Top Chef Episode 5: A Sweaty Progression

Off to Dallas we go with 14 chefs left.

Some cheftestants continue to fly way under the radar (who the hell is Whitney Otawka?), while others–those with big personalities, strange tattoos or blog-ready backstories–just plain big hog all the camera time. That’s just TV, though. The drama, whether real or manufactured, is the grease that makes the wheels go in the moments when no one is cooking or getting tanked in the Stew Room.

So what’s the best way to get to the home of the NBA Champion Mavericks? A shiny Toyota Sienna, of course, dropped onto the set by the product placement fairies and  equipped with a navigation system that will direct you to a road closure, naturally. On the way, we learn that the Better-Looking-Chris used to be 70 pounds heavier. No wonder he’s obsessed with image–something he reminds us of once again when pointing out Guest Judge John Besh’s beautiful hair and teeth.

Togather, Besh and Padma announce a most uncomfortable Quickfire: Make something edible with a survival kit under the blazing Texas sun. Sixty sweaty minutes later, the cheftestants’ mess kit plates are full of canned meats, instant noodles, and…tofu? Who the hell packs tofu into a survival kit? That’s the kind of thing that’ll get you arrested in Texas, where all survival kits are standardized, containing two six-packs of Lone Star beer, a pound of armadillo jerky, a giant hat, a pistol (for hunting those who’ve sneaked tofu into their survival kits, natch) and a cassette tape copy of Yellow Rose of Texas.

Still, I thought the best of the plates presented was Ed Lee’s back-breaking Thai peanut soup with salmon, tofu, and fried hominy, but Besh-thoven preferred weird-necked Lindsay Autry’s Triple Club with tuna and sardines in French onion soup with Vienna sausage. (Say that five times fast.) Besheroni gives her the win, even though the dish looked and sounded horrible. Then again, there’s something about canned, smoked fish and saltines. Try it some time. Trust me.

With the roadblock removed, the chefs get to Dallas where the first individual elimination is to cook for a bunch of rich people who don’t really like food, unless it’s a medium-well hockey puck of a filet topped with gummy bears and bananas served on a pink plate. And no cilantro! (White people, am I right?) Dallas high society is having a progressive dinner, where three couples host appetizer, entrée and dessert in their respective gigantic homes. Kind of a bummer that the challenges keep making dessert mandatory, but maybe the thought process is that someone will always fuck up dessert, keeping the Judges’ Table deliberation to a minimum.

For appetizers, Gums Gruenberg is in her comfort zone with Italian food. Lindsay interprets balance to be a salad of raw and roasted foods. Paul—currently the dark horse—makes fried Brussels sprouts with prosciutto. Whitney plays it safe with a scallop (the community college of Top Chef proteins), and Homely Chris takes a huge risk by making a food cigar that looks more like a bum cigar.

During the main course prep, Nyesha accuses Beverly of being a saboteur by using too many dishes, burners, and colanders. Heather’s also salty that she’s taken over the whole kitchen. See, I told you she was annoying. Meanwhile, Chuy overcooks his goat cheese-stuffed salmon, and Heather also overcooks her lamb. Ty-Lor’s presentation was too clunky, and Nyesha’s plate was too bloody. Lots of missteps, but at least there was no cilantro on the plates.

Finally, we get to dessert. Taking the advice of the hosts, the cheftestants make a bunch of crap with bananas. Colicchio isn’t impressed with Better-Looking-Chris’ cupcake, but Dakota’s date shot glass and banana bread pudding is well received and worth every calorie that the high-society housewives will probably throw up later. Then all the rich jerks go and get margaritas while the cheftestants head to the Stew Porch.

At Judges’ Table, Paul, Sarah, Grayson, and Dakota are the win/place/show/whatever-comes-after-show. It’s surprising to see two desserts at the top, but who knows? Maybe the Cubs will win the World Series next year, too, and the Eagles will fire Andy Reid.

Making Texas proud, Paul pulls out another win, securing his position as the chef to beat. Then comes the bad news, delivered by a visibly drunk and surly Colicchio, who lays into Better-Looking-Chris for his 3-year-old birthday party plate, then admonishes Ty-Lor for poor presentation. Next, Chuy gets the business end of Tom’s wrath about overcooking his salmon, and finally, Less-Good-Looking-Chris gets it for overthinking his bum cigar and getting caught up in the details of the cumin ash. When they’re called back, Tom spews more drunken vitriol until middle-child Padma steps in to calmly dismiss young Chuy and get him out of the room before Colicchio comes after him with the broken neck of a tequila bottle. I’ll miss the tall tales from this short man, and I wish him luck against Keith in the Last Chance Kitchen. It’s nice to know that Bravo’s milking the shit out of these poor eliminated chefs while under sequester for our amusement.

As for the rest of the surviving chefs, we’ll see them all again next week at the Southfork Ranch. Provided Drunk Colicchio doesn’t go all Captain-Willard-In-The-Jungle, paint up his face in camouflage patterns and start sneaking into the cheftestants rooms at night to murder them in their sleep.

Yay Texas!