Top Chef Texas: Episode 10, Restaurant Wars

No time for fooling around with preludes this week. And no time for Quickfires. It’s straight to Restaurant Wars.

We join the chefs as they enter the Palm Door. No, that’s not a typo, it’s how Texas spells Palme D’Or, which is why it’s such a good thing American textbook publishers gear everything they do to Texas (in the same way all bakeries used to kowtow to Pennsylvania). Later, Edward will refer to it as the Pink Avocado which will confuse the hell out of me (is he joking? Aphasic? On LSD? Seriously, a pink avocado is the sort of thing you’d see on LSD) until I discovered, thanks to google, that The Palm Door is a catering hall and the resident catering service is the Pink Avocado. Whew. Glad that’s solved.

At the Palm Door, Padma and Hugh Acheson join forces and tell them Restaurant Wars will be a Battle of the Sexes. The more paranoid among us will immediately aha! over how eliminations have been calculated over the past eight weeks with this even split in mind. Edward endears himself to the eighteen million cracks in the glass ceiling by saying the men have more talent, and snipes that although Sarah‘s weakness is barbecuing in the sun, she knows flavor. Sarah, on the other hand, snipes that she’s worked with Beverly on a few team challenges, and she’s a wreck. I can’t argue with that. I need a Valium watching Beverly.

MotoChris invokes Kobayashi Maru from Star Trek (complete with shot of him putting on his jacket to Thus Spake Zarathustra lite). I do not think that word means what he thinks it means. But he mispronounces it, so maybe he’s talking about something else.

Now see, Bravo ran all the old Restaurant Wars episodes during the day, and I caught a couple. At the time, I mused that it was wise, usually in later seasons, to have the chefs use established restaurants rather than create their own décor in an empty room, since buying chairs and wall hangings isn’t really something a chef does. Come on, at anything above the level of a corner sandwich shop, especially in a city of any size at all, a designer is called in. But for whatever reason, they’ve gone back to from-the-ground-up creation of a restaurant.

They have five hours to cook and decorate, $4000 for food and $7500 for décor, and the teams will cook on alternate nights rather than simultaneously. This is probably wise, since the judges can’t help but be less enthusiastic about a meal shortly after eating a meal. Hunger is, after all, the best sauce. And, for the first time, each team will eat at the other team’s restaurant, which is a very nice touch. Padma tosses a coin (I bet she doesn’t really; I’ve never yet been able to actually catch a tossed coin) and the boys will go first.

They must serve a three-course menu with two choices in each course for 100 guests; each team member must be responsible for at least one dish, so Front Of House doesn’t get to slack off. Instead of a guest judge, Emeril will round out the panel. They get 45 minutes to plan.

The Boy’s Club:

Edward takes FOH, which he says nobody wants to do, but since he owns his own restaurant he has the most experience. This makes sense. Ty-lör would scare people, Paul might work out but he’s quiet, and MotoChris, he’s as back-of-the-house as it gets.

They discuss names, and Paul suggests “Canteen.” There’s some perplexion (it’s a word because I say it is), and he explains it’s a place where a community comes to eat. Oh come on, it’s a snack bar where soldiers and campers and prisoners get Milky Way bars (though the word is derived from the Italian cantina meaning “wine cellar”). But seems like that’s what they have in mind, with a play on Ham & Eggs for an app and desserts called Almond Joy and Cracker Jack with peanut butter noodles (a MotoChris idea, can you tell?) designed to evoke nostalgia. They want a quirky mess hall look (see, I told you about the soldiers) for those nostalgic for their military service. Some of the dishes don’t really fit the theme, though: pork belly, Thai lettuce cups, salmon. They arrange the space to be more intimate, just like Camp Pendleton. Oh, wait, that’s the Marines. Not that intimate.

What they forget to do is assign the task of expediting, and since the kitchen is visible to the judges during service, this becomes quite evident as first Ty-lör then Paul steps out in front of the pass to keep things moving. Paul seems to have a better handle on things; he didn’t want to antagonize his team, but he’s taking charge. I’m surprised; Ty-lör has worked at so many restaurants, you’d think he’d be able to adapt quickly to a new set-up.

Edward does a stellar job of dealing with waitstaff (though it’s hard to get used to him in a suit). He holds a staff meeting, he explains how to fix the mistakes they’re making, and he’s patient and businesslike. I was really impressed, considering this is where so many chefs turn into raving maniacs. I’m betting he has a loyal waitstaff at home. And service, in spite of the expediting issue, works fairly well after some initial delays (one customer says his wine is warmer than his meal). When the girls show up (looking mighty spiffy; Grayson cleans up good), Edward jokes with them about a six-hour wait.

When the judges enter, they’re greeted by Edward and escorted to their table. Padma notes the room seems lively, and everyone’s laughing and jolly; Tom says no one is screaming: both good signs. Padma’s wearing weird pants again. I wonder if there’s something about her lower body that’s forcing her into her D-list wardrobe. Edward tells them Canteen is about community coming together, and the food is from humble origins, but elevated to a cuisine. That’s a cool speech right there.

Since the judges can see the kitchen, Emeril notes “they’re in the trees.” I guess that’s the Portuguese-Creole version of “weeds.” I shouldn’t make fun of Emeril, he’s really done a great job on this show. But it’s like Rocco, some things he’ll never live down. Like “you can check recipes at that w-w thing.”

Canteen Menu:

Appetizers:
Ham and pork paté with mushrooms, braised mustard seeds, and duck fat coated crostini, by Paul. Hugh likes it; Emeril likes the concept, but the crostini is greasy (well duh, it’s coated in duck fat).
Thai-Style Crab and Shrimp Salad with Caramel Fish Sauce and Peanuts a la Ty-lör. Hugh thinks it’s flat and needs acid; Padma says the shrimp is cooked perfectly; Tom likes the caramel sauce but agrees it’s not Thai at all.

Entreés:
Poached salmon with warm tomato water with onions, mushrooms, and crispy salmon skin and tomatillo jam, courtesy of Ty-lör and Paul. Oops, they forgot the mushrooms. Tom likes the tomatillo salsa, but Hugh points out there’s nothing marrying the elements. Everyone thinks it’s bland. Paul realizes this too late, but Ty-lör cooked the salmon and should’ve been responsible for the seasoning.
Crispy Skin Pork Belly with sweet potato puree and green apple slaw by Paul. Emeril and Tom both expected more flavor.

Dessert:
Almond Joy cake with malted chocolate mousse in Banana Coconut Puree, made by Edward. The judges like it, except for the name: there’s no coconut. If they’d called it something else, they would’ve praised it. Thing is… he finally made his own cake.
Homemade Cracker Jack with cherries and peanut butter ice cream a la MotoChris; I guess the peanut butter noodles didn’t work out, like so many other tricks he’s tried. I’m wondering if he really cooks at Moto or if he’s a waiter and just bluffed his way onto the show. Emeril doesn’t like the combination of cherries and peanut butter, and says the presentation is horrible; Tom likes it in a wacky way. I confess to loving peanut butter sandwiches with all manner of jams and preserves, including black cherry.

The general consensus is that they didn’t do badly at all, but some dishes needed work. Edward knows they could have done better. Ty-lör thinks they “shouldn’t have done circle-jerk expediting.” Paul went to a private all-boys’ school (speaking of circle-jerks) and his family had high expectations of him, which has created insecurities. I get that: when perfection is expected, 99% is failure. A is acceptable, B is bad.

The boys are sad.

Bring on the Girls!

They get together for their 45 minute planning session. Lindsay ends up as FOH, which Grayson interviews is a good thing: she’s opened many restaurants for Michelle Bernstein, so she’ll be great. Lindsay suggests using “Half Bushel” as a name, since it’s dear to her from her days on the farm when they sold peaches in bushels and half-bushels.

From there, it’s all about Beverly: she’s President Obama and Sarah and Lindsay are the Republican Congress. If Beverly suggests it, it’s a no. It reminds me so much of Heather shooting down every idea for the game challenge, it’s eerie. Elegance? No. It has to be homey and rustic. Braised lamb ribs? No, too weird. Beets? No – beets, beets, beets, beets, on every menu, no no no! Short ribs? You want to do short ribs again? Because she’s done them six, seven times at least (make that once). Grayson feels bad for her (“the girls don’t really like her”), and chips in, “But she’s really good at them.” Exactly!

See, I have a feeling Heather, Sarah, and Lindsay got together early on, and decided they were the Women to Beat. And there’s no room for Beverly in their club. The fact that she seems to really cook well annoys them. As well as the things that are truly annoying about her (and I admit, she’d drive me crazy, not to mention I still haven’t decided if she’s pathologically passive-aggressive to an unprecedented degree and using victimhood to advance). I think Sarah and Lindsay were thinking the same thing: this is where we get rid of Beverly. Think again, bitches. Short ribs it is – they’ll be thoughtful, playful. Going with the homey theme, warm, inviting, tranquil. She’s trying, you know? She backed away from elegant on command.

Grayson wants to make a traditional Minnesota 4th of July schaum torte (like a pavlova) for a dessert, and a peach app. Sarah plans arancino (risotto balls) and Italian doughnuts for dessert.

Sarah says “We have to stay calm” and Lindsay says “We have to trust each other” and you know that’s going to come back. Lindsay sets up the room, and interviews about how she always has to do things well, like when she was Prom Queen. Wait… the record just skipped… did she say Prom Queen? Someone admitted on TV she was Prom Queen, and is proud of it as an accomplishment? Oh my. Talk about do-over moments.

Lindsay is going to make halibut as her dish, so someone will have to cook it for her. The other three all have two dishes each, so Beverly it is. This is really stupid. I don’t know who’s playing whom here. In the list of things NOT to do on Top Chef, making a dish for Restaurant Wars that must be cooked a la minute by someone else, especially one requiring precise timing for doneness, is near the top. She should’ve done a dessert or salad, something that needs assembling and plating. She gives Beverly instructions about marking the fillets on the grill and putting them in brown butter. Beverly says it’s not the way she’d do it, but she’ll do it as she’s been told. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

Sarah comes down on Grayson for cutting blueberries. Apparently she should be doing something else more to Sarah‘s liking. Then Sarah turns on Beverly. I can’t even remember all Beverly does wrong. Beverly starts to tell her she should’ve done something earlier, and Sarah takes on this patient parent tone, so Beverly goes back to apologizing, which is classic abused behavior. I have a feeling the boyfriend wasn’t the first abusive person in her life. Hugh’s blog says Lindsay calls Beverly “fucking retarded” but I didn’t hear it. It’s a good thing, because I would’ve thrown something at the screen and maybe broken my TV. If this is true, Lindsay just went on my shit list. My Serious Shit list. My Blood-and-pus-laden-diarrhea-shit list.

Everybody hungry?

Everyone seems to have their own idea of what Beverly should be doing (usually having nothing to do with her dish), and I think it drives them crazy because she does what she thinks she should be doing. I don’t know enough about restaurant kitchens to figure out who’s the bad teammate here. I suspect everyone is. Beverly interviews that Sarah’s treating her like a child, but it doesn’t help that she’s wearing a polka dot blouse with purple suspenders when she says this.

The restaurant opens, and the judges arrive. Lindsay is nowhere to be found. At least nowhere near the front of the house; she’s in the back telling Beverly what to do. Padma helps herself to some lemonade helpfully set out for customers, and Lindsay eventually appears and shows them to a table. She points to it: “There’s your table” which seems a little less than gracious to me. Hugh notices they can’t see the kitchen the way they could see the boys’.

The boys come in and also wait for Lindsay at the host stand. But Lindsay is in the back telling Beverly a customer has already complained about overcooked fish. Tom says room doesn’t have the energy it did the night before. I guess there’s energy, and there’s energy.

Half-Bushel menu:

Appetizers:

Summer Peach Salad with Pickled Shallots, Bacon Vinaigrette, and Candied Pistachios from Grayson. Tom likes it, Hugh thinks she nailed it, and the bacon vinaigrette was very clean; it could’ve overpowered the dish.
Mozzarella Filled Arancino and Celery Salad and sweet/sour eggplant caponata by Sarah. She calls these risotto balls. Tom likes it; Emeril’s impressed that it’s piping hot inside.

They wait for the entrées. They wait so long, Padma asks a server what’s up. Lindsay tells the kitchen to move it, the judges are pissed, and Sarah tells her “I’ll come out if you need me to” like Lindsay isn’t handling it and she’ll be able to fix everything. She’s behind, and she knows it. She interviews this is the feeling she gets before the kitchen goes down in flames. Uh oh, has Beverly been heating bourbon again? No, but it doesn’t matter, it’s all Beverly’s fault. Grayson interviews that Lindsay’s tone is bitchy, and worries she might not have been the best choice for FOH. She’s really defending Beverly (which puzzles me): she’s using the procedure Lindsay gave her, it isn’t her fault it’s overcooked.

Entrée:

Braised Short Rib over Thai Basil Potato Puree, Appleslaw, Kimchee, a la Beverly. Hugh says it’s the best dish he’s tasted in two days. Tom, who doesn’t like flavored potatoes, likes these. Emeril thinks it’s tasty. Uh oh. There’s gonna be trouble over this, you know it.
Grilled Halibut with Spanish Chorizo, Fennel and Sherry Salad from Lindsay. Tom wanted more flavor from the chorizo and the sherry; Hugh thinks the fish is a little overcooked. Did I not tell you this was a mistake?

Dessert:

Schaum Torte with Vanilla Meringue, Champagne Berries by Grayson. Hugh didn’t like the juice at the bottom, but Tom loved it.
Hazelnut Creme Italian Doughnuts with Banana Sugar Glaze from Sarah. Tom thinks the donuts are heavy and there isn’t enough banana.

In the end, the girls had better food, the boys had better service. The judges deliberate while the chefs sweat. The boys note the girls are less depressed than they were after their service. Padma calls the girls out first.

Judges’ Table:

Padma asks about Lindsay not being around, then asks if they did better than the boys. They all think they did. Well… they did, they are the winning restaurant. There is joy and celebration. Oddly, Grayson passes by Beverly to hug Lindsay. At least that’s how it looked to me. Maybe it was the second round of hugging. The judges loved Grayson‘s app and dessert, and Beverly‘s short ribs. And Beverly wins. Now wait… she did one best dish, Grayson did two really good dishes, that doesn’t seem right. She gets a bottle of wine that’s bigger than she is, and a three-day tour of Napa Valley. When they show them all together, everybody’s smiling. When they show individual faces, they are not pleased. I have a feeling that’s creative editing.

What isn’t creative editing is back in the stew room, when Sarah tells Lindsay, “We would not be here if it weren’t for you, and you deserve as much praise as anyone in my opinion.” Because Republicans agree even Mitt Romney is better than Barack Obama. Fact is, Lindsay did a lousy job as FOH because she was all over Beverly, and her fish dish was a poor choice in the first place and not well made. Ok, Beverly had something to do with the overcooking (which was slight; Tom called it almost over) but not with the lack of flavor from the chorizo and sherry. Sarah herself made two really good dishes. So I’d say Lindsay is the least impressive member of the team. But she’d better grow a pair quick, because they’re gonna get her now.

The boys – aka losers – come out.

Hugh says there was no wow factor. Padma points out they were the diner’s least favorite as well (with only two choices, they were actually the less favorite, but I suppose that’s quibbling). Padma asks Edward what went wrong. They get into the bland Thai app; Ty-lör shouldn’t have left out the heat. Then he didn’t season the salmon. Hugh says the components were good, but overall it was really bland and that was lack of seasoning. They slap Paul for his oil-soaked crostini, and the pork belly was delicious but faded out. Then they get to MotoChris: why did he do one lousy dessert dish while Paul did two and a half dishes? Me, I want to know where the peanut butter noodles went, but there’s no mention of them. Hugh calls it a jumbled mess in a bowl, Tom says he actually enjoyed it but there were many technical flaws.

They beat Edward up for spotty service (it was, early on) and for calling his dessert Almond Joy when there wasn’t any coconut – ah, but there was! It was powdered on top! And in the puree! Tom sneers. That’s not an Almond Joy. Another Top Chef no-no: calling a dish something it is not. Damn, I’ve got to make this list. Anyone want to help? I’m semi-serious here.

The judging debate is this: MotoChris didn’t do much, and he didn’t do it that well, but Tom liked it. Paul and Ty-lör, on the other hand, did several things, but not well. To me, it’s pretty clear. The Cracker Jack in a Bowl wasn’t a good enough dish to make up for only doing one dish, but they judges see it differently, and Ty-lör is out. Damn, and I was just getting the hang of the umlaut.

Does MotoChris have pictures of someone? Because I’m beginning to wonder if he can actually cook. Maybe he’s the Robin of the season, the one they keep around so they can kick him off if the stronger contenders fail. Or just to irritate fellow competitors. Though no one seems irritated at him. They’re too busy going after Beverly.

I thought Ty-lör was going to the finals. I guess I was wrong. He’s glad his dad is still alive to see him at this stage in his career, losing Top Chef. See, that’s the difference between Paul and Ty-lör.

Next week: Charlize Theron does witchery. And Eric Ripert is guest judge. And I realize I’ll never see him again without thinking of him getting all prissy about eating chicken skewers at the ball park.

Last Chance Kitchen:

Today it’s Ty-lör vs Nyesha. She’s pretty angry at Ty-lör. I don’t remember him being a jerk, but she does. She’s already been victorious over Heather (she actually uses the word “victorious”), and now she’s out to conquer the other enemy. Man, Nyesha can really carry a grudge.

The challenge is to make dessert in 30 minutes. They get to pick a sous chef from the eliminated contestants. Nyesha picks Heather. Nyesha doesn’t like Heather, but knows she and Ty-lör worked together, and she’s a pastry chef, so she’s not going to let a little thing like dislike get in the way; Whitney may be her girl, but this is no time for sentiment. Apparently she isn’t worried about sabotage. Nyesha’s a killer. I’d hire her. But I’d probably say something that would piss her off at some point and she’d hate me forever. Ty-lör is disappointed he can’t work with Heather, so he picks MalibuChris, probably just because he’s highest in the pecking order.

Nyesha and Heather plan a coconut lime tart. Heather makes the coconut crust, and Nyesha makes a coconut zabayon. There’s something about an anglaise, key lime juice, and three gelatin sheets. And salted caramel sauce on the bottom.

Ty-lör does a Black Forest riff with puff pastry, vanilla bean rum and black pepper caramel, cherries, dark chocolate and mascarpone. Damn, that sounds good. MalibuChris burns the caramel but the second batch is fine. Ty-lör is, by the way, very complimentary of Nyesha. Maybe she’ll rethink her opinion of him when she sees the episode.

Tom’s impressed with both dishes. Nyesha’s mousse could’ve been more flavorful. He loves that Ty-lör fully cooked the puff pastry, since most chefs would have undercooked it, but the chocolate mousse needed more punch.

Nyesha wins. And I have to give Heather credit for not living down to my worst expectations; girl brought it. Nyesha still has to win three more of these, and she’s back in. I’m guessing MotoChris (hell, I’m beginning to think I could beat him), Lindsay, and… someone else, it’s really up for grabs between Beverly, Grayson, and Edward. I don’t think Nyesha’s going to have a problem unless it’s Paul. That leaves four people in the finals, plus one Last Chancer.

Andy Cohen’s Ridiculous Show

I don’t even know what this show is called. I think Brittany S. Pears’ Fondue for Two is better produced; this is a technical mess. Andy mispronounces Hugh Acheson‘s name as Ay-cheson (and Hugh is the only reason I’m bothering with this mess) the first time, finally gets it right. There’s a lot of talk about his unibrow. For those enquiring minds who want to know, 25% think it’s hot, 75% think it’s not (approximately, I forget the exact numbers).

Here’s the point: remember Wholesome Wave, Hugh’s charity from Top Chef Masters? They “improve the accessibility and affordability” of fresh fruits and vegetables to communities where there are many places to buy booze, cigarettes, soda, chips, and candy but not many supermarkets, fruit stands, or farmers’ markets. So now poor kids can refuse to eat their vegetables, too. Pardon my cynicism. I actually think this is a great idea. Or I wouldn’t be writing about it. Trust me, this show isn’t anything worth writing about otherwise.

Anyway, if Wholesome Wave receives $100,000 through the Bravo/Top Chef website by March 1, Hugh will tweeze, wax, or otherwise fix his unibrow on the air. Think of it as an exaggerated dunking booth.

Ty-lör is also on the show, sort of, though he’s the bartender so he doesn’t get to sit down. It’s probably better he’s behind the bar, in fact, because, after a technical glitch, they show a picture of his hairy butt. I did not want to see that. The pictures have been out there all along. I found them when I was checking him out for the first episode.

Hugh also talks about Beverly, how she’s been dragged under the bus numerous times, and how she’s very un-cheflike and needs to start fighting back. She seems to be doing just fine playing victim, Hugh. She’s probably getting donations.

I have to applaud Hugh for something else besides his charity work. When asked who the most overrated celebrity chef is, he names… Guy Fieri! Thank you, Hugh. You made my night (and if that isn’t pathetic, I don’t know what is).

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