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