Episode 7 kicks off with twelve cheftestants remaining in the competition for the title of Top Chef. Technically there are still thirteen if we count Whitney who is still alive online in the Last Chance Kitchen (LCK). For now, let’s focus on the “Dirty Dozen” as they refer to themselves. Still in the running: my boy Paul, Grayson, Heather, Chris C., Chris J., Beverly, Lindsay, Dakota, Ty, Ed, Sarah and Nyesha. The episode takes place in Dallas at Le Cordon Bleu School of Culinary Arts. Is anyone else bored?
QUICKFIRE. Padma and guest judge Tim Love, chef/owner of Lonesome Dove in Fort Worth, greet the chefs in the kitchen. Lonesome Dove is known for serving fine game. The menu includes interesting dishes such as rabbit-rattlesnake sausage (guess I have to eat my words about never seeing rattlesnake on a restaurant menu in Texas) and kangaroo carpaccio “nachos.”
We spy several variations of Don Julio ultra-premium tequilas in the Cordon Bleu kitchen. Tim tells us that nice tequila is meant to be sipped. I know this; I just can’t do it. I make the “bitter beer face” every time I take a sip. For me, tequila is all the same and it must be blended nicely into a margarita or taken as a shot and immediately chased with tomato juice. The chefs must taste and then select one of five tequilas and create a dish that pairs nicely with it. Among the most popular choices are the 1942, the Blanco, and the Anejo.
After 30 minutes, cooking time is up and it’s chow time. Tim is a sweetheart but he’s brutally honest. He tells Heather her dish feels like the newest addition to a menu at a chain restaurant. He thinks Sarah’s risotto is over cooked and the sauce feels like lemon juice squeezed into cream. He was a little less harsh with Chris J. and simply tells him his chicken was too dry. Judging the top three, Tim thought the briny moisture of the oysters paired nicely with the Blanco in Chris C.’s dish. He really enjoyed Lindsay’s salmon and thought the Anejo flavor went all the way through the dish. But his favorite dish and the winner of $5,000 is Ty’s steamed clams with the 1942 tequila.
As Padma says, “Hopefully you like who you are standing next to” my eyes pan the line. What do I see? Heather and Bev are touching elbows. I smile. Here we go. The chefs are split into pairs and each pair will cook one of six courses for a Game Dinner at Lonesome Dove. Tim and five of his friends will be the guests along with Padma, Tom, and Hugh. His “friends” are also impressive chefs who will assign their favorite protein to one team. We meet Chef Bryan Caswell of Reef in Houston who chooses venison for Nyesha and Dakota. Chef Anita Lo from Anissa in NYC selects squab for Paul and Sarah. Elk is Tim Love’s favorite meat and he assigns it to Chris J and Grayson. Lindsay and Chris C. will be cook boar for Chef Jon Shook of Animal in Los Angeles. Chef John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford, MS opts for duck, one of my personal favorites, which Heather and Bev will make. And last but not least, Chef Vinny Dotolo, also of Animal in L.A., wants quail so that’s exactly what Ed and Ty will be cooking.
Before the chefs are released to their stomping grounds at Whole Foods, they are told one last little detail. It’s a double elimination challenge. I guess it’s time I told you, I have super powers. I have been hoping all week that we would get one soon and here it is. Christmas has come early. There are literally too many cooks in the kitchen and I’m ready to trim the fat. The cheftestants are obviously aware of the situation and look frozen with panic and stress. Bravo cannot help itself and throws in one more catch: the bottom three dishes will be selected by the chetestants themselves.
The scene at Whole Foods is hilarious. Realistically, it’s mildly entertaining watching Heather boss Beverly around like a mom shopping with her 6-year-old. Heather also keeps jabbering on about how she doesn’t want the dish to be “too Asian.” “I just want to make sure the dish isn’t too Asian because that’s not my style,” she says. “And I’m not going home Bev.” So, Asian food is bad? Go to Uchi, Heather. I assure you, Asian style isn’t going to send you home. Your bad attitude and inability to work in a group will. There, I said it. I don’t like Heather anymore. She and Bev are very different but equally undesirable.
In the kitchen, Chris J. is spazzing out. I can’t describe it any other way. I want to bitch slap him and scream “Pull yourself together, man!” He has sworn up and down to Grayson that he can make some sort of sweet potato creation to serve with their elk. But something goes wrong with his potatoes and he can’t deliver. Grayson is trying really hard to be cool about it. But then she blows. “I didn’t want to be like, way to go you f**ked up the sweet potato,” she says. “BUT..you f**cked up the sweet potato.” Now Grayson is flustered, Nyesha is annoyed with Dakota’s insecurity, and Bev and Heather are bickering. Heather wants to add a component to the dish and tells Beverly it’s part of her rustic style so they are going to have to compromise. By compromise, she means Bev, nothing you say matters so just sit back and try not to cry about something today.
Service begins and Lindsay and Chris C. present wild boar with kohlrabi slaw and faro fried rice. Tom says it’s a nice plate of food but not that exciting. The second course of five-spice duck breast with creamy polenta and pickled cherries is Beverly and Heather’s creation. The judges feel the dish is a bit too safe. Grayson and Chris J. bring out the third course of juniper-roasted elk with what looks like sweet potato fries. Chris immediately confesses to the judges that his “elaborate technique” did not work. Grayson wants to punch him in the nards but instead tries to correct this by saying the dish is exactly as they intended it to be. Chef Caswell seems to be as harsh a critic as Tim and says the plate looks like something from a banquet menu in 1982. Up next, Ed and Ty serve the fourth course of quail with pickled cherries and eggplant. The feedback tells us the quail “shines” and has great “earthy qualities.” Nyesha and Dakota are plating for the fifth course and notice the venison Dakota was in charge of cooking is undercooked. With no time to change anything, a very rare venison is plated for the judges. Nyesha is appalled and feels like this shouldn’t happen at this level. The judges feel the same way. The final course is brought out by Sarah and Paul ending the meal with squab breasts and sausage with nectarine pickles. Overall take is that the presentation is a bit sloppy but the food was good.
Back in the kitchen Sarah starts to have a break down. “This is not like cooking normally,” she says. “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” The Bev chimes in. “It’s ok to cry,” she whines. “Totally cool. We all know how stressful this is and everyone handles stress differently.” Um, not according to Nyesha. There’s no crying in baseball or in the kitchen, ladies.
Padma comes into the kitchen and asks to see Ed and Ty. Everyone congratulates them as they are clearly the winners of the challenge and $10k. Ty is stoked because he has now won the Quickfire and the Elimination Challenge. Ed is excited and relieved. “I looked into all those chefs’ faces and thought, man I did not make an ass out of myself in front of all you guys,” he says.
After much discussion, and much more attitude from Heather, the cheftestants send the following chefs to Judge’s Table: Dakota, Nyesha, Chris J., Grayson, Heather, and Beverly. Hugh Acheson is sitting on the panel along with the regulars and today’s guest judges. Standing in front of all the judges everyone looks like they are breaking. Dakota is clearly on the verge of tears. Heather starts spouting off about Beverly having a bad work ethic, having no self-confidence then brings up last week’s shrimp issue. Beverly starts to cry (I knew it) and Hugh speaks up and tells Heather that last week is irrelevant in this game. Padma calls out Nyesha and asks why she never bothered to check on the meat herself or check in with Dakota and everyone ends up pointing fingers. Everyone except for Dakota who feels awful for undercooking the venison, a meat she has cooked numerous times.
Back in the kitchen Heather is still ranting about the shrimp and other peoples’ flaws. Apparently this is how she handles stress. Heather is also upset that she isn’t getting the chance to compete based on her own skills alone and I have to agree with her. It would be horribly frustrating but, as the saying goes, there’s no I in TEAM. Everyone is responsible. You are of course, allowed to be secretly pissed at the person who messed it up for everyone.
In this case, Nyesha is allowed to be frustrated with Dakota when they are sent packing for undercooked venison. Nyesha is a great chef and I am sad to see her go. Next week we are headed to Austin and hopefully Paul’s badassery, yes, badassery, will shine in his hometown.
Last Chance Kitchen – Whitney vs. Nyesha & Dakota
In the LCK the chefs are instructed to make a dish using a wok, a cactus, and any other ingredients the kitchen has to offer. Off they go as previously eliminated chefs shout questions and cheer from the sidelines. Time is up and tasting begins. Tom starts with Whitney’s cactus and chicken fried rice moves on to Nyesha’s Asian-style scallops and finishes with Dakota’s shrimp tostada. Tom chooses in favor of Nyesha and she’s back in the competition and all is right with the world again.