Top Chef: Texas Recap
By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis
February 14, 2012

Yeah, I got screwed.

Power Rankings:

1) Paul: Paul has been so dominant this season that the show should skip the middle step and name him permanent judge for next year. It's either that or put him on Top Chef Masters and watch him devour all of the more reputable chefs there. He's a better chef right now than Hugh Acheson.

2) Lindsay: History is repeating itself from Top Chef All-Stars with Lindsay cast in the role of Mike Isabella. Last season, Mike was a non-factor until he reached endgame, at which point he evolved into a dangerous competitor who almost upset Richard Blais to win the competition. Lindsay has spent the body of Top Chef: Texas describing all of her (impressive) personal accomplishments, but those did not translate into individual wins. She had a single Quickfire win with vienna sausage in the first eight episodes. That's not going to get anybody noticed in Zagat. That changed as the number of competitors dwindled. Lindsay has now finished on the high side of the elimination challenges in five consecutive rounds (one of them when she had a hideous performance in Restaurant Wars but her team won). She has also won two Quickfire challenges in addition to a pair of elimination challenges. No other remaining contestant has a resume that strong.

3) Sarah: Sarah has only two wins this season and the last of those was a long time ago. Over the past five episodes, she has finished on the bottom four times. The fifth instance was Restaurant Wars, meaning that she has been in the up-for-elimination group in four consecutive individual elimination rounds. We consider Sarah by far the least talented of the remaining players. Also, she's kind of a jerk.

4) Ed: We still maintain that Ed's gifted ability at plating combined with his lust for victory identifies him as the contestant with the best odds of upsetting Paul. Still, we cannot overlook the fact that Ed has been in the bottom group in four out of the last five elimination challenges, narrowly avoiding elimination twice. As such, we have had to move him beneath a pair of chefs we consider less talented than him. Prove us wrong, Ed.

5) ???: We will call this contestant the Masked Marauder. Or maybe the Masked Meal Maker. As the "final" four contestants discovered in the last episode, a second chance competition has been occurring after each elimination round. Beverly had attained a pair of victories prior to Grayson's elimination last week, leaving the two chefs dueling for re-entry in the competition. Whichever one wins, we do not expect a warm welcome for them from the other competitors. Nonsense like this is the bad kind of reality show meddling. Whomever wins, they obviously have been deemed the worst of the players once already, so we have to slot the Masked Meal Maker in last place as the episode begins. Surviving a single round after re-entry would be an impressive feat. Then again, the element of surprise involved may demoralize members of the "final" four enough that this is exactly what transpires.

Previously on Top Chef, Grayson was eliminated for disappointing Pee-wee Herman, which is only marginally better than making Santa Claus feel sad. Of course, the word “eliminated” is in air quotes, since it’s entirely possible that within the first five minutes of the show, Grayson comes breezing back in, fresh off a win from Last Chance Kitchen. It’s either her or Beverly, and now that the other cheftestants have learned about the secret competition’s existence, they have the night to stew on it.

The highlight of their conversation is when Ed bets a pack of cigarettes on Beverly, while Sarah raises the stakes with a banana and a pack of cigarettes on the people’s champion, Grayson. Sarah says something funny for the first time this season: “A pack of cigarettes and a banana. Sounds like a good night.”

When the chefs arrive for their Quickfire, they finally get to discover the identity of the returning competitor. In fact, it is Beverly who makes her way back to the kitchen, and a quick shot of the other eliminated contestants learning of her victory speaks a thousand words. There is no enthusiasm there, nor are any of Edward, Paul, Sarah or Lindsay pleased to see her face. In fact, there is some bleeped cursing and some abundant frowny faces. For her part, Bev is walking on air. She’s thrilled to have the chance to get to the final four.

For today’s Quickfire, the chefs must wear a blindfold while picking out ingredients from the pantry. Every item they choose must be used in their dish. The winner of this challenge will win their choice of a brand new Prius V or a guaranteed spot in the final four. Top Chef doesn’t usually play this way – immunity is never guaranteed past a certain point – but clearly since they went with the addition of Last Chance Kitchen, they’re okay with mixing things up a bit. The worst-case scenario would really be for either Sarah or Beverly to win the Quickfire and choose the guaranteed spot, because it does put the chances at 75% that one of the “good” chefs will go home.

All of the contestants seem to do okay with their ingredients, but Ed accidentally grabbed pork casings, which he’s not totally sure what to do with. He finds that the water he is boiling them in is really tasty, though, so he’s using them as the base for his udon. Sarah has mushrooms and peaches, which sounds disgusting. Beverly is running out of time.

She’s thrilled to be back, though, and makes a striped bass that isn’t quite cooked enough. Paul does a sautéed prawn, and Ed has created the aforementioned udon, which seems to please Tom and Padma. Although Sarah’s dish sounded disgusting, it looks absolutely wonderful and full of color. Lindsay made some fish with bulgar wheat, and it looks pretty solid.

Tom is complimentary of all the dishes, with Paul and Beverly having slight mistakes but the others being quite positively reviewed. In the end, it comes down to Ed vs. Sarah, and the doomsday scenario is reached when Sarah wins. Of course, she decides that she will take the guaranteed spot in the final four (which is absolutely the correct choice for her).

For the Elimination Challenge, the mentors of each of the remaining Top Chefs are brought out, including Tony Mantuano (Heather), Michelle Bernstein (Lindsay), Tyson Cole (Paul), Sarah Stegner (Beverly) and Frank Crispo (Edward). Paul totally loses it, because it’s clear that Tyson has been absolutely instrumental in his development as both a person and a chef.

The challenge asks the competitors to create a dish that fulfills and exceeds their mentor’s expectations of them as a great chef. The winner of the challenge will win the Prius V that Sarah chose not to take. Since Sarah won’t be competing, she’ll just get to enjoy some dinner and a relaxing night out with Tony Mantuano.

They go out to shop, and Ed finds that Whole Foods does not have any fresh oysters, which are the main component of his dish. He smells and tastes some canned oysters, and decides they are fine. Beverly runs through the store, nearly running into people all the way, working on her “wok” dish. Michelle and Paul just want to make their mentors proud.

Sarah and Tony do some tequila shots. Thinking about the fact that Sarah has earned a spot that probably should have gone to someone else makes us want to drink, too.

Beverly is first to serve her dish to the mentors and judges. Cooked in the wok as mentioned, it is gulf shrimp and barbecue pork Singapore noodles. Sarah Stegner is clearly proud, and Tom notes how hard it is to cook for that many people with a wok. Sounds like so far, Bev is probably in the top four.

Next up is Lindsay, whose mentor Michelle Bernstein is exceptionally nervous on her behalf. Lindsay has created a seafood “stew” over toasted couscous and broth with emulsified cream. Michelle notes that the food is cooked really well, but isn’t sure why the cream is in the dish. One of the diners also notes that the thyme is a little heavy. Small mistakes can make the difference, so we wonder if Lindsay may wind up on the bottom.

When the judges ask Tyler about Paul, he comments that he’d teach Paul something and then two days later Paul would be able to do it better than him. At first, Tyler found this to be threatening, but then he realized how valuable Paul was. Paul has crafted a chilled sunchoke and dashi soup with summer vegetables that is absolutely gorgeous. Tom says that Paul has never created anything like this before, and the taste profile that has come together is clearly amazing. Paul seems to be safe, if not the winner.

Finally, we have Ed, who serves braised pork belly and smoked oyster crema with picked vegetables. Gail says that the plate is full of flavor, but Tom is not happy with the oyster sauce. The pickles are popular, as Michelle says she thinks he should jar and sell them. She would be his best customer. Based on what has transpired, Edward and Lindsay look to be the bottom couple, with Paul and Beverly being safe. We’ve been misled by editing before, though.

Padma comes to the stew room to get the chefs, and asks to see them all. Tom says that all of the judges were both impressed and happy with the dishes that were produced. Tom tells Paul that his soup was beyond what they’ve even come to expect from him (high praise indeed). Bev is questioned as to how she created her dish, and Tom praises her risk-taking with the wok while Gail Simmons says it was just perfectly done. Both of them are safe for the evening as we speculated, and Paul is awarded the Prius V. (Incidentally, he said earlier that he would have taken the Prius if he had won the Quickfire, and we believe him. Of course, he has already won enough money to buy a car, so he’s just swimming in it.)

One item of note: after Paul and Bev are told they’re moving on, she somewhat inappropriately talks about how thrilled she is to have risen from the bottom back to the top. Needless to say, Edward and Lindsay are not amused. Honestly, we’re annoyed as well. Once you’ve been eliminated, you shouldn’t really be able to compete again in our opinion.

As for the judges’ comments on the bottom dishes, Lindsay is told that her cream was a little off and the seasoning was just not very good. Ed’s oyster sauce is criticized, and Hugh immediately hits on the fact that the oysters were canned rather than fresh. As soon as Tom realizes this, his decision seems to have been made. Lindsay acts like she thinks she has lost, but Tom’s opinion usually carries the most weight here and he is acting like Edward is packing his knives and going home. For his part, Ed is dealing with the situation really well. He’s good-natured and seems to realize that it’s his time. Sure, he’s a little bitter about the whole Beverly thing, but he’s not in a bad place at all.

There is very little drama or surprise here. Edward is sent packing. We’re going to miss his wry sense of humor and hope that he might come back for an All-Stars challenge someday.

The show now moves to…British Columbia? What the hell? It looks like the chefs are going to freeze to death up there, and it also looks like there will be some tears at Judges Table. At this point, the three women had best be honing their skills and planning some extra special dishes, because Paul Qui looks nigh unbeatable.