Totally Stoned: The Top Chef finale recap

Unspoilery food photo. Because otherwise people get “angry”

 
 

Is it just me, or is there is absolutely no method to the madness of who the show has chosen to compete to be sous chefs for Paul and Sarah?
There are six of the original castmembers—but not Edward, Lindsay, or lightning rod Beverly. And there are two random master chefs that we’ve never seen before (Barbara Lynch and Marco Canora). And then there’s a scattered assortment of the rejected Alamo gang, including—wait for it—legend-in-his-own-mind Tyler Stone. (Yup, the dude who couldn’t locate the tenderloin of a pig.)
Weird.

Here’s how it works. They have 45 minutes to cook and then Paul and Sarah will do a blind tasting to pick their assistants.
The dishes are laid out on the table.
Paul picks first.
He selects the dish made by Barbara Lynch. Good palate there, buddy.
Then Sarah picks Nyesha’s halibut with green lentils.
Then Paul picks Umlaut.
It’s already getting a bit awkward that Marco Canora has not been picked.
But Sarah, you see, really wants Heather. Because they’re pals and she has enormous respect for her as a human being. Also, because Heather knows how to make dessert.
But Sarah is confused. She thinks that Heather made the dumplings. But, wait, there’s a plate of scallops with a raisin citrus sauce. Isn’t that dish on Heather’s restaurant’s menu? It must be a sign, right?
“The scallops,” Sarah blurts out.
And who should step forward with a smug little grin on his face and an extra bounce in his step? You guessed it: Tyler Stone (“Stone. Tyler Stone” as he said—not jokingly—in his audition video). Oh, the humanity! (Of course, he thinks he made it because of his super awesome cooking skillz and not because Sarah outsmarted herself by trying to find Heather. Oh boy, she’s created (more of a) monster.)
Then Paul picks Malibu Chris
Marco Canora rocks nervously on the balls of his feet and smiles stiffly.
Sarah picks Heather.
Marco Canora begins to twitch.
Paul picks Keith
Marco Canora begins to scream silently.
And Sarah picks. . .Grayson.
Nuclear holocaust!!!
Quickly in damage control mode, Padma establishes that Marco will now serve as one of the judges. No hard feelings. I’m sure the shame of this won’t ruinously affect his career at all
(Just kidding, Marco. I’m sure you rock.)
So there are two subplots going, as the chefs begin to prepare their four-course meals for the evening.
For Paul, the subplot is: Will he defer to Barbara Lynch or hold his ground? And will she come to respect him as a head chef and team leader?

For Sarah, the subplot is: Will the selection of Stone, Tyler Stone be the death of her?

Things don’t start off promisingly, for either of them.
Barbara Lynch questions Paul’s last minute decision to buy shrimp, as it wasn’t on his menu.
“You’ve got to be confident in your game plan,” she says. (Or something to that effect.)
Stone, Tyler Stone, meanwhile is making all sorts of “helpful” suggestions, like telling Sarah she should sous vide her vegetables.
“He has some nerve,” she says.
Once they start cooking, however, Paul’s problem is quickly resolved. Game knows game, as they like to say in the sports world—and Barbara Lynch recognizes that Paul is the man. She falls into line. (And, for the record, his decision to buy shrimp actually saved him, cause the crabs got “funky” overnight.) (Personally, I like my chickens funky, but not my crabs.)
“Paul is amazing,” says Barbara. “I’m proud to have this opportunity.”
Sarah’s problem, however, is ongoing.
First, Tyler shows up in the kitchen in dress pants and shoes. (Hey, you never know if a Hollywood casting agent is watching the show, people! You can all have your bandanas and drawstring pants and comfortable shoes. Stone, Tyler Stone, is a sharp-dressed man.)
Then, his mise en place skills are mise en whack.
Seriously, I can chop celery faster than he does. And I have the knife skills of a particularly adroit monkey.
Later, he assures Sarah that he knows how to whip up a white-chocolate ganache better than she does.
“It’s going to be super smooth like me this,” he says. “You’re going to have the perfect texture.”
“Tyler is moving at his own pace, which is highly inappropriate,” Grayson says. “We’re going to jam out with our clams out and Tyler is going to do what he does.”
Yes, she actually said “jam out with our clams out” and no, I have no words.
Judging time. Tom Colicchio is wearing hipster nerd glasses, which I do believe is one of the 12 signs of the Mayan apocalypse.
Paul’s restaurant is named Qi.
Sarah’s restaurant is named Monte Verde.
So here’s how service goes:
Each one of them has a course that goes more smoothly during one round.
For Paul, it’s his “Chawanmushi,” which is sheer perfection for the first judging round (head judge: Tom), but overcooked  for the second tasting (head judge: Padma)

For Sarah, it’s her veal cheeks, crispy veal sweetbreads, and polenta.
For the first serving (Team Padma), the polenta is lumpy.
But she smoothes it out for the second group (Team Tom).
So basically, Tom lucked out with the superior version of both dishes. That’s so him.
There is also some quibbling over Paul’s congee with slow scrambled eggs and uni. (By the way, has everyone here read my love letter to uni? In short: I REALLY like uni. A lot.)
Tom thinks it’s a little bland, and not quite as revelatory as Paul’s other dishes.
Hugh Acheson thinks it’s a slam-dunk. (On principle, I’m on Team Hugh here.)
All agree that both desserts—which both featured kumquats, oddly enough—are stellar.
It’s going to be close. Very close.
There are cute moments with the fams. Paul’s dad tears up, which makes Paul tear up. One gets a sense that Paul’s dad isn’t the weepy type, so the fact that he’s crying is kind of a “big deal.”

Cuter still, Sarah’s fiancée leans in and conspiratorially whispers to her: “Check the fish. Mine had a bone in it.” I’m not sure if that’s cheating or not, but it was pretty adorable.
Final judgment time:
“In nine seasons, this is the best food we’ve seen in the finale,” Tom says. Which would be a lot more powerful if he didn’t say that every year.
“I hate white chocolate. And I thought this was the best dessert I’ve had in nine seasons,” says Padma of Sarah’s hazelnut cake with roasted white chocolate ganache.
(I only mention this because I once tried to start a Twitter war with anyone who loved white chocolate. I couldn’t find many takers. Ballsy move, Sarah. Ballsy move.)
Both Paul and Sarah make final cases for themselves. Paul talks about his newfound confidence—although form isn’t quite following content, because he’s stammering and sweating and looks like he’s about to cry.
“I’m back to being nervous Paul,” he admits. “But I really am very confident.”
Damn, you just want to pinch his cheeks, don’t you?
Sarah talks about her passion for food and being raised by a single mom.
I’m kind of at peace with either of them winning at this point.
The judges deliberate one final time.
The general consensus: Sarah took more risks, but Paul “sweated the details,” according to Tom, better.
They bring them back into the judging room.
“It was as close as it can get,” says Tom.
“Paul, you are Top Chef!” says Padma.
Hugs, confetti, tears, joy, resentment (okay, just a little—Sarah really thought she was going to win.)
And Southwest Airlines website crashes as a million Top Chef viewers across the country book a flight to Austin so they can have the chance to taste Paul’s food and pinch his cheeks for themselves.
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Dude, that’s cold! The Top Chef Texas recap

 

I’m not saying that the final 3 are a little dull, I’m just saying that they showed them playing a word association game in the car ride to Vancouver. (And did anyone catch the rules to this game? Steven Seagal leads to Sammy Hagar which leads to Q-Tip which leads to Barbara Bush? Was it the “washed up celebrities of the 80s” name game? Or perhaps just the “blurt out any celebrity’s name you can think of” game?)
Anyway, they go to a kitchen in Chinatown and there are three master chefs—Takashi Yagihashi, Floyd Cardoz, and my girl Anita Lo (love her for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on—she has what can best be described as an endearing logyness.)
Sarah is tearing up because apparently whenever she is encountered with master chefs, she gets weepy (also, she and Takashi are bowling buddies, or somethin).
Paul is feeling what I like to call the “Reverse Lin”—namely, there’s an extra expectation that he’ll do well in this challenge because he’s Asian.
They’ll be making a tag-team dish in 40 minutes, with no communication between partners.
They draw knives:
Anita is teamed with Lindsay
Paul is teamed with Takashi
Sarah is teamed with Floyd
And away they go.
I actually love a challenge like this, precisely because of the lack of communication. The masters simply have to prep and leave some clues and hope for best. (Now if I was playing, my “clue” would be a napkin with the words “I’m making scallops 3 ways” written on it, but that’s just me.)
In the end, Sarah and Floyd achieve a perfect mind meld on their seared cod with coconut curry and win.
“I’ve won $30,000 in Canada alone,” says Sarah. “I won nothing in Texas.”

In sports we call this “peaking at the right time.” (Worked out pretty well for a little team I like to call the New York Football Giants!)


Padma now lays out the rules for the Elimination challenge:
They will be serving at a Fire and Ice cocktail party, where they have to make one dish and one cocktail.
“Your dish must contain both a hot and cold element,” Padma says.
“That is so wide open to interpretation,” Lindsay reports.
(Actually, Lindz, “a hot and a cold element” seems pretty narrowly open to interpretation to me.)
At Whole Foods, Paul orders 1,000 grams of King Crab and I’m thinking, get a hold of yourself man, you’re going to need some sort of giant truck to carry that much—but then I remember that 1,000 grams = about 2 pounds. #Metricsarehard
Paul and Sarah both have very high concepts, involving melting mousse and snow foam but Lindsay thinks they’re being too “gimmicky.” Hmmmm.
Meanwhile, she’s making halibut, because one of the burning questions of this season is: Can Lindsay make halibut or what? (Sadly, that’s not an exaggeration. That actually is one of the burning questions this season. Especially now that Malibu Chris and his magically shape-shifting sexuality is gone.)
Tom comes into the kitchen to check on their progress and proceeds to really mess with Paul’s head.
“What happened in the last Quickfire?” he asks. “Did the pressure get to you? Don’t you know that you’re Asian!” (Okay, he didn’t really ask that last part.)

But Paul, in classic Paul fashion, keeps his cool: “These two ladies are bad ass,” he says.
“So they just made better dishes than you?” Tom asks. (Dude, lay off.)
“Yeah,” says Paul. He is unflappable Tom. Stop trying to flap him.
It’s service time.
“I wish I had another hour,” sighs Paul. But when the curtain rises, the curtain rises.
As the judges wait for their food, they bemoan the fact that someone is going to have to go home.
“There’s no Last Last Chance Kitchen,” says Tom.
“Bev’s coming back!” cracks Padma.
“She’s actually under the table right now,” says Emeril. Hey, an actual joke. By Emeril Lagasse. On purpose. Welcome to Season 9, Emeril!
Paul’s up first with his king crab with sunchoke chips and lobster broth, plus the “Pan Am” cocktail (kaffir lime, Thai chilies, rum—followed by a quickie in the airport bathroom).
Everyone likes the dish a lot, but they wish Paul’s Pan Am had more kick. (Ironic, since they were blasting his Quickfire dish for being too hot. Dude can’t win.)
Tom becomes enraged by Paul’s arugula, which he has basically used as a garnish. Tom is apparently a member of the lesser known PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Arugula.) He is not a happy camper.
Next up, Sarah’s five greens-filled pasta with garlic and chili spiced sformato (mousse) and “Agrumi” cocktail (gin, kumquat and mango).
The pasta is delicioso, but the mousse got overly frozen on her fancy freezing plate and isn’t quite creating the melting sauce effect she was hoping for.
Still, high marks for degree of difficulty and flavor.
Suddenly, Lindsay begins to second guess her second guessing. Maybe she should add a more gimmicky element to her dish. So, at the last minute, she adds a spoonful of tomato ice to her halibut with fiery celery root salad and roasted tomato with an ‘Encendido” (vodka, tomato, and horseradish).
And it’s a good thing, too.
“I’ve never eaten a piece of ice so well seasoned,” says Gail, of Lindsay’s ice spoon.
Also, for the record, the halibut is perfectly cooked. Can we all just finally move on with our lives?!?
Then the judges deliberate.
It gets a little contentious, especially this exchange about Lindsay, between Gail and Tom.
“I didn’t think she made any mistakes,” says Gail.
“The drink was a mistake,” says Tom.
“But it definitely went with the food,” says Gail.
(Okay, so not exactly contentious, but that qualifies as high drama on this particular episode.)
The cheftestants are called back in.
“Sarah,” says Padma, pausing for effect and making a sad face. “You are moving on to the finale!” (Oh, the patented Padma fakeout. When. Will. I. Learn?)
Once Sarah retrieves her heart from her mouth, she’s able to celebrate in the holding room.
Sort of strange order for the show, huh?
Arugula abuse notwithstanding, Paul was pretty much a foregone conclusion, so the suspense between Lindsay and Paul isn’t that extreme.
(I guess they thought the original Sarah fakeout was more compelling than a Sarah v. Lindsay final two.)
Anyway, yeah, Lindsay is going home.
A shame because her womance with Sarah was a lovely thing to behold.
But it seems fitting that in a season more defined by its constantly self-mythologizing homebase state than anything else, we’d have two Texans as the final two.
Saddle up. Giddy-up. Hook em horns. Etc. etc. etc. . .

Padma’s Gotta Gun: The Top Chef Texas recap

Pick me!

 

They’ve gone through over two months of grueling competition, they’ve cooked their asses off, prepared everything from pork ribs to foie gras, and, one by one, they’ve defeated their culinary foes. So what’s the best way to choose our Top Chef finalists? Cross country skiing and target shooting, of course!
Shoot me now. (But not literally.)
Look, I’m not the first to say that this season of Top Chef has kind of lost its way. But here’s some unsolicited advice to Padma and friends going forward: Less forced product placement, less gimmicks, less challenges that have more to do with physical prowess than culinary skills, and get back to basics. There’s no shame in recycling some of the old Quickfires (I, for one, miss the blindfolded taste test), especially when the ones you come up with involve moving gondolas and blocks of ice.
So yeah, we’re in British Columbia now, for reasons not quite made clear.
Some time has passed, all the contestants have grown their hair—as they do.
Paul has packed on a few pounds, but still looks cute. And with his bratty school boy haircut, he looks a bit like the Asian Chuck Bass.
(However, the less said about his neon orange pants and matching suspenders, the better.)
They all greet each other warmly, but Sarah and Lindsay are cool to Bev.
“Paul, Sarah, and I have a bond,” explains Lindsay. “We’ve been through this since day one. It’s a little weird seeing Beverly show up.”
Yes, because she missed two whole episodes.
As the cheftestants drive to their challenge destination, Paul asks Bev about Last Chance Kitchen.
“Oh, it was pretty awesome!” gushes Bev, so glad that someone finally bothered to ask. “I.  .  .”
Look at that tree!” blurts out Sarah, in what is quite possibly the least artful sabotage of a conversation I’ve ever seen.
Beverly rolls  her eyes and simmers quietly, Beverly-style.
(By the way, did anyone catch Bev get the honey badger treatment on Watch What Happens Live last night? So good.) (And snazzy jacket there, Bev.)
They go to the top of a mountain, where Padma and Tom are about to be blown out of the frame, like this guy from the Weather Channel. 
So apparently, this was the same mountain where the Winter Games took place and we’ve got a completely reasonable Olympic theme to tonight’s show. Because the Winter Games are coming . . . in February 2014.
“Welcome to the Culinary Games!” says Padma, living out her Suzy Chapstick fantasy.
There will be three events. Each event offers a prize of $10,000 and a trip to the finale.
For the first event, the cheftestants have to prepare a dish on a moving gondola.
Here are a few things that might stand in the way of them making an ideal dish:
It’s cold as shit.
Paul gets motion sickness.
Food defrosts slower in the cold.
Water boils faster at high altitudes.
The gondola is moving.
“It’s very nauseous in here”-Sarah.
But besides that, it’s all about the food.
Guest judge is noted foodie and Olympic snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler. (I wonder if her fans are called Beleilers, Justin Bieber style. . .)
In the end, miraculously, the judges like all four dishes, but they are partial to Beverly’s clever salmon tartare and Lindsay’s salmon and chorizo.
And Lindsay wins! She’s our first finalist.
After, Sarah assesses Beverly with a series of baffling animal metaphors: “She is that silent horse. She likes to be meek and timid and then she likes to attack like a tiger.”(Why does everyone feel compelled to compare Bev to a woodland creature? Discuss among yourselves.)
Round two, where food is packed into enormous ice blocks. So they have to get to their food, thaw it, and then prepare it.
They are given ice picks, and all start hacking away like Jason in Friday the Thirteenth, if Jason had a culinary degree and an impudent way with a buerre blanc.
The ice picking—and all the Olympic-style competition for that matter—brings out the crazed, Honey Badger side of Beverly. She looks positively demented.
But of course, she’s not that strong. And neither is Sarah, who’s clearly not the jock of the bunch. They start whacking at their ice blocks with frying pans. It’s not a pretty sight. (It’s like the Pine Barrens episode of The Sopranos, for those who get the reference.)
Paul releases his ingredients first. And even he knows how idiotic and irrelevant to cooking this exercise is. So he helps Sarah and Bev break their ice blocks, too. (Love. Him.)
In the end, it all works out for the best.
Paul wins this round with his King crab and mango chivalry (I mean, uh, chutney).
So, as it must be, I suppose, it’s down to Sarah vs. Beverly.
They meet Padma at the top of another mountain.
“Oh my God, she has a gun,” Sarah says when she sees Padma. (I had a nightmare like this once—except it was both Heidi Klum and Padma with guns and for some reason I was dressed in bearskins).
“This is your last shot to move into the final three,” says Padma. (Anyone who reads my The Bachelor recaps knows that my intolerance for bad puns is at Defcon 1 at this point. So Padma is treading on thin ice.) (Ohmygod, it’s contagious.)
This final challenge is the culinary biathlon where you have to cross country ski and then shoot for your ingredients.
(I’m pretty sure Chef Ripert also had to do this before he opened Le Bernardin.)

Bev has never cross country skied or used a gun in her life.

Sarah, however, used to shoot tin cans in the woods with her pappy. (Is that a real thing? My hand to God, I thought it was just something fake rednecks did in movies.) #EastCoastgirl
Advantage Sarah?
You might think so, but then you’d be underestimating the Honey Badger.
Beverly gets on those skis, and with a Bev look of Bev determination that only Bev can muster, Bevs her way around the course.
There’s a moment where Sarah wipes out on Beverly’s skis—and of course, Sarah seethes at Beverly, as though she did it on purpose. (Beverly can barely ski in a straight line, but she has the diabolical know-how to use her skis as a weapon? I think not.)
Eventually, they both make it to the end of course and start shooting for their ingredients.
Bev proves to be a halfway decent shot, at least as good as Sarah.
They both get the ingredients they want, so we are finally done with this nonsense.
The judges like Beverly’s arctic char with celery root, beets, and black truffles and are impressed that she got out of her Asian comfort zone to produce something earthy and rootsy.
Quibble: Her fish is slightly overcooked and the whole dish was not quite seasoned enough.
They also like Sarah’s rabbit with black cherries and hazelnuts. It’s a very flavorful and well thought out dish.
Quibble: Rabbit a little tough.
“You made two very good dishes,” says Tom. “You’re not making it easy on us. So thank you.”

Padma breaks the news: “Beverly, please pack your knives and go.”

What follows is a show of hypocrisy that “is very nauseous,” as Sarah might say.
All of a sudden, everyone is hugging Beverly and loving her spunk and telling her how awesome she is. It’s a freakin’ lovefest.
“You kicked ass,” says Paul.
“You kicked hardcore ass,” says Lindsay.
“I’m so glad we got to cook together. You’re amazing,” says Sarah, hugging Bev. (Aaaaand I just threw up a little in my mouth.)
And then Bev pulls out her trusty ice pick and stabs them all repeatedly in the eye.
The End

Jaw Walking: The Top Chef Texas recap

The more I thought about it, the more I knew that Bev was going to walk through that door.
I mean, Top Chef is a TV show, after all—and where’s the drama in Grayson being a finalist? For one thing we already know she’s good, but slightly less good than Sarah, Paul, Edward, and Lindsay. Second of all, everybody loves her. How dull.
So yeah, door opens and in marches Bev, smiling that spunky, indefatigable Bev smile, which, as always, lives at the corner of Adorable Ingénue Road and Will Murder You In Your Sleep Boulevard.
Her arrival is greeted with funereal silence.
In fact, let’s just call this whole episode what it is: Awkward Interactions With Beverly.
“I am not happy to see Bev,” says Sarah.
“We were all excited because we thought we were the Final Four,” grouses Ed, glaring at Bev like it’s her fault she won Last Chance Kitchen.
Tom, sensing the tension—and loving every minute of it— chimes in with: “If Bev continues to cook the way she did on Last Chance Kitchen, you’re all in for some real competition.”
Hell yeah, it is ON.
(And just for the record, Bev was able to recover the “Congratulations Top Chef Beverly Kim” sign from the trash—so thank God for that.)
The Quickfire Challenge is some sort of cooking exercise/Three Stooges routine/1970s key party rolled into one: Everyone has to put on a blindfold and grope their way into the pantry to pick out their ingredients.
And grope is the operative word: Bev cops more feels than Larry King in a sorority house.
People keep banging into walls. Jars are overturned. Floors become Bon Jovied (slippery when wet). It’s a mess.
(And Padma and Tom laugh and clap their hands and say, “Dance monkeys, dance!”)
Tom asks Lindsay how she did blindfolded in the pantry and she says, “I hit some walls.”
“I hope you didn’t hit any metaphorical walls,” he cracks, and Lindsay gives him the kind of death stare usually reserved for Beverly.
It comes down to Ed vs. Sarah for the win and Sarah takes it.
I love the twist on the Quickfire prize: You either get a new Prius OR a guaranteed spot in the finals.
Seems like a no brainer, right? Take the guaranteed spot.
But that shit can play mind games with you: Did you truly earn your spot? Did you lose a little of your competitive edge by sitting one out? Will your competitors now see you as someone who fears them? What’s the gas mileage on that Prius?
The boys are all posturing that they would take the car because they fear no Elimination Challenge, but Sarah, quite reasonably I think, goes for the guaranteed spot instead.

Then, of course, she’s probably a little disappointed when she sees who comes waltzing through the doors: The cheftestants’ mentors.
For reasons not quite made clear, this turns into an enormous blubberfest.
Paul in particular really needs to get a hold of himself. Both he and his mentor—Tyson Cole—are doing some serious Stage 5 ugly crying.

Also, did anyone else get the sense that Bev’s mentor:
a. Barely knows her?
b. Doesn’t really like her that much?
Here’s the challenge: Make a dish that will make your mentor proud.  (Except for you, Sarah.)
Sarah’s mentor—Tony Mantuano (I also hear he’s a helluva disco dancer)—is there, too, but just for show. They end up going to the Golden Corral for dinner.
Oh, and here’s a little insight into the way Lindsay’s brain works: She seems very close to her mentor, Michelle Bernstein—I mean, like mother/daughter close. And  yet, this is the amount of crazy pressure she puts on herself: “If I don’t do well, I won’t have a job when I come back,” she says.
Girl, check yourself before you wreck yourself.
At Whole Foods, Edward goes looking for fresh oysters, can’t find them, and settles for smoked oysters instead.
Seriously, some sort of siren should sound whenever a cheftestant does that.
When will they learn: If it came from a jar, a box, a tube, a can, or the freezer section of your grocery store, RUN AWAY!!!
Dinner is served to Tom, Padma, Hugh, Gail, and all the mentors.
Bev comes out first.
She’s made gulf shrimp with BBQ pork and Singapore rice noodles.
And she cooked to order in a wok, which is apparently tricky, even though the guys in dirty undershirts at my local Chinese takeout seem to do it just fine.
Everyone is impressed and Tom appreciates the degree of difficulty. How he managed to not tell Bev that she took “a wok on the wild side” is beyond me.
Next Lindsay, who is already in the kitchen seriously self-flagellating because she added cream and dried herbs to her cioppino.
As expected, the judges like it but wonder about the emulsified cream.
“I’m firing that incompetent bitch,” Michelle Bernstein says. (Just kidding.)
Paul comes out with his chilled sunchoke and dashi soup with summer vegetables.
The judges flove it, and particularly take note of the restraint Paul showed in not adding unnecessary components. A sign of a very confident chef.
Next Edward’s braised pork belly with Chicken-of-the-Sea-brand oysters and pickled vegetables.  (Okay, maybe not Chicken of the Sea. But still.)
“My oyster sauce tastes funny,” Tom says.
Uh-oh.
But Gail likes the pickles almost as much as she once liked Mike Isabella’s pepperoni sauce. (And I wish I liked anything as much as Gail liked Mike Isabella’s pepperoni sauce.) (True story: I ate that sauce recently, when I visited Isabella’s Graffiato’s in D.C. It is definitely a sauce worth swooning over.)
So Padma wants to see everybody (except for you, Sarah.)
High praise all around, but “Beverly and Paul served our favorite dishes of the night.”

And the winner is. . .The Artist! (I mean, Paul. . . sorry about that. . . I have Oscars on the brain.)
But Bev is safe, too.
“It’s so much sweeter because I was at the bottom,” Beverly says, as Lindsay gives her the death stare usually reserved for, well, her.
So Paul and Bev scamper back to the holding room, where Sarah looks decidedly unimpressed.
“Oh my God I’m so worried about Ed and Lindsay,” she says.  Implication: It should’ve been you, Beverly!
In the end, if your oysters are smoked, you must be revoked.
Ed is out.
“Getting knocked out by Beverly,” says Ed. “It’s a bad way to go.”
Nonetheless, he’s super gracious as he leaves, congratulating everybody and telling them they deserve to be there. (I like Ed V.2.0—too bad I didn’t get to meet him sooner.)
Don’t worry, Ed. You’ll have a chance to redeem yourself on Last Chance Kitch. . . .doh!

Schwinning! The Top Chef Texas recap

 

Before I get going, a brief rant about Last Chance Kitchen. (I guess if you haven’t watched the latest Last Chance Kitchen, this would qualify as a spoiler, but then again. . .THERE’S NOTHING TO SPOIL!!! That’s the damn point.)
When the preview to next week’s Top Chef episode sort of played up the dramatic “who will walk through the door?” element of the Last Chance Kitchen contest, I had this dim, gnawing thought that they might not show us the winner. But then I shook it off: They wouldn’t do that to us, right? Right?
I mean, we’ve invested 15 weeks in those darn webisodes, dutifully making our way to the Top Chef website, sitting through the various Toyota and Healthy Choice commercials, pondering our unanswered questions (do they at least give the poor saps a good night’s sleep before they throw them right back into the kitchen? do all the ousted cheftestants live together, Real-World-style?)—all for the oh so glorious payoff that was supposed to come our way last night.
So as I’m watching Beverly go head to head with Grayson, I’m keeping my eye on the time scroll: 3 more minutes—more than enuf time to cook and get Tom’s verdict. 1 minute 40 seconds—start talking faster Tom. 30 seconds—oh, for the love of God, spit it out already Tom. 3 seconds. . . and suddenly Padma’s reassuring voice: “Tune in next week to see who won Last Chance Kitchen.” Nooooooo!
Oh, Last Chance Kitchen, why you gotta play me like that?
Alright, back to the real show. It starts like this really awesome dream I had once, where I go into a room and it’s made entirely of pancakes.
The cheftestants speculate as to who the special guest judge might be: Some sort of child star? Miley Cyrus perhaps? (In that case, it would be a room full of bongs, but I digress. . ) And in comes Pee-wee Herman.
Now something tells me that if you told Paul Reubens in 1986 that 26 years later, he’d still be sporting the Pee-wee bow-tie, riding the Pee-wee bike, and laughing the Pee-wee laugh, he’d want to murder you in your sleep.  That being said, Paul Reubens’ failed post-Pee-wee career is something of a gift to us all because—squee!—it’s Pee-wee!
The challenge is simple: Make some fun, flavorful, fanciful, Pee-wee-approved pancakes.
This makes the cheftestants happy because all of them used to eat pancakes and then watch Pee-wee’s Playhouse. (A very important childhood ritual that I apparently missed out on entirely.)
Pee-wee tastes all the pancakes and, one by one, pronounces “I have to say, these are the best pancakes I’ve ever had.” (This by the way, is part of the genius of Reubens—’cause that is exactly the way a kid thinks.)
Finally, when he gets to Edward, who has made this nifty dish with the pancake crispy bits and ends, Edward jokingly recites the line along with him. (And is it just me, or has Edward gotten looser—and I don’t just mean his jaw—over these past few episodes? He’s smiling more, he’s sleeping in funny suits, he’s bending himself around chairs. If he keeps this up he might actually become—gasp!—likable!)
Aaaand . . . Edward wins! (Hey, that’s 5 grand toward jaw-anchoring surgery. Don’t knock it.)
For the Elimination Challenge, they’ll be doing the Top Chef version of 455-time Emmy winner The Amazing Race—riding around Texas in shiny red Schwinn bikes, beating the clock, ending up at The Alamo, the sight of Pee-wee’s greatest setback.
They’ll have to buy their food, find an available kitchen to cook it in—no sharesies—and then bring it to Pee-wee.
Again, generally speaking, I hate when the show loses its focus on the food and becomes all about gimmicks and stunts, but it is funny watching the chefs beg, borrow and steal to use someone else’s kitchen.
And shit gets competitive.
For example, Paul arrives at Rosario’s Mexican grill a few seconds ahead of Grayson, but Paul makes the rookie mistake of going to the wrong entrance and Grayson slips into the front door first.
“I’m a competitive person,” Grayson explains with a shrug. (Apparently, it’s not a game night at the Schmitz house until someone breaks down and cries.)
“Not cool,” says Paul. “Not cool.”
Ultimately, Edward finds a lovely bed and breakfast, where the proprietors cleverly milk him for all he’s worth. (Hey, if you had a Top Chef in your  kitchen, you’d ask him to poach an egg or two, too!)
Paul finds a hip little creperie–it’s so him.
Lindsay checks out a place called Mad Hatters Tea House, but decides it’s not quite up to her standards and leaves. After wandering around aimlessly, she decides that Mad Hatters isn’t so bad after all but by then, Sarah has taken over the kitchen. Ooooh.
Lindsay has to then suffer the indignity of taking over the kitchen at Frank’s Hog Stand. (And I literally cannot type the words “Frank’s Hog Stand” without laughing.)
Then they all get on their bikes and drive back to The Alamo, except Grayson is actually holding her stuffed chicken in an aluminum pan as she rides and it is hot. (Here, exclusively, is Grayson’s inner monologue as she makes her way to the Alamo: Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, owwwww!)
Service time.
They all bring their food out together. The judges, including Pee-wee and my girl Gail Simmons (hi Gail!) agree that it all looks great.
They start with Sarah’s summer vegetable egg salad with chicken skin vinaigrette.
Everything is prepared perfectly, but the egg is a little bland. Tom utters the two most dreaded words in the Top Chef lexicon: Needs. Salt.
Next, Grayson’s stuffed chicken breast with gorgonzola and egg yolk and squash and tomato salad.
Tom wishes she’d left out the salad.
Pee-wee wants no part of that runny yolk.
“I have child issues with runny yolk that I’d have to lie down to tell you about,” he says.
“Did you ever catch it?” Tom says, still hanging onto a bit of his Charlize Theron yuckmaster persona.
Pee-wee generously gives a Pee-wee laugh.
(Side note: What is up with Grayson and her culinary gargantuism? Everything she serves is positively plate dwarfing. It’s kind of gross.)
Next, Lindsay’s roasted zucchini boats with beef cheeks, rice, and goat cheese.
Gail thinks there’s too much goat cheese (um, is there such a thing?)
But otherwise, it’s a big hit.
Next Edward’s chicken and grits with red-eye gravy.
Pee-wee thinks the texture of his chicken is off and Tom explains that’s because it’s undercooked. (Whoops.)
Finally, Paul’s red curry gastrique with chicken.
Padma finds it too sweet.
But Tom appreciates Paul’s save of adding pickled vegetables.
Then there’s some tortured insertions of some Pee-wee-isms into the conversation, “I know you are, but what am I?” asks Padma, out of the blue. (Because I’m sure, during childhood, when she wasn’t reading Rudyard Kipling, perfecting her runway walk, and attending literary salons on yachts, she watched a lot of Pee Wee’s Playhouse.)
Pee-wee counters with: “I’m rubber you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you . . .infinity!” And Padma must admit defeat.
“What will you think of when you think of The Alamo now?” ask Padma.
“Chicken,” says Pee-wee. “Lots and lots of chicken.”
    (Not quite the heartwarming conclusion we were all hoping for, but so be it. . .)
Judgment time.
Padma asks to see everyone.
“We stand as one,” says Sarah.
“We leave as four,” says Grayson. (Heh.)
“Chefs, you did a great job on your big adventure,” says Padma.
Bottom line: Once again, they liked all the food and are now nitpicking.
Tom asks Grayson why she took the skin off her chicken.
“Because Pee-wee says he likes to eat healthy,” Grayson answers.
“But then you loaded it with gorgonzola cheese, egg yolks and bacon,” says Gail, playing the role of Padma.
Tom is particularly pleased with Lindsay’s stuffed zucchini, because it was one of the first things he ever cooked, when he was 12 or 13.
(And this is how you knew I wasn’t going to be a chef: One of the first things I ever cooked? An Oreo and marshmallow fluff sandwich between two Cinnamon Brown Sugar Pop Tarts.) (Hey, don’t knock it til you’ve tried it.)
And the winner is .. . Lindsay!
Paul is also safe.
So it comes down to Ed, Grayson, and Sarah.
“They all failed in that all their dishes needed ketchup!” says Pee-wee. (I love the fact that Pee-wee Herman is quite possibly the first judge in the history of the show who’s not trying to impress the judges with his sophisticated palate.)
Aaaand. . . Grayson “please pack your knives and go.”
If you think this was a sad ending for Grayson, just imagine how I felt when I got to the end of Last Chance Kitchen and they didn’t announce the winner.
*Still bitter*