Loren Means has a lot of different jobs here at D Magazine. Only one is writing the recaps of Top Chef: Texas. I thank her for her volunteer spirit. Now let’s get it on.
And then there were 10. Are they the “Top 10” ? I’m not sure. Ed reminded us last week: “It’s not always the best chef that makes it to the end. I mean you can have a hiccup one night and that’s it. You’re gone.” I think we’ve witnessed that every season. When a certain chef gets cut, you feel outraged and want to scream “INJUSTICE! Not him! Take me! Oh wait, I’m at home eating Ramen. I cannot save him. I can only pick a new favorite.”
Luckily, my favorite, Paul, has been a front runner since the gates opened. I still have a horse in this race and he’s headed to his hometown of Austin, Texas in this episode along with Edward, Ty, Chris J., Chris C., Sarah, Heather, Beverly, Lindsay and Grayson.
Let’s get weird.
Southbound on 35 in their Toyota Sienas (sponsor alert!), everyone is chatting and having a grand old time. Ed asks Heather what kind of guys she’s into and her description is essentially “tall, dark and handsome.” She elaborates and says it’s been difficult for her to have a long relationship because she has been so focused on her career. A scene from The Hangover instantly plays through my head:
Phil Wenneck: You know what, Doug? You should enjoy yourself, because come Sunday you’re gonna start dying…just a little bit…every day.
Alan Garner: Yeah.
Doug Billings: All right.
Alan Garner: That’s why I’ve managed to stay single this whole time, you know?
Stu Price: [sarcastically] Oh, really? That’s why you’re single?
Alan Garner: Yeah.
Stu Price: [sarcastically] Cool. Good to know
After checking into the Cattle Baron’s suite at the historic Driskill Hotel, the cheftestants head to Le Cordon Bleu in Austin. (I guess Cordon Bleu is a sponsor as well?) Tom and Padma meet the chefs in the kitchen and inform them (and me) that Twitter gained popularity in Austin at the SXSW Festival in 2007. As a shout out to the hotspot of technology that is Austin, the instructions for the Quickfire will announced in real time messages by tweeters. The chefs seem to understand but I am a bit confused. I don’t tweet. The only real time event I’ve ever followed on Twitter was the escape of the Bronx Zoo cobra and the slithery snakes brief life as a fugitive.
Tweet 1: “Everything is better with bacon.” The chefs have 45 minutes to make a dish with bacon. Chris J. agrees with this tweet. “Bacon should be its own food group because damn it’s delicious.” (Bacon? So last year.)
Tweet 2: “Do a hash as one component of your dish.” The chefs are mostly unaffected by this tweet and appear confident this is a no-brainer.
Tweet 3: “Every chef choose a pantry ingredient and had it off to somebody else.” Some of the chefs take this opportunity to help out another chef and give them butter or oil while others take this as a chance to put a chink in someone’s chain. The weapon of choice is Sriracha, a hot Thai sauce. Chris C. gives it to Lindsay and Ty gives it to Edward. Neither is happy to have it. As a viewer, I found the tweeting gimmick to be fun. I wish they’d tweeted a few more curve balls at the chefs. I think the chefs are having fun with it too. Bev gets left out and has to ask someone to give her something. Why can I not find it in my heart to feel sorry for her?
Time is up and Padma and Tom are ready to eat some bacon and hash. For the most part, Tom feels like the food is pretty exciting but as always, some were better than others. The three dishes Tom liked the least were Grayson’s, Chris J.’s and Ed’s. Chris J. has an issue with over-salting his food. (Didn’t Richie have this same problem?) Maybe it’s a Moto epidemic? Bev, Sarah, and Paul are chosen as the top three. Sarah served squash blossoms stuffed with burrata beside a bacon and zucchini hash. Burrata is the key to my heart and I have to let her inside. Bev’s crispy pork belly with corn habanero potato hash looks pretty tasty and I understand why she is chosen. And last but never least, Paul’s “bacon several ways” wins over Tom. “It is unusual and shouldn’t have worked but it did,” Tom says. Paul wins the Quickfire and $10,000. Respect.
Tom sends the chefs to the bar at the Driskill and tells them “drinks are on us” but warns them to have a good time but “don’t go crazy.” I don’t mean to get technical but the drinks are on Toyota, Healthy Choice, and Le Cordon Bleu School of the Culinary Arts, and any other sponsor they can squeeze into an episode. (Did I forget one?) I bet the chefs sipped on top shelf, Grade A, Don Julio Tequila.
Libations are flowing, smiles are growing, and Patti LaBelle is taking the stage. Oh dear. Are the drinks on her too? Does she have a Christmas album that just released? Bravo, you’re in Austin and this is what you come up with? The music scene there is spectacular. Patti’s performance is not. I hate to be ugly about a legend, but it may be time for Patti to hang up her sequins and start belting it out in the shower at home like the rest of us. I will insult her no further.
Patti and her friends (I think these people are really friends of hers) will be joining Tom, Padma, and Emeril for dinner at the Driskill. Patti knows that all cooks have soul and she wants to know what person inspired each of these chefs to begin their culinary journey. The chefs are asked to cook a dish honoring the person or people who brought out the chef in them. Padma asks the chefs to tell their story tomorrow night by serving a great tribute dinner.
Off to Whole Foods (I knew I forgot one) and the chefs are brain storming their dishes and chatting about memories of cooking as a child. Heather shares that her mother was an excellent cook when she was growing up and has very fond memories of her mom’s beef stroganoff. (My mom made a pretty good beef stroganoff when I was a little kid too. You just had to add boiling water and cooked hamburger meat and voila! Do NOT hate on Hamburger Helper. They are not a sponsor of Top Chef or of a healthy diet for that matter but let’s not get into details.) Chris C. remembers his uncle who taught him to fish while Chris J. recalls the delicious steak dinners at his grandmother’s house. Grayson is also reveling in memories of red meat and grilling rib-eyes with her dad.
Back at the hotel we see that Beverly has posted the fake award she made for herself earlier this season in an effort to “secret” it. “Congratulations Beverly Kim Clark!!!!” it reads. “You have won Top Chef Season 9 and $125,000.” I know I don’t give Beverly enough credit for what she is capable of doing, but I know she is not the next Top Chef. I also know if she ends up winning this season, you are going to see all sorts of fake awards posted up around my house. “Congratulations Loren Means!!!! You are the winner of $20 million and a trip around the world.” “Congratulations Loren Means!!!! You have been hand-selected to go on a date with Ryan Gosling.” “Congratulations Loren Means!!!! Every food you eat no longer has calories.” I could keep at this all night. I smell a project!
Out first Chris J. and Heather present their dishes. Chris J. shares his story of his grandmother whom he calls “Mommy too” and how her steak and potatoes inspired him to make his miniature version of lemon pepper steak with baked potato and vegetables. The judges give good reviews. Heather, who calls her mother the “Queen of one-pot meals” serves beef stroganoff with herb spaetzle and roasted wild mushrooms. She knows the rib-eye she used isn’t done well and the judges know it too.
Paul and Sarah are up next. They both were inspired by grandparents. Paul’s quail adobo and ginger rice with green mango salsa is a hit with everyone except Patti. She doesn’t care for quail. Sarah’s pork sausage stuffed cabbage and spinach with browned butter also impresses the judges. Emeril is very impressed she actually made the sausage instead of purchasing it.
Following a tough act, Beverly and Chris C. serve their dishes. Beverly has chosen to honor her mom with a Korean braised short rib with edamame scallion puree and hon shimeji mushrooms. The judges are absolutely on board with her, but I just can’t get there. Chris C. has cooked a sockeye salmon with confit potato and brown sugar carrot puree to honor his uncle. Unfortunately, he cooked his fish on high heat and the albumin is oozing out of the fish. (Ok, I won’t pretend I knew what albumin was before last night and throw it around like I’ve been using it for years when it’s the culinary equivalent to the “word of the day” for me. I’ve seen the white stuff but, much like the ends of shoelaces, I had no idea it had a name. Never really thought about it either.)
Next up is the fourth group which includes Lindsay, whose roots are both Greek and southern U.S., and Ed, my absolute second favorite chef. Lindsay’s tribute to her two grandmothers is a trout spanakopita with crispy leeks and rainbow trout roe. The dish is a hit, but Emeril thinks there’s too much butter. (Is there such a thing? I’d put butter on my butter if it wasn’t frowned upon by society and the Mayo clinic.) Ed chose to go vegetarian as a tribute to his grandmother who rarely cooked using proteins. He created a modern bibimbap with lemon-chili sauce. He knew it was risky to go vegetarian but he told Ty early on: “I got balls and I’m gonna show ‘em.” Thank you for sharing your balls with us Ed, the judges really enjoyed what they inspired.
The final dishes of the evening are served by Grayson, a self-proclaimed meat and potato girl from Wisconsin, and Ty. Grayson serves a giant slab of rib-eye with German potato salad and grilled vegetables. The judges find the meat stringy and gristly. Ty, who still remembers the panko-crusted chicken tenders his Japanese nanny made for him, wanted to honor her by creating his version of chicken tenders fried in duck fat and served with pickled peaches. The judges think his plate is beautiful and love the dish.
Back in the stew room, the chefs are comparing dishes and beating themselves up as usual. Ty takes this time to point out that Patti’s nails were painted to match Padma’s shirt. He’s probably right but who’s to say Padma didn’t dress to match Patti’s nails? While we are on the topic, Padma’s wardrobe this season is awful. They’re like heinous costumes, not clothes. (New sponsor opening!)
Padma asks to see Grayson, Chris C., and Heather. This is no surprise. Grayson took the challenge too literally and her dish iss boring and bland. Chris C. had albumin (used it again) leaching out onto the plate and Heather’s meat was not cooked properly. Heather doesn’t put up much of an argument which I’m surprised by but when Tom asks her why she didn’t use the pressure cooker, she gives a big spiel about it making her duck stringy which ruined her dish last time. Tom looks at her and says, “Beverly used the pressure cooker and she’s not here.” Snap! Feisty Tom is back and it seems he doesn’t care too much for Heather. This is probably no skin off her back since Tom is not tall, dark, or handsome. (Although, I must confess: I have a small crush on Tom which is strange since “bald” and “soul patch” aren’t on my Top 10 list of endearing features.)
Beverly, Ed, and Sarah are brought to the table as the top three. Patti loved Ed’s beautiful presentation and Padma thinks he’s on a roll. Beverly also executed a lovely presentation and everything on the plate had a purpose. Sarah’s dish showed a lot of technique and the flavors were clean.
After the judges deliberate, Sarah takes her first win of the season and “The queen of mean” as Padma calls Heather, is sent packing. Beverly doesn’t cry. Justice has been served.
LCK: Nyesha vs. Heather
Nyesha is ready to “shut Heather up” and “wipe that smile off her face.” All previously dismissed chefs hang on the sidelines as the competitors take their corners. The challenge is to showcase their techniques and methods by frying, injecting, and foaming. Heather goes the savory route and prepares gulf shrimp injected with paprika and served with a mushroom foam. Nyesha takes the sweet road and makes beignets injected with caramel sauce served with a brown butter foam. Tom tastes both dishes. Both are good, but he finds Heather’s shrimp to be overcooked and she is gone for good. Ding dong…you know how the rest goes.