Welcome to what is basically Part 2 of the Top Chef: Texas premiere episode. To sum it up for you, because the ep basically picks up where last week left off, Top Chef decided to do things a bit differently this season. They took 29 chefs to Texas and had a cook-off where 13 of them would get booted right away and never set foot in the Top Chef house or get their chef jacket. They were divided into three groups and given a challenge. The good ones got a berth on the show, the bad ones got taken out, and the ones in the middle were sent to the “bubble” to compete in another challenge for whatever slots remained unfilled. Last week, we saw the first two groups compete and secure 11 of the 16 slots. This week, we get the third group and the bubble challenge. Next week, the show starts with its regular format.
One quick thought – why 29? Why not 30? I wonder if it was like Survivor: Fiji when someone quit at the last second before the show began and they had the odd number of 19 contestants. Anyway, that’s not important.
For those that read my Survivor musings, you know that I write the column this week juiced up on many meds thanks to my second ear infection in three years. Because I am nine years old again, it seems. So forgive the lateness and whatever issues I may have in clarity. I’m kind of lucky I am typing on the laptop and not on the waffle iron.
The third group was by far the weakest group, as they were only able to land three of the remaining Golden Tickets into the Top 16. That left two wild card spots for the bubble team. Part of the reason for Group 3’s issues I think lay with the challenge twist. Chefs were given a selection of ingredients and each one had to pick one to use. However, there was a covered plate containing a twist. I thought it would be a mystery ingredient to use, some on the show suspected orders to trade their ingredient to another chef. However, it was a much worse option – ancient timers. Seriously, they looked like technology used by the Dharma Initiative. The timers were set at 20, 40 and 60 minutes. That was how much time they had to cook. Yikes. To me, that twist was infinitely more difficult than the challenges given to the first two groups, and I think is what led to the lack of successes coming out of these chefs.
Andrew won a rock-paper-scissors decision to use mushrooms – which to this man with a mushroom food allergy seems like a bad choice. It would prove to be correct. We learn that Chaz has a dumb name and a lot of wit. He is hot for Padma, so we are fighting instantly. Then he starts being funny and we are fighting less. Then he said that if you talk to an Italian that risotto takes all night, which is not true at all. Paul tells us that he owns three trailers where he sells street food – which has “been on Bourdain.” I assume he means “No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain” and not some unfortunate hit and run accident. Ashley seems to have trouble opening the pressure cooker to make the Filipino dish she was planning on making. Because Top Chef entry challenge is a place you want to start experimenting with equipment. Laurent appears to have materialized out of an old Sean Connery Bond film to tell us that he loved LA more than France. I’ve been to both places, and he must be evil.
20 Minute Group – The three parts of Group 3 are judged by Tom, Padma and Hugh Acheson. Hugh is the former Masters contestant, which I dubbed Unibrow for obvious reasons. After having a Twitter conversation with him, he informed me that he prefers Monobrow. So, I am noting but accommodating, especially for those who have a sense of humor about themselves, so it is done.
Kim – Lamb – Lamb Chop with Kalamata Olives and Arugula Her last name may be eerily close to Colicchio, but there is no favoritism here. Padma found it greasy, and Tom said the lamb was overcooked. She gets BOOTED.
Andrew – Mushrooms – Roasted Mushrooms with Brown Butter Vinaigrette, Crispy Spinach and Poached Egg – Tom found it gritty, but the fungus was roasted nicely. Padma liked the flavor, but it was presented messily. He becomes Bubble #5
Paul – Trout – Grilled Trout with Southeast Asian Tomato Salad – Tom said it was his favorite of the group, although that claim seems to be a low bar to have cleared. Monobrow found it to be a precise dish. So, Paul becomes CHEF #12.
40 Minute Group – Our friend Chaz fails to plate his risotto, so he becomes another BOOT and the latest chef to fall victim to the Top Chef Risotto Curse. It’s a shame, because he could have been the source of lots of fun.
Berenice – Short Rib – Asian Style Short Rib with Cabbage Slaw – She of the weird name spelling made a dish that Monobrow found one-dimensional. Tom sighed because he knows she has a top pedigree but this dish wasn’t good. She gets BOOTED>
Blofeld – Duck – Duck with Lemon Yuzu Curd and Arugula – Monobrow wanted more sauce but was ok with a bubble berth. Tom was up for him to be booted. Padma sends Blofeld the Bond Villain to be Bubble #6
Jonathan – Brussels Sprouts – Brussels Sprouts with Tomato Sofrito and Hazelnut Gremolata. Not sure if I spelled that right at all. Anyway, Tom said they were not cooked or seasoned well and no one disagreed. He gets BOOTED.
60 Minute Group
Ashley – Oxtail – Braised Oxtail – “Kare-Kare” – Seems as if the pressure cooker didn’t do her any favors. Tom didn’t think it was well cooked. Padma was willing to bubble her, but Monobrow zings her by saying she needed to mature as a chef more. Ouch. She gets BOOTED.
Lindsay – Veal Shank – Braised Veal, Creamy Polenta, and Warm Salad – Tom loved it, and it sure did look good. She is CHEF #13.
Beverly – Octopus – Korean Style Octopus “Nakji Bokum” – Big time love given here – She becomes CHEF #14.
So we have six chefs fighting on the Bubble. The four from last week – Grayson, Gopher, Janine and Edward, joins Andrew and Blofeld. Emeril, Monobrow and Tom do the judging. The Bubble Six have 45 minutes and free reign of the kitchen to make what they want. Gopher wants to highlight her protein. Andrew is making mussels with a Spanish flair. Ole! Grayson smartly choose shrimp and bacon because both are awesome. Blofeld is making raw scallops. Everyone repeat after me – This is Top Chef, not Top Scallop! Ed sees the others making seafood, so he goes with duck. Smart. He then slices open his hand and keeps cooking while it is being treated. Damn. Take that Jamie! Ed says he’d cook with his feet if he had to – and I sense a future challenge!!
Ed – Duck with BBQ Sauce and Sweet Asian Custard – Emeril loved the flavors and presentation, although Mono thinks the duck was a tad overdone.
Gopher – Jumbo Stuffed Prawn, Mousseline of Shrimp with Soy Glazed Watermelon and Rice. Tom said the cruise ship lady overcooked the shrimp, but Mono thinks it was thisclose to magnificent.
Janine – Seared Scallop with Baby Clams, Bacon, Corn, and Watermelon Garnish – Mono wonders why the watermelon was there, as it was isolated. Emeril thought you could taste every component and that it was simple and well executed.
Grayson – Polenta with Bacon Wrapped Shrimp and Port Wine Fig Sauce – Tom thought it was a good dish, and Emeril liked the flavors.
Blofeld – Scallop two ways – Tartare and Seared on a Bed of Fennel with Saffron – Tom thought the tartare was not appetizing and Emeril liked the hot scallop.
Andrew – Mussels with Sherry, Fregula, Charred Corn Panna Cotta and Shrimp – Emeril liked the shrimp and mussels but was confused by the panna cotta. Tom thought the mussels were different and fun.
Judges Table featured the breakdown of two in and four out. Gopher’s shrimp would be a laughing stock, according to Emeril. Tom was confused by Andrew’s dish outside of the mussels. Tom really hated the raw scallop. Gopher and Blofeld are sent home right away. Shame, I was pulling for Cruise Ship Lady. Ed gets in for his boldness and is CHEF #15. Andrew is booted for the panna cotta, and Janine goes for the confusing watermelon, which means that Grayson slips in to get to be CHEF #16. Good for her. After the Douchebag Induced Butchering of her meat last week, she manages to survive.
Before we leave, this season has a new feature. Or old if you watch Survivor. Just like Redemption Island, Top Chef has added the Last Chance Kitchen (LCK). On Bravo’s website, the eliminated chefs get a shot at coming back into the game. If I am following it correctly, the chef who makes it through rejoins the game at the end, which I am not sure I really like. That seems awfully late in the competition to bring back someone who already lost. I am about to sum up, so be forewarned.
Anyway, on the six-minute web video, Andrew and Janine are pitted against each other in this challenge. Tom introduces and judges it himself. They must make a 30-minute pizza. Winner stays, loser goes.
Andrew – Mediterranean Pizza with Anchovies, Capers, Fried Calamari, Arugula and Salsa Verde – No cheese. Really. No cheese.
Janine – Fig Pizza with Parmesan Asiago, Soppessata, Arugula, and Black Garlic
Both seem gross to me, but Tom likes them. Andrew needed some olive oil, but it was enough without for him to win the challenge and earn a slot in the LCK to face next week’s loser. Janine manages to lose three challenges in two episodes.
• Blofeld said that in France you become a cook, priest or Army guy. That’s either the beginning of a bad joke, or a very sad state of affairs in France. Clearly, anarchy must reign because no one is fighting crime, putting out fires or delivering the mail.
• While these two episodes were fun, I wonder if Top Chef failed by burning 13 potential contestants in this manner. Unless they will allow them to reapply in the future, because that seems rather inefficient to waste good chefs.
• Is it me or are half the chefs using arugula this year?
• Bev has a cool, likely kid-written note, for her motivation – “I can, I must, I will.” Aww.
• Ashley was doomed once she used her mother-in-law as inspiration. 99% of the world would never do that.
• Ed was willing to kill the other five bubble chefs. That would have been an interesting twist. Or perhaps lead to a unique ingredient or two.
• Janine tells an awful story about getting married and having her wife break up with her a month later over the phone. Could be worse – could have been a Post-it Note.
• Was Ed wearing an “Oink” T-Shirt? If so, I want one.
• Extra – Megatron is worried about bunk beds. Um, just sleep on the bottom.
This season on Top Chef – Fire. Hats. Fiddles. Pee Wee Herman. Cops. Padma quoting Snakes on a Plane. Rodeo. Tears. Charlize Theron. Bleeding. More crying. Something that’s the biggest twist of all.
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