Last week on Bravo's Top Chef, Abacus' Tre Wilcox was tops -- winner of guest judge Anthony Bourdain's complete library and the promise of a night of heavy drinking in NYC. Last night on Top Chef, Wilcox was damned near chucked out of the competition altogether -- and in a barbecue challenge, no less. It was a miserable spectacle, watching a Texan getting grilled in Miami for serving up a dish (peach-glazed salmon with a crab avocado salad, ugh) that was either too bland or too salty, depending upon whom you asked.
How humiliating -- and the Chef de Cuisine at Abacus knew it, suggesting earlier in the episode that folks back home wouldn't let him back in Texas if he botched the BBQ challenge.
"I'm not a pompous, arrogant kinda guy," Wilcox said earlier, in one of the longer monologues allowed during the show's three seasons. "But I am a serious competitor, and I don't lose. I definitely know how to go out and kick up a grill. Ya know -- the folks back in Texas would just have a fit with me if I couldn't come over here nd make some good barbecue sauce, ya know what I'm sayin'?"
And then he screwed up anyway.
Of course, there was no way Craft-man Tom Colicchio was going to let his man-crush Wilcox go home two episodes into Season Three. There are plenty of cooks further down the food chain worthy of an early ticket home -- among them fauxhawked Sandee, who managed to find a way to ruin lobster by poaching it in French vanilla-infused butter (and then didn't even bother to grill it, hence eliminating her from a barbecue competition). She joined Wilcox in the losers' circle last night, along with the two feuding lunkheads who seem to think they're also auditioning for a Sopranos spin-off.
Even Wilcox's main competition so far this season -- 29-year-old Hung Hunyh -- acknowledges that Wilcox and he are "clearly favorites," something Hunyh figures is "pretty obvious" by this point. And, indeed, in the show's first Quickfire Challenge, which involved making a dish using a wide array of Florida's citrus selections, Hunyh and Wilcox provided two of guest judge Norman Van Aken's three favorite dishes. Said Aken of Wilcox's initial offering, it had "the kind of dish, plating and thinking of a Top Chef."
Perhaps Wilcox just needed a wake-up call: He told Colicchio that he could win a barbecue challenge in his sleep, and found himself living "a nightmare" instead that put him on the brink of being adiosed.
As for the other Dallasite on the show, once more Shinsei's Casey Thompson was there, but not really -- a pretty face to which the show's editors cut away when they needed some commentary about the other chefs, but someone whose dishes neither impressed or turned off the judges. (The fact a Texan didn't finish in the top three in a barbecue challenge is, alas, troubling and disappointing.) But at least Thompson has made something of an impression; there remain several still-unfamiliar and little-seen faces among the remaining 13 contestants. Next week, from the looks of the promo: Casey Thompson takes a dip in the hot tub. --Robert Wilonsky