Last night's Top Chef delivered the most Texan of any conceivable Texas challenges: make barbecue that doesn't suck and do it at one of the state's best barbecue restaurants, Salt Lick in Austin. Oh, and make enough beef brisket, chicken and pork ribs to feed 300 people. No small task for the three teams of three.
All of that came after cheftestants survived a high-profile Quickfire challenge. A deliveryman entered the Top Chef house, wheeling a cart that carried the Modernist Cuisine collection of cookbooks by Nathan Myhrvold and a note from Padma telling the chefs to "study up." The next day, the author met them in the kitchen of Le Cordon Bleu Austin and challenged them to cook a delicious and imaginative modernist dish -- foam, sparkles, culinary mind-fucks of all sorts -- aimed to "delight" eaters.
"I came here to do my style, and this is my style," Chris Jones said, rhetorically begging "for the love of Pete" that he come out on top for his "miracle berry tasting" of reimagined cheesecake. Myhrvold told him,"It was a hell of a dish," but chose Ty-Lor Boring's far simpler watermelon with melting olive oil powder as the immunity-earning top dish. Ty-Lor did the pumped walk across the kitchen to collect the books as Jones exhaled a big sigh.
Then, cheftestant trios geared up for barbecue, piling on the meat while grocery shopping and firing up the brick pits made to replicate that of Salt Lick. Open flames, trailers and an all-nighter of prepping, smoking, grilling and nearly crying from exhaustion -- then it was time for service. Two teams went traditional while Austin chef Paul Qui lead his team toward Asian ingredients -- a decidedly risky move, but one that paid off with a win at judges' table. Chris Crary, however, wasn't so lucky, and was told to pack his knives for overly salty pork ribs and an overall not-that-enjoyable meal.
This week felt intense, but next week is a high-stress Top Chef tradition: Restaurant Wars. Fighting, complaints about dried fish, pissy judges and Sarah yelling at Lindsay.
And now, our highlight reel:
Um, er, this happened: Beverly Kim's Fumble Kim served up a curry whip cream with mango chili to accompany flash-steamed clams and mussels in the Quickfire, but instead of spraying fresh cream on the plate, she did so on Padma's dress.
"OK, that's a very modernist thing, actually we're not used to having the food served on us," Myhrvold said. Kim recovered with a demure and apologetic giggle, only to run into the tray of extra seafood in a cacophonous crash that also took down a few pans. The other chefs giggled like kindergartners watching the kid who just pissed in the middle of reading circle.
Best Channeling of Willy Wonka, also Best Hair: Chris Jones "The first thing I'm gonna ask you to do is take the red pill. This is actually a miracle berry in a tablet form," Chris instructed Padma and Nathan in what was a darkly instructive tone for a playful bite of food. The miracle drug he peddled makes sour turn sweet and sweet, sour. His example shows that you can always trust a man with a twinkle in his eye, a pill in his hand, and a ponytail atop his head that looks like that of Fred Flintstone's daughter Pebbles.
"That's incredible. It tastes like the most intense tangerine," Padma said biting a lemon and adding, "the snozberries taste like snozberries!" [OK, not really.]
Earlier, Ty-Lor Boring compared Chris to the "nutty professor" with a workstation full of mist and smoke.
Most Inappropriately Sexual Comment: Grayson Schmitz "You're gonna love it. It's gonna be like sex in the mouth," she told Tom of her team's barbecue. We'll give her the benefit of doubt -- she hadn't slept and normally her jokes are funnier.
Most Annoying Illness: Sarah's mystery spell Was it heat exhaustion, an asthma attack, a panic attack? Who the hell knows, but Sarah came down with something that left Edward Lee and Ty-Lor scrambling to get their dishes together. She healed momentarily to plate her chicken for judges, but then fell ill once again. It didn't seem fake, but certainly sucked for Ty-Lor and especially Ed, who has no patience for anyone but himself.
Best Personal Revelation: Chris Crary paints nudes. "I think I'm a modern person," Crary said during the Quickfire, when he made a play on scallops and risotto. Cameras cut to the nude paintings, some white outlines of bodies on a pink background, some cartoonish boobs and curves, all over his apartment. He painted them all.
Dish We Want to Eat Every Meal of the Day: Breakfast raviolo Sarah's breakfast raviolo with an egg yolk and pancetta. It's practically an Italian take on a soup dumpling -- stick a utensil in it, liquid gold pours out -- but much more decadent and appropriate for any meal of the day. It's delicate, beautiful, perfectly assembled and looks downright delicious.
Best Justification for Wearing a Wife-beater on National Television: Chris Crary "It feels like we're sitting on the surface of the sun," he remarked while barbecuing outside in the sweltering Texas summer, as though "beautiful" Chris needs to justify wearing less clothes than any other cheftestant.
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"Malibu, are you wearing a wife-beater?" Lindsay Autry asked him.
"I think you look beautiful," Grayson chimed in.
Replacement Bitch Now That Heather's Gone: Ed Ed started the episode by dishing on Heather, who was already eliminated, for winning two episodes with his cake recipe. He trumped that gripe with a line about Sarah's "annoying" Texas accent that's getting thicker "by the minute," and he topped it all off with a lack of compassion when Sarah fell ill. "Is she OK. ... Is she dead. ... I'm pissed. If it was me I would have pushed through it." Ed, meet Heather; Heather meet Ed.
Best Not-Traditional-Texas but Still Delicious Barbecue: This. Thank you Paul for leading your team into making this delicious feast.