remote viewing

Everything is falling en to place: Top Chef narrows it down to five

Everything is falling en to place: Top Chef narrows it down to five

News_Top Chef Texas_logo
Courtesy of Bravo

During last week’s dream come true episode, sexy blue-eyed falcon Eric Ripert swooped down and grasped the insufferable Beverly Kim in his claws and flew away. Odds-on favorite and hometown hero Paul Qui took the win in the episode with the most bizarre cross-promotion yet — to cook a “gothic” meal for Charlize Theron, whose film Snow White and the Huntsman doesn’t come out for another few months.

Last night kicked off in the stew room, back in the San Antonio Top Chef kitchen, located in the basement of the Alamo, with the chefs are debriefing after Kim’s dismissal. It gives the chefs time to be hypocritical, unself-aware, and back-stabby, even/especially to those who’ve fallen before them.

Lindsay, for instance, who’s passed the buck at every turn all season, takes the opportunity to point out that normally she’s “one of the most diplomatic people… just don’t screw up [her] food” when she leaves you in charge of cooking her dish so she can’t be eliminated.

Quickfire Challenge
Emeril, Padma and chef Cat Cora are judging the greatest challenge of all, the mise challenge. Sure, it’s great to watch the chefs work at a breakneck pace to shell and devein shrimp, shuck corn, and whip up some pasta, but it’s really the greatest because mise jokes are simply the best. “Excuse me, is your mise en place en place?” (That’s really the only mise joke, but it works every time. See also: Mirepoix.)

 Sure, it’s great to watch the chefs work at a breakneck pace to shell and devein shrimp, shuck corn, and whip up some pasta, but it’s really the greatest because mise jokes are simply the best.

The chefs are split into teams of two to complete the challenge of cleaning two pounds of shrimp, making one pound of “perfect” fettuccine, shucking one case of corn and turning all of that, once it’s en place, into a dish.

Chris Jones, who has yet to win a Quickfire, is paired with Grayson, Lindsay with Sarah are obviously together and Ed and Paul are the last pair. Immunity’s off the table for the rest of the season, but there is a cash reward for the winning team.

With the clock set at 40 minutes, Sarah, Ed and Grayson start making pasta, in order to give the dough time to rest. Lindsay starts work on the shrimp, while Paul and Chris Jones get going on the corn. Linsday’s is the first call for a check, and she gets a pass on her shrimp.

Grayson’s yapping away, to the judges (about male shrimp being dirtier?) and at poor Chris Jones, who’s being very diligent (“Slow is steady, and steady is… smooth”?) with his corn. It works to his advantage, as his corn is approved by the judges, while Paul’s told to go back and clean his ears a little better.

Everything’s en place for Sarah and Lindsay first, with just under seventeen minutes left on the clock, and they get working on their dish.  Finished second is Paul and Ed, and it looks like taking home a Quickfire win is just not in the cards for Jones. With a minute left, Sarah and Lindsay are done, Jones and Grayson are plating, and Ed’s and Paul are still cooking.

 It exponentially multiplies the pressure felt by the most honorable competitor this show’s ever seen to have not only his fate, but the fate of someone else in his hands.

When time is called Qui realizes he forgot to put shrimp on the plate, confirming his fears of bringing Lee down in this team challenge. With the dozen or so elimination challenges and Quickfires that the Uchiko chef has under his belt at this point, it was strange to hear him say he thought he’d be bad luck for Lee — but as they’re standing over their shrimpless dish, it suddenly makes sense. 

It exponentially multiplies the pressure felt by the most honorable competitor this show’s ever seen to have not only his fate, but the fate of someone else in his hands.

The three judges stop at Grayson and Chris’ station first to taste their fettuccine, toasted corn, oil poached shrimp, chili, bacon and rosemary. The judges’ aren’t pleased with Jones’ choice to deep fry the bacon, but theirs is the only plate that takes it’s cues from this season’s Southwestern setting, and that’s got to be worth something.

Sarah and Lindsay took a (yawn) classic Italian (Sarah: classic Italian:: Bev: Asian) take on the ingredients, coming up with a fettuccine and shrimp in corn milk with chiles, tarragon, and parsley. It’s probably fine for what it is, but Chef Cora was born not liking tarragon, an aromatic and often overpowering herb.

Qui and Lee are disqualified for missing an ingredient, a “shame,” says Padma, who it seems forgot to put pants on, because “the flavors were really nice.”

Even though the odds were really stacked against them, the green team of Grayson and Chris Jones take the win. Jones is psyched, understandably, but seems to forget that Bev won the Quickfire last week, too. And then she got sent packing.

Elimination Challenge
Being paired with Qui might have been a liability for Ed in the Quickfire, but it’s definitely bad news now, as the chefs are told their teammate is now their opponent. For 200 guests at the Pearl Brewery, for a food drive sponsored by Healthy Choice to benefit the San Antonio Food Bank, each of the pairs will make a classic “block party” dish.

They’ll only have two and a half hours to prep and cook their dish and side dish, the dishes will, in keeping with the sponsor, have to be as healthy as possible, and the winning and losing dishes will be decided by diner’s votes. 

Lindsay and Sarah choose meatballs, because obviously, Ed and Paul choose Asian BBQ, because obviously, and Grayson and Chris choose chicken salad sandwiches… because Grayson and Chris were left to their own devices.

Lindsay’s making her meatballs in a Mediterranean style, with ground veal and lamb, and Sarah’s using ground turkey, which just really very rarely tastes good. One of the rare instances it may is in Paul’s dish, a  modified kalbi. Jones is using a tofu emulsion in his chicken salad instead of mayo, and nothing says, “Pack your knives and go” like homemade nayonaise. 

All jokes aside, it doesn’t matter how en place your mise is, two and a half hours to prep and cook for 200+ is a real challenge. Jones starts off with his tofu emulsion and the secret of healthy cooking, “lots… lots of seasoning.”

He’s trapped in another gimmick, thinking all about making it healthy and giving much thought to the flavor. Lindsay and Sarah start eating each other alive a little over equipment, as was inevitable, but the cameras quickly turn to Qui and Lee.

The real competition is between these two, and the win belongs to one of them.

Lee’s created a build your own station, forcing (allowing?) him to yell at children who try to take more than the one piece of freshly made bao he’s allotted for each open faced sandwich.

Qui’s a ball of nerves as he notices he’s ahead of Lee, but he’s got to calm down. Even for the nanosecond it was shown, the short rib filling to Lee’s kalbi looks chewy. Beyond that, Qui’s version is healthier by a mile.

Grayson’s making her sandwiches to order, because it’s all “cray cray hot” and she doesn’t want her bread to dry out. Chris Jones is just crashing and burning, having a major freak-out over the “twenty… no thirty” (no, six or so) bees on his station, on account of he “really swells up” when he gets stung, and if he got “stung a couple times, [he] could really be in trouble,” or, as doctors like to refer to it, a totally normal reaction to bee stings.

Padma and the crew, including Dana Cowin, the Anna Wintour of the food industry, roll up to the block party and start off at Paul’s station. He’s made his kalbi with turkey, and beefed it up with a little eggplant. It’s a trick so simple it’s often overlooked in healthy cooking, but displays the kind of razor sharp skills Qui’s got.

In the kalbi and its accompanying white peach kimchi, he’s used agave for sugar and opted for a low sodium soy sauce, hitting every possible mark for healthfulness without sacrificing flavor.

Lee’s open faced short rib kalbi, topped with a kimchi chipotle and served with a pickled cucumber and daikon salad, can’t possibly stand up against Paul’s for healthfulness, but may for flavor. Unfortunately guests and judges alike are all about Qui’s, with Cowin in particular enjoying the addition of eggplant and the way it provided “that nice, fatty mouthfeel” and Cora commenting on how he did “all the right things… to build flavor versus fat.”

There was too much “bun to meat” on Lee’s version, and unfortunately, Padma’s was “hard and dry.”

  Chris sells his plate like he’s on a late night informercial, with such gems as “I mean, it’s Texas, it’s hot, right? So I wanted to cool it down with a nice watermelon salad.” 

Grayson’s chicken salad made to order does have mayo, but it’s an olive oil mayo, and it’s mayo at all. And Chris’ is tofu. It’s hard to imagine what it was like for the judges to make it seem like the inevitable wasn’t afoot because it’s hard to write these sentences.

Chris sells his plate like he’s on a late night informercial, with such gems as “I mean, it’s Texas, it’s hot, right? So I wanted to cool it down with a nice watermelon salad.”

Collicho’s wearing his “Oh, that poor thing” grin as he kindly takes the plate and goes to sample it. The judges were alternately confused by the choice of chicken salad and underwhelmed with its execution by both chefs.

Judges’ Table
Grayson, Paul, and Lindsay were called in first. They were told the obvious pretty much immediately, which is that the guests voted them the winners of the head-to-head challenge. It went something like this:

“Paul, I thought your dish was perfect.” — Emeril
“Paul, your hot sauce was great, I think you should bottle it, but. [long pause] Your peaches were the best thing I had all day.” — Tom

Then this happened. Grayson’s chicken salad might have been underseasoned but her personality was certainly spicy… watch yourself, girl. That’s Tom Colicchio.

Then the music got very serious and it was tense and things were(n’t) uncertain for (even) a second and then… Paul was announced the winner. As expected as it was, it’s still fun to watch him win.

Sarah, Jones, and Lee went in to face the judges and the critique started with Ed, who explained that he changed the rice that is traditionally served with kalbi to bread, because “rice is empty calories.” Oh. Okay.

He added that he cut the fat off of the short ribs as well, to which Tom, and any person who’s ever eaten short ribs knows, responded, “The fat is the best part of the short ribs.” Jones was commended for his commitment to executing his sandwiches more healthfully, but criticized again for failing to hit the mark when it comes to flavor.

Sarah’s meatball was problematic for not being as healthy as possible, and also because it mystically had a slice of apricot on top.

In the end, unsurprisingly, Chris Jones was told to pack his knives and go, but he did make it into a Times trend piece about man buns. He's probably forgotten he even lost.