floss and goes to work.)

Umlaut comes home at 6 am, poor dear, all groggy and hopped up on pain meds.

“I cut my hand, I got no sleep and I’m playing with fire,” he says. Yup, that just about covers it.

But he’s got to make all those steaks medium rare, as Texas cattle barons like em. (Hey, I found the one thing I have in common with Texas cattle barons!)

Also, Whitney, who is milking her new role as Poor!Whitney for all it’s worth, is making potatoes au gratin, because when she was a girl, sometimes her family subsisted on potato chips and Cheese Doodles and her mom called it “Potatoes Au Gratin” (or somethin’ like that).

There’s some technical glitch involving “flashing” the steaks prematurely and, apparently, medium rare is not in the offing and Umlaut is scrëwëd.

Here’s how the food goes down: First course is tomato watermelon gazpacho prepared by Beverly, Sarah, and Dakota.

The judges think it’s a pleasant, but unambitious way to start the meal.

Second course is a seared NY strip steak carpaccio salad prepared by Edward, Chris Jones, and Paul.

Judges think the steak (done by Chris) is perfection, but the salad is a flaming pile of meh.
Third course is the ribeye and potato gratin prepared by Umlaut, Whitney, Chris, and Nyesha.

So yeah, the steaks are no good, the potatoes gratin are raw, and the plate is a mess. However, the whole thing is almost saved by Nyesha’s compound butter (who knew?).

Dessert course is Texas peach cake made by Heather, Lindsay, and Grayson.

I think at this point, we can officially say that the Top Chef Dessert curse is over, because the judges flove it.

Top 3: Heather, Nyesha, and Chris Jones.

And the winner is. . .yeah, Heather. Told you that already.

On the bottom we have:

Whitney, Edward, and Umlaut.

Remember when Tom said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”? Happy to report that guiding life philosophy lasted all of one week.

Because he rips these 3 a new one.

“Usually it’s hard to send someone home,” he says. “Not tonight.”

He even questions whether or not he chose the right 16 chefs to begin with.
Double ouch.

And. . .even Whitney’s (heretofore unmentioned?) special relationship with judge Hugh Acheson doesn’t save her, as she has to pack up her knives and mosey on outta there.

It's time for Whitney to slip back into a life of complete and utter anonymity. . .which is to say, there will be no change for her whatsoever.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Like a Fat Kid Loves Cake: The Top Chef Texas recap

Oooh, our first shocker of Season 9!!! Hair gel Chris was a fatty. It is revealed in this hilarious exchange in the car as the cheftestants travel to Dallas. (Hmmm. . .I wonder what the make and model of that car is? I wish they wouldn’t leave us in the dark like this!)

Chris: “I was 70 pounds heavier three years ago.”

Paul (uncomprehending): “Like big? Buff?”
Chris: “No, like fat.”

Cut to a picture of Chris with flat bangs and non-ironic facial hair. It’s not just that he looked heavier, he looked like a completely different human being. (I guess every pound lost translated to one pump of hair gel.)

Apparently, Chris’s wakeup call was when his friends saw his picture in some chef’s magazine and said, “Looking good in that magazine, fatty.” (Yeesh, nice friends ya got there, Chris.)

Color me surprised. But it stil doesn’t quite explain Chris’s confusing sexual orientation. (More on that in a jiffy.)

En route to Dallas, the gang gets pulled over by State Troopers and I think most of them know it’s a shtick, but Dakota is genuinely concerned because she has an outstanding ticket in San Antonio. (I'm pretty sure they execute you for that there.  . . I kid, I kid.)

Not to fear, they’re just play actin’. . because Padma is standing in a field with. . .the most handsome man alive! (Well, according to Chris, at least.)

“You get this reflection off his beautiful white teeth and his hair blowing in the wind,” he says, lost in a reverie. “John Besh is a handsome man, I’m not going to lie.”

¿Quién es más bella?

That is a lot of specific detail for a man who claims to be straight. And coupled with last week’s “Padma is the next best thing to Fabio” moment, I’m not sayin’. . I’m just sayin.

So here’s the challenge: There are a bunch of survival kits in the trunk of the car (it’s a Honda of some sort, right?) and they have to make food out of the canned and tinned grub.

I’m always amazed that they’re able to concoct such pretentious sounding dishes out of tinned food.

Basmati rice with smoked trout?

Asian coconut soup with mackerel and dill pickle juice?

Beef Satay with Peanut Noodles, mango chili relish, and pepitas?

Duuuudes. . next time I eat Spaghetti-Os with franks, I’m calling it annelini with a roasted tomato reduction and pork ragu bolognese.

Anyway, the winner of this challenge is Lindsay, who made a tuna and sardine club in French onion soup with her father’s beloved Vienna sausage. So good on her.

The ELIMINATION CHALLENGE is to make a course for a progressive dinner in tony Hyland Park.

(Just a hunch, but one gets the sense that they rooted through old “Real Housewives of Dallas” audition tapes to come up with these doozies.)

Poor Dakota gets stuck with the third course (i.e. desserts) again.

“I’m pissed,” she says. “I didn’t come here to make dessert.”

So they all pile into the Hyundais and drive to what Chicago Chris called “Wisteria Lane.”

And then the second truly stupendous thing happens this episode. Whitney gets a backstory! Whitney gets a backstory!

“My background is very different,” she says. “I grew up with a fairly poor family. I lived in hotel rooms and not nice ones.”

She was poor everybody! I can now call her Poor Whitney instead of Whodat? Whitney. It’s almost like she’s an actual contestant on the actual show now. It’ll just a matter of weeks before I’m able to pick her out of a police lineup.

So House 1 (appetizers) are the Whitmans.

The cheftestants are Poor Whitney, Chicago Chris, Sarah, Paul, and Lindsay.

First thing you have to know about Mrs. Whitman: She is a lifestyle and entertaining expert. She has written books on the subject.  Cut to a series of coffee table books spread out on the kitchen island—as one does—that give the vaguest whiff of “Self-published coffee table books of the rich and famous” (Amiright?).

“At first we were thinking of asking you make everything pink,” the wife says (that’s p. 125 of her book Color Me Entertained: Using Food Dye to Spice Up Your Next Party.)

The cheftestants stare at her in slack-jawed horror.

“But then we decided not too,” she adds in a voice that can only be described as breezily malicious.

The chefs laugh nervously.

Also, no bell peppers, cilantro, or any food that would have guests self-conscious about their breath (that’s p. 62 in That Stinks! How Smelly Food Can Ruin Even the Best Celebration.)

House 2 (entrees) are the Kloewers.

The cheftestants are Nyesha, Chuy, Heather, Umlaut, and Beverly

Mrs. Kloewer also doesn’t like cilantro—it almost feels like some sort of Junior League pact they all made—and while her laidback hubby likes spicy food and beef, she doesn’t eat meat and seems to favor food with none of this exotic thing they call “flavor.”

Also, randomly enough, she hates raspberries.

House 3 (desserts) are the Wescotts (are they making these names up, or what?)

The cheftestants are Edward, Chris, Dakota, and Grayson.

“We want something that’s worth every calorie,” says the wife.

“Channel your inner fat kid,” says the husband.

And with that, Chris runs out of the room crying. (JK).

So Tom, Gail, Padma, and Chef Dreamboat roll up in a Kia and the progressive party begins.

First: Appetizers

Chris has gone full-on gimmick, creating a roasted chicken “cigar” with sweet corn, collard greens, and cumin “ash.”

Is that a roasted chicken cigar or are you just happy to see me?

As for the rest:

Sarah-grilled Roman style artichokes with date puree

Lindsay-a salad of roasted and raw beets and charred chickpea

Whitney -seared scallop over sweet corn puree


Paul -fried brussels sprouts with grilled prosciutto

(Slightly off topic aside: One of the many triumphs of the American food revolution is that Brussels sprouts have been saved from the scrap heap of “icky vegetables kids don’t like” and placed on their rightful pedestal as “king of the sprouts.”)

The general consensus is that some dishes work (Paul’s sprouts; Sarah’s artichokes) and others not so much (Chris’s cigar).

“So would you say, it’s close but no cigar?” Tom says, barely able to conceal his pleasure over his own clever joke. (Who’s the Village Idiot now, Padma?)

Next up: Entrees

Beverly -seared scallop with creamy polenta

Chuy -sockeye salmon stuffed with goat cheese

Heather-garlic and rosemary grilled lampchops

Nyesha-roasted filet of beef


Umlaut-grilled pork tenderloin with summer slaw

Chuy’s sockeye salmon is declared dry and the goat cheese is mealy. (Anyone who screws up goat cheese is on my list. Just sayin’)

Umlaut’s grilled tenderloin on a big pile of ungainly slaw is way too unfocused.

Finally: Dessert

Chris- strawberry cupcake with banana custard (and sprinkles and marshmallows and gummy bears and ju ju beans and candy corn and glitter)

Dakota -banana bread pudding with banana mousse and banana date milkshake.

Edward -panna cotta with cantaloupe consomme


Grayson - chocolate sponge cake with carmelized bananas and chocolate covered pretzels

“I found Edward’s dish a bit jiggly looking” Mrs. Wescott says.(You should see his jaw!)

Most of the desserts are pretty great except for Chris’s cupcake.

“My mother always taught me, if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all,” Tom says. (Thank goodness he doesn’t adhere to Mama Colicchio’s advice all the time, because otherwise this would be one helluva boring show.)

Judgment time:

Padma asks to see Sarah, Grayson, Paul, and Daktoa

“The four of you. . .served our favorite dishes!”

The look of utter relief and gratitude on their faces can only suggest that they’ve NEVER WATCHED THE SHOW before.
 (That’s actual shock registering on Dakota’s face in the photo above, even though it looks like fake, bad-acting shock.)

Anyway, so much for desserts being the kiss of death. Two of the four finalists made dessert. (Is it premature to lift the Dessert = Dunzo rule of Top Chef? Yes, I think it is. But it’s a step in the right direction.)

And. .  . Paul wins! A victory for Texas, foodtrucks, and the formerly maligned Brussels sprouts the world over!

Now for the bad news:

Bottom 4: Chicago Chris, Hair Gel Chris, Chuy, and Umlaut

So Tom says that Hair Gel Chris’s cupcake was like something a kid would make at “make your own cupcake bar.” (Gee Tom, why don’t you just get in Chris’s face and yell, “Fat kid! Fat kid!” while you’re at it?)

Umlaut’s pork was out of proportion and demonstrated “poor knife skills” according to Chef Dreamboat.

Chuy elicited snears of contempt when he mentioned that he served this salmon dish at his restaurant.

And Chris Jones was accused of making a novelty dish. (Also, Chris, that Pebbles Flintstone hair is another novelty you might want to reconsider . . .)

“Eating a giant greasy cigar with your fingers in a cocktail dress is the last thing anyone wants to do,” says Gail. (LOL.)

“It’s  a progressive party and for one of you the progression ends here,” says Tom. This time, instead of looking pleased with his pun, he almost looks disgusted with himself. (Hey, at least they didn’t add a “Progresso soup” product placement.)

And Chuy is going home. (I wonder if he’ll take a Chu-Chu train?) (Both Tom and I agree, that was beneath me.)