Top Chef Episode 4: Nobody Knows Beans About Chili ‘Cause Chili Ain’t Got No Beans

Assuming that you probably wouldn’t have a moment to read this between gorging yourself on turkey and avoiding crazy pepper spray-wielding Black Friday shoppers, I’m giving you this recap a few days late.  Admit it: You’re probably nursing a monster leftover hangover anyway, and facing down a slow Monday, so why not take this time to remind yourself that ’tis sometimes better to work quietly behind a desk than to be followed around by camera crews 24/7, just waiting for you to act like an ass.

Let’s talk about chefs, baby.

After a post-elimination pow-wow and some shuteye, the chefs are back in the kitchen for the Quickfire–another money challenge which is all about confidence and risk.  A table of chile peppers is provided, and the higher the Scoville, the higher the payout, all the way up to $20,000 for using a ghost pepper. (For an idea of how stupidly hot the ghost pepper is, click here).  Only Paul Qui has the cojones to use this radioactive pepper, and it pays off in a big way.  Guest Judges and Top Chef Masters alums Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger both agree that his chilled coconut soup knocked it out of the park, and he gets the money and immunity.

This week, the chefs are split into five teams for a chili cookoff, and since a decent pot of chili takes time, there’s no clock and no kitchen. Instead, the chefs are locked down in the Top Chef house with limited cooking space/equipment and unlimited Shiner Bock. Two of the teams have a less than stellar dynamic. Chris C—the recipient of a wink from Mary Sue during the Quickfire and Padma’s #1 fan—thinks that teammate Sarah Gruenberg is a bit bitchy, and he’s concerned she’s going to be his group’s downfall (Chris, as long as you don’t buy pre-cooked shrimp, you should be good).  Nyesha, who hasn’t really been impressive up to this point, doesn’t like Beverly’s meekness or Richie’s on-the-bottom-ness.  All but one of the groups stay up all night in order to really develop the chili flavors, and the entire sweaty, bleary-eyed bunch heads to the Tejas Rodeo  for service. The winner of this challenge will be chosen by popular vote, so playing to the crowd’s taste came in handy for Chuy’s team as well as Dakota’s.

Although probably moments away from passing out, the chefs are allowed to watch the rodeo before the results are announced. Beverly cries again, wishing her husband could be there to partake in the animal cruelty and pageantry, and then Padma rolls in on someone else’s trusty steed to announce that Chris C, Chuy, and Sarah G are the winners of the elimination challenge.  Then, in a twist that may or may not have been stolen from this seasons’ Next Iron Chef, the losing team—Blubbering Beverly, Nyesha, and Little Richie—has to cook yet again, this time against each other. No Judges’ Table, just more mental anguish for these three, who must take their losing chili and repurpose it into a winning dish using ingredients from the Tejas Rodeo kitchen, which has both high-brow (ahi tuna) and low-brow (Fritos) offerings.

Richie goes straight for the Fritos, attempting a creative dish of Frito-encrusted pork tenderloin, potato hash & ricotta cheese chili puree. Nyesha does the same, opting for shrimp in lieu of pork and serving it with a roasted corn salsa. Beverly, holding back tears, is the only one to properly repurpose the chili, and her seared tuna with habanero creamed corn is good enough to keep her safe (she’s pretty goddamn annoying, though, so I hope she doesn’t last too much longer). Nyesha, drawing inspiration from the depths of her soul, fails to get enough sauce on the plate, but her dish was better received than Richie’s, whose Frito-pork-potato-ricotta-chili concoction (somehow) only struck one note–and ultimately got him sent home.

Not that he was a real standout, but I liked him better than both Nyesha and Beverly, and Chris J–his kitchen mate at Moto–LOVED the little guy. This was clearly evident when Richie ran into his arms, tears streaming down his cheeks, and in that final embrace before saying goodbye, spoke to him without saying a word. I mean, he said a couple words, like, “dude, it’s okay,” and “I’m sorry,” but if you looked real close at his squinty eyes, they were saying more.  Much more.

And with that, I’ve made it to the end of the chili episode recap without a single fart joke. You can thank me for my restraint later.

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