Top Chef Texas: Episode 6 – Higher Steaks

Ya had to flash the steaks too early, didn't ya?

The prelude isn’t very interesting – a game of nyah-nyah between the danglers and the squatters. Like ChrisJ, I just want to concentrate on food. And who hates whom, because that’s starting to get interesting.

They wander into the kitchen of Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. Last week the kitchen was a field, so this is the first time they’ve been there. It’s Paul’s alma mater, so he feels like he has to do well. Padma greets them, along with Chef Dean Fearing. Apparently he’s the Father of Southwest Cuisine, don’t you know. Take that, Bobby Flay. I kept waiting for ChrisC to say how hot he is, but nope, not this time.

Quickfire:

Dean says the saucier is the most prestigious position in the kitchen, because sauce gives the wow to a dish. Nyesha interviews she wants to be a saucier. Grayson already was a saucier, so she’s feeling pretty good. It seemed kind of strange to me to have the Father of Southwest Cuisine doing a quickfire about French sauces, but Hugh tells us on his blog that this guy is known for his sauces and his classic technique. The cowboy boots are just there to confuse us.

The chefs draw knives and get one of Escoffier’s five mother sauces that they must use to create a new sauce for the dish they’ll be making. I love when organization meets food! Just because I can, the five mother sauces are:
Bechamel: white sauce, easy to make, just roux and milk with wine or vinegar; add cheese for mornay sauce and make mac & cheese. Named for a buddy of one of those frisky Louis.
Veloute: blond sauce, chicken stock thickened with roux. Gravy, more or less. Basis for allemande. Name means “velvet” which is the texture of the sauce.
Espagnole: brown sauce, dark roux plus veal stock. More gravy (Escoffier is rolling over in his grave). Basis for chasseur. No one knows why it’s named for Spain, possibly because the Spanish are darker than the French.
Hollandaise: butter sauce made with egg yolk; mother to bearnaise, mousseline, and broken-hearted cooks everywhere, since it separates easily. Holland specialized in butter.
Tomate: red sauce. Becomes anything – creole, provencal.

Roux will become important here. I don’t quite get the Roux Mystique – it’s not that big a deal. Any time a half-assed cook adds flour to pan drippings and cooks it on the stovetop before dumping in stock, they’ve made a roux. Granted, the French version is a lot more refined, but look where that’s gotten the French. Emeril considers roux to be a religion. But that’s New Orleans, where voodoo’s a religion.

They have tons of time – an hour and a half. “Ready for the mother of all quickfires?” quips Padma. It’s sad, someone with the title of “writer” actually gave her that line.

Grayson has hollandaise; she’s feeling saucy (grrrrr… at least a writer wasn’t responsible for that). She’s making seared scallops with corn ravioli, and uses hollandaise to make a charred corn sauce, plus a blueberry balsamic reduction. She has a lot of elements to get on the plate, so she’s stressed, but she does it. Dean asks if she used clarified butter, and she says she did not. He likes it a lot anyway, and is very impressed she managed to make ravioli; she wins. She gets immunity, and declares herself the proverbial Force to be Reckoned With. They should have buttons that say that.

ChrisC is happy to draw veloute, he thinks it’s the easiest sauce, and the roux is the most important thing. He makes butter poached halibut over mussels with andouille, and infuses the fat and cooking liquid back into the veloute. Dean likes the combination of flavors; top three.

Paul isn’t that comfy; he hasn’t made a mother sauce since culinary school. He makes espagnole, served with quail and mushrooms, garlic scapes, and pickled okra. Dean asks him to what color he cooked the roux, and after briefly considering making something up, Paul says he didn’t make a roux. Hugh’s blog explains this is a generational thing, and while Dean is a Roux Man, a lot of younger chefs don’t use them. Dean isn’t an extremist, it seems, because he puts rouxless Paul in the top three thanks to perfect pickling.

Sarah makes her veloute with saffron; she doesn’t want to overthink while figuring out what extra elements to add.

Ty-lör adds lemongrass and citrus to his hollandaise, matched with ahi tuna and baby bok choy. He didn’t clarify his butter either.

Edward draws bechamel, but he wants to move away from the heavy flour-butter white sauce by incorporating a vegetable. He makes poached red snapper with cauliflower bechamel and a fried oyster on top.

Heather makes a gruyere croquette with apple-ginger compote and Asian slaw; I’m not sure where the bechamel is or what she did to it, but it passes without comment.

Whitney makes poached shrimp with fennel pilau and tomate; Dean asks what kind of roux she used, and she too admits she didn’t make a roux. She gets scolded, though. She’s surprised, because she’s never used a roux in her tomate.

Beverly makes a crab maki roll and rib eye with an avant garde espangnole, turning it into, guess what, an Asian sauce. Heather bitches about Beverly always making Asian dishes. I’m not sure what business it is of Heather’s. It is, however, Dean’s business, and he asks why so little espagnose sauce; she says because she used soy and didn’t want it to be overpowering. That’s bizarre logic if ever I’ve heard it. But I guess it wasn’t like she could take out the soy. She’s in the bottom three; he felt her coriander wasabi was more sauce than the mother sauce she was supposed to highlight and transform. I think Beverly made what she wanted and pretended to meet the challenge.

Dakota is excited about using bechamel, so she infuses it with peach, makes a crab and mushroom duxelle and a seared scallop. She worries she put the scallop on too early. That isn’t what put her in the bottom three, though, her overly peachy flavor profile didn’t work.

Nyesha makes her tomate with coconut ras el hanout over braised lentils with toasted pistachios. Padma says there’s a lot of flavor, which sounds like a good thing, but turns out it’s too much of a good thing, and she’s in the bottom three because it’s muddled by so many flavors.

Elimination Challenge:

Padma tells them it’s going to be a difficult challenge: they have to create, as one team, a four-course steak dinner for 200 guests, including steak in two of the courses. They’ll serve at the Cattleman’s Ball at Southfork Ranch. Sarah of Authentic Texas Chili fame claims her grandfather’s been a member of the Cattleman’s Association (are those the guys that sued Oprah?) forever, to go along with her father the bull rider I guess. Ty-lör worked at a steak house in NYC, but the idea of a team makes him nervous. Heather says she was a Dynasty family, she has no idea who killed JR, she’ll have to get someone to look it up on their google machine. Hugh’s blog: “Heather can’t remember who shot J.R., but she’s pretty sure it’s Beverly.” I love Hugh’s blog. I may even buy the book he’s pimping. Nah, but I’ll borrow it from the library.

They have 30 minutes to plan, 3 hours to prep, and three hours tomorrow to prep and cook before service. Dean says they must serve perfect medium rare steaks. You know what’s coming, right?

They divide up into courses:
First course: Sarah, Beverly, Dakota. They’ll do a gazpacho.
Second course: Edward, ChrisJ, Paul. They plan a carpaccio.
Third course: Ty-lör, Whitney, ChrisC, Nyesha, grilled steak.
Fourth course: Heather, Grayson and Lindsay. Let them make cake.

They go off and cook. Ty-lör‘s dad used to grill steaks every Sunday until he had his open heart transplant (which sounds like a combination of open heart bypass and a transplant, so I’m not sure which he means. Maybe both). If that isn’t an ad for the seafood industry, I don’t know what is. Heather is going to make the same genois she made for the Quinceanera. Edward isn’t happy; it’s his genois recipe, and at some point he hopes she’ll stop using the same borrowed recipe and really cook. Hey, Heather was a pastry chef, why’s she borrowing a recipe from him? Whitney talks about how her mom was resourceful since they didn’t have a lot of money. Nyesha wants to do a compound butter and a sauce for the grilled steak; she’s nervous about doing two components, but wants to go all out. Isn’t compound butter fairly simple?

Heather starts ragging on Beverly for just working on her shrimp; she’s so focused on making her dish perfect and it’s selfish when it’s a team effort blah blah. I’m not sure why it’s Heather’s business, she isn’t in Beverly’s group, and everyone’s making one component. But Heather thinks it’s scandalous that she’s taking six hours to peel, devein, and poach four hundred shrimp. Dakota interviews that Heather is an obnoxious bully and would be the first one she’d vote off the island. I think Dakota is on the wrong game show. But wow, when did this happen with Heather? I thought Sarah and Linsday were the Mean Girls. Whitney slices and arranges her potatoes but decides to bake then the next day, though everyone’s telling her there won’t be enough time. And sure enough, the next day, she has to spend some time pulling off the top slices which discolored overnight. Everyone saw that coming, right?

And Ty-lör cuts himself. At least he realizes it; there was a guy on Chopped the other night who cut himself, and thought the red spot on his finger was the harissa he was using; his plates looked terrific except for the blood smears on the edges. Back to this show: The medic tells Ty-lör he’ll need stitches, dude, but he wraps his hand and starts working. Except then he tells Edward he has to take care of this, and I’m not sure if that means he has to take care of the cooking or his hand. At any rate he’s at the emergency room overnight to get four stitches since they have gunshot wounds to take care of. So he’s pretty out of it on day two, when he gets to play grillmaster. No sleep, fire, bandaged hand. Reality tv heaven.

Lindsey starts complaining that no one else is stepping up, that no one wants to take control because after what happened in the Quinceanera they don’t want to be the ones to go down. I’m not sure what her problem is either. Seems to me like everyone’s doing what they’re supposed to be doing, while there are four people working on a cake that was made the day before.

And now for something completely different: the commercial where elves sing “Walking in a 4G wonderland” sounds like they’re saying “an orgy wonderland.” Which is fine with me. I’m just sayin’.

“Let’s go find out who shot JR,” someone calls. Can’t we just let the 80s rest in peace?

Service:

Hugh is the judge this week, with Dean as the guest judge. There’s a lady from the Cattleman’s Association (aren’t they the ones who sued Oprah?) and one who’s from the American Cancer Society but she smelled the steak and thought it’d be nice to crash the party. Ok, it’s some kind of charity event, but that wasn’t really made clear. I’m going to ignore them. They got their mention on TV, it was probably part of the contract.

First course: Beverly, Dakota and Sarah serve tomato watermelon gazpacho with avocado mousse and oil-poached shrimp. Tom says it’s safe, but works as a starter. Hugh thinks the gazpacho is slightly too acidic but hits a good note.

Second course: Triple seared NY strip carpaccio with a roasted asparagus and heirloom tomato salad with candied pistacchio vinaigrette and mushroom “bacon.” Tom thinks the asparagus isn’t cooked enough, but the main problem is there’s no point of view for the dish. Hugh thinks they could’ve fancied it a bit considering they had three people working on it, like peeling the tomatoes. Dean thinks the steak was cooked well.

Third course: Here’s where the wheels really come off the wagon, and it seems to me it’s Lindsay’s fault. She tells the steak people to start firing the steaks. Ty-lör is marking them on the grill and then Edward flashes them in the oven to doneness, except the diners are still eating the second course so they’ve got steaks sitting around getting cold or being overcooked. ChrisJ comes up with the quote of the evening: “Flashing the steaks early is the same as when the meteor hit the earth and wiped out the dinosaurs. It’s that bad.” Not to the dinosaurs. To be honest, I don’t know what “flashing the steaks” actually means, though I assume it means putting the semi-grilled steaks into a very hot oven to finish cooking them, and it’s the same as firing. Corrections are welcome. I could be misinterpreting events, but Lindsay’s the one who was worried about the steaks getting cooked. They’re throwing them in vats of some liquid; it looks awful. Ty-lör knows he’s screwed, since he was the grillmaster. Eventually they serve: grilled steak (Ty-lör) with sauce and compound butter with marrow and red wine onions (Nyesha), and potato gratin (Whitney) and braised brussels sprouts (ChrisC?). Hugh says the steak is a mess; Dean says it’s not medium rare. Tom notices the potatoes are raw. The butter and sauce are really good, though. Isn’t compound butter really simple to make? I guess it depends on what’s in it. I’ve only made it with herbs, pepper, or lemon, so I guess if I had to figure out marrow and wine and onions I’d change my mind.

Fourth course: Texas upside right peach cake with pecan steusel. Tom thinks it’s great; Hugh thinks it needs to be a little sweeter.

Ty-lör feels doomed. The most important element of the dinner was to serve 200 medium rare steaks at the same time, and that didn’t happen. Whitney thinks the gratin was a little loose and fell apart; she hopes it’s good enough.

Cut to the Volts putting red snapper on the bottom of the oven and cinnamon cake on top. Maybe the temp will be fine, but I think the cake’s going to smell fishy no matter what the ad says.

Lame Interstitial: Edward is Beverly’s hero. Apparently she made a reservation at his restaurant then couldn’t go and cancelled at the last minute.

Angry Dale gives his tips for success: play nicely together, be flexible, which is amusing considering he’s the one who started punching the wall when they lost the relay, and went home because he didn’t manage Restaurant Wars well (a decision I’m still miffed about, Mr. Bourdain).

In the Stew Room, Ty-lör is a man and takes responsibility for the steak. Good for him. But I still wonder what Lindsay was doing there. Heather is still beating up on Beverly for only working on the shrimp. Damn, did Beverly kill her puppy or something?

Padma calls back Nyesha, Heather, and ChrisJ as Top Three. Maybe Heather will lay off Beverly now. ChrisJ perfectly cooked his carpaccio, and the flavor came through. Heather‘s cake was moist and light. Tom tells Nyesha her compound butter really saved the dish with the bright flavors; they’ve gone out of style but he’s glad she stuck with it.

Dean gives the win to Heather. She’s glad to finally win something. And something is a car. Wow, it’s early in the season for a car. I still remember Marcel saying he finished second and never got a nickel

Ty-lör, Whitney, and Edward are up. Whitney feels comforted by Hugh, her mentor. But not for long.

Tom asks Ty-lör about the steaks; at the judges’ table, some were over, some were under. Dean says he would’ve sent it back. Ty-lör says it could have worked if they’d fired at the right time but it’s his responsibility. I like this guy.

Whitney is asked why she served a creamed potato dish when it’s a hundred degrees. And it was raw. Dean is baffled; how did she not notice when cutting it? Tom says if one of his cooks spent six hours and produced that dish, he wouldn’t be around long.

Edward‘s asparagus and tomato salad was safe, says Tom. Dean says it should’ve taken off because the meat had good flavor, but everything else fell apart. Edward says nobody wanted to step on anyone’s toes (seems to me there was a lot of toe stomping going on) and Hugh says somebody ought to start, to have a vision. Hugh says it was an ok dish in a mediocre style.

Tom wonders if they advanced the wrong chefs, given the poor performance of these clowns. Tom is very cranky; maybe his back is still bothering him. But they can only send one home, so Whitney’s out. So much for comfort. She says it’s hard to be eliminated by Hugh. I think Hugh is regretting being her mentor about now.

Last Chance Kitchen:

Whitney gets The Letter: “Meet me in the kitchen – Tom Colicchio.” She gets chills. I guess if it was a love note, it’d be hand-written. Anyway, he wasn’t showing much love when he threw her out on her ass a few minutes ago. Chuy is happy and sad to see Whitney because he likes her but he’s sad she’s out and now he has to crush her.

The previously eliminated chefs show up. Aha, may as well put them to work as The Peanut Gallery since they have to hang around anyway. Keith presents the knife block. Chuy draws Ostrich; Whitney gets Elk. The Last Chance Challenge is to make a burger. They both realize these are dry meats, so they have to do something to get a moist and delicious burger. Whitney adds Italian sausage to her burger and fries an egg; Chuy’s mayo breaks down so he goes at it again, and he makes onion straws.

The Peanut Gallery, mostly Keith, offers commentary. Stop spending so much time on the aeoli. Taste the seasoning before you cook the burger. Are you going to grill or pan sear? What’s your approach? If I were Chuy or Dakota, I’d tell the Peanut Gallery to STFU and let me cook, nobody bothered them when they were cooking. Seriously, it’s annoying.

Chuy presents an ostrich and ground pork burger with fresno chili aeoli, cheddar and bacon, and crispy onion straws. Tom tries the meat first; he asks what doneness he was aiming for, he says medium because there’s pork in the burger. Tom shows him the burger is very pink, and says, “I don’t mind it that way but if you were going for medium rare and it’s rare…” which makes no sense to me, I think he meant if you were going for medium and it’s med-rare. Chuy says he was going for medium rare but he didn’t get a chance to finish his sentence. He should’ve kept his mouth shut because he just sounds like he’s making excuses.

Whitney serves an elk and pork sausage burger with shallot and garlic, roasted tomato, a black pepper aeoli, and aged white cheddar with a fried egg on top. She was aiming for medium rare. What is it with the pork and medium rare, didn’t they go to health class in eighth grade? Yeah, I know, pink pork is ok nowadays, but I don[t buy it.

Tom invites the Peanut Gallery to come up and eat the burgers he’s already taken a bite out of. Gee, thanks, Tom. I guess chefs don’t mind stuff like that, they know what really happens in the kitchen. Keith is interested in Chuy’s burger because he tasted the seasoned meat before he cooked it. Tom says the ratio between burger and bun is important; he asks for opinions, and Keith says Whitney’s burger had a more pronounced protein flavor.

Tom says they were both good, but chooses Whitney, so now she’s Last Chance Champion. Good luck with that.

Next week: It looks like a double elimination, and a pairs challenge. And, of course, Heather and Beverly are paired. I bet you saw that coming.

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