Top Chef Texas: Episode 4, Red Hot Chili Cook-Off

Sorry, Texas, it's actually bigger in India

Some of these chefs are, um, interesting people. Considering they did what appeared to be a legitimate cooking competition for the sixteen spots, they sure got a fair number of characters.

Lindsey and Sarah agree they didn’t turn against each other. No, they certainly didn’t. They turned towards each other, and as a united block turned against Keith. Nyesha says true colors are coming out. I knew that girl could throw salt.

They head to the Top Chef kitchen where Padma is waiting with the Two Hot Tamales, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger (who will see their Border Grill partnership played out on ABC in an upcoming series, Working Together; I’d rather see them than actors playing them). I love them! Sarah says this is why she is on Top Chef, to cook for chefs like these. That’s nice, Sarah. You made a lousy dish last week too, remember? And you can’t blame everything on the shrimp.

There’s a table of chili peppers with graphics indicating Scoville units and a dollar value, from $500 for the lowly Anaheim to $20,000 for the ghost pepper. Rachel Maddow just did a thing about ghost peppers and the Scoville scale as part of her discussion of the pepper spray attacks by police on peaceful protesters at UC/Davis. Come on, did you see those guys? They looked like they were spray painting kids sitting on the ground. Wait, focus, Top Chef.

Padma speaks of the confidence to take risks. Their assignment is to create a dish highlighting one of the chili peppers. The hotter the pepper, the more money they can win. Susan points out the judges will be eating fifteen dishes, so begs them to please be careful.

Paul is the only one to take the ghost chili; he wants to impress the judges (or kill them, depending on how it works out). He serves chilled coconut soup with kaffir lime and ghost pepper relish. Padma asks if he chose the ghost pepper for the money; he says yes, but also to show his skill. The judges give him no feedback, so he’s worried. But he wins. The dish was delicious, and they love that he went for the ghost pepper. He wins $20,000 and immunity.
Grayson is also using habaneros, cooking them in syrup to harness the heat. She serves habanero stuffed with cheddar with a chili lime sauce. Susan says it has a kick. She’s top three; they were excited to see a whole habanero served as a dish.
Heather wants immunity even more than the money; she’s making date and pistachio couscous with thai chili and pickled cucumber and red onions. The Tamales say she brought the heat, it’s exactly the kind of food they love. Top three.
ChrisJ has digestive issues with spicy. He goes for the Manzano, worth $7500. That buys a lot of diapers, he says. ChrisJ has a baby? That’s interesting information. He makes seared chicken (essentially Buffalo wings) with manzano vinaigrette. The real problem is: he’s wearing glasses, and he has sunglasses on his head. I do not understand. It’s Guy Fieri territory, and why would anyone want to evoke that comparison?
ChrisC (I still have him on my snake alert, because he told Keith to buy the cooked shrimp then claimed it was all Keith’s fault; he said later in the media he wasn’t really paying attention in the store) makes coconut soup with thai chili.
Sarah makes seared salmon belly with fresno chili relish.
Nyesha‘s mom has a Korean background so she grew up eating spicy (hey, Beverly’s mom has a Korean background, too, but she picked the tamest pepper there). But Nyesha goes for the bold and spicy habanero; she’ll triple blanch it to keep the flavor but remove some of the spice. Her dish is baby fennel and rock shrimp salad with orange habanero marinade and queso fresco.
Chuy likes spice (duh!) and the habanero is his favorite. In addition to being the Goatslayer, as a child he played with the fifty kinds of habaneros his parents grew in the back yard. And he owes the IRS so the higher reward is fine, too. He makes sautéed scallop with achiote; Padma asks if he used fresh tomatoes, he admits he used canned. Susan says it’s smart composition. But he’s in the bottom, because the canned tomatoes overpowered everything. He feels awful since his family invented the Habanero and all.
Richie makes fresno slaw with pineapple curd and a sweet and hot glaze on bay scallops. It’s not as spicy as he thought it would be. Susan says his presentation is great, but it’s sweet on sweet, and lost the power of the chili. He’s in the bottom. I’m beginning to wonder if Richie has a palate at all.
Beverly is working for the best-tasting dish, not the money, so she picks the Anaheim chili, worth $500. She makes chili crudites with ssamjang sauce to focus on presenting the freshness of the pepper, but realizes she’s the only one who didn’t cook the pepper, and that might stand out in a bad way. And it does: she’s in the bottom; she didn’t do anything to her pepper to highlight it or change it in any way.

Elimination Challenge: Chili Cook-off at the Tejas Rodeo. They’ll cook at their house; no clock, they just have to show up at 7pm the next evening with food for two hundred people. The cowboys and rodeo fans will decide the winner.

They get into five teams of three:
Black: Richie, Beverly, and Nyesha. Nyesha is concerned she’ll have to carry the team on her back (hey, Nyesha, you’ve been an exec for how long, a week?), since Richie has been in the bottom in both QFs and Beverly seems meek. Meek? She’s Godzilla at the meat counter.
White: Grayson, Lindsey, Ty.
Red: ChrisJ, Dakota, and the elusive Whitney who hasn’t been seen since she qualified.
Blue: Edward, Paul, and Heather.
Green: ChrisC, Sarah, and Chuy. ChrisC is worried about Sarah since she cut Keith’s balls off last time and broke the team apart. You didn’t do such a bad job of that yourself, guy. Yeah, yeah, I know, you weren’t paying attention. You were probably admiring some hot butcher.

Sarah declares herself team rodeo expert: she was born in Houston, her dad was a bull rider, she’s been to lots of rodeos. She wants lots of meat in the chili, and cornbread. ChrisC thinks she’s bitchy. I think she is, too, but not in this case: she has relevant qualifications and she’s taking charge. Shut up and cook, ChrisC. Heather makes a lot of cold-weather chili. I’m not sure that’s the same as Texas chili.

At the meat counter, they run out of Brisket before Dakota gets her 30 pounds. Everyone asked for 30 pounds of brisket. What, is 30 pounds the standard for 200 servings? Dakota gets short ribs to make up the difference. Beverly plays commando again, though it’s dialed back a little: “Is there any other butcher who can help me?” with a little giggle at the end. It’s the giggle that makes it inspired. She should give classes.

They get back to the house, and Ed worries they don’t have enough food. The Black team executes their coordinated plan: Richie grabs equipment, Beverly gets produce (I don’t understand, didn’t they just buy produce?), and Nyesha commandeers all the beer. I’m not sure if that’s for cooking or drinking, and I don’t know how much beer it takes to make 200 servings of chili, but she’s juggling armfuls of sixpacks. I’ve heard reports that someone yelled, “Don’t take my breast milk!” but I didn’t hear it myself. I’m guessing it’s Beverly, shipping it home to her baby. Now there’s an additional stress for ya. They work out grill and fireplace space. And for a second, Chuy dancing with his hat on reminds me of Mondo. Probably just wishful thinking. That’s ok, Mondo’s coming soon.

We finally hear from Whitney! She does exist! She just says the Red team is making braised brisket and shortrib chili, which isn’t exactly startling information.
Nyesha and the Black team are making mole chili with cornbread; Richie says it’s something a little different. It’ll have chocolate and cinnamon in it. I’m not sure different is a good thing in this particular venue.

Tom does a walk-through. He’s wearing chef’s whites, which strikes me as unusual. Did he always wear chef’s whites? Hmmm… no, he wore a black or navy chef’s coat, that’s why it’s different. I guess he dresses like a chef on walk-throughs because it scares the chefs more. Heather talks about the pickled peaches the Blue team is making. Tom asks if they’re in the chili; no, she says, a side dish. He looks at her. She starts second-guessing the peaches.

And as the night goes on, they get tired, they go swimming, and stuff like that. Chuy tells them of his muscular exploits: “I had muscles in places where I didn’t even have places yet.” In high school he weighed 110 and was all muscle. 110 doesn’t sound like a lot, even for a short guy. There’s a hilarious shot of ChrisJ in a lawn chair saying, “Look at that gigantic star” in a way anyone who’s ever been around stoners will recognize. You will never convince me he didn’t sneak in a couple of joints, based on that shot. It was classic. Otherwise, there’s some confusion about whether the beer is for drinking or cooking. ChrisJ says chili is an all-nighter. Now, I know nothing about chili. I’ve only had it three or four times when I couldn’t avoid it. As I recall, it took a few hours to make. But that wasn’t Top Chef chili, and that wasn’t in Texas. Here in New England, we do chili a little differently. We spend our time on the cornbread.

Nyesha loves her chili; it’s special, a rainy-day chili. I’m a little worried, because what works on a rainy day might not be what rodeo fans are looking for. Grayson tries to figure out just what a rodeo is: “Do they ride stallions?” Sarah says they Armor-all the steers’ coats. That should get a rise out of PETA. If PETA is legal in Texas; there’s probably a law banning them.

At the rodeo, Gail joins the panel. Gail asks Tom to open her beer for her, since she doesn’t have any feeling in that finger (which is an interesting statement all by itself. Think about it. Turns out, it isn’t all that interesting after all – in her Bravo blog, she explains she cut the nerve slicing a bagel when she was in eighth grade). Tom can’t get the bottle open, so Padma takes over and twists the cap right off. Susan says, “Never send a man to do a woman’s job.” Slam dunk, Susan! But no one laughs. The Green team puts Sarah in front since she has cowboy experience. And, as ChrisC says, it’s good to have a girl to flirt with the cowboys. I’m not sure Sarah and flirting go in the same sentence. But she probably is the best choice.

Ty is having a blast; he’s worked in street fairs all over the world, crowds are no problem for him. “Save a horse, ride a cowboy” he calls out. I just heard that song on The Sing-Off and hope to never hear it again. He tells Lindsey, “I’m about to get a bottle of that hot sauce and pour it down your throat if you don’t start smiling, Missy.” If I were her, I’d get a restraining order right now. People are always telling me to smile. Fuck ’em.

Whitney is concerned about the heat level in the Red team’s chili. Chuy notes these guys are real Texans. Everyone is screaming how beans in chili are just wrong. I don’t understand Texas chili at all. To me, chili is beans. Nyesha worries that their flavors in the Black team chili might be to complex for this group (ouch, Nyesha, dial back the condescension, please, especially since you admitted to Tom you don’t have a whole lot of chili experience), but she hopes the judges will see they didn’t play it safe.

And they present:

Black: Richie, Beverly, and Nyesha. Mole chili (including chocolate and cinnamon) with cornbread. Susan says the cornbread is really moist; Tom says that would be great if this were a cornbread challenge. Mary Sue thinks they should’ve focused on making chili. Padma defends them: they intended to make a chili that’s reminiscent of a mole, and that’s exactly what it is. Dubious looks all around. Tom thinks it’s too sweet; Gail wanted more heat.

White: Grayson, Lindsey, Ty. Three bean and beef chili with poblano cornbread. Gail wishes the pickled veggies weren’t in the chili but on the side; Susan disagrees, she likes the acid. No one complains about the beans. They do mind that it was flat and didn’t have any heat at all.

Red: ChrisJ, Dakota, Whitney. Brisket and short rib chili. Gail says it’s got subtle smokiness, and just the right amount of heat. Tom likes the amount of acid. Mary Sue thinks the meat is a little stringy. Tom agrees; the flavor was great, but not the shredded meat. I guess that’s what happens when they run out of brisket, though I’d think the brisket would be stringier than short rib. Mary Sue says it was the one she least wanted another bite of.

Blue: Edward, Paul, and Heather.Smoked brisket chili with summer pickles (peaches, haricot vert) and pork rinds. Gail decides that pickled peaches are now her favorite thing to go with chili. Tom loves everything but the chili itself.

Green: ChrisC, Sarah, and Chuy. Chili with roasted corn, onion, avocado, lime salt, cilantro. Mary Sue loves the depth. Tom says it grows as you eat it, gets better with each bite. Gail wishes she had some kind of bread to soak it up; Mary Sue agrees, she wants a tortilla or something.

Mary Sue is surprised; she’d expected all the chilis to taste pretty much alike, but they were all different.

They all watch the rodeo. Beverly starts crying because she wishes her husband was here. I can see this is going to be a pattern: at every challenge, Beverly is going to be sad because someone else is happy and it reminds her of something lacking in her life. Nyesha gets a little condescending again: she’s used to hard-core chefs and “there’s no crying in cooking.” I’m getting tired of everyone on the planet using that line for whatever their arena happens to be. And by the way, non-cryers do not get to set the rules. Shut up, Nyesha. I do agree Beverly is strange, though. But in a very interesting way.

Padma rides into the rodeo ring on a horse. ChrisC yammers, “Padma on a horse is like looking at Fabio on the cover of one of his romance novels with his hair blowing in the wind. Pure beauty.” I’m not sure Padma would appreciate the comparison. And I’m finding ChrisC’s pansexuality to be creepy, but more and more interesting as well. Did someone tell him to keep finding people hot as a way of staying on the show?

The cowboys choose the Green team as winners, Sarah, Chuy, and ChrisC. Sarah is proud to be a Texan. Again, no single winner is declared.

The Black team – Nyesha, Beverly, and Richie – is the least favorite. Instead of the usual “who did what” to generate more bus metaphors, they have a cook-off. The three of them have a half hour to transform the chili into a winning dish.

Beverly is tired and sick to her stomach. They have been going for a couple of days now. Richie is confident and focused.ChrisJ is very concerned about Richie: “he’s my best little buddy.” He tells the other chefs Richie is the kind of guy who, if you said you needed a kidney, he’d reach in and pull his out and hand it to you, and he’s strange enough to do that. Actually, ChrisJ says he’s strong enough to do that, but I think “strange” covers it, too. While they’re waiting for the verdict, ChrisJ goes over to Richie and whispers, “Emotions Kill.” I think he knows Richie is out of his depth here. I love these guys. I really do. I think it’s ChrisJ I love more, he’s really taken the role of protector, big brother, or… whatever. I get the impression Richie is a little kid, and I wonder how he got through the qualifying round since he doesn’t seem to have a palate.

I don’t want any of these three to go home. I still have hope for Nyesha in spite of her snobbery this week (and I make some allowances for the crap a black woman would have to put up with along the way), and Beverly is too fascinating to lose. I wish the white team had lost.

There’s a less-than-candid interstitial featuring the judges sitting around waiting for the losing team to finish their cook-off. Padma says they were so deflated, and we’re making them cook again. Gail says, “We’re assholes.” There’s something about the Midwest. Tom chimes in, “God, we’re assholes.” Reality TV moves closer to scripted TV all the time. But it was funny.

Nyesha makes a Frito-crusted black tiger shrimp, a salsa of roasted corn and a reduction of the mole. She worries she didn’t put enough sauce on the plate. Gail says the shrimp was great but needed sauce. Tom didn’t care for the salsa, it was just corn shaved off the cob. May Sue says Nyesha acted ashamed of the chili and avoided it.
Richie makes a Frito-crusted pork tenderloin with Yukon gold potato hash and something to do with ricotta cheese and the leftover chili. Susan is disappointed with the seasoning; Tom says it’s one-note, no brightness.
Beverly makes seared tuna with chili spices, using the strained chili as a sauce, and adds habanero creamed corn. The judges say she changed the flavor profile and was the only one not embarrassed by the sauce from the chili.

Beverly has the best dish and is safe; she fixed the flaws in the chili. Nyesha didn’t go far enough; Richie had a great idea but it never came together, and there was no acid and no spice.

Richie is out. Even though he made the cornbread, the only component of his team’s dish the judges really liked. Awwww… I think it makes sense, though, he doesn’t seem to know what his dishes taste like when he’s done with them. I’m just really sad. ChrisJ is really sad, too. They hug, and at one point they’re looking into each others’ eyes with their foreheads pressed together and if these guys aren’t a couple, I feel sorry for whoever they are hooked up with, because they love each other.

There’s a rundown of the Fan Favorite count so far – and ChrisC is in the lead. Wait, ChrisC? Pretty Boy Snake? You’ve got to be kidding me. Why, because he comes up with new ways to declare Padma hot? Maybe I read it wrong, and it’s really ChrisJ, which I think I’d agree with. ChrisC? WTF?

Last Chance Kitchen:
Richie and Keith tackle Thanksgiving leftovers. They must use three components. Richie is a bit unnerved; his elimination came because he couldn’t repurpose chili. They both decline trash talking. Thank you! Richie makes cornbread puree (which sounds awful to me) but slips when adding salt, and way too much goes in. Maybe that’s why he thinks he has a salty palate: what he’s really got is a clumsy hand and not enough foresight to measure it in his palm first.
Keith thinks Richie’s dish is avant garde whereas his own is more homestyle; Richie thinks his is restaurant ready. Just from the sound of them, I prefer Keith’s hands down.
Keith: Grilled turkey and sweet corn hash, and a fritter made from stuffing, bleu cheese, and ham. Tom could’ve done without the pumpkin pie smear.
Richie: Cranberry Mousse Noodle made with liquid nitrogen, dark meat and greeen beans sautéed together, corn bread puree (which sounds awful), crispy mac and cheese. Tom says the cornbread sauce is a little salty, but all together it’s fine. And while it looks crazy, it really isn’t that inventive. Except, I suppose, for the cranberry mousse noodle, which I can’t even begin to figure out, except it was made with liquid nitro so it must be cold.
Keith wins, so Richie is irrevocably out. Unless they have another twist coming up.

Next week, they go to Dallas. I hope that means regular food. John Besh meets them in a field. And guess who thinks he’s hot.

2 responses to “Top Chef Texas: Episode 4, Red Hot Chili Cook-Off

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