“Bring it on home to Austin,” allegedly: Top Chef cooks for Patti LaBelle in anunrecognizable Capitol City
In last week’s tumultuous, fight-filled, contestant-judged double elimination, we said goodbye to Dakota and Nyesha, and hello to a ragey-beyond-compare Heather Terhune. In her casting video she recounted laying some poor prep cook out for using the wrong utensil; her no-nonsense attitude seemed awesome at first, but her attacks on Bev were so relentless that she managed to make Bev seem… sympathetic. In related (things I never thought I’d see myself write) news, Grayson eked her way into my good graces by producing solid dishes and being the voice of reason as the chefs deliberated over which of them should be sent to judges’ table (and also RT'ing me). The dirty dozen became the top ten, and Padma told the chefs to back up and head to Austin.
The announcement was made in the 110 degree shoebox-sized kitchen at San Antonio’s Lonesome Dove, but it’s only when Paul Qui hears he’s headed to his hometown that he starts “sweating balls.”
The contestants load up and head out and, while on the road, we get to enjoy a little more down time with the chefs. Heather’s getting a lot of camera time, which, given the production’s penchant for heavy-handed foreshadowing, is not a good sign. Heather’s looking for love with someone tall, dark, handsome and funny (they’re everywhere, come on), but has devoted herself to her career. “I’m 40, and where would I be if I started a family ten years ago? I think about it a lot.” She may have even more time to consider her alternatives by show’s end. Ed asks whether she’d rather have one night with John Besh or $5,000 and immunity for the next challenge, and Heather makes the same choice Chris Crary would — she picks Besh.
Speaking of Shallow Chris, over in Ty-lor’s Toyota, he’s on the receiving end of Grayson’s newfound likeability. When she makes Chris Crary, dubbed “Malibu,” the girl in a hypothetical relationship with Paul Qui, he incredulously asks why he’d have to be the girl. “Well, you’re prettier,” Grayson answers matter-of-factly. +1.
The chefs shack up at the fur-besotted Driskill and Paul recounts his start in the culinary world. Between 15 and 22 he sold pot to his friends and, after waking up one morning in an apartment worthy of an episode of Hoarders (i.e., covered in animal feces and red Solo cups), he decided to do something with his life — he moved to Austin to pursue a cooking career. “It’s made me a stronger person,” he says. His consistent performance this season demonstrates that strength. But his rough and tumble past isn’t all for not — you have to know how to party to make food as fun as Qui’s.
“The social network Twitter gained popularity here in Austin at the South By Southwest Festival in 2007. Now, it’s part of everyday life and it’s a worldwide phenomenon,” explains Padma, in words my mom, and everyone else who just “doesn’t get Twitter,” can understand. The social network is familiar to Chris Jones, who “[tweets] back and forth with guests” at Moto with “real-time photos of the food going out,” which “gets people interested.” Using digital media to promote your food is great, but Jones seems stuck on this gimmicky ideas, and they will likely be his downfall.
For this Quickfire, the challenge will come from Top Chef Twitter fans, and complicating ideas will be called out in the 45-minute cook time. “This is pretty frickin’ cool,” says Sarah Greuenberg, who just can’t not be annoying, “but I’m just crossing my fingers that a tweet doesn’t come through that says like, ‘turn your dish into baby food.’” Put it in a blender, Einstein. Ugh. So lame.
RT @DentonBiety Everyone always says bacon makes it better. I want to see the chefs finally prove it
“Bacon is… so salty and sweet and delicious,” the formerly chubby Chris Crary croons, while the chefs are running around starting their plates. Bacon, like Twitter, had it’s heyday about two years ago, so all of these cooks probably have an old standby to fall back on. Bev throws her bacon in a pressure cooker before undoubtedly throwing some Asian twist on it and Chris Jones gives some direction to the FDA: “Bacon should be its own food group, because it’s damn delicious,” while starting work on the soporific scallops over a bacon and corn puree we’ve all seen a thousand times before (even once or twice this season). “I’m going to give myself a little leeway, because I think they are going to be some changes,” Jones continues, and he’s right.
RT @habitat67 Do a hash for a #hashtag challenge
This complicates Ed’s plan to make bacon pate to pair with softshell crab, but this twist adds to Grayson’s dish. “I’m very German, and one thing that’s always in our house is potato pancakes. As long as I don’t have to incorporate a cupcake, I’m okay.” This color commentary is just… astounding. Just as Bev, who’s cooking in booty shorts because she wants us all to go blind, opens the pressure cooker to find disappointingly (for me) tender bacon, the next twist is called out.
RT @koreanblue Chefs choose a pantry ingredient and hand it off to another chef must use in their dish
This tweet’s not only challenging in its grammatical structure, but also in practice. Someone hands Grayson a tomatillo, Chris Jones trades Bev butter for lemon, and Chris and Lindsay give each other sriracha and maple syrup. The rooster sauce throws off Autry, who thinks Malibu should have opened the green-capped condiment from heaven. “The least you could have done is opened this for me,” she whines, “that’s what men in general do.” When Autry’s not second behind whatever loud-mouth bully is taking charge in a given challenge, she’s been squarely in the middle for judging. Here’s hoping that as the field thins out, without anyone to hide behind or depend on, she’ll be sent packing.
Ed’s not thrilled about being given sriracha either. “There’s nothing in my dish that sriracha’s going to give any justice. I love Ty-lor, but man, you suck.” Another gay joke? Ty-lor sucks less and less as every minute passes but if you can’t find a way to get sriracha on your plate, Ed, you suck more than I ever thought possible.
The best part about this Quickfire is that Tom’s standing alongside Padma for judging, which means two times the Colicchio in this episode. They start with Bev’s crispy pork belly, and move on to Chris Jones’ corn puree with bacon, potato hash, and seared scallop. What’s great about bacon is that it adds salt and fat to a dish while not sacrificing texture — a quality apparently lost on Jones, whose potato hash was too salty for Colicchio’s palate.
Malibu’s plate, a bacon wrapped monkfish over a potato leek and bacon hash, had the most Malibu element I’d ever heard of – passion fruit glazed bok choy. Grayson’s shrimp puff wasn’t a puff at all. When asked by Tom why she named it such, she said she wanted to get it into the judges’ minds that it was light and fluffy. Probably she could have just made something light and fluffy.
Last but not least by a long shot, Padma and Tom taste Paul’s bacon trio — the plate is stunning, with each element served in open mussel shells, bright green asparagus tips and shiny blackberries for color, and a bacon fat drizzle for dimension. The only commentary comes from Padma, who offers, “Interesting.” Uh oh. “I feel like maybe they don’t like or get what I put on the plate.” Its definitely one of those two things, but its probably the second.
Tom sends the chefs back to unwind at the bar at the Driskill, which would end, if this were the staff of an restaurant, in Ed waking up next to Ty-lor. But, since it’s Top Chef, it ends with Patti Labelle walking in and singing a few bars from “Lady Marmalade.”
Grayson’s wet mousse, Chris’ over-salted potatoes and Ed’s bitter, burnt hash land them in the bottom three. “I’ve not been in the bottom of a Quickfire,” says Lee, “not a good way to start a trip to Austin.” We couldn’t have less in common, Lee and I — I always start my trips to Austin that way. (Or with an El Popeye from TacoDeli.)
Bev and Sarah were in the top for
being obnoxious their “subtle” bacon dishes, along with Paul — who finds out just how “interesting” his dish was. “It was really an unusual dish, when you look at it, blackberries and asparagus and clams and bacon, and it shouldn’t work, but it does.” It works well enough to earn Qui the win, and $10,000.
Tom sends the chefs back to unwind at the bar at the Driskill, which would end, if this were the staff of an restaurant, in Ed waking up next to Ty-lor. But, since it’s Top Chef, it ends with Patti LaBelle walking in and singing a few bars from “Lady Marmalade.” Ty-lor reaction to Patti’s performance is absolutely priceless — he lets out a cheer that you can tell from his expression he just cannot hold in.
“I learned to cook by watching my mother, my father, my aunts as a very young girl. They cooked from feeling, and I think all cooks have soul, I don’t care if you’re black, white, pink or green.” This week, Patti will be the guest judge, tasting each chef’s homage to their culinary inspiration.
Not one to miss an opportunity to cry or talk about her grandparents, Sarah tearfully recounts the time she spent in their kitchen, watching them cook from scratch. Chris Jones’ culinary journey started with a grandparent as well, and he sheds no tears at all as he remembers sitting with his grandmother as she prepared dinner. I bet he makes a great husband. Heather’s making beef stroganoff, a nod to her mom, and Grayson’s a daddy’s girl who’s going to grill up some ribeyes in honor of her father.
There’s nothing Austin about this Austin-based episode (outside of a single shot of the spinning cupcake on the Hey Cupcake! trailer) and it gets downright insulting that when the chefs go shopping at Whole Foods, it isn’t so much as mentioned that they're at the flagship store.
There’s no tacos, no grungy bearded dudes in flannel, no bands trying to make it — there’s not even an orange-clad UT student. There’s nothing Austin about this Austin-based episode (outside of a single shot of the spinning cupcake on the Hey Cupcake! trailer) and it gets downright insulting that when the chefs go shopping at Whole Foods, it isn’t so much as mentioned that they're at the flagship store. If you took a shot every time someone in the cast mentioned Toyota, you’d be wasted six minutes into each episode. What gives? Even Dallas' main export, gang violence, got air time when the chefs were there.
Before heading down to the kitchen at the Driskill, Bev settles in by hanging up her totally crazy inspirational piece of paper we first saw in San Antonio that reads, “Congratulations, Beverly Kim Clark!!!! You have won Top Chef Season 9 and $125,000!!!!!” and playing the wounded warrior act that she’s totally locked down. It’s undoubtedly hard to be away from your family, especially under such stressful circumstances, but she manages to parlay her homesickness into a complaint about “bullying” from Heather. Bev, it gets better. But until it does, please stop trying to make yourself just another victim of the bullying “epidemic” that you heard about on some after-school special. This is Bravo, not the Hallmark Channel.
Or is it? Chris starts off the dinner with his homage to “Mommy 2,” his grandmother who was his mommy, too — a take on the steak and potato dinner she served every Saturday. Things take an Eternal Sunshine turn as he explains that he wanted to make his lemon pepper steak with baked fingerling potato and vegetable in the miniature. His presentation is lauded as “pretty and petite” by a person whose culinary resume reads exclusively “Patti Labelle’s friend,” but Emeril’s not taken by Jones’ A1 demiglaze. Yet again, Jones shoots for tongue-in-cheek, but comes off as unserious.
The meat in Heather’s stroganoff is as tough as she is, and just as unlikable. It's cooked to the point of being totally unrecognizable — and Miss Patti Labelle is not having it. “It’s Bigfoot,” she says, as she lifts up the beef with a fork and looks at it quizzically. Heather’s not the biggest kid on the playground anymore, and she’s going to get a taste of what she’s been serving up to Bev.
Patti’s not done dissing when Paul Qui serves his adobo quail with ginger rice. Not a fan of quail, she didn’t even bother with the rice. Sarah manages to pull herself together long enough to serve a surprisingly successful sausage stuffed cabbage with browned butter. Malibu’s dish was a not well received — his salmon was cooked too fast, forcing out a white fat called albumen that while tasteless, is texturally and visually unpleasant. The supporting elements were a failure as well, overly spiced and unfocused. Bev’s (surprise!) Korean short ribs over an edamame puree gets a “So. Good.” from Patti, and there’s little more to say than that.
Lindsay called on her Southern and Greek heritage to come up with a trout spanikopita with crispy leeks and rainbow trout roe, a dish that looks, sounds, and most importantly, tastes too busy for the judges. Ed’s bravery in making a “humble Korean” vegetarian dish was rewarded with high praise from the judges for having authenticity — both in flavor and in representation of his culinary inspiration.
The last round was the best, striking the perfect balance of culinary success and failure. It possibly gave us the winning dish, and also provided the best Colicchio quote of the night. Ty’s Japanese nanny inspired his duck-fat fried chicken tenders in a nest of pickled peaches, a beautiful dish that meant a lot to Ty, and Patti just loved it. She trilled, “be-ee-eee-you-tiii-ful food!” adorably reacting to Ty’s dish in the same way he did her singing. New besties! Grayson, on the other hand, said something about “doing it Wisconsin-style” as she flung a 12 ounce grilled rib eye at each of the judges, horrifying Patti, who thought she was “cooking for a family of 20.” Tom leans over, and through that signature Colicchio smile, says, “That’s an appetizer in Wisconsin.” I’d be the Ty-lor to Tom’s Patti anyday.
Called in to judges’ table are Maibu, Grayson and Heather, and it’s the first time this season that the bottom three go before the judges first. Grayson defends her meat as true to her inspiration, but the judges were not having it. The meat was sinewy, untrimmed, and oversized. The real failure, however, was one of imagination — her interpretation was far too literal, but with no mention of bad flavors, Grayson will probably live to cook another day. Chris knew the mistakes he made, and didn’t disagree with the judges’ critique of his dry salmon or overpowering use of herbs.
Heather was lambasted by the judges for her stroganoff. Sad for her, but great for us, as it gave occasion for Tom to say, “Heather, your starting point was beef stroganoff, and… it just went awry from there.” Patti then lets Heather know what it really means to tell it like it is when she just straight-up tells Heather that she thought she had Bigfoot on the plate. Patti doesn't mess around. Not to let a single element slide, Padma chimes in, “And those… dumplings. They were so… dry.” Adding insult to injury, Heather must leave the crushing review to get Bev and send her in for a possible win.
Along with Bev in the top three are Sarah and Ed. The dishes were all authentic and well executed, but in the end, Sarah tearfully takes home the win.
Heather gets the axe, and gives Bev the last laugh. “Heather reaped her own karma. Nobody else told her what to do, and she is going home for what she did. I’m sorry to say, but there is a personal satisfaction with that.”
You’re not sorry, Bev. And surprisingly, neither am I.