Top Chef recap: There's the Rub
With Heather out of the picture, Sarah stepped up as the resident insufferable drama queen. Nathan Myhrvold made for one of the best, most legit guest judges ever
Heather may have been eliminated moments earlier for her “Bigfoot” Stroganoff (Patti, you’re already missed), but the drama was still far from over. Beverly and Grayson meekly celebrated Heather’s departure. Ed brought up the fact that she won twice by using his recipes, and of course Sarah, this season’s second most irritating contestant, jumped to Heather’s defense. Neither Ed nor Sarah was in the right, really, since it was Ed’s choice to hand over his recipes to Heather. This minor drama was only interesting in that it signaled upcoming tension later in the episode.
Much more interesting was this week’s Quickfire Challenge, inspired by the extremely limited edition five-volume cookbook Modernist Cuisine. Nathan Myhrvold, former Microsoft Chief Technology Officer and all-around super-genius, wrote the coveted book and served as guest judge. I had the chance to flip through the tomes when they arrived at the EW offices, and they really are full of fascinating facts that combine food and science. Nathan explained that molecular gastronomy is only a small part of modernist cooking — hear that, Marcel?
Some chef-testants were more thrilled about the unconventional challenge than others, but none more than Chris Jones, of course. He went as far as to say that he had pioneered some of the techniques from Modernist Cuisine before the books had come out. I don’t think Nathan included a sweet potato chain-link fence or cumin-filled cigar in any of the 2200 pages of his cookbook, but I can’t be sure.
Landing in the bottom group was Beverly for steamed clams and mussels with curry whipped cream and mango chili. When spraying the curry cream out of an aerosol can, Beverly got the stuff all over Padma’s dress and Nathan’s crotchal area and then got so flustered she knocked a whole bunch of noisy items off the table. Lindsay made no effort to hide her laughter. Beverly explained that she’s socially awkward because he parents didn’t let her go to sleepovers as a child — hear that, Tiger Mom? Nathan also put frontrunner Paul in the bottom for his endive salad with egg yolks and truffle powder, and he wasn’t impressed either with Grayson’s overly simple trout sashimi (or huge slab of raw fish) with dill caviar and pickled watermelon. There’s a lot of messing with watermelon this season.
NEXT: Chris Jones, shouldn’t the top-knot be a sometimes thing? For when you’re sumo-wrestling or washing off a pore-refining mask?As for favorites, Nathan complimented Sarah for taking what could be a grandmotherly dish — breakfast raviolo with pancetta and egg yolks —and putting it in an interesting context. He also liked Chris Jones, who really put on a show, starting with a Miracle Berry red pill (I want to know how deep the rabbit hole goes!) that messes with your tastebuds. Padma channeled Violet Beauregarde as she exclaimed that her lemon tasted like “the most intense tangerine!” Paul thought there was no technique involved in Chris Jones’ gimmicky dish — and indeed, parts of it looked like a scattering of hamster poo — but I think there’s something to be said for Jones’ ability to map out a sequence of flavors to create a unique taste experience. His comment to Nathan — “I would love to visit your basement!” — was spectacularly, hilariously awkward. Maybe Chris Jones didn’t go to enough sleepovers either. Or maybe too many?
In the end, though, Ty-lör won for a simple chunk of watermelon served with tapioca maltodextrin, which he used to turn olive oil into a powder that turns back into olive oil when it touches the taster’s tongue. After consuming all these chemical perversions of food, Nathan and Padma should be worried about sprouting extra limbs.
The Elimination Challenge had the chefs prepare something far more traditional but perhaps even more challenging: real Texas BBQ. The chefs split off into three teams, and each team had to use brisket, chicken, and pork ribs. It was interesting to see who didn’t want to work with whom — Lindsay steered clear of Beverly, and Sarah and Ed didn’t trust each other but ended up working together anyway. The last three who didn’t get picked for the kickball team stuck together: Chris Jones, Beverly, and Chris Crary were all cast aside for various reasons. A trio of misfit toys!
The challenge looked pretty stressful all-around. Everyone had to pull an all-nighter to make sure their meats achieved a nice smokiness and texture, and there was a lot of standing over smokey fire pits. Things got complicated for the Red Team when Sarah got sick from the heat and smoke. Ed perhaps irrationally got frustrated with Sarah even as she was rushed away by an ambulance, but maybe I’m also a horrible person because I kind of sympathized with Ed. Sarah just seems like such an over-dramatic spazz (have you noticed she freaks out and almost seems to blink away tears each and every time Padma announces a challenge?) that I suspect her mental weakness put her in the hospital more than anything else. Plus her face is just plain annoying.
Without Sarah, Ed and Ty-lör, who have become kind of an odd couple, were short-staffed and had to make some compromises, like chopping their meat early and rushing through prep. Sarah returned from the hospital just in time to plate her chicken for the judges, but she got light-headed all over again as soon as she finished, setting off Ed’s suspicions. Sarah made it clear that she had “NO GUILTY FEELINGS” about swooping in just to plate her part of the meal. Of course she didn’t.
NEXT: What was with Grayson’s crazy bullfrog song? It was as if her face were break-dancing.By the end of service it was clear that the Blue Team as led by Paul had won the challenge. They took a risk by creating an Asian-style BBQ menu of meats glazed with Asian spices served with kimchi-flavored okra and watermelon with fish sauce. The judges all agreed that they by far had the best brisket. Even though the sprouts weren’t cooked, the sticky and spicy flavors of the meat carried them to a win. Paul, Lindsay, and Grayson split the $15,000 winnings, bringing Paul’s total for the season to $35,000. Even if he doesn’t win the whole thing, he’s still walking away with a whole lot of cash.
Everyone else had to face the Judges’ Table, and it seemed to be one of those weeks where it was hard for Tom to make a decision because each chef made major mistakes. On the Red Team, Ty was heavy-handed with the seasoning on his Kansas City-style ribs, and the meat didn’t fall off the bone. If he didn’t have immunity from the Quickfire, he would have been in trouble. Ed’s brisket was steamed too long, and he brought up the difficulties of their team being down one person. Sarah’s chicken was moist but not smoked, and Nathan reminded her to make sure the skin is cooked before glazing it. I appreciated all of Nathan’s very specific comments.
If anything, the White Team performed even worse. Tom took Beverly to task for sitting back on this challenge and not offering up any point of view. Her side dishes not only lacked imagination but were also poorly cooked. But it really came down to the two Chrises. Jones cooked all the meat, and Crary made the rubs. The judges debated whether the texture of the meat or the seasoning was the bigger problem, and ultimately they decided most of the blame lay on Chris Crary for making the ribs inedibly salty and coming up with an uninspired Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce. I was just starting to appreciate Chris Crary. I found him slightly unsettling since the beginning, with his pitch-black eyes and weirdly expressionless face. I wasn’t the least bit surprised to learn that he painted nudes and hung them around his house. Still, I was inspired by his story of going from chubster to “Malibu” Chris (that nickname is terrible), and now we can debate who the most handsome remaining male is. That’s a toughie.
Did the wrong Chris get sent home? Did you buy Sarah’s hysterics, or did you find yourself agreeing with Ed? Do you think Paul is running away with the whole competition? How do you think this crop of chefs will handle Restaurant Wars next week? Something tells me not well.