Food Fright: The Top Chef Texas recap

Who’s the Plain Jane next to Charlize Theron?


If you were hoping that this episode was going to finally resolve the “how the hell do you pronounce Charlize Theron’s last name?” question once and for all, you’re out of luck.
We have 7 remaining contestants and roughly 7 different pronunciations—from Ther-in to Ther-on to the vaguely French sounding Thér-onnnn. (If Ty were still around, he’d pronounce it Ther-ön.) Such is life.
Anyway, before the show is graced by the one woman on the planet who can make Padma look frumpy, we have a fun Quickfire Challenge involving a conveyer belt.
And trust me when I say, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a man with floppy rooster hair chasing after a lobster tail on a conveyer belt.
Here’s how the challenge works: 30 minutes are on the clock. The belt goes ’round and ’round, but much like the luggage carousel at the airport, you’ve got to wait longer if you want the “good stuff” (in the airport, the “good stuff” = your actual luggage; here, it’s the aforementioned lobster,  plus the likes of halibut and foie gras.)
Some contestants just say, screw it, and grab rice crispies and macadamia nuts and bitter melon.
Chris decides to wait for that brass ring—the lobster tail. He misses a few times, lunging hilariously, but eventually snags it.
Time runs out and Beverly hasn’t been able to add her curried rice crispies to her sockeye salmon so she’s screwed.
Edward, revealing a bit more about his sportsmanship than perhaps he intended, claims that she should’ve just “cheated” and thrown some curried rice crispies in the air as time expired, hoping a few stray puffs landed on her plate.
The whole crispies fiasco is made an even bigger deal when Chef Ripert announces that Beverly would’ve won—by a mile, no less—if she had just had some damn crispies on her plate.
In an ironic twist, Lindsay, who some people (specifically Lindsay herself) thought should’ve won the Restaurant Wars challenge, is the beneficiary of Beverly’s misfortune.
She wins the challenge and. . .immunity. (Cue ominous music.)
Snap-Crackle-Pop-gate is in full effect.
No time to obsess over that though, because a goddess has entered the room.
And because I’ve been so numbed by the show’s relentless product placement, I actually find it refreshing that they’re only shamelessly promoting a movie this time—Snow White and the Huntsman—instead of a mini-van or a frozen food product or a  tequila brand.

Charlize plays the Evil Queen in the film, and it’s apparently a very dark, macabre retelling of the story.
As such, the contestants are told to make a gothic feast fit for an evil queen.
Unsurprisingly, Edward seems a little too amped up about making something evil.
And Chris knows that he’ll get to play with liquid nitrogen, so he’s like a kid in a molecular gastronomy store.
In the kitchen, glorious things are overheard like, “oooh, the maggots are everywhere!” and “my plate looks like a crime scene.” Good times.
Beverly is doing her Beverly thing: Namely, acting all cute and innocent as she bulldozes her way around the kitchen. (Also, she’s making halibut, people. Halibut. To prove to Lindsay that she DOES know how to cook the fish? Paul thinks so, and so do I.)
“She’s a bulldog, man,” says Graysen of Beverly. “That girl is tiny, but she’s crazy.”
Preach, Graysen, preach.
Anyway, the most charming thing about this episode is how nerdy and tongue-tied Tom Colicchio gets around Charlize Theron. He keeps trying to make these clever little jokes and they keep backfiring.
It’s funny to see a man who is sex symbol to many (including someone whose name rhymes with “faxthewhirl”) just totally lose his cool.
I will point out the various adorkable moments as they crop up. . .
“If I was going to make a dish that was evil, I would just make food and put poison in it,” gleefully announces Charlize Theron as the meal begins. She’s joking. Right? Right?
Up first is Edward, who brings out his tuna tartare. He says that the good (Asian pear vinaigrette) is battling against the evil (black garlic ponzu) for the heart of the tuna tartare.
Also, fried fish scales are involved.
“You combine the good and the evil you get a politician!” says Tom. (Adorkable wooing attempt FAIL number one.)
Anyway, everyone loves the dish. (A theme will soon emerge.)
“I could eat this every day,” says Charlize Theron.
Next up Paul with his foie gras with bacon, pumpernickel, picked cherries, beets—and bloody hand print.
“It’s fantastic,” says Chef Ripert.
Now Padma, sticking to the script, asks Charlize to talk a little about her movie.
“We have 8 dwarves,” says Charlize.
“Is that a union issue?” cracks Tom. (Not the adorkable FAIL yet, but wait for it. . .)
“If we had an 8th dwarf,” says Padma.
“It would be Tom!” says Charlize.
“Well, at least I’m not Dopey!” says Tom. (And BOOM goes the dynamite!)
Next up, Beverly with her perfectly prepared (she asked me to emphasize that) seared halibut with red curry sauce and forbidden black rice.
Again, delicious. But maybe not macabre enough?
Lindsay has cleverly named her dish seared scallops over witches stew.
It’s really just seared scallops over a bean sauce, but by calling it “witches stew” she has everyone fooled.
Regardless, it’s apparently witchtastic.
“The queen would’ve made it with peasants, not pheasants!” Tom jokes. (Ding!) (That was the dork bell ringing, by the way.)
“Lindsay has immunity and she may not have needed it,” Padma reports.
Next Sarah with her amarone risotto and lamb’s heart.
“I’d like to give you the key to my lamb’s heart,” Tom says to Charlize. Okay, he doesn’t actually say that, but he was thinking it.
Charlize loves the heart: “I am the queen! I want to eat more of this heart!” She’s joking again. . . right?
Next up, Grayson, with her slaughterhouse black chicken with dead chicken fetus (aka runny quail egg).
The judges agree that she “went for it.” (I’ll say.)
Finally, Chris’s poison apple and cherry pie, with puffed rice crispie maggots. (Ironically, earlier today Beverly was referring to her rice crispies as maggots, but for different reasons.)
They love the drama of it.
It’s so him, they agree.
So the meal is over.
 “I loved this meal,” says Charlize.
“This is clearly the most exciting meal we’ve had on the show this season, by far,” says Tom
“It’s the best meal I’ve ever had on Top Chef,” reports Eric Ripert.
Uh oh, dilemma time people. All the dishes were great. What’s a judging panel to do?
“We’d like to see all of you,” Padma reports.
“The meal was spectacular!” Charlize tells them.
“We are here to please you,” says Edward, smooth as silk, as Tom glowers at him from the table.
And the winner is. . Paul!
The bottom 3 comes down to Graysen, Sarah, and Beverly.
Again, all three had great dishes. The judges are just nitpicking here.
Sarah’s risotto was slightly undercooked. Beverly’s sauce was slightly sticky. And Graysen’s greens were slightly salty.
Aaaand. . .  Beverly, please pack your knives and go.
Ouch. One rice crispie away from glory.
Instead, she must sadly take down the “Congratulations, Top Chef Beverly Kim!” sign from over her bed.
“I never threw anyone under the bus,” she says, keeping her chin up high.
Suffice it say, she never personally drove a bus over anyone, but she was definitely a backseat bus driver.

A little Tundra-whelmed: The Top Chef Texas recap

Boys? Girls? Don’t make me choose!


I think the most charming thing about last night’s episode of Top Chef was how geeked everybody got over a bunch of books. 
I felt like I was watching an episode of Little House on the Prairie where Pa had just trudged 80 miles through the snow, subsisting on nothing but water and tree bark, to bring books back to the cabin.
“Pa’s brought books! Pa’s brought books!”
I mean, not to be a killjoy, but you can find Modernist Cuisine on (Although, in fairness, the whole set is over $600. I’m pretty sure the coffee table book isn’t supposed to be more expensive than the actual coffee table.)
The second most charming thing about last night’s episode? The fact that Nathan Myhrvold—fittingly—looks more like a science teacher than a chef. I kept waiting for him to give a pop quiz and send Grayson to the principal’s office.
The least charming thing about last night’s episode? Edward, who would probably tell Joe Theismann to rub some dirt on it and get his head back in the game (look it up). I know that we’ve established that Edward is the Chuck Norris of chefs and all, but harsh, dude, harsh.
Anyway, so the Quickfire challenge is to do some sort of molecular gastronomy wizardry. (For the record, I’m definitely a gastronomy muggle.)
This is basically the challenge of Chris J’s dreams. His entire existence has been leading up to this one life-defining moment.  He simply can not blow it.
So he breaks out the big gun—the miracle berry.
Now this is some seriously evil Willy Wonka shit. It’s a tablet that screws with your palate. Essentially, sweet things get sour and sour things taste like blueberry pie and dog poo smells like molasses.
Science, I fear thee.
It’s actually hilarious to watch Chris work, with giant plumes of white smoke billowing around his face, his little Pebbles Flintstone hairdo flapping in manic anticipation.
What he sets up is not so much a Quickfire as a junior high school science project: “The Miracle Berry and Its Effects on the Adult Male and Female Palate.”
He’s got lemons, he’s got fizzy water, he’s got Everlasting Gobstoppers.
What he doesn’t seem to have is much cooking, so he doesn’t win—but he does face-savingly make the top three, along with Sarah, and Ty-lor, who gets to use his real name this week (sans umlaut . . . I just can’t), because he was so much sweeter to Sarah than Edward was.
The Bottom 3 were Paul, Beverly, and Grayson. But at least Beverly provided us with a dizzy-heroine-in-a-rom-com moment where she squirted Padma with foam and clangingly dropped pots and pans in front of the judges. Katherine Heigl would’ve killed that scene.
The winner is Ty-lor, who scampers up to collect his set of Modernist Cuisine books like  he just won the lottery. I’m pretty sure Nathan Myhrvold didn’t even sign them.
So after this excursion into modernism, we now turn to the traditional—BBQ.
(Is it just me or does it seem like every challenge this season has been a BBQ challenge?)
The cheftestants will have to cook BBQ for 300.
The 3 teams are:
Team Blue: Paul, Grayson, and Lindsay
Team White: Beverly, Chris, and Chris
Team Red: Ty-lor, Edward, and Sarah
Chef Todd of the famous Salt Lick in Austin shows them his giant pit of meat, which is just bloody and meaty and intenstiney enough to make me briefly consider vegetarianism.
Then he drives them to the cooking grounds and it’s quite possibly the most extended, shameless, and obvious Toyota ad in the history of the show, which is saying quite a lot.
“Look at how much space there is!” gushes Sarah.
“This is a cool truck,” beams Umlaut, who has been briefly demoted from Ty-lor status for actually uttering this line.
“This truck is like sex in your mouth!” says Grayson. (Okay, not really.)
This is another all-night challenge, and they all have RVs and are wearing these spelunking-style headlamps, which gives the whole cookout a Breaking Bad kind of feel, especially when Beverly attempts to cook her beans in bourbon and almost blows up the camper. (Katherine Heigl would bring the perfect balance of terrifying smoke inhalation and madcap hilarity to that scene.)
Now seems as good a time as any to have our weekly (and, sniff, last) “What the hell is Malibu Chris’ sexuality, anyway?” conversation.
Earlier in the show, we found out that Chris dabbles in (really bad) painting and that all his paintings are of naked women, which is either the most heterosexual thing he could do or the least. . .you make the call.
Now, cooking into the night, he has stripped down into a wife-beater, which Grayson is basically drooling over.
“Malibu, are you wearing a wife beater?” asks Lindsay.
“I know,” says Malibu Chris. And what do you think he said next:
a. I got hot
b. I’m bringing sexy back
c. It doesn’t match my shoes. Stop pointing it out.
The answer is C, people. C. #whatislife?
Then later, while Malibu Chris is attempting to cook some beer-can chicken, he asks Chris J: “Did I put it in the right hole?” #submittedwithoutcomment
Anyhoo, it’s getting late—3:28 p.m. is dramatically flashed across the screen (pretty sure you mean, a.m. there, Bravo)—and everyone is loopy, especially Grayson (all nighters serve as a kind of truth serum for her.)
“You’re going to love it,” she says to Tom C. when he comes to check out everyone’s progress. “It’s going to be like sex in your mouth.” (Really.)
As the sun rises, the Texas heat gets stronger and Sarah feels light-headed. She calls for a medic. They give her oxygen. We join the scene, already in progress . . .
“Okay, what month is it?” the medic is asking. (Clearly this has followed the failed “What day is it?” question.) So they cart her off to the hospital.
Lindsay is worried.
Ty-lor is sweetly concerned.
Edward is…annoyed?
“Is she okay? What’s wrong? Is she dead?” Edward says testily. “If it were me, I really would’ve pushed through it.”
(Okay, yes, he both talks the talk and walks the walk, but I’m pretty sure that even when his finger was a bloody appendage dangling from his hand he knew what month it was.)
Meanwhile, he and Ty-lor go into ragey panic mode and start prematurely slicing their brisket, because they can’t possibly slice to order when they’re down one man! (I haven’t seen over-compensation like this since I laid eyes on Malibu Chris’s nude paintings.)
Service time.
So basically, Team Blue took a chance on Asian BBQ and nailed it.
(Speaking of nailing it, am I the only one who has a crush on Paul at this point? And not just because he has $35,000 in prize money.)
“This chicken is sticky, sweet, spicy and delicious!” says Padma, adding, “If only I could eat it in my Toyota Tundra!”
Team White kind of failed with their beer-can chicken, which just tasted a lot like. . . chicken. The Dr. Pepper pork-rib was way too salty and the brisket was too chewy.
Sarah has shown up from the hospital, still a little light-headed, but ready to roll up her sleeves and help. Of course, Edward wants no part of it.
“Notice that she showed up just in time for service,” he grouses.
A real mensch, that one.
So the judges are underwhelmed (or should I say “Tundra”-whelmed?) (no) by their trip around the BBQ globe: Texas chicken, Kansas City pork ribs, and Kentucky brisket.
And the winning team is: Team Blue! Yay for them. I’m glad they won, because they took a chance and it paid off.
The judges want to see both other teams:
They are upset that Team Red didn’t slice their brisket to order. (Smoke is now literally coming out of Edward’s ears.)
But they are especially upset about Malibu Chris’s salty pork ribs.
They deliberate. Who was to blame for the salty ribs: Chris J, who grilled? Or Malibu Chris, who did the rub?
“It was salty beyond belief, there was nothing anybody could do to save it,” Gail said, sounding a bit like a character in a medical soap. (“Just breathe, dammit! Breathe!”)
So in the end. . .Malibu Chris is sent packing, much to Grayson’s dismay: “We’re going to miss our. . . beautiful person,” she says, still inflicted with all-nighter-as- sodium-pentathol syndrome.
But don’t mourn for our lovely Chris: I’m sure he had a gay old time. Or, uh, not.

Karma’s a bitch (and so am I): The Top Chef Texas recap


I know that everyone thinks Beverly is sweetness and light and a basket of kittens and stuff like that, but I have a new theory on her: She’s scary.

Seriously, she’s some kind of wicca, or shaman, or voodoo sorceress.

Because yes, there might be karma in the world—and yes, it can be a powerful thing. But it’s not usually instantaneous. It’s not usually, like, a vending machine, where you put your quarter in for cosmic retribution and it comes popping right out at you.

But in Beverly’s world, that’s exactly how it works. It’s like instant messaging: She texts “T8k Hthr dwn” to the universe and the universe promptly responds.

Hey, speaking of instant messaging, holy shit! Twitter has only been around for four years? I guess all those fond memories I have of me live Tweeting my 4th grade holiday pageant are false.

I mention Twitter, because it was apparently popularized at the SXSW festival, which is relevant for two reasons:

a. The chefs have now made their way to Austin

b. I can at least briefly stop making fun of Texas because Austin is awesome.

The Quickfire challenge is make a dish based on live-Tweet requests from Top Chef followers.

Some cat named @DentonBiety (everyone follow him, it’ll be fun!) tweeted, “Everything is better with bacon. Let’s see if that’s true.”

So Tom and Padma tell the chefs they have 45 minutes to make a dish with bacon. Lame, right? I mean, I don’t presume to know @DentonBiety, but I don’t think that’s quite what he (she?) had in mind. I think @DentonBiety was thinking more along the lines of “If everything is better with bacon, can you make lemon meringue pie better with it?” Something a little more, you know, challenging.

But of course, this was only Part One of the challenge.

As they’re cooking away, Tom drops in another live Tweet, from @habitat67: “Do a hash for a hashtag challenge” (I see what you did there, @habitat67).

Finally, a third Tweet comes in: “Chefs, choose a pantry ingredient and hand it off for someone else to use in their dish.” (Oooooh, sneaky.)

So there’s all sorts of consternation about sriracha sauce, which is just silly if you ask me. Take @DentonBiety’s tweet, substitute “sriracha” for “bacon” and you pretty much have my culinary philosophy.

Tom does the judging.

The bottom 3 are Grayson (her puff wasn’t puffy), Chris J (his dish was too salty) and Ed (his hash was too ashy).

And the top 3 are Beverly (the karma begins!), Sarah (her bacon was nicely smoked), and Paul (his dish was wonderfully weird, just like Austin).

And . . . Paul wins!

Then they all go to the hotel lounge where Patti LaBelle comes on stage and works out “Lady Marmalade.”

As if on cue, Padma struts in and I have a feeling this is now in her rider: “Patti LaBelle must sing Lady Marmalade every time I enter a room.”

So Patti is a chef herself (who knew?) and was inspired by her mother. The elimination challenge is this: Make a dish to honor your cooking inspiration.

Amazingly, it’s not Beverly who cries, but Sarah, because her grandparents are her inspiration and they are both dead. Oh, wait. . .this just in: Both her grandparents are alive. But they will die some day. (Especially if they tick off Beverly somehow.)

Okay, the next sequence on the show I’d like to call “Both Max and Malibu Chris are still terribly confused about his sexuality.”

I should, of course, mention an earlier scene, the road trip to Austin, where Chris—now nicknamed “Malibu Chris” by Grayson—said the following, “If you were on, do you think we’d be compatible?”

To whom do you think he said this:

a. Grayson

b. Paul

c. His hair gel

If you guessed “b” you’re right. (And if he’d only known that just one car away, Heather was professing her love for John Besh, Chris would be all like, “Back off, bitch. He’s mine.”)

At this point, I’m fully convinced that the producers of Top Chef know that Chris’s sexuality is a source of great debate in the blogosphere and are just messing with us. To wit: The following triptych back at the house:

First, Chris sees Chris Jones’ butt crack and can’t look away—but must.

“Crack kills,” he says half-heartedly.

Then, Umlaut and Ed are sitting around a table discussing the size of Ed’s balls (really).

“I have balls and I’m going to show them,” Ed says. (Off camera, Chris has his hands over his ears: ‘”La, la, la, la, la. I can’t HEAR you!”)

Finally, they head to the challenge site and Chris J, brandishing a piece of fruit, happily announces, “I have my banana!”

Oh. the. Humanity.

Cooking time and I learned a new word: You know that gunky white stuff you sometimes see on overcooked salmon? You no longer have to call it “that gunky white stuff you sometimes see on overcooked salmon.” It’s called albumen. Malibu Chris had some on his salmon and he tried to shave it off and was hoping that the judges “wouldn’t notice.” (Good luck with that!)

Heather’s beef stroganoff contained some kind of mystery meat that Patti LaBelle identified as “Big Foot.” (Heh.)

Sarah was concerned that her pork sausage stuffed cabbage looked a little too “Creature from the Green Lagoon”-ish, but the judges floved it.

Grayson made a plate of meat and potatoes so unappetizingly enormous that even Texans would be like, “Girl, show a little restraint!”

Edward’s vegetarian bibimbap was so delicious that one of the guests was allergic to it but STILL ate it.

Beverly’s Korean braised short ribs were a revelation and the judges were particularly impressed—karma alert! karma alert!—with her masterful use of the pressure cooker.

Judgment time.

Padma asks to see Grayson, Heather, and Malibu Chris.

They exchange looks. Could it be that they read the tea leaves wrong and they’re secretly awesome? No, they’re the bottom 3.

“Your tributes fell flat,” Padma says.

Padma found Grayson’s beef to be “Sinewy and spongy”. I truly can’t imagine two words, used in concert, that would be less appetizing.

“Sorry,” Grayson says. Because really, what else can she say at this point?

As for Malibu Chris? Suffice it to say, the judges were all-bummin’ because of the albumen.

Then onto Heather’s karmic retribution, aka her beef stroganoff.

The judges tell her the meat was so grisly they couldn’t cut it.

Heather explains that she considered using the pressure cooker, but feared it might make her beef stringy.

“Beverly used the pressure cooker,” Tom says pointedly. “And she’s. . . not here.”

Knife, meet heart.

Okay, off they go to stew in their sinewy and spongy juices.

Now the good news! The top 3 are Beverly, Sarah, and Ed.

“You put your heart and soul on that plate,” Patti said to Ed.

“Everything had a purpose,” Tom says to Beverly.

“You showed a lot of technique in that dish,” Emeril says to Sarah.

And the winner is. . .Sarah! (In a sad note, the news is so exciting, her grandparents both drop dead on the spot.) (Joke.)

And the other winner is. . .Karma!

Because, yes, Heather is gone.

“Don’t be upset,” she says to the gang in the holding room. And they’re all like, “Who ya callin’ upset?”

“There is a personal satisfaction,” Beverly meekly admits, adding under her breath, “Mwahhaha!”

Like a Fat Kid Loves Cake: The Top Chef Texas recap

Oooh, our first shocker of Season 9!!! Hair gel Chris was a fatty. It is revealed in this hilarious exchange in the car as the cheftestants travel to Dallas. (Hmmm. . .I wonder what the make and model of that car is? I wish they wouldn’t leave us in the dark like this!)

Chris: “I was 70 pounds heavier three years ago.”

Paul (uncomprehending): “Like big? Buff?”
Chris: “No, like fat.”

Cut to a picture of Chris with flat bangs and non-ironic facial hair. It’s not just that he looked heavier, he looked like a completely different human being. (I guess every pound lost translated to one pump of hair gel.)

Apparently, Chris’s wakeup call was when his friends saw his picture in some chef’s magazine and said, “Looking good in that magazine, fatty.” (Yeesh, nice friends ya got there, Chris.)
Color me surprised. But it stil doesn’t quite explain Chris’s confusing sexual orientation. (More on that in a jiffy.)

En route to Dallas, the gang gets pulled over by State Troopers and I think most of them know it’s a shtick, but Dakota is genuinely concerned because she has an outstanding ticket in San Antonio. (I’m pretty sure they execute you for that there.  . . I kid, I kid.)
Not to fear, they’re just play actin’. . because Padma is standing in a field with. . .the most handsome man alive! (Well, according to Chris, at least.)

“You get this reflection off his beautiful white teeth and his hair blowing in the wind,” he says, lost in a reverie. “John Besh is a handsome man, I’m not going to lie.”

¿Quién es más bella?

That is a lot of specific detail for a man who claims to be straight. And coupled with last week’s “Padma is the next best thing to Fabio” moment, I’m not sayin’. . I’m just sayin.

So here’s the challenge: There are a bunch of survival kits in the trunk of the car (it’s a Honda of some sort, right?) and they have to make food out of the canned and tinned grub.

I’m always amazed that they’re able to concoct such pretentious sounding dishes out of tinned food.

Basmati rice with smoked trout?

Asian coconut soup with mackerel and dill pickle juice?

Beef Satay with Peanut Noodles, mango chili relish, and pepitas?

Duuuudes. . next time I eat Spaghetti-Os with franks, I’m calling it annelini with a roasted tomato reduction and pork ragu bolognese.

Anyway, the winner of this challenge is Lindsay, who made a tuna and sardine club in French onion soup with her father’s beloved Vienna sausage. So good on her.

The ELIMINATION CHALLENGE is to make a course for a progressive dinner in tony Hyland Park.

(Just a hunch, but one gets the sense that they rooted through old “Real Housewives of Dallas” audition tapes to come up with these doozies.)

Poor Dakota gets stuck with the third course (i.e. desserts) again.

“I’m pissed,” she says. “I didn’t come here to make dessert.”

So they all pile into the Hyundais and drive to what Chicago Chris called “Wisteria Lane.”

And then the second truly stupendous thing happens this episode. Whitney gets a backstory! Whitney gets a backstory!

“My background is very different,” she says. “I grew up with a fairly poor family. I lived in hotel rooms and not nice ones.”

She was poor everybody! I can now call her Poor Whitney instead of Whodat? Whitney. It’s almost like she’s an actual contestant on the actual show now. It’ll just a matter of weeks before I’m able to pick her out of a police lineup.

So House 1 (appetizers) are the Whitmans.

The cheftestants are Poor Whitney, Chicago Chris, Sarah, Paul, and Lindsay.

First thing you have to know about Mrs. Whitman: She is a lifestyle and entertaining expert. She has written books on the subject.  Cut to a series of coffee table books spread out on the kitchen island—as one does—that give the vaguest whiff of “Self-published coffee table books of the rich and famous” (Amiright?).

“At first we were thinking of asking you make everything pink,” the wife says (that’s p. 125 of her book Color Me Entertained: Using Food Dye to Spice Up Your Next Party.)

The cheftestants stare at her in slack-jawed horror.

“But then we decided not too,” she adds in a voice that can only be described as breezily malicious.

The chefs laugh nervously.

Also, no bell peppers, cilantro, or any food that would have guests self-conscious about their breath (that’s p. 62 in That Stinks! How Smelly Food Can Ruin Even the Best Celebration.)

House 2 (entrees) are the Kloewers.

The cheftestants are Nyesha, Chuy, Heather, Umlaut, and Beverly

Mrs. Kloewer also doesn’t like cilantro—it almost feels like some sort of Junior League pact they all made—and while her laidback hubby likes spicy food and beef, she doesn’t eat meat and seems to favor food with none of this exotic thing they call “flavor.”

Also, randomly enough, she hates raspberries.

House 3 (desserts) are the Wescotts (are they making these names up, or what?)

The cheftestants are Edward, Chris, Dakota, and Grayson.

“We want something that’s worth every calorie,” says the wife.

“Channel your inner fat kid,” says the husband.

And with that, Chris runs out of the room crying. (JK).

So Tom, Gail, Padma, and Chef Dreamboat roll up in a Kia and the progressive party begins.

First: Appetizers

Chris has gone full-on gimmick, creating a roasted chicken “cigar” with sweet corn, collard greens, and cumin “ash.”

Is that a roasted chicken cigar or are you just happy to see me?

As for the rest:

Sarah-grilled Roman style artichokes with date puree

Lindsay-a salad of roasted and raw beets and charred chickpea

Whitney -seared scallop over sweet corn puree


Paul -fried brussels sprouts with grilled prosciutto

(Slightly off topic aside: One of the many triumphs of the American food revolution is that Brussels sprouts have been saved from the scrap heap of “icky vegetables kids don’t like” and placed on their rightful pedestal as “king of the sprouts.”)

The general consensus is that some dishes work (Paul’s sprouts; Sarah’s artichokes) and others not so much (Chris’s cigar).

“So would you say, it’s close but no cigar?” Tom says, barely able to conceal his pleasure over his own clever joke. (Who’s the Village Idiot now, Padma?)

Next up: Entrees

Beverly -seared scallop with creamy polenta

Chuy -sockeye salmon stuffed with goat cheese

Heather-garlic and rosemary grilled lampchops

Nyesha-roasted filet of beef


Umlaut-grilled pork tenderloin with summer slaw

Chuy’s sockeye salmon is declared dry and the goat cheese is mealy. (Anyone who screws up goat cheese is on my list. Just sayin’)

Umlaut’s grilled tenderloin on a big pile of ungainly slaw is way too unfocused.

Finally: Dessert

Chris- strawberry cupcake with banana custard (and sprinkles and marshmallows and gummy bears and ju ju beans and candy corn and glitter)

Dakota -banana bread pudding with banana mousse and banana date milkshake.

Edward -panna cotta with cantaloupe consomme


Grayson – chocolate sponge cake with carmelized bananas and chocolate covered pretzels

“I found Edward’s dish a bit jiggly looking” Mrs. Wescott says.(You should see his jaw!)

Most of the desserts are pretty great except for Chris’s cupcake.

“My mother always taught me, if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all,” Tom says. (Thank goodness he doesn’t adhere to Mama Colicchio’s advice all the time, because otherwise this would be one helluva boring show.)

Judgment time:

Padma asks to see Sarah, Grayson, Paul, and Daktoa

“The four of you. . .served our favorite dishes!”

The look of utter relief and gratitude on their faces can only suggest that they’ve NEVER WATCHED THE SHOW before.  (That’s actual shock registering on Dakota’s face in the photo above, even though it looks like fake, bad-acting shock.)

Anyway, so much for desserts being the kiss of death. Two of the four finalists made dessert. (Is it premature to lift the Dessert = Dunzo rule of Top Chef? Yes, I think it is. But it’s a step in the right direction.)

And. .  . Paul wins! A victory for Texas, foodtrucks, and the formerly maligned Brussels sprouts the world over!

Now for the bad news:

Bottom 4: Chicago Chris, Hair Gel Chris, Chuy, and Umlaut

So Tom says that Hair Gel Chris’s cupcake was like something a kid would make at “make your own cupcake bar.” (Gee Tom, why don’t you just get in Chris’s face and yell, “Fat kid! Fat kid!” while you’re at it?)

Umlaut’s pork was out of proportion and demonstrated “poor knife skills” according to Chef Dreamboat.

Chuy elicited snears of contempt when he mentioned that he served this salmon dish at his restaurant.

And Chris Jones was accused of making a novelty dish. (Also, Chris, that Pebbles Flintstone hair is another novelty you might want to reconsider . . .)

“Eating a giant greasy cigar with your fingers in a cocktail dress is the last thing anyone wants to do,” says Gail. (LOL.)

“It’s  a progressive party and for one of you the progression ends here,” says Tom. This time, instead of looking pleased with his pun, he almost looks disgusted with himself. (Hey, at least they didn’t add a “Progresso soup” product placement.)

And Chuy is going home. (I wonder if he’ll take a Chu-Chu train?) (Both Tom and I agree, that was beneath me.)

No Brisket For You! The Top Chef Texas recap

You know what they like in Texas?
You know what kind of chili they like to eat in Texas?
Texas chili!
You know why there’s no beans in Texas chili?
Because if you know beans about chili, you know that chili has no beans!!
Ugh. Can I borrow someone’s 10-gallon hat, holster, and gun so I can SHOOT MYSELF?
Look, I don’t want to turn this entire blog into a Texas-bashing zone. After all, Friday Night Lights was, like, an awesome show. And I’m sure there are tons of totally cool people who live in Texas—even outside of Austin.
But boy oh boy, was there even the slightest chance that Team Green—which made beanless chili and had Sarah, whose father was in the rodeo—was going to lose?
“One of them is from Texas…born and raised Texan”- Old Man Whitaker said approvingly of the Green Team, munching happily on their meaty chili.  Because dagnabbit. Food just tastes better when it’s made by hands born and raised in Texas.
But I digress. (A Texas-sized digression, you might say.)
The show starts with the gang discussing Keith’s exit.
“Did you guys turn against each other?” someone asks.
“I don’t think we turned against each other,” says Lindsay, eyeing Sarah. Do you, Sarah?”
(If you have to ask.  . .)
“Either have something good on the plate or shut the [bleep] up,” Umlaut says, in solidarity with the Mean Girls. (In the pack, it’s always best to be on the side of the alpha dames.)
Nyesha, meanwhile, is beginning to notice that happy time is over. Shit is getting real.
“It’s turned cutthroat all of a sudden,” she says. “It’s not so fun anymore.”
And with that, it’s time for the Quickfire Challenge.
The task is easy: Create a dish highlighting one chili pepper. The hotter the pepper you use, the more money you win—up to $20,000. The wimps can use a jalapeno. The “go big or go home” types can use the dread “ghost pepper.” (In case you were wondering, this ain’t no friendly ghost.)
I love this challenge, partly because I learned something new (I’d never heard of the Scoville scale of pepper hotness . . . I wonder where Dr. Pepper lands?) and partly because I love me some hot peppers.
One of my constant complaints about living in Baltimore is that it’s hard to get really good hot food. Everything is watered down for the gringos.
(Although I did once make the mistake of ordering something called “Suicide Curry” at a Thai restaurant in D.C. I couldn’t feel my tongue for a week. File that under: live and learn.)
The two guest judges are Mary Sue and Susan from the Border Grill. (They are adorable and I would very much like to go around the country sampling hot sauce with them and getting mani-pedis.)
Turns out, only Paul has the cojones to use the Casper the Mean-Spirited Ghost (pepper).
The other chefs mostly go with habaneros and Thai peppers.
However, Beverly is the only one who gnaws on the raw peppers to see which one she wants to use.  (Mas macho!)
In the end, though, Beverly got a little cute and didn’t bother to cook her pepper (well, guess that’s one way to highlight its flavor.) So she lands in the Bottom 3, along with Chuy (ay carumba! Someone’s got some ‘splainin to do!) and Richie “Bottom 3” Farina.
The Top 3 are Heather, Grayson, and Paul.
Fittingly, Paul wins. No guts no glory. This is Top Chef, people. Not Top Hedge Your Bets.  (Or Top Scallop . . . never forget.)
Now time for the Elimination Challenge: A Chili cook-off! Fun!
The gang are split into five groups.
Red team: Whitney, Chris from Chicago, Dakota
Green Team: Chuy, Sarah, and the Not!Sexiest Man alive Chris
Black Team: Richie, Nyesha, and Beverly
Blue Team: Edward, Heather and Paul
White Team: Umlaut, Grayson, and Lindsay
They have all night to cook (at home) for the Tejas Rodeo. The winner will be chosen by the cowboys and rodeo regulars.
Nyesha is bummed to be paired with Beverly because she thinks she’s “meek.” Clearly she has never seen Beverly at the meat department of Whole Foods.

Speaking of which, the meat department is a frickin’ free-for-all—lots of grabbing and shouting and jockeying for position—it’s like the Kardashian sisters in the Lakers locker room. (Too soon?)
Dakota Weiss, who apparently needs to spend some time around my family’s dinner table to gain some assertiveness training, misses out on the brisket. (As the saying goes: “A tisket, a tasket—you’ve got no mother fucking brisket in your basket.”)
She settles for shortribs.
The house is free for all, part deux.
The refrigerator is under siege.
And maybe I’m on crack, but did I hear someone say: “Nobody touch my breast milk, okay?” (WTF?)
One of the few things I don’t like about Top Chef is when there aren’t enough stations for everyone to cook.
I like even playing fields, but there’s limited space in the fire pit. It gets a little ugly.
Also, Nyesha grabs all the beer. (Whether this is for drinking or cooking is never fully established.)
It’s getting late and people are getting loopy. Chuy is a little tipsy—literally . . . he keeps falling off a wooden hobbyhorse. He also does a strange belly dance that I can now not unsee.
Some cheftestants go to bed, others pull an all-nighter.
Those who stay up all night judge those who go to sleep.
“I’ll just be here chopping cilantro,” Chris says disdainfully, as though his ability to chop cilantro deep into the night is a sign of superior moral character.
But I am firmly on Team Nighty-Night. I, for one, need my beauty sleep. And who knows. . .maybe they’ll be forced to cook again the next day to save their own asses. (Just wild speculation on my part.)
The next day, Whitney “even I’m not sure who I am” Otakwa gets one of her first featured lines of dialogue in the whole show and it’s: “We hop in the Toyota Siennas and head to the rodeo.”
Some curious things happen at the rodeo:
First, Gail can’t open her beer bottle because of a “weird bagel accident” (?) (between that and the breast milk, I swear, I’m hearing things today) and she asks Tom to do it. He tries and fails and Padma impatiently yanks the beer out of his hands and opens it with her teeth. (Not really. She uses her strong, supple, supermodel hands.)
It’s an awkward moment, made doubly awkward by the fact that Gail says: “Never send a man to do a woman’s job.” Ouch. I’m sure that was bracing for Tom, although to his credit, his adorable smile never fades. (Let me comfort you, boo boo.)
Then Beverly cries again. (Obviously, Beverly crying at random intervals will be a recurring theme this entire season.) She cried at the Quinceañera because her father wasn’t there. Now she is crying at the rodeo, because. . . her husband isn’t there.
“There’s no crying in cooking,” Nyesha says. (Which also might explain how Tom C. kept such a poker face after being completely emasculated by Padma.)
Later, Padma comes out to announce the results of the vote, looking radiant atop a horse, and there’s lots of hootin’ and hollerin’ from the crowd.
Then Chris (hair gel, not Chicago) compares Padma to Fabio on the cover of a romance novel, possibly the gayest thing every said by an allegedly straight man on reality TV. (Until next week, that is, when he will exult: “John Besh is a handsome man!”)
And the winner is. . .well, I already ruined the surprise. Heh. Sorry bout that.
Team Texas! I mean Team Green.
And the bottom team is the Black Team. (And you thought Beverly was crying before. . .)
But there’s no time for tears. It’s time to suck it up. Because the Elimination Challenge has its own elimination challenge. It’s the Russian nesting dolls of Elimination Challenges. This could go on indefinitely.
Beverly, Richie, and Nyesha have to repurpose their mole chili into a new dish. And they have half an hour to do it.
I’ve never seen three contestants look so spent, so deflated, so completely over it. (See the sad little photo above).
But they have to snap out of it.
Meanwhile, every time Chicago Chris talks about Richie, it’s so patronizing, right?
“He’s my best little buddy,” Chris says. (I’m surprised he hasn’t dressed Richie up in a little organ grinder costume.)
Seriously, not to rag on Chris, because I haven’t fully figured his “deal” out yet  but I can’t help but feel that one of the reasons he wants “his best little buddy” to stick around is because he knows he can beat him. (Anyone else picking up on that? Or am I just a deeply warped and cynical human being?)
But in the end, Chris’s little buddy, the pocket chef, the man who puts the “short” in short order cook is going home.
(If you’re keeping score at home, the flavors on his pork were not as developed as Nyesha’s tiger shrimp or Beverly’s winning seared tuna.)
(Oh, and what was up with Padma when Tom confessed that he didn’t realize Frito’s were from the Midwest? “The Village next door called, they want their idiot back,” she retorted. Harsh! As if her beer-opening vanquishing of Tom wasn’t enough!)
(Also didn’t you get the sense that she had heard that line someplace—some chic, New York literary party filled with her fellow Beautiful People perhaps?—and was just looking for an opening to randomly insert it? Because Tom’s innocent Frito mistake hardly seemed to warrant such vitriol.)
Anyway, damn, Richie is so dear. Everyone is bumming. Eliminating Richie is like repeatedly kicking a puppy—or calling Tom Colicchio an idiot.
Richie and Chris hug, and their foreheads touch, which is so damn cute, I get verklempt, and I’m beginning to reconsider that whole “Chris is a Jerk” theory I had 3 paragraphs ago. (I’m fickle like that.)
Tune in next week to see if there’s more clues to his true nature one way or another.
Until then, yeehaw! I’m done like Texas toast.