For those of us who need crib notes, here’s a reminder of who’s left, along with my first impressions (based more on their personal presentation and comments than their cooking):
Nyesha Arrington: Food & Wine Rising Star nominee; she’s worked for Josiah Citrin and Joel Robuchon. I saw her on Chef Hunter where she just got her first exec position; and I still love the way she throws salt. The judges loved her Tex-Mex ravioli. Four stars.
Keith Rhodes: James Beard nominee; specialties are seafood and Southern; ex-con. I have no idea what he was like when he was dealing drugs, but he seems like a teddy bear now. He got dealt rabbit instead of seafood, and handled it fine without whining; plus he made a joke at Judges’ Table. The judges loved his rabbit tenderloin and chicken fried rabbit with Yukon Gold hash. Four stars.
Ed Lee: James Beard nominee; specialties are Asian-Southern fusion. He undercooked his butter-poached rabbit in the first round and got Bubbled; he cut his hand in the Bubble Round and cooked one-handed while the medics bandaged it, but the judges appreciated his bbq duck with sweet Asian custard, pickled corn and candied bacon; four stars.
Chris Jones: Hugh’s blog refered to him and Richie as the Moto Boys; I’m going to borrow that. They have a child-like glee about them which is very appealing; it reminds me of when Matt Damon and Ben Affleck won the writing Oscar for Good Will Hunting. And a shoutout-thanks to backformore from TWoP for pegging him as Skippy from Family Ties. The judges liked his pork belly in a caramel apple with candied peanuts. Four stars.
Richie Farina: The junior Moto Boy. Same as above; I worry about his salty palate, but I like his self-awareness about it. His braised and crispy pig’s ears and onion soup worked. Four stars.
Lindsey Autry: Pretty blonde, but there’s something about her appearance I find odd. I love that she ran away rather than deal with Tom in the kitchen. She works for Michelle Bernstein. The judges were crazy about her braised veal over polenta.
Sarah Grueneberg: Protégé of Tony from TCM; specialty is Italian. She was intimidated by all the accolades during Show & Tell, but Heather was impressed by her. She didn’t get all that much screen time; the judges liked her pig skin ravioli with roasted corn, tomato and pepito salsa and gave her props for bringing it with a difficult ingredient.
Heather Terhune: I read an interview with her in which she was all aglow about having trained under a female chef, but has no female chefs working for her (out of 30) because she can’t find any. This bothers me. But she seems very straightforward. The judges liked her maple glazed baby back ribs with bleu cheese grits.
Grayson Schmitz: of butchered tenderloin fame, and the hilarious “I’m fifteen, all I want to do is drink” remark. I think she got off to a bad start (delegated the butchering job, lots of whining) and she wasn’t that articulate about why she combined shrimp, bacon and figs; Tom had to pretty much explain it to her. I think I love her, but I’m not sure.
Chuy Valencia: Rick Bayless’ protégé so I assume his specialty is Mexican. Every time they say “chewie” I think of Chewbacca. Any friend of Rick Bayless gets some credit. His rabbit loin with cashew pipian and grilled zucchini went over big.
Paul Qui: James Beard nominee, Rising Star; food truck guy, an Austin star. Judges loved his grilled trout.
Whitney Otawka: Hugh was her mentor when she started; I’m wondering how that’s going to fly. Other than that, I don’t remember anything about her. From the Ep1 post, her rabbit sugo went over just fine. ETA: I just realized – I don’t think she was in this episode at all. I’ll have to look more closely when I see it again.
Dakota Weiss: Newscaster pretty. Seems like she can cook, since her roasted rabbit saddle crepinette with leeks, mushrooms and bulgar wheat worked for the judges.
Beverly Kim: I Can I Must I Will. I’m not sure how smart it was to take octopus when her restaurant only uses it pre-cooked; maybe it was gutsy. But she pulled it off. Tom characterized her dish as “craziness.” I love that She seems really sweet but I wonder if she has a grasp on how to play.
Chris Crary: He opened the season with “Padma’s hot.” Self-described style similar to Blais and MVolt. Too pretty. Rabbit leg confit and tenderloin over carrot polenta got him in on the first try.
Ty-lör Boring: I’m not going to fuss with the umlaut all season. Doesn’t look like I’ll have to; apparently everyone’s calling him Ty. I like his background (worked in Thailand and Denmark) but he looks kind of mean. And his name is just stupid; you can’t convince me he was born with it. The judges were impressed with his confit of rabbit leg marinated in fish sauce with pickled veggies. He worked for Heather for a few years.
Andrew: He’s in the Last Chance Kitchen, where he probably won’t last very long. He seems pretty cool; I was on Team Janine but I’m ok with him, and when I read a blog refer to him as Yukon Cornelius, I realized he’s benefiting from a vague resemblance to beloved Kevin of the Season Mirabilis.
Ok, so we’re ready to get started. Whew. It’s been a long season already.
Open on Beverly putting up a note: “Congratulations, Top Chef Beverly Kim.” This is the “I Can I Must I Will” girl. It worked last time, and it sounds better than “coulda woulda shoulda.”
Padma and Johnny Hernandez, chef and wild game expert, wait in the kitchen, next to an aquarium containing a snake. The phobic chorus begins. Everyone’s afraid of snakes. I can sympathize. My ex had a serious thing about snakes, and seeing them on TV made him scream, which would scare the hell out of me. As a result when I see snakes on TV, even though I’m not phobic about snakes, I jump a little. Still. And it’s been 15 years.
And of course, they’re cooking rattlesnake. Johnny tells them – several times during the QF – how delicate the meat is, and how it can take spice but it requires a gentle touch. I dunno, if I were cooking rattlesnake, I’d take the same approach I use with eggs and everything else that makes me nervous: cook the hell out of it, cover it with ketchup, and mash it up so it can be swallowed without chewing or tasting. But the goal of the Quickfire is to showcase the rattlesnake, not hide it.
Padma tells them: “Your ingredient is in the box in front of you.” The box is a big wood thing, leading everyone to assume they will have to dispatch, skin, and butcher their own snakes. But it’s ok; as Ty points out, the snake is already skinned and dead. Hopefully not in that order. “I’d better see some motherf#&in’ snakes on some motherF*%(#in’ plates.” This is the second time they’ve used Snakes on a Plane. It must be one of Tom’s favorite movies. They have one hour. The winner gets $5000 and immunity.
Dakota: In her restaurant they make goat liver and barracuda, but this is freaking her out. She takes the anything-fried approach: beer-battered tempura rattlesnake with zucchini almond gazpacho. She wins – maybe she’ll add rattlesnake to her menu. Because come on, it can’t be as bad as goat liver.
Sarah: Her Italian approach is more simple than the fun and whimsy thing she sees in Richie (who she knows from Chicago). She presents flash-fried rattlesnake with a little minced lemon zest, and brown butter with shallots and capers. She’s one of the best; the zest highlighted the snake.
Beverly: She worries that her rattlesnake has some chew to it, but some things are supposed to be like that and she isn’t sure whether or not this is one of them; she goes with nigiri with thai basil aeoli, and damn if those signs don’t work, she’s one of the best.
Chuy: He isn’t afraid of snakes, he slaughtered animals on his farm when he was growing up “between California and Mexico” which I assume means he spent time in both places, seeing as there is no in-between CA and Mexico. He goes with adobo rattlesnake with pasilla balsamic barbecue sauce. Sounds like a lot of flavor for a delicate meat.
ChrisC: He makes rattlesnake nicoise with olive oil pudding and olive panko. Johnny says it’s got good texture.
ChrisJ: He tries cumin breaded rattlesnake with bacon, lime and a touch of bbq sauce.
Keith: Cooking saved his life so he’s going for it with sweet corn rattlesnake griddle cake, and a tequila poblano queso fondue dip.
Paul: He has to represent Texas, and does so with barbecue rattlesnake with Asian slaw. Johnny saw the color and technique, but the flavor of the rattlesnake got lost. That’s Texas for ya. Bottom three.
Nyesha: She makes braised rattlesnake with tequilla, citrus and jalapeno. She’s in the bottom three; Johnny says it’s one-dimensional and the snake is overcooked.
Richie: He’s never worked with snake; Sarah tells him to cut it into sections small enough to work with, which he does. She knows him from Chicago, says his style is fun and whimsy, which kind of fits. He and ChrisJ consult. He makes grilled snake with roasted corn. He’s one of the least favorites; all Johnny could taste was citrus.
They draw knives and separate into the pink and the green team. I like two things already: they don’t spend a lot of time on silliness like showing everyone picking a knife and saying, “Pink,” and the teams are colors besides red and blue. Oh, that reminds me, I like the dark chef jackets too. Much better than the white ones. I guess they liked them on All Stars so much, they decided to continue.
Blanca comes in. No one knows who she is; Ed wonders if she’s a Mexican rock star. Turns out she’s the one having her fifteenth birthday, hence the title of the episode. Chuy explains how a Quinceañera is a big deal for girls, like a Sweet Sixteen party, but boys don’t get much of a party, they just go kill a goat. And they spend the rest of their lives making the girls pay for that inequity, Chuy. Anyway, the chefs have to prepare elegant Mexican cuisine for a hundred guests, including a cake. They can talk to Blanca to get her likes and dislikes, and plan the menu for 30 minutes.
The green team asks her if she likes spicy food. No, but she likes ceviche. And goat. And tres leche cake. And boys. Heather used to be a pastry chef until she got bored with it, so she’s got the cake. Chuy is psyched that she likes goat, he’s all about goat.
The pink team asks the same kinds of questions. Lindsey lived in Mexico for a couple of years when she was helping Michelle Bernstein open a restaurant there, so she’s comfy with the cuisine. There’s something about cabbage leaves, mincemeat, and consomme.
The teams go shopping, leading to two events of interest. Keith says he’s going to buy cooked shrimp instead of fresh, and ChrisC says, “Whatever, go ahead, get it.” Now, at the time, I thought this was odd. I always thought cooked shrimp was evil, a Sandra Lee thing. But here this James Beard nominated chef proposes getting it, and another pretty good chef says fine. And a third is standing right there and doesn’t say, “What, are you crazy?” Of course, this will come back to haunt them.
Second, Beverly kind of throws a “pay attention to me I am the most important person in the universe I know everyone feels that way but I really am I need a butcher NOW” fit at the meat counter. It was really amazing. She wasn’t hostile or aggressive; she seemed nervous in fact; it’s really strange how she pulled that off. I wonder if this will come back to haunt her at some point down the line. Maybe I Can I Must I Will has her wound pretty tight.
Oh, and they all buy pre-made tortillas, which also seems kind of stupid. But it’s not in the same league as cooked shrimp.
Back in the kitchen they start their three hours prep. Lindsey and Sarah freak out over the cooked shrimp. Ah, finally; so I’m not crazy. Keith feels alone (cue the violins). That night, he says he wants to wash the day away and start over tomorrow and win the contest. Oh, man, it ain’t gonna happen, you are deep under the bus already. And, as much as I like you, it was an indefensible mistake. As was ChrisC’s agreement (and ChrisC conveniently forgets, saying it was all Keith; note to myself: ChrisC is a snake), but that doesn’t let you off the hook. It throws them off because Ty can’t make the shrimp cocktail now. Keith also cuts the pork loin too thick. Keith’s having a really bad day.
Blanca enters, wearing a very pretty strapless white dress with red embroidery and trim and a fluffy skirt. I wonder how they chose her, did they put an ad in the paper, or is she a friend of someone on the crew? [ETA: seek and ye shall find: she applied via Facebook; her favorite dish wasn’t even mentioned on the show; her least favorite was Keith’s enchilada; and she had her real quinceañera a week later – featuring chicken cordon bleu and green beans with almonds!]. It must be a thrill for her. She’s just slightly shy, which is nice.
Hugh Acheson joins Tom and Padma.
Passed appetizers make their way around:
Ty – fire roasted summer fritter with avocado mousse. Bianca says she can’t taste avocado. Tom says it’s dry. Hugh calls it a hush puppy.
Keith and Lindsey: pork tenderloin huarache. Padma has trouble eating it. Johnny says they’re struggling with execution and presentation. Not a great start for Team Pink.
Richie – tapioca chicharron with pork carnitas. Bianca says the middle is soggy. Tom says she’s good at this. Maybe they’ll make her a permanent judge.
Paul – Shrimp yuzu ceviche with corn salsa and yucca chip. Tom likes it; it has more flavor.
The buffet starts:
Nyesha – Tilapia ceviche with crispy plantain chips and spiced popcorn. Good texture.
ChrisC – choclo con chile. Padma’s favorite dish is the corn.
Keith – Enchilladas salsa verde. He used a flour tortilla instead of corn, so it’s soggy and doughy; Hugh says like it or not, Keith made a burrito. Ouch. Keith, honey, what happened to you?
Ty – carne asada. Padma and Tom both like it.
Sarah and Lindsey – cochinita pibil, salsa negra. Tom’s pretty indignant about the store-bought tortillas.
Edward – tomatillo gazpacho with chicarone and dried plantains. The gazpacho is good, but the chicarone on top got lost.
ChrisJ – Green chile, mushroom, oaxaca cheese empanada. Tom likes it, dough is flaky and light.
Chuy – braised goat birria, steamed nappa cabbage, queso fresco. Tom likes the goat but isn’t sure about the cabbage.
Beverly – beef short rib asada and Mexican kimchi. Johnny likes it.
Grayson – Chicken in ancho mole, sour cream, pickled onions, grilled corn tortillas; Tom thinks the cinnamon is too strong (so does Blanca; damn, the kid is good) but at least they grilled the store-bought tortillas.
Dakota – strawberry and pineapple cake. Blanca likes the pineapple filling, but it has too much frosting.
Heather – Tres Leches cake. It’s slanting. Heather says it looks like an Easter basket gone bad. Blanca likes it better than the other cake, because it’s not as sweet. Good girl.
The dining over, Blanca does a dance with her father. Beverly gets all teary; she wants her dad to be proud, to prove she can do as much as a son would do. Wow, that sounds interesting. In fact, Beverly gets more interesting all the time.
Tom announces the Green Team wins. Uh oh, that means Keith is gone. He’s anxious. He foresees being thrown under the bus. Ya think?
Padma calls Ty, Sarah, Lindsey and Keith to Judges’ Table as the least favorite dishes on the losing team. Dakota would’ve joined them for the over-frosted cake, but she has immunity. Tom tells them they did a good job, but the other team did a better job. I call bullshit on the “good job” part of that.
Sarah and Lindsey dither a little about leadership, as in, there wasn’t any. Which is pretty funny, since Nyesha saw them as the leaders, and Sarah said something about being nervous because she’d taken a leadership role. Sarah let it slip that they were going to serve shrimp cocktail but couldn’t (oops) and Keith gets spanked for buying cooked shrimp which never made it to the table (probably a good decision). Hugh says, “If you brought that shrimp to me, I’d be yelling at you, too.” Sigh. Thing is – if Sarah hadn’t mentioned it, the judges never would’ve known about it. I’m sure she didn’t think of that at all.
They all get called out for the dishes that did make it to the judges. Ty‘s fritter lacked flavor and was dry. He tries the “it was Keith’s fault” (he was going to make shrimp cocktail) but Tom says, rather sternly, “So that’s why it was dry?” He reminds me of Judge Judy: “So it’s the bathtub’s fault?” Don’t ask. Ty mans up and says, “No, sir, that was a cooking failure.” He gets a half a point for that. He’d get a whole point if he didn’t do the “Keith made me do it” first.
Sarah and Lindsey used store-bought tortillas, and they weren’t good tortillas at that. Lindsey‘s cochinita lacked authentic flavor, especially surprising since she lived in Mexico.
And Keith‘s enchilladas were made with flour tortillas; he seems to really think they’re supposed to be that way. Johnny and Hugh both tell him it has to be corn, because it won’t get doughy like flour does. Sarah knows a good thing when she sees it and rides the Anti-Keith wave and chimes in she never uses flour tortillas for enchilladas, but Padma stops her with: “So did you say that to him?” Smack! And Sarah parries back: “I’m not here to boss people around.” Pow! Keith delivers his own shot: “You love driving the bus hitting people.” Ka-Boom!
I think Lindsay and Sarah were annoyed with Keith over the shrimp and over the thick cutting of the pork, so they weren’t about to help him by telling him about the tortillas, and they were more than happy to make sure his mistakes were spotlighted. It’s not nice; it’s kind of ganging up on him. But he did make those three mistakes. Was he supposed to know how thick the pork should be cut? I don’t know. Would he have bought cooked shrimp if he’d been making shrimp cocktail? Based on his reasoning, and his checking with other people in the store, I can’t see that this was anything but a mistake on his part, and I do think he would’ve done the same thing if he’d been dealing with shrimp cocktail. Which raises the issue: why wasn’t he doing seafood? He’s a seafood chef. But the bottom line is, he made some very poor decisions in this episode.
The contestants go back to the stew room. The judges talk. Tom lists the awards and qualifications they have, concluding: “But it was a mess.” Hugh worries about Keith if he needs advice on enchilladas and cooked shrimp. Johnny thinks it’s odd that Lindsay lived in Mexico and delivered a dish that needed a lot more flavor. The fritter was just, not.
In the end, Keith is out, and as sad as that makes me, it’s really the only decision that makes sense. All that bickering for nothing. Keith was toast the minute he bought that shrimp. I don’t care if everyone on the team said it was ok. He could’ve gotten away with it if his team hadn’t mentioned it at Judges’ Table, but hey, that’s how it goes. Using the wrong tortilla for the enchilladas made it a no-brainer.
Last Chance Kitchen:
There’s an extended “bye, Keith” (he’s playing the “I was thrown under the bus” card, which he kinda was, but he did buy the shrimp and he did use the wrong tortillas and enchilladas aren’t on the same level as birria or cochinita pibil, it’s the coastal North Carolina view of Mexican food) and a review of Andrew.
Keith walks into the kitchen to find Tom and Andrew standing there; he’s confused. Apparently the chefs weren’t told about this. Which is interesting. This convinces me that all these LCKs were shot after the competition was over, before the finale, in the same day. Logistically that makes sense, and if we’re talking about springing a surprise on people, it’s really the only way they could do it. I wonder if there’s some contractual prohibition on radical appearance changes (like shaved heads) to keep up the pretense.
Back to cooking: the challenge is: prep as much as possible of a set of given ingredients – onions, clams, etc – in ten minutes; then make a dish with whatever they’ve prepped. It incorporates basic skills along with cooking. It seems like they both prep everything that’s available. Yeah, I think the basic skills were screened pretty well already.
Andrew goes Mediterranean: clams with grilled raddichio and peperonata.
Keith does clams two ways to represent “what we do on the NC coast”: ceviche with lemon zest and minced sofrito, and steamed clams with champagne butter and panchetta.
Tom likes both dishes. But because he showcased the clams better, Keith wins.
I think maybe what this LCK does is give us a buffer to get over a favorite being knifed. By the end of the show next week, I’ll have forgotten about Keith, and I’ll probably be more attached to whoever gets knifed then (because I’m fickle, but hey, I’ve known Keith for a total of six minutes through edited footage, just how attached and I supposed to be), just like this week I was kind of hoping he’d would pull it off over Andrew. It’s a very interesting psychological design aimed more at the viewers than the chefs, I think. I wonder who thought this up. Props.
Special props: I continue to be very impressed by Hugh Acheson’s blog. He’s funny. He’s blunt. He’s subtle. And no one is safe.
Next week, it’s time for the rodeo. And Padma rides a horse. Whooooa!