Top Chef recap: Texas housewives
Was this a preview for the 'Real Housewives of Dallas'? One can only hope, because this was probably the most entertaining episode of the season so far
After using up every last Frito in San Antonio last week, the chef-testants were forced to uproot themselves from the storybook orphanage that is the current Top Chef manse and drive on over to Dallas. Let’s get one thing clear: Dolly Parton is from Tennessee, not Dallas, okay, Beverly? Beverly, while referring to Dolly, made a gesture I can only assume signified the country singer’s iconic boobs, and I was offended. Ms. Parton bears her heavy upper carriage with grace.
Now that there are only 14 chef-testants left — are we really only so far along this season? — we’re starting to get a better idea of who they are. Ty-lör has a boyfriend, which doesn’t surprise me in the least. I identified him immediately as an otter, which last I checked is a hirsute gay man who is not rotund — not to be confused with a bear, who does tend to be hefty. (There’s an entire matrix of body-hair density, body-mass index, and age that matches gay men to their corresponding fuzzy animals.) Speaking of which, Handsome Chris revealed a deep, dark secret: He used to be a bit of a chubster. I found this hard to believe, but see for yourself:
Not that he was bad-looking when he was storing those extra cookies. He lost 70 pounds after his “friends” made fun of him after an unflattering photo shoot in the Chef Works catalog. I feel new admiration and sympathy for him at the same time.
In the middle of the highway — where Beverly routinely does 360s (on purpose?) — the chefs were stopped by a Texas state trooper and led to a desolate cornfield where dead bodies may or may not have been buried. There, Padma and guest judge John Besh introduced the Quickfire Challenge, which had them cooking ingredients found in outdoor survival kits.
NEXT: First Padma, now John Besh … What’s with Handsome Chris’ ideas of sexiness? It always involves hair blowing in the wind, super-white teeth, and sometimes a horse.That strong prairie wind did wonders for John Besh’s luscious locks, but it made it hard for the chefs to heat up their burners. Plus, the ingredients in those survival kits were really terrible: lots of crackers, canned meats, and lemon drink mix. (Yes to the Chapellian use of the word “drink.”) I love the out-of-the-box challenges that force the chefs to get creative, but there’s a limit to how appealing you can make some of this junk look — although I’m sure some of it tasted good.
WHITNEY: A lot of you commented last week that you didn’t remember who Whitney was, but I remembered her from the beginning precisely because of how forgettable she was. Whoa, paradox. Like her TV persona, her gloopy green-bean casserole and Fruit Roll-up-rubbed chicken failed to make an impression.
DAKOTA: Judging from her ridiculous quinceañera cake a couple of weeks back, Dakota should shy away from making sweets. She made spicy noodles with crabmeat and pineapple juice — gross — and the sweetness of pineapple somehow managed to overpower all the other weird flavors in her dish.
CHRIS CRARY: Handsome Chris was forced to use Crystal Light lemon “drink” mix because, as he said, “It was the only acid in my bag.” Susan Feniger would have loved it! Unfortunately, the acid from the Crystal Light couldn’t bring enough flavor to an under-seasoned raw tofu and crabmeat dish. Again, not appetizing.
EDWARD: Though snide and dryly unlikable, Edward is proving himself to be a resourceful, ambitious chef. Regardless of the limited ingredients, he refused to make “mess hall” or Flintstones-like food like some of his competitors. Besh was impressed with his attention to detail in creating his well-integrated nori-wrapped crab cakes and Thai peanut soup.
CHUY: I actually thought he had the worst-looking dish out of all of them, and the name of his dish certainly didn’t help: Chuy’s Dirty Mouth Dirty Rice. His black-eyed peas, beef jerky, and canned trout somehow looked like Cheetos thrown in with trail mix, which sounds delicious but not for Top Chef. But if he could make Besh a believer in dried trout, that says a lot.
LINDSAY: It looked like Lindsay did an extremely low-rent version of a soup and sandwich meal, making a tuna and sardine club out of crackers and a French onion soup with Vienna sausage, but she managed to win the challenge. Edward said, “It looked as dry as the Texas land that we were standing on.” Keep the bitchy comments pithy, Edward.
NEXT: Dallas housewives always want to look good, even when they’re eating a fat, green cigar.ELIMINATION CHALLENGE
The chefs had to split off into three groups, although it wasn’t another team challenge, thank goodness. They had to cook for three couples who were having a progressive dinner party in the wealthy Dallas neighborhood Highland Park. What’s a progressive dinner party? No, it’s not where they serve a lot of chicken noodle soup, or have over that new foreign family from across the street. It’s where they have each course — appetizer, entree, and dessert — at a different home. What a delightfully bourgeois custom!
My favorite chef-testant Chris Jones aptly made a connection between the Desperate Housewives and the participants in the progressive dinner. Mrs. Appetizer and Mrs. Entree were both conservative, anal-retentive Bree types, and Mrs. Dessert… well, she was a total Edie.
A self-proclaimed lifestyle and entertaining expert who’s also very, very tan, Mrs. Appetizer has written books on the subject that she happened to have on display as the chefs arrived. She ticked off the things she didn’t want: bell peppers, cilantro, foods with an aroma, foods with flavor, foods that are solid. Chris Jones hoped to push her boundaries a bit, but I’m not sure if he knew who he was messing with.
CHRIS JONES: At first I thought, “Right on!” when he planned to blow right past Mrs. Appetizer’s white-bread tastes, but when he presented his actual idea — a roasted chicken “cigar” with collard greens and cumin “ash” spilling out of it — it immediately struck me as a horribly ill-conceived idea. Seriously, it was so unattractive, like a fat doobie bursting at the seams. It couldn’t have been less what these ladies wanted, and the judges agreed that it was unappealing.
SARAH: She created a much more elegant, down-to-earth Roman-style artichoke with a date puree, which goes over much better than Chris Jones’ cumin-marijuana spring roll.
LINDSAY: Perhaps coasting on her Quickfire win, Lindsay made a simple beet salad. Something tells me that all of these housewives eat quite a bit of salad. Mrs. Dessert remarked on the “colorfulness” of the dish, leading Tom to roll his eyes quite openly.
WHITNEY: Wait, who’s that? Oh yeah. Whitney made a seared sea scallop over a puree of sweet corn and a zucchini succotash. Mr. Entree deemed it “not a conversation-starter.” How fitting.
PAUL: The one dish this round that got universal acclaim was Paul’s fried Brussels sprouts with prosciutto. Brussels sprouts are kind of the “in” cruciferous vegetable these days.
NEXT: Is Highland Park the land of unadventurous palates? Clearly, the judges didn’t trust the Texan dinner guests’ judgment whatsoever.
Cilantro is apparently public enemy No. 1 on the Dallas version of Wisteria Lane. Mrs. Entree hates flavorful foods — even raspberries are too much. Chuy quipped that these are the types of people he would throw out of his restaurant.
HEATHER: When Tom asked one of the dinner guests if Texans liked overcooked lamb chops, she replied, “Hell, no!” In that case, Heather may be in trouble.
CHUY: The Dallans (or is it Dallasites?) loved Chuy’s sockeye-salmon filet stuffed with goat cheese, but the judges clearly didn’t.
BEVERLY: Even though she clashed with the other chefs in the kitchen, all the dinner guests — including the judges — seemed to like Beverly’s seared scallop with creamy polenta with a hint of white truffle.
TY-LÖR: He was probably the most out of his element in the company of high society. He even shouted, “G–damn son of a whore!” in the kitchen. Please clean it up, this isn’t Brooklyn! His spice-rubbed pork tenderloin with summer slaw looked big and ungainly. One of the dinner guests said it looked like something her parents would have made in the ’50s. Is that good or bad?
NYESHA: I loved how Mrs. Dessert thought the red-wine sauce accompanying Nyesha’s roasted filet of beef was all blood.
Finally, a fun couple! While Mrs. Dessert was extremely blond and hilarious, Mr. Dessert totally stole her thunder. He made it known that he’s a fan of sweets, and we believe him! He loves cake balls and cupcakes and bananas and fudge and is obsessed with gummy bears. Hmm, maybe if Mr. Dessert undid a couple of the top buttons of that lavender shirt, we’d see if he himself is a “bear.” Even though they were the most adventurous couple, nobody was excited to be cooking desserts. As Chris Crary pointed out, making desserts puts you in a vulnerable position on Top Chef — it’s like stepping up to be project manager on Celebrity Apprentice. (Sorry, I had to reach pretty far into the reality TV barrel for that one).
NEXT: Make it worth the calories!DAKOTA: Okay, what kind of Texas couple doesn’t have shot glasses lying around? Dakota had to make her own out of dates, which was a pretty great idea. She put together a whole big plate of desserts: a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup banana-bread pudding with banana mousse and a date milkshake. The whole dish looked like it contained approximately 16,000 calories — and of course, everyone loved it!
CHRIS CRARY: Mr. Dessert proclaimed Crary’s strawberry cupcake the greatest cupcake ever made, but Tom absolutely hated it.
EDWARD: The brilliant Mrs. Dessert observed that Edward’s elaborate cantaloupe consommé and basil pudding-stuffed raspberry confection resembled Elmo. Someone else called it “jiggly.” Jiggle-Me Elmo. Mrs. Appetizer noted that it tasted fancier than it looked, but something tells me the presentation of the food matters more to this crowd than anything else. Tom looked about ready to call it an evening at that point.
GRAYSON: Is there anything better than chocolate and pretzels together? That’s all.
Come judgment time, Sarah, Grayson, Paul, and Dakota were called into the top group. The desserters actually had a strong showing! In the end, though, they gave the competition to Paul for the texture of his dish, which just “made sense,” according to Tom. Paul has definitely been doing well so far, and with his win, he had another opportunity to remind us he’s from Texas.
There were no surprises as to who landed in the bottom group: Chris Crary, for being all over the map with his dessert; Ty-lör, for his imprecise, unwieldy dish; Chuy, for his overcooked salmon and goat cheese; and Chris Jones, for his gimmicky misfire. Tom actually seemed angry at Chuy about his dish, and he ended up getting the boot. Even though Chuy tried really hard to be the “character” this season, I was weirdly never that entertained by him and wasn’t particularly sad to see him go. Good luck against Keith in Last Chance Kitchen!
So foodies, what did you think of the progressive dinner? I’m totally going to plan one. Now that we’re getting to know the chefs and their skills a bit better, do you have a favorite yet? And how awful was the Highland Parkers’ taste in food?
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