D Magazine’s Loren Means loves to watch Top Chef. Therefore, she volunteered to watch all of the episodes this season and write a recap. She’s a Texan, and she’s on Texan stereotype alert. Go, Loren.
I, personally, could have done without the first two episodes required to wrangle out the 13 weaker chefs. It’s just too exhausting. I prefer to start off with the rock stars and get the show on the road. Alas, no one consulted me prior to filming/editing so this is how it was done, and we have had to endure it. Episode three begins and we finally have the 16 chefs who will actually be competing for the title of Top Chef. In no particular order, other than Keith, whom I will list first because he is my favorite, we have Keith, Richie, Lindsay, Edward, Heather, Ty-lor (whom I will now refer to as Ty because they do on the show and now I won’t have to figure out how to make those two dots over the O), Beverly, Chris J., Grayson, Paul (resident Texan), Sarah, Chris C., Dakota, Nyesha, Chuy, and Whitney.
Jump to see what happens.
We are back in the Top Chef kitchen in San Antone, and it’s time for the cheftestants’ very first Quickfire. In the kitchen the chefs see a terrarium with a live snake and 16 wooden boxes on the floor. Dakota is freaking out—she hates snakes. She and Indiana Jones must be unique in this way. Padma introduces the guest judge, Johnny Hernandez, who is the chef and owner of local restaurant La Gloria, known for its wild game. Johnny is a friendly guy who tells the chefs about the local fare and informs them that rattlesnakes are a very traditional Texas cuisine. Huh? Stop. I have lived in Texas for 30 years and have tasted rattlesnake once in my entire life. And that was only because I was in Sweetwater, Texas, at the world’s largest rattlesnake roundup. I participated in the hunting and skinning of rattlesnakes. Yes. I’m hardcore. (To be clear, by “participated,” I mean I wore boots that came up to my knees, sat in the safety of a truck bed, shielded my eyes, and sipped on Coors Light.) Never again have I encountered rattlesnake as a menu item, so if Johnny says it’s traditional cuisine, he must be referring to the southwest not the whole state of Texas. Moving on. The chefs are told there is a snake in each box and they will have one hour to cook their snake. Padma boldly says, “When time is up, there better be some motherf**kin snakes (Make it stop! Make it stop! Make it stop!) on some motherf**kin plates.” Eek! If a saying ain’t cool when Samuel L. Jackson says it, it most certainly cannot be improved rolling off the lips of Padma Lakshmi. That clip should find its home on a blooper reel.
The chefs open their boxes to find rattlesnakes that are already skinned and ready for cooking. I’m sure PETA may have had some choice words had Bravo made killing and skinning the snakes part of the challenge. Plus, I wasn’t in the mood to cover my eyes or drink watery beer, so it all worked out. Most chefs have never cooked with this ingredient so everyone is winging it. We get a variety of rattlesnake entrées: from Keith’s sweet corn griddle cake rattlesnake to Paul’s barbecue rattlesnake with peaches. Chris J. throws his snake on the skillet, and exclaims, “fry like bacon, you freshman bitches.” He just shot to the top of my list. This is how you use a movie line appropriately. As a Texan, Paul felt his pride was on the line, but sadly, he fell in the bottom three along with Richie and Neyasha. Coming in on top were Beverly, Dakota, and Sarah. Ironically enough, ye who hates snakes took the prize of $5,000 and immunity in the elimination challenge.
The cheftestants draw knives to reveal Team Pink or Team Green. Once divided, they are introduced to their client, Blanca Flores, a 15-year-old girl who will be celebrating her quinceanera the following day. The chefs will be providing the food for Blanca’s 150 nearest and dearest. According to Johnny, the food should be elegant Mexican cuisine representative of the Mexican culture in San Antonio. First, Blanca meets with the Green Team (Beverly, Chuy, Chris J., Richie, Heather, Paul, Grayson, and Whitney). They ask her if she likes spicy food. She says no. They ask her if she likes boys. She giggles, and says yes. Oh to be young again. We learn that she loves cabrito (goat) and tres leches cake. Chuy is pumped because his grandfather taught him to cook goat, and it’s his best dish. Next, Blanca meets with the Pink Team (Lindsay, Sarah, Nyesha, Ty, Chris C., Keith, Whitney, and Dakota). We learn that Blanca also loves Chinitia Pibil, cabbage leaves with picadillo, and consommé soup. It should be known that during this five to 10 minutes of the show, I made mental notes to go eat at Javier’s, La Duni, Fuel City, and planned a trip to Mexico. Viva!
The cheftestants split into two groups. Half the crew goes to Whole Foods and the other half heads to a local Mexican market for some authentic ingredients. Members from each team are at both stores. The Green Team has a plan and things are going smoothly. Most everyone is calm, cool, and collected. Remember last week when I said Beverly scared me a bit. I was wrong. She annoys me a lot. She comes tearing up to the butcher’s counter, cutting off everyone else screaming, “I know everybody here has stuff to do. I need a butcher!” I guess the fake winner’s certificate she made herself is going to her head. The Pink Team seems to be scrambling and making hasty decisions. Keith, Chris C., and Richie all agree to buy precooked shrimp and both teams buy premade tortillas. If you’ve watched any previous seasons of Top Chef, you know you don’t EVER buy precooked anything. Truly, as I watched them make the decision, I was screaming, “No, no! Don’t do that!” It was like watching a horror film and screaming at the girl, “Don’t go upstairs. Run out the front door! Don’t do it! Ugh. Idiot.”
Back in the kitchen, Lindsay, who was at Whole Foods, is horrified to learn that her teammates bought precooked shrimp and now her dish is ruined. The whole mood in the kitchen changes and Pink Team starts blaming Keith. Keith starts to feel like it’s him against his own team. I immediately come to Keith’s defense and decide that Sarah and Lindsay are just mean girls. The prep for the day wraps and the chefs head home.
Cut to the San Antonio skyline (so we remember they are in Texas), a quick glimpse of the Alamo, and back to the manse.
It’s the day of Blanca’s quinceanera at Adalco’s Restaurant, and she is decked to the nines looking like an adorable cake topper in her big white dress. She is very polite, mature for her age, and seems to have an advanced palate. Either Bravo is feeding her lines or she’s the next Gayle Simmons. She greets Padma and Johnny, and is introduced to Tom and Hugh. Then the feast begins! We see every dish tasted and reviewed by the judges as well as Blanca and her family. And just as we predicted, Tom is offended by the store-bought tortillas and calls them a “copout.” The judges really enjoy Paul’s shrimp ceviche and agree that his dish has more flavor than anything else. While tasting Keith’s enchiladas, the judges are confused by the use of flour tortillas instead of corn. I was, too. I’m a Texan; enchiladas are made with corn tortillas. And I hate to agree with Hugh on this, but Keith made burritos. The cakes roll out, and Heather’s tres leches cake is the leaning tower of leches while Dakota’s pineapple cake concoction looks revolting. Neither were a smash, but the tres leches is the clear winner. Blanca enjoyed her party, had fun dancing with her Dad, but Johnny felt the chefs did not deliver elegant cuisine as requested.
The judges declare the Green Team the victors, which is no surprise. Their food was better, they were more organized, and they had the unfair Chuy advantage. They did deserve the win, though. From the Pink Team, the judges asked to see Lindsay, Sarah, Ty, and Keith. Dakota would have been called in as well had she not won immunity in the Quickfire. Lindsay reveals that she felt they performed poorly because they didn’t utilize their time well. The judges fault her because she lived and cooked in Mexico for three years and should have nailed her dish. Sarah was in a panic and was trying to point the finger everywhere she could. Ty admitted that although he only had 30 minutes to come up with his fritter, it was dry and lacked flavor. Keith gets called out for purchasing precooked shrimp and for using flour tortillas for his enchiladas. He defends his choice by saying that’s how they prepare them in North Carolina and he was unaware that traditional enchiladas are made with corn tortillas. It’s sort of a weak defense, but where were his teammates on this? Sarah confesses she grew up in Texas and knows that corn tortillas are used for this dish, but never bothered to tell Keith during prep. She was actually helping Keith pull the tortillas out when he was making his dish and didn’t correct him. This behavior puts her at the bottom of my list. The judges deliberate and Keith is asked to pack his knives. I’m totally bummed out. Then I am reminded by a note in Keith’s bag—LAST CHANCE KITCHEN!
Last week, I was completely annoyed about having to log onto bravotv.com for the super-secret competition, but last night I was psyched! I thought it was over for Keith, but it wasn’t! You know when you’re at the movies eating Milk Duds and you go to flip the box over in your hand and nothing comes out? It’s a total disappointment because you’ve eaten them all. But then, you look inside and see that there is still one super-secret Milk Dud stuck to the bottom of the box and joy takes over. That was this. I’ll sum up quickly. Andrew and Keith go head-to-head in a mise en place race. They have six ingredients and 10 minutes to prep and prepare a dish for Tom. One of the ingredients is clams. I know—and Andrew knows–it’s over for him. Andrew prepares a Mediterranean-style clam dish with radicchio while Keith prepares clams two ways, ceviche and steamed in champagne butter, served with a sip of champagne. Keith takes the win, and he’s back in!
To quote our friend Ty, in this episode, “nothing was great and a lot of things sucked.” I hope next week’s episode brings a little more excitement and a lot more personality from the 15 remaining cheftestants. It looks like we’re headed to the rodeo, so brace yourself for some stereotypes!