Top Chef: Texas Recap
By David Mumpower
December 14, 2011

She's a sad panda.

Previously on Top Chef, Beverly claimed an entire kitchen as her own, much to the chagrin of the (less important) other three chefs in the room. The others started calling her Sabotage, which is perfect. Also, Chris C. hit on John Besh. And Chuy. And Padma. Chris C. is a sluuuuuuut. Finally, a cigar was not a cigar and that was regrettable. Even though Moto Chris asked his customers to eat ash, which seems like an act of villainy, Chuy was eliminated and from the sound of things, the other Chris was in more jeopardy. If that cigar cannot get a player kicked off the show, Top Chef: Texas is in trouble with regards to the quality of its competitors.

The early portion of the show focuses upon the growing divide between the men and the women. No, there isn’t a battle of the sexes brewing, at least not so far. It’s more the fact that men keep being eliminated, and this is making them nervous. With men being eliminated in each of the first three challenges, the split is now eight women and five dudes. You could almost hear the gentlemen’s testicles shriveling in fear.

The Quickfire Challenge for today is a home field advantage situation for Paul. He went to cooking school in the same building where the competition is being held and has cooked in this kitchen previously. This seems vaguely cheat-y. The guest judge for the round, someone I grow to despise within moments of his introduction, is Dean Fearing, who is as snide and condescending as the human condition allows. I quickly determine that I want him to die screaming. Seriously, I cannot say enough terrible things about him. Some people are not meant to be on television.

Today’s competition is a demonstration of saucier skills. The chefs draw knives under the categories of Espagnole, Hollandaise, Tomate, Béchamel and Velouté. These are the five mother sauces, bases for other sauces. The chefs are instructed to create a new sauce from their assigned mother sauce. Given how much mother sauce has fallen out of favor in modern cuisine, this strikes me as an extremely difficult challenge.

Bitchy McIWantHimtoSuffer picks on several of the chefs, particularly those with Espagnole/Tomate. Even though there was no instruction for roux, he belittles anyone who failed to use a roux in their dish. Paul humorously ponders whether he should have simply lied and said he used a roux. Whitney goes a step further and indicates that not only did she not use a roux, she never would. Doesn’t anyone see that this roux debate is tearing us apart?

Not satisfied with the seeds of discontent sewn thus far, Judge Jerkface also picks on anyone whose butter is not clarified. This entire Quickfire feels like meal preparation for Melvin Udall and nobody looks like Helen Hunt enough to settle him down. Eventually, Dean “I take my last name seriously” Fearing determines that the worst dishes are prepared by Dakota (lacking flavor profile), Nyesha (too many flavors made the dish confusing) and Beverly (too saucy…in a sauce dish. HATE HIM!).

The best of the best are Grayson, Chris. C and Paul…yes, the same Paul he attacked for failure to utilize a roux. Dear Top Chef: never have this man on your program again. I beg of you. Anyway, Grayson is chosen the winner. Praise from Caesar.

The elimination challenge in this episode is a dream come true for me. It’s all steak all the time, which happens to mirror my personal diet. My cholesterol calculations are done at MIT. But I digress. The Cattle Barons Ball is the event they will cater by creating a four course meal. All the cheftestants will be on the same team for this. Well, all of them but Beverly, who is always on her own team.

There is a moment of celebration as the chefs old enough to understand the reference are thrilled to discover that they will be cooking at Southfork Ranch, the real home of the fictional J.R. Ewing. Somehow, this is possible. The team divides into a quartet of groups with four people assigned to ribeye, the three course. Three people are assigned to the first two courses as well as the desserts. The first course is soup, the second course if sirloin and the third is ribeye. The notable aspect of this exchange is that Edward takes charge of organizational tasks but grows aggravated when Heather announces she will use his same cake recipe from the Quinceañera to use as dessert in the fourth course. Cooking someone else’s dish is already shaky but doing it twice in four episodes demonstrates a lack of imagination.

Aside: the grocery store bill for this meal for 200 is $1,459.51. While the details are never spelled out during the episode, that strikes me as very, very low given all the steak they have to purchase. I presume that must have been without the steaks factored in. Steak and sirloin cost alone should be around $3,000. I mention this only because I had wondered how they would purchase that much meat product at a single store.

Now is the time when someone criticizes Beverly for her selfish behavior. As is the case each week, Beverly immediately begins to work on her own dish, ignoring anyone else’s cooking needs. Heather, who seems to grow bitchier each episode, is fed up with this constant attitude Beverly has. The good news for Heather is that historically on Top Chef, selfish players fail in the end. The bad news is that they are stuck together today, working on the same course.

The third player in their grouping is Dakota, but she seems to be oblivious to all the white noise created by the other women. Oddly, Whitney seems to be the one shafted by Beverly’s selfishness and Heather’s churlishness. Whitney just wants to be left alone to work and even though they are working on a different course, they are upsetting her routine. Edward, who isn’t even working on her course, is also troubled by Whitney’s decision regarding potato gratin. He wants to cook the potatoes tonight, but she has chosen to wait. He feels this will lead to terrible looking potatoes that lack crisp flavor. We’ll see who is right. Since the dish is Whitney’s responsibility, however, Edward is meddling a bit. Then again, it’s refreshing to see the anti-Beverly, someone who takes pride in the overall accomplishment of the group presentation.

This is the time on Top Chef when someone stabs himself with a knife. Ty is the victim this week, becoming the third contestant to do so this season. As a matter of fact, Edward is still wearing protective gear for his injury. Ty gashes himself in the webbing between fingers, probably the worst possible spot in terms of pain and blood. He is directed to go to the hospital, which leads to a freak-out among the other contestants. Ty was placed in charge of the cooking of the meat itself due to his experience; he worked for two years at a pedigreed steakhouse in New York City. In his absence, there is no one in charge of the steak at a steak dinner for 200 people who consider themselves Cattle Barons. There is cause for concern.

Ty returns the following morning with a great story. Even though he left immediately for the emergency room, he was not treated until 6 a.m. the following morning. As he recounts it, he needed four stitches for a cut to his hand. Since there were about 60 people in the waiting room with him, the ones with gunshot wounds and the like were given greater priority. The nurse humorously informed Ty that he can take the next three days off from work…that won’t be happening. So, Ty has gotten virtually no sleep and has fresh stitches in his hand and is about to cook for 200 of the most selective meat eaters in the world. And the temperature outside where he will be grilling is over 110 degrees. Good luck with all that.

Day two of the meal preparation features the level of tension expected of such a prestigious event. Heather and Beverly take this opportunity to re-kindle yesterday’s bickering. Heather is growing bossier by the minute, perhaps hoping that her size advantage (she is between two and three times as large as the smaller woman) will intimidate Beverly into falling in line. For her part, Beverly demonstrates an ability to answer honestly all of Heather’s inquiries while doing nothing to handle any of the tasks under discussion. It’s impressive, really. Others in the kitchen grow uncomfortable with the heated exchanges. Dakota reveals in a camera monologue that she considers Heather to be an obnoxious bully, “the first person I would boot from the island”.

What do you think a Cattle Baron does all day?

The event starts off exceedingly well for all of the contestants including Ty, grillmaster extraordinaire. The gazpacho made by Beverly, Dakota and Sarah feels like the dish Lisa Simpson recommends as a vegetarian alternative to all the carnivorous behavior planned for later. Tom describes it as properly seasoned with nice shrimp (Beverly’s obsession this round), but he reiterates his constant complaint in the early rounds of this season. All of the chefs seem to be playing it safe, making dishes good enough to avoid elimination but not daring enough to identify themselves as strong contenders. This is exactly the same issue that is proving problematic when I do the power rankings. No one has distinguished themselves (in a positive way) enough to distance themselves the way that Richard, Stephanie, the Voltaggios, or Stefan managed in their seasons.

The second course looks delicious, which has become par for the course for Edward. His teammates Moto Chris and Paul have blended well and created a dish that is quite popular with the crowd. Unfortunately, as they start to plate this dish, Lindsay makes a mistake that proves fatal to the event as a whole. She pushes the others in the back of the kitchen to begin to flash the ribeyes for the third course. It is too soon to do this, with several chefs clearly aware of that fact.

The problem is that once she gets started, there is no going back. The end result is that the chefs are now finishing steaks for the third course before the Cattle Barons have finished the second course. This is a nightmare for everyone but the scapegoat for all of this is Ty, who is ultimately responsible for meat that he is not cooking. The grilling is done outside but the flashing is done in the kitchen. There are four people involved with the third course, Nyesha, Ty, Whitney and Chris C. All of them are in a world of hurt right now due to how poorly the steak has been cooked. Four-stitched, sleep-drived Ty is at this moment the short man on the totem pole.

Surprisingly, Whitney absorbs the brunt of the judges’ ire for her dish. The gratin is not cooked enough, something Tom states instantly and others quickly agree with. Padma vehemently states that if Whitney is going to choose to do the gratin, she better do the best one ever. This has clearly not happened. For that matter, the only person who comes out well in this course is Nyesha, whose sauce and butter enhancements are praised. The vibe is that every other element of this particular plate is a disaster.

The dessert round is created by Heather, Grayson and Lindsay. Why Lindsay was so heavily involved in the steaks is a mystery in this regard. Anyway, the judges looooove Heather’s dish (again) although Hugh thinks it is a bit lacking in sugar in the cream. Grayson and Lindsay’s desserts are barely discussed. Tom once again expresses his frustration with the overall evening of food. One of the Cattle Barons sardonically declares that at least the dessert is a winner, which summarizes how poorly this has gone.

Before the announcement is made at Judges Table this week, Heather takes this opportunity to deride Beverly once more. She points out that she and Lindsay and assumed control of the meals and that Beverly’s mistakes cost others. Ignoring the fact Lindsay is the culprit for the steak disaster from the third course, there is still a frustration with this turn of events. Obviously, I am not a fan of Beverly’s me-first attitude. Still, this is exactly the same behavior that Sarah and Lindsay demonstrated against Keith during the first elimination challenge. And as Beverly correctly points out, neither her shrimp nor her selfishness in any way impacted the problems with the ribeyes. In fact, if Top Chef used instant replay, I am confident that Lindsay would be the one going home tonight but since they don’t, Ty remains the most likely victim of her mistake.

The judges quickly determine that the best of the (middling) bunch tonight are Heather, Moto Chris and Nyesha. The two women were expected choices. Moto Chris is something of a surprise since he wasn’t singled out for excellence during his round other than stating that the steak was cooked well. Nyesha’s compound butter decision almost saved some otherwise ruined ribeyes. But the choice is clearly Heather, who has lavish praise heaped upon her. Given the obnoxious behavior Heather has demonstrated throughout the episode as well as the fact that she has made this cake before this season, this is an infuriating result.

Whitney, Edward and Ty are selected for the bottom at Judges Table. Edward is the surprise here although the discussion is indicative of the fact that only two people here are in real danger. He is just the third name and could have easily been replaced by others. The tone of the conversation is awkward because Whitney reveals that Hugh Acheson is her mentor. Knowing that she has disappointed him hurts her more than her failure in the competition.

Ty, on the other hand, steps up huge. He makes no excuses for his performance, acknowledging culpability for all the steaks. He has the exhaustion, the stitches and the fact that the actual mistakes were made in the kitchen as reasons why it wasn’t his fault yet he doesn’t use any of them. Ty accepts full responsibility and for that act alone, he earns my full respect. This is also why I am relieved when the judges announce that Whitney is the person eliminated this week. She had no excuses yet still threw under Ty and fully deserves to be removed from the competition. People have been killed for less than lousy gratin at Southfork Ranch.