Top Chef: Texas Recap
By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis
January 25, 2012

Lindsay HATES to see Beverly go.

Restaurant Wars brought the girls in over the guys, but not before they acted nasty to each other. Here's how the remaining contestants stack up:

1) Paul - Paul has won more money in this competition thus far than the average winner of the Showcase Showdown on The Price Is Right. He is absolutely dominant.

2) Edward - This is the only chef we currently believe has a legitimate shot at beating Paul for the title of Top Chef. Yes, anything can happen in an elimination challenge as we witnessed last year when Mike Isabella got hot at the end and almost won Top Chef All Stars. Still, when we look at the overall performance of the remaining contestants, the difference between second and third place seems dramatic.

3) Grayson - This is the point in the competition where I remind you that Grayson and Ed barely earned chef coats this season. They were the final two players to earn admission when they beat four others in a cook-off. Imagine what the season would be like if neither of the duo had earned a spot. Gruesome, right?

4) Sarah - In the first episode of the season, Sarah’s rage led to Keith’s elimination but not before he pointed out that she threw him under the bus. She denied the charge at the time; last week, she grabbed a bus driver hat and driving gloves and went over to Beverly’s house. To Sarah’s extreme frustration, Beverly refused to come outside and get thrown under the bus, which is pretty damned selfish of her. Doesn’t Beverly know that Sarah is only thinking of others when she selfishly targets “teammates” for elimination? Some people.

5) Beverly - Oops, there goes another rubber tree.

6) Lindsay - Lindsay is apparently a prom queen and a college valedictorian and while we compliment her for such achievements in life (well, the valedictorian part anyway), the fact that she felt the need to offer up such tidbits about her personal life strikes us as an insecure act. She won two episodes ago and finished on the high end last week in a technical sense even if she was the worst performer overall. Other than that, she has been in the middle just about every week and the other people from that group are almost all gone. This tips her over to the weak side of the remaining players and she seems to know this, which is why she is psyching herself up by talking about things she has done in the past. What she has not done this season is finish magna cum laude in cooking.

7) Chris - Chris has finished in the bottom group in four out of the last six challenges. The fact that he is still in the competition is a statistical anomaly. And we are not just saying that because we still have nightmares about the cigar.

Previously on Top Chef, restaurants warred. The result was the surprise in that the best two chefs remaining in the competition, Paul and Edward, were selected to the same squad and Edward’s buddy Ty was onboard as well. In spite of the clear advantage on paper, the men lost the war of the sexes as Beverly stepped up her game and won the competition, much to the chagrin of Sarah. She seemed perfectly willing to lose the challenge in order to eliminate her “teammate” Beverly from the competition. We are starting to suspect that there is some sort of vengeful spirit on the show this season; it inhabits the bodies of large women in order to torture petite women.

The strange aspect of Beverly’s personality conflicts is that they seem to bring out the best in her cooking. The week that vile hose beast Heather was eliminated from the show, Beverly finished in the top group. In the most recent episode, two members of a four player team actively worked against her yet she won the challenge. Beverly is proving to be the culinary world’s answer to Rocky.

Tonight’s episode begins with a scare for the remaining players. Tom enters the kitchen moments after the elimination of Ty, but his only reason is to inform the chefs that they are returning to San Antonio. This leads to a hysterical driving sequence. The men lament their loss in Restaurant Wars yet they are still jovial with one another. The men this season seem to genuinely enjoy one another’s company. The women…well, the magic word for the car ride is catty.

For no apparent reason in the last episode, Sarah discredited Beverly’s victory by loudly announcing in front of the entire team that Lindsay deserved to win. Let’s just say that if this is true, the editing last week was remarkably misleading. The footage that aired indicated that Lindsay was the worst performer on either team. She and Sarah attempted to gang up on Beverly. Meanwhile, Grayson defended the most bullied player this season, but lamented the fact that Beverly won the prize. The awkward car ride to San Antonio gives everyone an opportunity to stew over the result.

Lindsay, whom we have enjoyed in the competition for the most part, snidely describes how difficult her task was relative to the cooking assignments. Yes, front of the house is hard and the person who could vent with her on the subject is Edward, who was much better in the task than her. Lindsay then provides an angry camera monologue where she describes her high standards and how she feels justified about her behavior since Beverly was dropping the ball. This is the point where we remind you that Lindsay chose an improper cooking technique for her dish that led to dry fish then complained to others that her fish was dry. Someone hand Lindsay a mirror so that she can start bitching at the right person.

Eric Ripert sighting! The nicest man in Top Chef history and apparently a cook of some sort, Ripert is a personal favorite of ours. Of course, his presence makes us miss his constant companion, Anthony Bourdain, that much more. Stupid second show on Travel Channel keeping him busy. Anyway, Ripert informs the chefs of the details of today’s inventive challenge.

There is a conveyor belt full of items. Each chef must grab three items off the rotating belt and use them in a dish for the Quickfire challenge. The moment they touch an item, it is a component of their dish. Also, there is an element of strategy in that lousy items like pop rocks are released first while the highest quality ingredients will not be released until much later. Since the chefs have only 30 minutes to cook, elements of strategy and luck come into play.

Here are a few examples. At the 15 minute mark, Paul grabs a bitter melon. He acknowledges that this was a panic move due to the fact that half of his time was gone. It is right there in the name that the bitter melon is bitter and thereby not the tastiest flavor for a dish. Chris struggles in a different way. He sees a lobster go by not once but twice. He half-heartedly chases the first time then sprints the second time but is unsuccessful in acquiring it. The third time the crab circles around, Chris almost throws himself onto the conveyor belt in order to acquire it and seems to get clipped by the lobster’s claws for his trouble. And Sarah sways in the breeze as precious moments tick off the clock as she hopes for a delicious fish. She settles for saltine crackers instead, which is like hoping for a Ferrari and settling for a tricycle. Finally, Beverly makes the worst mistake of all with time management. She forgets to include one of her three ingredients in her dish, Rice Krispies, thereby negating her chances for victory.

The only chef who demonstrates impeccable strategy is Lindsay. She embarks upon preparations of a dish before she knows what her conveyor belt ingredients will be. In creating this base, she attains flexibility in her preparations and also uses her 30 minutes better than her competitors. With a few minutes left, she casually heads over to the conveyor belt and grabs some grouper and clams, presumably the tasty fish Sarah had wasted so much time looking for. This makes the result of the competition a foregone conclusion. Eric Ripert breaks the bad news to Chris, Grayson and Paul that their dishes were lacking.

The surprise is that Beverly finishes in the top group despite her mistake. She is even informed that she would have won if the Rice Krispies had been included, which bums out Sarah and Lindsay, the other people in the top group. Even when they finished ahead of Beverly, they cannot celebrate her failures. That takes all the enjoyment out of schadenfreude. Anyway, Lindsay does win for her cleverly calculated dish and thereby earns immunity, a huge deal with only seven competitors remaining. Also, we love everything about the challenge. Please do it every year, Top Chef!

Before the elimination challenge details are revealed, Academy Award winning actress Charlize Theron makes an appearance. She informs the cast that in a crass promotional ploy, they will be required to create gothic dishes that her reflect her character’s nature in the Universal Pictures release, Snow White & the Huntsman. In this film, Theron portrays the Evil Queen while Kristen Stewart is (presumably ironically) cast as Snow White. So, we are definitely rooting for evil to triumph in the film.

Theron really gets into her character while talking about the film and the requirements for the evening meal. The energy in the room is palpable as the chefs plot strategy. We can tell almost immediately that this is going to be an epic elimination challenge and this is exactly what transpires. The exact instruction the Evil Queen dictates to her new servants is to create a “gothic feast fit for a queen” with each dish “wickedly beautiful just like the queen”.

The cheftestants are imbued with creativity by this challenge. All of them are inspired in a way that we have only seen a couple of times previously this season, the initial dishes and the family tributes. For whatever reason, gothic dishes afford all of the competitors an opportunity to expand their horizons in terms of the meal but especially the plating. The end result is that it proves to be one of the greatest dinners in the history of Top Chef, maybe THE best. Dish after dish is a grand slam and we do not mean a Denny’s breakfast meal. There is grandeur in the plating that arcs beyond anything we have ever seen before. Impressively, none of the chefs deserves to go home for their creation. Let’s celebrate each serving before we discuss results.

Edward is tasked with the start of the seven course meal. His dish is a recreation of good vs. evil in the form of a cleverly plated tuna tartare with black garlic ponzu & Asian pear vinaigrette. One side of the plate is black while the other side is white and the middle is the tuna. The physical appearance of the dish is sublime. Guest judges Emeril Lagasse and Eric Ripert join Queen Charlize in evaluating the dishes and the consensus is that the sauce is outstanding. “We’re off to a good start” is the final verdict. Ed seems safe for the evening.

Paul’s dish does not go perfectly. After stating that the dish will have innumerable components, the season’s most talented chef burns a couple of ingredients. He is forced to include only a dozen of them. The complexity of this course is off the charts, but the cool factor is somehow even higher. Paul puts on a glove and dips his hand in some sauce. Then, he makes a print on each plate, creating the chilling image of a bloody hand. The visual of this dish seems impossible to top. And the judges are quick to note that everything tastes as good as it looks. Paul’s intent is to create a plate full of temptations good and bad. The result is foie gras with bacon, pumpernickel, pickled cherries & beets. The judges love it save for Eric Ripert, who worries about the cleanliness of the handprint. Don’t worry, Mr. Ripert. He used a glove.

Beverly’s dish is perhaps less imaginative than those of her competitors but the dish is a marvelous exercise in composure. It is a seared halibut with red curry coulis & forbidden black rice. The red curry offers the appearance of a pool of blood, a nice touch. As she samples the dish, Padma’s moan of pleasure makes the entire viewing audience shiver. Ripert and Lagasse both offer lofty to praise to the dish, something any chef can hang their career on. Yet again, people have underestimated Beverly and she has exceeded expectations. That’s three chefs in the books and all of them appear likely to be safe from elimination. Factoring in Lindsay’s immunity, Grayson, Sarah and Chris are in a lot of trouble.

Lindsay is next up with the fourth course, a cleverly concise bowl of seared scallop over “witch’s stew” & dragon beans. The names alone are indicative of how much Lindsay has gotten into the night’s theme. Ms. Theron loves everything about the wording of “dragon beans” and she quickly concurs with Emeril that the smell of the dish is magnificent. Even if she hadn’t been safe from elimination, Lindsay should have been fine because of her evil concoction.

The pressure mounts with each course as everyone waits for some chef to make a mistake. Alas, this is not Sarah. Her plate of amarone risotto looks bloody disgusting in just the right way but then she manages to go over the top with lamb heart. Yes, Sarah takes a more literal interpretation by offering the evil queen the very heart of an innocent. For this idea alone, Sarah deserves not only to avoid elimination but serious consideration to win the evening. And we say that as people who are not fans of Sarah on a personal level. The judges agree with us and Charlize has an epiphany that maybe she IS the evil queen because she loves the flavor of the heart that much.

And then Grayson presents her dish. Look, we do not have the ability to declare winners and losers in Top Chef and we are ordinarily okay with that. Our disembodied voices may only travel so far, after all. Still, this is an instance where we have to give Grayson something, so we present her the honorarium of Dish of the Season. Yes, there are still some episodes left and it could theoretically be topped but we don’t care. What Grayson creates here is magnificent.

The dish is black chicken with beets, quail egg and foie gras. It is the presentation that shines through. Grayson includes a giant hook at the end of the chicken to ramp up the gothic factor and then she explains that the quail egg “symbolizes the baby that was inside her when she got slaughtered”. There are no words to aptly describe the creativity and malevolence of this dish. It is a hallmark achievement in the field of cooking’s heretofore unknown category of the black arts. The judges love everything about it, as they should. If Grayson were sent home for this dish, I would stop watching the show. Inventive cuisine such as this should be nurtured and cultivated with as much positive reinforcement as possible. Congrats on making the Dish of the Season, Grayson!

This leaves only one course remaining and since it is Chris cooking something involving liquid nitrogen, we anxiously anticipate his inevitable elimination. We like Chris but he has been hanging by a thread for several weeks now. Being devoured by the evil queen seems like his fitting end, really. But Chris surprises us by creating the best dish he has made all season. It is ostensibly a poisoned apple & cherry pie. There are “worms” crawling out of the apple, similar to the mistake he made with the cigar ash but for whatever reason, everything works this time. Cracking open the apple gives Tom a dining experience akin to Anton Ego at the end of Ratatouille. His boyish exuberance shines through and it is readily apparent that if Tom has his way (and he almost always does), Chris is safe.

Seven courses have been presented. Seven courses are celebrated for being among the finest in the show’s history. Everything goes so well that we are seriously considering going to see a Kristen Stewart movie next June. Still, this is a marketing tie-in episode, unlike the Top Chef All-Stars episode last year where no one had to be eliminated. As such, one of seven triumphant chefs will be executed by the evil queen for serving the best food ever for a losing contestant. This is brutal but true.

At this point in the episode, we honestly have no idea who has won or lost. All of the comments about each dish are positive with one quibbling exception about Paul. This makes us worry that the best player this season has lost but it proves to be misdirection. Paul wins yet again and will be walking the red carpet for the world premiere of Snow White & the Huntsman. Ed, Lindsay and Chris (!) are also informed that they are safe for the evening.

Amazing as it may seem, Grayson is in danger of elimination for what we consider to be the Dish of the Season. Enemies Sarah and Beverly are also on the bottom. As the judges state, a competition with this many outstanding performances leads to nitpitcky reasons for elimination and the other shoe drops for Beverly. As we stated above, her dish was a bit safer than the rest, which is a smart move most of the time on the show. In this one particular episode, a meal regularly good enough to win a challenge is instead cause for elimination. We blame Charlize Theron.