Top Chef Texas – Episode 11: Fit for an Evil Queen

I recently read a strange and wonderful story titled, “We Show What We Have Learned” (“For the future is gated, and there are tolls to be paid”). In this episode, Lindsay shows she has learned short ribs and Asian ingredients are the path to success; Beverly shows she has learned the art of comeuppance and the subsequent karma thereof; Sarah shows she’s learned that cooking the same dish over and over is the key to success (though, Sarah honey, it only works that way if they like it when you make it) and Grayson shows she’s learned to stop defending Beverly just to watch Beverly zip past her to the finals. And MotoChris finally learns the time and place to make his Mototricks work.

We pick it up where we left off, in the kitchen right after Restaurant Wars, because who wouldn’t want to spend as much time as possible there. The boys congratulate Beverly. The girls do not. Sarah reminds us that Lindsay was the “glue” that held them together, and should have won. I suspect Beverly does not think of Lindsay in exactly that way. I do think Grayson might have cause to feel miffed, since she turned in two really good dishes. But let’s not relitigate that one.

Tom enters, and someone yells, “NO!” which must make Tom feel really good, but that’s what you get when you screw with people’s heads for a living. Turns out he just tells them they’re going back to San Antonio right now. And a long drive after all that stress and drama and heartbreak – let’s face it, only one person is happy – is probably just what they need. Yep, it is, the boys chatter in one car about the girls being mad that Beverly won, and the girls are…. silent. Lindsay pipes up how hard it was, but she has high standards and when someone drops the ball she loses her cool but it was worth it. Beverly interviews there’s some sour grapes from Lindsay, but she won and that’s that.

I’m disappointed they left Austin so soon, because Austin is probably the most interesting town in Texas. Music, beyond Patti LaBelle That’s where Pentatonix is from, after all, and damn, they were competing on The Sing-Off while Top Chef was being filmed. Too bad they couldn’t do some kind of tie-in. And there’s great food in Austin, real food, not just bbq and chili. And food trucks. There’s a lot more besides what we saw. Missed opportunity, Bravo.

Back at the San Antonio house the next morning, Paul makes something awful in a waffle iron. It looks like an omelet. That isn’t possible, is it? Paul interviews that Edward is tough competition since he’s cooked so many places and styles, and Sarah knows her flavors.

They get to the Kitchen and find Eric Ripert waiting for them , which intimidates the hell out of those who can be intimidated. Edward notices a conveyor belt. Can’t put anything over on Edward, you plop an airport luggage carousel in his kitchen, and he’s all over it. Hey – did anyone else think I Love Lucy, or am I just weird?

Quickfire

Padma says the Quickfire is about quick thinking. Eric expands on that: there are times when you have days to think and rethink, and there are times when you have no time at all. Guess which one this is?

It’s not about packing chocolates. The conveyor belt will carry various ingredients by. The chefs each must pick three ingredients to use in their dishes. As time goes on, the ingredients will get better, but they will have less of the 30 minutes to cook. And once they pick an ingredient, they’re stuck with it. The prize is immunity. Beverly‘s ears prick up. “Immunity is so important.” Most of them head for the pantry first to get basic ingredients for flexible dishes, figuring they’ll find ways to incorporate stuff from the conveyor belt. Stuff like pop rocks and goldfish crackers come out first. The star of the show is MotoChris chasing lobsters three times. And Beverly completely, totally f*#king herself by making the best dish (“by a mile” says Padma) but leaving off one of her conveyor belt ingredients. Antonia is probably smiling somewhere.

Beverly starts with pantry stuff, then grabs a can of black-eyed peas, which seems out of her comfort zone. Then again, it’s beans. She gets tofu and rice krispies, which she figures she can work into her style. Salmon materializes, presumably from the pantry, and I’m wondering, if they have stuff like salmon in the pantry, why are they bothering with the conveyor belt for proteins? She makes orange-spice glazed sockeye salmon and black-eyed peas and carrot cardamom puree; her curried rice krispies garnish, alas, doesn’t get on the plate. She seems to realize this belatedly, and really takes it hard: tragic head-in-hands move, groan. Padma and Eric notice the absence of rice krispies, and ask to taste them anyway. Eric says it’s actually nice, which, gee, when Eric Ripert says your dish is actually nice, you should do a little happy dance, even if you did throw away the win. Padma tells her she would’ve won by a mile if she’d gotten the ingredient on her plate, but she didn’t, so she’s disqualified. At least I assume she is; Padma never specifies.

Lindsay also gets her basic pantry supplies, then waits until the last moment for the good stuff, which turns out to be grouper, and… I’m not really sure what her ingredients were, but she makes a bouillabaisse with grouper and shrimp in fennel pernod broth. Eric pronounces it harmonious and says the ingredients are complimentary. She wins and gets immunity. However, it isn’t lost on her that she made the second-best dish, and she recognizes the back-handed compliment. Still, making a bouillabaisse in 30 minutes that’s Eric Ripert’s second favorite dish isn’t something to cry about.

Sarah puts on her tin foil hat and wonders if it’s a trick, and there are no good ingredients coming later in the game. She goes with saltines, cottage cheese, and artichokes, to make fried soft shell crabs with tarragon cottage cheese sauce and shaved artichoke salad. Again, hey, if you’ve got soft shell crabs in the pantry, why wait for the mythical gold to show up on the conveyor belt? She’s embarrassed to serve crabs with cottage cheese and saltines to Eric Ripert, but her dish works well (he knows about the crazy stuff they make people do on Top Chef), and she’s in the top two. She doesn’t muse about it being the third-best dish.

Edward sees macadamia nuts on the belt and takes those, since it’s a nutty challenge. Then he sees a jar of sauerkraut, which he loves dearly, and grabs that too. Except, now he’s got to figure out a way to use those two things together. Yeah, there isn’t a whole lot of crossover there. He ends up with sauerkraut soup completed with bacon, with crème fraiche topping, shrimp cooked in brown butter, and a shaved truffle and macadamia nuts for garnish. With all those cool things – shrimp, truffle, macadamia nuts, crème fraiche – it’s kind of a shame he didn’t go anywhere good with it. At least he didn’t end up in the bottom.

Paul gets impatient with the belt and takes saffron, bread, and bitter melon. He has second thoughts about the bitter melon, but it’s too late. He makes mussels in ginger and a bitter melon broth, and isn’t too optimistic about it. Eric confirms his fears: the bitterness of the melon makes it unpleasant, and he’s in the bottom.

Grayson starts a carrot white wine sauce, and hopes fish will show up on the belt eventually. And it does, in the form of Dover sole, which is quite a fish for a quickfire. Unfortunately, she has to combine it with goldfish crackers and grapefruit, and Eric thinks the grapefruit overpowers the fish.

MotoChris is the star of the Elimination Challenge though: Chris vs The Lobsters. There’s a bucket of lobsters on the conveyor belt, but it eludes him. He waits for it to come around again. And it doesn’t. He finally realizes – they took it off the belt! F&#cking Bastards! He goes back to work on some other stuff, like foie gras and vanilla, cauliflower, and asparagus, and the lobster comes out again – he races over to the belt very slowly, not like a guy who needs to outrun those lobsters, and they disappear into the void again. And let’s do it one more time. He still doesn’t hurry, but he gets close enough to grab the bucket just as it heads through the carwash strips into oblivion – it resists him – he pulls – it keeps going – No, He Will Conquer! He tightens his grip and yanks, and it’s MotoChris with the Lobster! Unfortunately, it doesn’t do him much good. His butter poached lobster is in the bottom three. Padma says something about the cauliflower and vanilla bringing out chocolate notes, which doesn’t seem like a bad thing, but in the end, Eric says it never came together and the ingredients were not complimentary. No Kobayashi Maru for you, MotoChris.

Elimination Challenge

Padma tells them they will have to make a dish fit for a queen. Edward wonders: The Queen of England? Queen Latifah? No, Queen Charlize Theron, who is apparently going to be the Evil Queen in an upcoming remake of Snow White and his here on Top Chef to pimp her movie over and over and over again. As a result, I wouldn’t go see that movie if it would save my life. Sorry, Charlize.

The chefs have to make a seven-course Gothic dinner featuring wickedly beautiful dishes. Indulgence and risk taking are the themes. “Think like an evil queen, and take out your competition.” I can think of a few people who’d like to do that.

The Shopping Segment shows Beverly crashing into things. Grayson says “She’s tiny, but she’s crazy.” She’s not very vocal, but she’ll sneak up behind you, which is exactly what she did to Grayson in the last challenge; while Grayson was defending her and making two good dishes, Beverly ignored the criticism and made her one superb dish. That’s how she wins. And Grayson has apparently learned, if belatedly, that defending Beverly is not necessarily in her best interests. Paul says Beverly gets underestimated, but she’s got more cooking experience than anyone in the house, which I find interesting. Enough about Beverly. There are other people on the show, even if she is more interesting than all of them put together.

Paul is going for an enchanted forest; his dish has fourteen components, but he burns the cocoa nibs and something else – oops, make that thirteen. Grayson is thinking mutilated chicken, slaughter-on-the-plate complete with aborted baby chicken; Edward thinks it looks like a crime scene, which is kind of the point. Edward wonders if he’ll win by spraying pig’s blood on everyone. Only if it tastes good, Edward. Sarah‘s making risotto with red wine and, if that isn’t bloody enough, lamb hearts. Chris has gummi worms and apples and makes the Emotional Call to his wife (unrelated to gummi worms and apples). Lindsay is making a scallop over a witches’ stew, some braised short rib with orange dish she learned in college while working for Michelle Bernstein. Uh huh, and something she has been watching Beverly make for weeks now. Wait, no, I said enough about Beverly. But Lindsay has decided short ribs are the path to the judges’ hearts.

In a house meeting overnight, Paul asks everyone to be respectful of space, and to ask before taking ingredients. Lindsay interviews it’s because everyone’s had issues with Beverly snatching things away from them in the kitchen. Now, stop, I said ENOUGH ABOUT BEVERLY who is proving she can, she CAN, cook halibut when she doesn’t have to follow Lindsay’s directions.

Service:

Emeril joins Eric Ripert and Charlize Theron to judge. I wonder where Gail has gone? Charlize says for her evil dish she’d make anything, then poison it. I’m not sure if killing the judges is a winning strategy. They’d probably cancel the season.

Edward starts off with a play of good vs. evil, light vs. dark. I’m down with that. He has a tuna tartare topped with fried fish scales (to look like spikes), with a pale Asian pear vinaigrette as the Good and a black garlic ponzu sauce as the Evil. Padma is really into the fried fish scales. Eric loves the sauces, and likes them even better when they’re mixed together. Charlize is happy with the garlic. Tom declares it a nice job, and Emeril says it’s a good start.

Paul serves an Enchanted Forest (did anyone think of Hung’s Smurf village? When you watch a lot of Top Chef, after a while everything is a replay of something else) filled with temptations like foie gras and bacon, pumpernickel, pickled cherries, and beets, and for a special touch he shows Evil, in the form of a bloody handprint, reaching towards it. Ok, it’s not blood, it’s beet juice, but it’s a wonderfully artistic presentation of a great concept. Charlize and Padma ooh and aah over the presentation – Padma calls it a beautiful love song, which is kind of twisted; I guess those years of marriage to Salman Rushdie left their mark. Eric plays priss again by hoping Paul used a glove for the handprint (relax, man, he did, and even if he didn’t, do you know how many times these people have their hands in your food?). Emeril notes there are many potential problems with this approach but it really comes together. Eric likes the kick of the jalapeno, and in spite of his squeamishness, declares it fantastic.

Beverly presents a little symbolic drama of her own: halibut will be playing the part of Snow White. The Heart of the Evil Queen, beneath Snow White, will be played by forbidden black rice. Providing backup is a bleeding red curry coulis. The concept is a little tame, but it may suffer coming on the heels of the Reach of Evil. The halibut is cooked perfectly, the rice is great, and Eric likes how the pineapple is used. Padma says so far this dinner is really great. I find myself relaxing. I’m still waiting for Beverly to crash and burn.

Lindsay is a little worried because she didn’t use anything gross like organs or heart; that wouldn’t be her style. She’s not a heart kind of girl. She serves seared scallop over a short rib witches’ stew with dark spices and blackened dragon beans. I thought dragon beans was just her name for something, but turns out, they’re a veggie associated with Chinese New Year. How interesting that Lindsay is combining short ribs with an Asian ingredient. I can almost hear her cackle, “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!” Oh, wait, different fairy tale. Seriously, I’m glad I learned something. Emeril loves the smell. Tom says the scallop is perfectly cooked, and Charlize thinks the dragon beans are a perfect touch. Padma reminds everyone that Lindsay has immunity, but she may not need it.

Sarah is very proud of her dish, even though Tim Love didn’t like her risotto; after all, what does he know about risotto. She made amarone risotto with lamb heart, sunchoke, and thyme. Charlize thinks it’s very appropriate since the Evil Queen has an appetite for songbird hearts (hey, so did Francois Mitterand, and Tony Bourdain is down with that, too). Eric says it’s flavorful; Emeril gives it a “good job.” Tom thinks it’s delicious. Charlize says: “Bring me more heart!”

Grayson has never worked with black chicken before, but she doesn’t let that get in her way of making a slaughterhouse on a plate. Complete with the foot sticking out, clutching at nothing. It’s black chicken with roasted pickled beets, red chard, quail eggs, and foie gras. They love the feet. Charlize wants to use it for her character (oh, yeah, hey, that movie’s done already, darlin’) and loves the presentation. Tom praises the flavor, and Charlize says the skin is crispy but the meat is juicy (which is good, since one of the issues with black chicken is the dryness of the sparse meat). She also loves the vinegar on the beets. What, she’s never had pickled beets before? Eric wants to hang the foot from the chandelier. The way he pronounces “Chandelier” – shawn-DAY-lee-are – makes me remember why he’s so cool as a judge in spite of his occasional prissiness.

MotoChris has been waiting for this challenge. Actually, he’s been trying in many of the challenges, but for this one, he pulls it off. Forget the failed chain link fence and the greasy cigar, the peanut butter noodles that vanished. This is the one. He’s been accused of gimmickry, but not this time. I have no issue with gimmickry; the problem has been, nothing he’s done so far has worked. But there’s always a first time. He hollows out an apple, fills it with cherry, uses puffed rice as maggots and has a gummi bear sticking out for good measure, and finishes it with smoking nitro’d apple powder for a spectacular cherry-apple pie. Drama, says Tom. And apparently it tastes good.

Tom and Eric both declare this is the best Top Chef meal ever. I think they’ve edited out some of the negative comments to give that impression. But it does seem pretty cool. And, Tom says, because it was so good, it’s going to come down to tiny glitches. Aha, at last, we find out the truth.

Judges’ Table

Padma calls them all out for the rundown. Again, Tom praises the meal, and Charlize adds she loved all the dishes. Edward calls out, “We are here to please you.” They enumerate the highlights of each dish, and Charlize declares Paul as the winner. Sarah immediately looks pissy. Paul feels better about Restaurant Wars. He gets two tickets to the movie. Wow. What, not even a bottle of product placement wine? Popcorn money? Nope.

Edward, Lindsay, and MotoChris are all safe, leaving Beverly, Grayson, and Sarah to face the music.

Padma admits it’s difficult, since they all did well. But one will go home.

Sarah’s risotto was a touch undercooked. Beverly’s coulis, made with arrowroot, was sticky, and she didn’t embrace the challenge as enthusiastically as the others did. Grayson really went with it wholeheartedly, but the egg and the foie didn’t fit and the greens were a little salty. They all give a plea for staying, which is pretty much what you’d expect. Sarah tells them she’s a terrific chef, Beverly admits she went elegant instead of gross, and Grayson shows she has learned about busses by proudly announcing she embraced the challenge though she could’ve played it safe and stayed elegant like some people did.

The judges debate. I’m undecided. Beverly clearly was the least in the spirit of the thing, and she made a big mistake with her sauce. Grayson made several conceptual mistakes and one seasoning mistake, which seems like a lot, but she really went for it; she went leave-a-Grayson-shaped-hole-in-the-wall all out for it, and she did a good job with black chicken, which isn’t easy. Sarah made ungood risotto for, what, the third time? And it’s her specialty dish. It could go any way.

And it goes against Beverly; she’s out. It’s kind of a relief, because no one would let her forget how she wimped out on the challenge and skated by. And the Forbidden Black Rice in the end overcomes the Snow White Halibut. Aha – She just plated her dish upside down.

But… it’s not really the end yet, is it? Mwa-ha-ha-ha…

Thing is, I think Beverly is the most interesting contestant I’ve seen on a reality show in years. I don’t mean nicest, or most fun, or someone I’d like to know, though I might; I mean someone chock full of contradictions and surprises, someone who might exactly what she seems to be, or who might be pulling the biggest fast one ever on national tv, outside the political arena. I can’t help rooting for her in spite of my skepticism. She reminds me of Michael Costello from Project Runway: I can’t help defending them, though I suspect I’m being played. And they’re both disrespected constantly by fellow competitors, and churn out wins. So I’m going to miss her. TV Guide/SeattlePI has a really nice interview with her, including her comment: “It was very apparent I was different from everyone. [Laughs] I’ve learned to embrace that. It’s harder to be someone I’m not than to just to be me.” I can appreciate that.

Next week… I wasn’t paying attention, so I have no idea what happens next week. I’m going to guess they cook something.

Last Chance Kitchen:

Beverly heads out of the house, carrying the gigantic bottle of wine she won a couple of challenges ago. Wait – she didn’t share? Isn’t that traditional, to open it for the house? Maybe she’s bringing it to the sequester house. Which would be nice, too. Or maybe she isn’t going to let these assholes get near her wine, no matter if she has to buy another seat on the plane home for it.

She enters Last Chance Kitchen in the same bewildered state as everyone else. Except with Beverly, you can’t tell, because she always has this bewildered look. Nyesha interviews that when she saw Beverly come in, she thought, I’ve got this one. See, even people who defend her don’t respect her ability. It’s amazing, this Beverly effect. “These are not the droids you are looking for. I am not a threat to you.” And then, pow, you’re out, and Beverly’s in the top three.

Tom asks everyone in the Peanut Gallery to raise their hands if Nyesha’s beaten them in LCK. The count is five. Nyesha went out way too soon. Tom asks them who they’re betting on, and Heather immediately pipes up she’s taking Nyesha. Tom laughs and points out the bad history between Heather and Beverly. Beverly interviews that Heather’s doing it again, gathering people against her. But no one else thinks Beverly can do it. That could be because Nyesha is so impressive (which she is). Or it could be the Beverly Effect.

The challenge is black drum. It’s a fish, one I’d never heard of before, maybe because it’s local to the Gulf. The small ones, under 10 pounds, are similar to redfish. The chefs can only make one pass through the pantry, to gather everything they need: equipment and ingredients. They have thirty minutes.

They make a mad dash to get pans and stuff, and I’m thinking Beverly might be toast, since she’s scatterbrained. See, the Beverly Effect works on me, too.

And Tom steps in almost immediately and tells them to stop cooking and switch stations. They have to cook with the items the other chef gathered. You know, I’ve been waiting for this for years, since I saw it on Next Food Network Star in the first or second season. And finally, it’s here. Nyesha is freaked; she picked everything very carefully, and now she has to figure out how to use this Asian crap Beverly has dumped on her, weird unusable stuff like soy and ginger instead of butter and oranges.

They’re working, and with six minutes to go, Beverly still hasn’t filleted her fish. The Peanut Gallery is exhorting her to complete this essential step, but Beverly moves to the beat of her own black drum, and she picks up her knife with five minutes to go.

Beverly presents what she calls a Mediterranean dish, something she rarely cooks, of fish with oranges, fennel and black olives in butter sauce. Except for the black olives, that doesn’t sound all that Mediterranean. Tom says she did a great job and might think about moving outside her comfort zone more often.

Nyesha made her fish with Asian flavors because she had to. Tom says it’s great. Then again, Tom’s said every LCK dish has been great.

It comes down to seasoning, and he feels Nyesha’s fish was slightly underseasoned, so… Beverly wins. Holy shit. The Beverly Effect. She comes at you with this “who, me, Mediterranean?” and five minutes to fillet and cook her fish, and knocks Killer Nyesha out. Girl must fillet fish like Hung breaks down chickens (or like Michael Costello sews evening gowns), is all I can say.

Either that, or Tom is pulling a fast one, and decided Beverly is his favorite instead of Nyesha, in which case he’s jerked Nyesha around and made her work for nothing for the past five weeks.

So now Beverly will go against whoever exits next. Can’t wait to see the face of the next chef out.

One response to “Top Chef Texas – Episode 11: Fit for an Evil Queen

  1. Pingback: Project Runway All Stars – Episode 3: Patterning for Piggy « A Just Recompense

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