Top Chef Texas: Episode 15 – Culinary Games

There comes a moment when you realize the magic is gone, like the first night you tell your beloved, “I’m really tired tonight, honey, can we just go to sleep?” Well, I’m tired tonight, honey, so can I just tell you there was cooking in a gondola, there were ice picks, and there were rifles and cross-country skis? Can I just tell you there was snidery, snippery, condescension, whining about who had more bullets, and a takedown on the ski trail? That the food was cobbled together under duress and inconsequential? That the Forces of Evil triumphed once again over the Forces of Ditziness?

Back at the beginning of the season, I used a “No Crap” button as a graphic. It seemed like, given Tom’s quick dismissal of the Pork Loin Butcher Who Sells Knives And Cooks At The Same Food Fairs As Famous Chefs (remember him?) they were taking this more seriously. No Robins hanging around until nearly the end to provide drama; no Stephens lecturing about wine and trying to turn every two-bit challenge into a dining challenge the likes of which no one in this country has ever seen before, no Jersey girl winning elimination challenges with watermelon-tomato salad because Today show staff fear sumac and have palates dead from not tasting the dirty water dogs and craft tables they’ve lived on all their professional lives. No, this season, everyone would prove they could cook right off the bat, the drama would be incidental and minor, and we’d see some serious, inventive, and professional cooking.

Didn’t work out that way, did it?

Instead we got two 24-hour challenges in heat over 100 degrees. We got bicycles in traffic. We got heat stroke.

We got Kill Chef.

And so it continues, but now they’re going to freeze them. And if that doesn’t work, well, let’s put them on cross-country skis and give them rifles, and watch what happens.

No more.

My recap: Sarah’s an ass. Lindsay’s a copycat ass. Beverly’s turned into an ass as outsiders sometimes do. Paul’s The Man, and I’m sorry he’s tainted with the stench of this season.

Just thinking about this episode pisses me off. In fact, a few minutes ago, I got a phone call; I had to go through thirty seconds of “Hi how are you today” before discovering it was the Maine Association of Professional Firefighters (is there a Maine Association of Amateur Firefighters?) asking for money. I screamed at the guy. I mean, he’s a telemarketer, doing his job, and I’m sure he didn’t say, on Career Day in third grade, “When I grow up I want to call people at 9 in the morning and read a script and have them swear at me.” I’m sure he needs the job he’d be doing something soul-satisfying and socially redeeming. But I was in such a mood, being immersed in Sarah and Lindsay and the people at Top Chef who think this is what I want to see, I screamed at him. And slammed down the phone. That’s a bad habit I have, slamming down phones. It doesn’t do anything to the other person, and sometimes it breaks my phone. Gotta stop that. But that’s what Top chef has done to me this season.

So this episode… oh, I have notes. I have notes about Paul asking Beverly something in the car and Sarah cutting her off. I have notes about how Paul’s grandfather fled from China to the Philippines. I have notes about the absence of snow on the ground until they got to Whistler. I have notes about how cute Padma looks in a snowsuit, and how it’s strange you can still pick out the rich supermodel in a group even when they’re bundled up for a blizzard.

I have notes about the three challenges, how the winner gets to sit around the fireplace while the runners-up have to keep cooking; about how absurd cooking in a freezing moving ski gondola with induction burners is (I had a very bad moment when Padma announced Paul, victim of high-altitude cooking that prevents searing of lamb chops as well as motion sickness, came in last in the gondola challenge and I thought that meant he’d been eliminated; a very bad moment. That’s what I get for not paying attention to the details). I have notes about the food, including Sarah’s dish that blessed Hugh calls “Spanish food for old people with an out-of-season fruit.” Hugh is the best thing about this season. I have notes about how disappointed I was that Lindsay won the first round and got to go sit inside with a nice mug of spiced rum while everyone else trudges back out into the wild again the next day.

I have notes about everyone playing Sharon Stone and chopping through ice blocks FOR A HALF HOUR FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE to get at ingredients frozen therein; about Padma teasing Beverly about who she’s envisioning when she rips into that ice; about Paul beating Beverly to the ice block containing the crab legs, but helping the two women by smashing the ice blocks on the ground for them (which did little good, but it was still a nice gesture); about Sarah using frozen cream that separated but was rescued by blending her soup; about Paul winning, thank God, leaving the final match-up the producers were going to get no matter what anyone cooked: Beverly and Sarah.

I have notes about the history of the biathlon combining cross-country skiing and shooting, how it makes sense when you look at it in the context of the Olympics originally, back in BCE Greece, being about preparing for war; about Beverly maybe skiing into Sarah to take her down on the ski trail; about how Sarah’s grandfather taught her to shoot at tin cans in the back yard, so she should be able to shoot herself some ingredients; about how Beverly, who’s never held a gun, pretty much outshot Sarah or at least was even with her; about how Sarah accused them of giving Beverly more bullets (they didn’t); about how they finally get to cook in an actual kitchen; how Beverly, in a second show this episode of sheer assholery (because Sugar has forever exposed the self-diagnosed Asperger’s scam, and I’m really, really feeling mean, probably about as mean as she was feeling at the time) plugged her blender in on Sarah’s station; how I knew Beverly was toast when they said her arctic char was underseasoned and maybe overcooked, while Sarah only had tough rabbit; how I lost interest in the season at that moment, because I’m tired of nasty, evil people getting away with it.

And I’m tired of chefs with bruises, frostbite, heatstroke, acrophobia, motion sickness. Challenges more about physical fitness and endurance than cooking ability. Forced improvisation that makes Chopped seem rational. Obnoxious people. Least-common-denominator ideas.

I don’t care what happens next.

(until next week, of course…)

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