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Top Chef recap: Captain Vietnam

A self-proclaimed Vietnamese “expert” fails the Vietnamese food challenge

Posted on

Top Chef Recap
David Moir/Bravo

Top Chef

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, Gail Simmons
Reality TV

Who better to start off a very Asian-themed episode than badass BaoHaus proprietor Eddie Huang? (Sorry, Travis, but I’m afraid Eddie Huang is indeed way more Asian than you are. Much more on this later). Eddie and Emeril magically appeared in the Top Chef house, making Nina believe there was a secret guest room just for the judges. Hint: Look in the cupboard under the stairs.

The judges announced the cancellation of this week’s Quickfire Challenge, which sucks, because the Quickfire is one of the most entertaining parts of Top Chef. Instead of skipping the Quickfire for the second time, why not have more Elimination Quickfires to thin out the herd? But the Elimination Challenge this week is a good one: to make a Vietnamese meal for a Vietnamese crowd, and to highlight prawns in at least one dish, paying tribute to New Orleans’ large Vietnamese population, who originally immigrated in the 1950s to get involved in the shrimping business. As a crash course in the cuisine, Eddie and Emeril would take the chefs to various Vietnamese landmarks in NOLA, including a bakery and a shrimping dock. Some of the chefs, like Carlos, had never eaten Vietnamese food in their lives, whereas Travis, who dubbed himself “Captain Vietnam,” thought he should be the one giving Eddie and Emeril a crash course in Vietnam. After all, he’s BEEN TO VIETNAM to taste all the flavors, and he’s even cooked for the family of the Vietnamese boy he’s dating.

[Please feel free to skip over this bit of editorializing, but I rarely get a chance to talk about this: As a gaysian myself, I took some offense at Travis’ whole attitude about being the Asian expert. I’ve met guys like this who learn about all things Asian and even take lengthy pleasure-trips to Southeast Asia to help them meet Asian guys, and then later think they can “school” us on our own culture. It’s an arrogant and kind of colonialist attitude. I definitely believe that Travis has a genuine interest in Vietnamese cuisine  — because it’s awesome — but the fact that he thought he knew better than a roomful of Vietnamese Americans who didn’t like his Vietnamese food indicates a bit of cultural cluelessness.]

Shirley was humble enough to realize that she didn’t know all things Vietnamese, and took the time to talk to the fishermen and, more importantly, their wives, to learn how they actually like to prepare their shrimp. Michael continued to impress upon everyone else the fact that he lives in New Orleans, much to Nina’s annoyance. She called him, “Faker than Pamela Anderson’s breasts.” Not very original, but I applaud any attempt at throwing tasteful amounts of shade on Top Chef.

NEXT: Is Lemongrass-Gate the next Pea-Puree-Gate?