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 reviewed episode one, two, and three. Today she spills the chili beans on episode four . Go, Loren.
For the fourth episode of the season’s Top Chef: Texas competition, we return to San Antonio to watch the remaining fifteen chefs fight to the death! Just joshin’ – you know why they’re there. The remaining cheftestants listed in particular order based on personality and/or skill, are Paul, our resident Texan, Nyesha, Heather, Edward, Chris J. (although I would like to roundhouse kick his sunglasses off the top of his head), Chuy, Ty, Richie, Chris C., Grayson, Dakota, Whitney, Lindsey, Sarah and Beverly.
The chefs are greeted by Padma and guest judges, Mary Sue Millikin and Susan Feniger, chef/owners of Border Grill Restaurants in LA and Vegas and a few Top Chef Masters alums. Behind the judges are bowls of chile peppers and a board listing temperatures and dollar amounts. The heat of a chili is rated by the Scoville Scale varying from 0 (no heat) to 15,000,000 (pure capsaician). The Anaheim pepper usually ranks between 500-2,000 while the ghost pepper tops the edible chart at 1,000,000. According to Chuy, eating a handful of these babies would be “like eating a pile of fire.” (I’ve had a habanero drop me to my knees so I think I’ll take Chuy’s word for it.) The challenge is for the chefs to create a dish highlighting one type of pepper and show the judges you have cojones. The higher the tolerable heat, the more moolah you win.
The chefs scramble. Beverly runs to the mild section and starts chomping on various peppers. She chooses Anaheim. Snooze. My grandma eats Anaheims for breakfast. Beverly claims that she has selected this pepper for its freshness and cares more about making a great dish than winning money. On the other end of the spectrum our boy, Paul, goes for the Ghost pepper. Muey caliente! I beam with pride. Most chefs show they are up for the challenge and select spicy peppers such as Thai, Habanero, Fresno, and Manzano.
After the 30-minute time limit is up, the judging begins. Falling to the bottom are Richie, who lost the power of his pepper, Beverly, who didn’t bother to cook her pepper and used it as a crudité instead, and Chuy, whose use of canned tomatoes overpowered his pepper. He was particularly embarrassed because he grew up eating Habaneros and apparently has enough back at home to survive the next nuclear fallout. Rising to the top are Heather, who stands to win $10,000 for her use of the Thai pepper, Grayson, who could potentially win $12,500 for her use of the Habanero pepper, and Paul, who actually wins $20,000 for having the best dish and using the ghost pepper. In addition to 20k, Paul will also have immunity in the elimination challenge.
Immediately after the winner is announced the chefs are asked to pull a pot from under the table and open it to find an apron. Teams of three are created as each chef pulls one of five colors out of their pot.
Black Team – Nyesha, Beverly, and Richie.
Green Team – Sarah, Chris C., and Chuy.
Blue Team – Heather, Edward, and Paul (dream team in my opinion)
Red Team – Chris J., Dakota, and Whitney
White Team – Grayson, Ty, and Lindsay
The chefs gather into their teams. Nyesha is less than thrilled about her team because Richie has fallen in the bottom of the last two Quickfires and Beverly is “meek.” Her word, not mine. Although I’ll second that thought. The group is told that they will be participating in a chili cook off at the Tejas Rodeo and will be feeding 200 cowboys and rodeo regulars. The catch: they will be cooking back at the manse and there will be no time clock.
After a trip to Whole Foods, where several chefs battle for brisket at the meat counter, Chris C. starts to see the “bitchy side” of Sarah. The chefs are forced to battle again for equipment, space, and ingredients back at the house. Nyesha snakes the beer, Chris J. and Edward claim the fire pit in the backyard, and Grayson haggles with other teams for pans. Chris J. describes it perfectly: “it’s like a riot and people are just grabbing for whatever they can get.”
When the cooking finally gets underway and things have mostly settled down, Tom shows up. He questions the black team’s concept of mole chili and turns his nose up at Heather’s suggestion to serve their chili with pickled peaches. Tom leaves and bottles start popping. Edward pops the cork out of a bottle of wine by knocking the bottom of it against the house, proving to me this can actually be done. I was sure it was urban legend. Chuy is slinging back beers having to be constantly reminded by Chris C. that they are for the chili not for drinking. Chuy seems unaffected as he climbs on board their makeshift bull that Paul and Edward are operating. Chuy goes overboard fast, everybody laughs.
Having endured 100 degree temperatures, several chefs jump in the pool and, for a moment, it looks like we are watching The Real World – San Antonio. Most chefs have decided to pull an all-nighter and are still working away at 5AM. This is apparently when the bugs begin to attack. The Chicago boy said “bugs” but we know he means “mosquitos.”
It’s time to head to the Rodeo and the chefs walk like zombies to their cars. Sarah informs her fellow passengers that she grew up in Texas going to the rodeo and her Dad was a bull rider. She thinks this makes her more legit and I sort of have to give it to her. It does. Her team now has the unfair Texan advantage just like last week’s winners had the unfair Chuy advantage. After an hour of prep time, the guests arrive and start gobbling up chili. Chuy notes, “Wow! These people are really Texas!” The rodeo folk are stereotypically Texas indeed!
Padma, Gail, Tom, Susan, and Mary Sue arrive and are ready to judge the chili. They begin with the green team (Sarah, Chris C., and Chuy). Their chili is made with beef chuck and lots of Shiner Bock. Sarah has certified that it is real Texas chili and has no beans whatsoever, y’all. The chefs enjoy the flavor but wish they had some corn bread or tortillas to soak up the sauce.
Next up, the judges sample the red team (Chris J., Dakota, and Whitney). They love the amount of heat and seasoning but are a bit turned off by the stringy meat of the brisket. Gail loves the pickled peaches the blue team (Heather, Paul, and Edward) served with their chili but Tom’s response to the chili was meh. The black team (Nyesha, Beverly, and Richie) made a mole chili which is a bit sweet and a little too unconventional for the judges although their cornbread rocked the Kasbah. The fifth and final chili was the white team (Grasyon, Ty, and Lindsay) who made a three bean chili. That ain’t Texas at all y’all! The judges thought it didn’t have enough heat and didn’t feel like chili.
After the feast, the Cheftestants finally take a load off to watch the cowboys in action. Most of the chefs have never been to a rodeo and are really enjoying it. Meanwhile, Beverly begins to cry and whine to Nyesha, who kindly pretends to care, that she wishes her husband could be there to share this experience with her. Soon enough, Padma enters the arena astride a muscular horse donning jeans and button-down with two front pockets. Very cowboy chic. Chris C. wipes a tear (not really) and compares her beauty to that of Fabio on the cover of a romance novel with his hair blowing in the wind. One of us is a moron and I’m hoping it’s not me. Padma announces that the winner of this year’s Tejas Rodeo Chili Cook Off is (drumroll please…) the Shiner Bock-infused concoction made by the green team! I don’t want to say it was rigged or anything, but since the cowboys and rodeo regulars were able to choose the winner, Sarah’s Texas roots may have played a role. Texans are all about Texans. Go Paul! What? Sarah doesn’t live here anymore and I don’t particularly care for her.
The judges announce that the losing team they have selected is the black team. In order to stay in the competition, Nyesha, Beverly and Richie will all have to go back to the kitchen and transform their chili into a new and improved dish. The three chefs look truly deflated after having worked through the night and into the day with little to no sleep. In the kitchen, Richie and Beverly seem composed while Nyesha looks more like she’s sleep walking. When time is up the chefs present their new dishes to the chefs. Beverly serves a seared tuna with a habanero pineapple salsa. Richie presents a Frito-crusted pork tenderloin with chili puree. Nyesha makes a Frito-crusted shrimp with roasted corn and reduction of mole sauce.
The judges taste the dishes, deliberate, and confess that they are assholes for doing this to the black team. In the end, one dish had no spice, no acid, and was very “one note.” Richie was sent packing. When asked to pack his knives he managed to choke out, “Thank you for this opportunity.” He sounded as wimpy as a Michael Jackson whisper. He was devastated and it seemed so childlike when he cried. It was really hard to see him go. He looked like he needed a big hug and luckily his pal, Chris J., was there to do just that. He sent him off with an “I love you.”
SUPER SECRET KITCHEN – Keith vs. Richie
I’ll make this speedy as usual. The super-secret competition is another repurposing challenge. The chefs must use Thanksgiving leftovers and make a new dish using at least three of the ingredients. Keith seems a bit frozen stating that rarely cooks using leftovers. Richie is hustling and things are going smoothly until he accidentally pours half of a salt shaker into is cornbread puree. When the time is up, both chefs have their creations plated. Tom samples Keith’s first and then Richie’s. He has positive and negative things to say about both. There is no clear winner. In the end, Keith prevails and we will see him next week in Dallas along with local author, Kim Schlegel Whitman.