The Heather-Beverly saga comes to an end; the fierce and delightfully ridiculous Patti Labelle sings for her supper

By Stephan Lee
Updated December 22, 2011 at 05:39 AM EST
Vivian Zink/Bravo

Top Chef

S9 E8
  • TV Show

Immediately following the ugly dust-up between “Queen of Mean” (Padma’s words, not mine) Heather and the surprisingly resilient Beverly – more on their ongoing feud later – Padma announced that the Top Chef caravan is heading to Austin! I’ve never been, but it’s awfully trendy to sing Austin’s praises, so I’ll do so: Austin rocks, it’s totally the Little Five Points of Central Texas! (A thousand Disqus “likes” to anyone who gets that reference).

Paul, who’s been extremely preoccupied with representing Austin all season, was “sweating balls” (or sweating “from” them? I don’t get it and don’t want to) over the prospect of getting eliminated in his hometown. Previously, all we knew about Paul was that he’s from Texas and he doubts himself a lot even though he’s kinda awesome. But last night we got a disturbing glimpse at his misspent youth: Before he found his way to culinary school, he sold weed and was too lazy to rid his nasty apartment of dog doodie. As it did for Keith Rhodes, cooking saved Paul from a life of crime. Cheffing is my anti-drug!

Last night’s “high-tech” Quickfire Challenge was probably better in theory than in execution, but it made for some small thrills nevertheless. Fans could decide the twists and turns of the challenge by tweeting in suggestions. The Twitterverse started by lobbing a real softball at the chefs: Cook something with bacon! In reality competition terms, cooking with bacon is the equivalent to singing “God Bless America” on American Idol or the opposite of stepping up as Project Manager on Celebrity Apprentice. It’s the safest move you can make because everyone loves bacon, and everyone loves talking about how much they love bacon.

Of course, the Tweeters threw e-wrenches into things. In honor of hashtags, everyone had to incorporate a hash into their dish. Then, each contestant had to incorporate an ingredient selected by a competitor. Ooh, to the Twitter troll who dreamed that one up, nice thinking! Lindsay handed Crary maple syrup, and Crary handed her a bottle of Sriracha sauce, which Lindsay treated like a Mario Kart banana peel. My powers of reasoning tell me Beverly would have been happy to receive Sriracha sauce.

Landing in the bottom were Grayson for her non-puffy shrimp puff, Jones for his over-salted potatoes, and Ed for his burnt hash. Sarah garnered kudos from Tom and Padma for her nicely fried, subtly smoky Burrata-stuffed squash blossom with bacon and zucchini hash. Beverly impressed with a non-Asian – take that, sour-faced Heather! – crispy pork belly with corn, bell pepper, habanero and potato hash. But the winner was Paul, who seems to be stepping up as a frontrunner who can be relied upon to deliver an inspired dish. His bacon three ways incorporated a smorgasbord of ingredients that shouldn’t be combined, like bacon fat, blackberries, chorizo, mushrooms, clams, and others. Tom called it a weird dish that shouldn’t have worked, but it clearly did — Paul’s $10,000 richer.

NEXT: Patti Labelle wants more, more, moooooooooore Friend-of-Bravo (FOB) Patti Labelle, who’s famous not just for her voice but also her “Over the Rainbow” mac and cheese as seen on Oprah, was the guest judge for the week’s Elimination Challenge. She dazzled the Chef-testants with a riff-heavy rendition of “Lady Marmalade” that ended with a painful final note. (Painful not for our ears, but for her cords. She worked for that one, but she pulled it out! That instrument, yes, I called her voice an instrument, can sure take a beating.)

The theme of the challenge was fairly open ended: Create a dish that serves as a tribute to someone who inspired you as a chef. This challenge touched on the chefs’ emotions, particularly for Sarah, whose grandparents inspired her to get into cooking. By the way, has anyone else noticed that in that photo of Sarah and her grandpa, which has been shown several times, Sarah looks EXACTLY like Grayson?

For the first time this season, Padma called the bottom group – Crary, Grayson, and Heather – into the Judges Table first. Inspired by his uncle who taught him to appreciate fresh fish (another photo of chubster-Crary…more please!), Crary prepped a sockeye salmon with brown sugar carrot puree and confit potato. He flashed the salmon perhaps too fast and too hot, causing a fatty substance called albumin (somehow the technical term is grosser than calling it something like “sticky white mess”) to leak from the meat. Crary hoped the judges wouldn’t notice, but of course they did. But worse than the albumin was the overpowering dill, according to Emeril – I’d almost forgot he was a permanent judge this season! Hey Emeril!

Grayson wanted to serve up Wisconsin/Brontosaurus-sized portions of her steak and potatoes, which apparently were too big for Texas. While the enormous slabs of meat may have been perfect for my Outback-enjoying self, their ungainliness wasn’t the main problem — the judges complained of “gristle,” which is one of my least favorite words in the English language. And even if the steak had been properly prepared, Tom said the dish felt too much like Sunday dinner at Grayson’s house. That doesn’t seem like the worst place to be, but I get his point.

NEXT: Will Bev get the last laugh? But in the end, a bitch named karma reared her gorgeous head and sank her fangs into Heather. Heather’s stroganoff at least looked appetizing on screen — beef with spaetzle is always a delicious combo — but the meat was horrendously cooked because she couldn’t use the pressure cooker properly. Emeril could hardly even tell what animal or creature the meat came from. Patti guessed Bigfoot. I hereby nominate Patti for permanent judge in place of Hugh. Like Dakota last week, Heather made an inexcusably glaring mistake in execution and was sent packing. Beverly noted a sense of “personal satisfaction” from Heather’s elimination. I’m with her. I hope she enjoyed a nice, long maniacal laugh that night. God, I hope Nyesha creams Heather in Last Chance Kitchen.

In a wonderfully ironic twist, Beverly’s pressure-cooked beef short ribs took her to the top three, suggesting that their poorly cooked slow-roasted duck was mostly Heather’s fault despite her attempt to hang the whole failure on Beverly. As someone who grew up eating galbi jjim, I really wanted to try Beverly’s take on it. Adding an edamame-scallion purée sounds like a great complement to the sweetness of the meat.

Ed also landed in the top group with a Korean-inspired dish. He went for simplicity with a twist on bibim bap. Bibim bap is so basic and easy to make, but I’ll trust the judges’ assessment that he brought something new to it.

Sarah wanted to win a challenge really badly, and it’s nice for her that she won one that meant so much to her. She was concerned that the drab color palette of her pork sausage-stuffed cabbage and spinach with browned butter wouldn’t excite the judges, but each of those ingredients is awesome. Tom gave the dish simple, high praise: “clean flavors, great cooking.”

So foodies, have you checked out Heather’s Twitter feed, in which she re-tweeted that Beverly is a bitch who deserves shrimp excrement dumped on her? The reunion should be interesting. What were Patti’s best quotes of the evening, and how amazing did her dinner for Emeril sound? My current favorites are Paul and Ty-lor — who are yours? Also, I must credit a commenter from last week for the title of this week’s recap.

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Top Chef

Tom, Padma, and Gail tell the cheftestants to pack their knives and go.
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