Top Chef: Texas Recap (Part Two)
By David Mumpower
November 8, 2011
The mood changes when untrained Simon is judged for his ham dish. Emeril is harshly negative for the first time, describing the dish as overcooked and dry. Tom confirms that there was too much going on and that “I just can’t see you doing this”. We applaud the casting department for finding an interesting longshot candidates but like most longshots, Simon won’t win. This leaves Richie, the other man of Chicago. Tom is inquisitive about Mohawk Boy’s nervous smile. Richie informs him that he is worried that his salty palate may have been his undoing here. Tom counters that while the crispy pig ears on the verge of being too salty, he gives the dish a thumbs up. Meanwhile, Padma nods her assent about the saltiness of the dish, but she defers to Emeril first. Richie needs his approval because it seems unlikely that Padma will give him the requisite swing vote. To his relief, Lagasse describes the dish as having tremendous depth, a compliment the young man will savor for the rest of his life. That is five chefs who have moved forward in the competition, three of whom are from Chicago with two of those coming from the same restaurant. That’s impressive. Theo Epstein is already bringing good luck to the town.
Group B is introduced at this point. Gail Simmons replaces Emeril in this round of judging. Again, we will delve into the specific details of the chefs until such a point as the 16 finalists are determined. What we know for sure right now is that out of the first ten participants, five have earned their coats, three have been eliminated, and two are in Purgatory. Group B’s competition requires the nine contestants to agree upon a food they will each use as the basis for their dish. A brief argument ensues before all of them agree upon rabbit, much to the chagrin of a seafood chef.
The first quarter of chefs in Group B is a great mix. Two of them, Keith Rhodes and Edward Lee, are men who were nominated for James Beard Southeast awards in 2011. So, they will be competing more than once this year. One of them, Nina Vicente, is a Seattle sous chef who seems to have a chip on her shoulder about her perception among her peers. Whitney Otawka is an Atlanta chef who was angling for rabbit, so she has no excuses if she doesn’t do well here.
Edward and Nina have nightmare rounds. The former gentleman has trouble operating the vacuum machine and winds up undercooking his protein because of it. Nina throws far under this mistake as she loses sight of time, causing her to forget to include her rabbit. Nina becomes the third chef to be eliminated without the judges taking a bite of her food. Frankly, she seemed way too excitable to perform well over a long term in this competition anyway.
Whitney’s dish is a rabbit sugo, which forces one of our writers to google what a sugo is…and even that information isn’t particularly helpful. Let’s just call it sauce as a meal and if one of the producers of the show wants to correct us on it, we cede the point on our ignorance of the subject matter. Whatever sugo is, Whitney’s is delicious and there is immediate consensus that she has earned a spot in the sweet 16.