Top Chef Recap: Pee-Wee’s Pancake and Picnic Misadventure

As everyone knows, the hierarchy of Hollywood Guest Star Casting goes George Clooney, Charlize Theron, Pee-Wee Herman. I mean, that just makes sense, right? And since Top Chef is a reality TV program (which means someone like Clooney doesn’t have to answer their calls) and the producers already cashed in their Charlize chip a couple weeks ago, it makes total sense that this week’s descent into madness featured none other than Paul Reubens in his high-waters-and-bow-tie Pee-Wee Herman drag.

Because that just makes sense, right?

Right?

The week’s episode begins with Ed’s bare legs and oddly blazered torso providing a brief Top Chef House interlude–something that has been all too absent from this season. The cheftestants used to be allowed a little fun. Like remember when the chefs used to have little backyard pool parties? Or when  Cliff was disqualified for hazing little Marcel? Or when Marcel went crazy and killed Cliff with laser beams from his crazy eyes? Remember when Top Chef was actually interesting and the chefs were reality TV gold instead of grumpy old farts like Ed and Gums?

If you’re going to cut out the personal drama, at least cast some folks who can execute. Not that I’m a pro by any stretch of the imagination (or bike shorts), but I love the shit out of being an armchair quarterback. So what does Top Chef offer me this time around? Another week of uninspired food, starting with a Quickfire introduced by a surprise guest from the cheftestants’ past.

Grayson thinks Miley Cyrus is going to show up (because she grew up listening to Hannah Montana, apparently), but instead it’s Pee-Wee Herman. And man is he old. I honestly can’t tell if this guest star gig is enjoyable or shameful (for either him or Padma). No one seems exactly comfortable, but I suppose it’s a lot less shameful than getting busted with a handful of yourself in Sarasota, Florida.

Amid piles of pancakes, the chefs are challenged to get creative with Pee-Wee’s favorite breakfast food–which, weirdly, is au pied de cochon avec champignons forestieres.  No, really it’s just pancakes, and because everybody associates Pee-Wee with being a kid and not for his one-off smut offense, the cheftestants play into the whole childhood thing in a big way. Grayson makes Minnie Mouse pancakes with ricotta and buttermilk, and they’re the best pancakes Pee-Wee’s ever had. Lindsay also makes a ricotta pancake, and it’s the best pancake Pee-Wee’s ever had. Sarah makes confetti pancakes with blackberry sauce, cocoa nibs and vanilla whipped cream, and they’re the best pancakes Pee-Wee’s ever had. Paul makes a rolled pancake with berries, black pepper, and champagne dippin’ dots, and, well, they’re the best pancakes Pee-Wee’s ever had. The whole thing’s starting to sound like an annoying children’s book until they announce the winner, Ed, who made pancake bits with berries, bacon, and bruleed marshmallow. Quick poll: Does anyone else actually prefer the burnt globs of errant pancake batter? I didn’t think so. But Ed’s globs must’ve been fantastic because they are still enough to win, and he pockets $5,000 for his trouble.

I’m still pretty depressed at how old Pee-Wee is (not because it makes me feel old, but because he’s that much closer to death) when they announce an elimination challenge that combines Top Chef with The Amazing Race: Bike around San Antonio to find food and a kitchen, make a picnic lunch, then haul it over to the Alamo, where its deliciousness will exorcise Pee-Wee’s Big-Adventure-related Alamo demons once and for all. And I’m thinking, Great, more footage of sweaty chefs! Because that’s just what this season has been missing! But no one at Bravo gets my sarcasm, so armed with nothing more than a map, a bike, $100 in folding money and a camera crew dogging their every move, our hopefuls are turned loose to find supplies and a “random” restaurant.

Instead of a tragic bike accident (which I was kind of hoping for), the chefs sort themselves out pretty well. Grayson’s competitiveness results in her following Paul and then beating him to the right door at the first restaurant, but he quickly finds another spot. Lindsay gets greedy and leaves the first place she finds, only to return and have it be occupied by another cheftestant (Gummy, sweating into the soup, as usual). Ed finds a charming bed & breakfast that lacks the shrimp he so desperately wanted, but does have a proprietor with “nerve” enough to make him prepare some over-easy eggs for a “customer” (you know, to make it seem like barging in on random kitchens wasn’t really completely staged by the TC producers). When they’re done, they all bike back to the Alamo, and the only impressive moment comes from Grayson who makes the entire trip one-handed so she doesn’t bust the yolks in her stuffed chicken.

At picnic service, we get five decent dishes, but there are definitely missteps. Ed poached chicken in beef tallow, but not for long enough. Still, he incorporated tallow into a dish, which is both old-timey and badass when you consider the vast array of fats and oils one can use for poaching. Sarah G’s medium-boiled eggs—cooked perfectly on the outside and in—weren’t seasoned. Grayson fell victim to making too big a portion again. Paul, on the other hand, nailed it per usual with a roasted chicken and red curry gastrique summer salad. And Lindsay (who is still way under the radar even this late in the game), took home the win with a zucchini boat full of beef cheeks.

Wait, what?

No, really. A zucchini boat full of beef cheeks. The panel wasn’t impressed, but Coliccio flexed his Top Chef muscle because he was so stoked at the dish’s nostalgia factor. Turns out, zuchini boats were the first thing he ever cooked unsupervised, launching him headlong into a brilliant chef’s career that allowed him to hit paydirt with a reality show where he gets to be a dick to people who look up to him. In this, his current role, he gets to tell Grayson to pack her knives and head to the Last Chance Kitchen, where she will square off against Beverly (remember her?) to see who will get back in the competition. This was the first time I’d watched this over-hyped, online-only it, ancillary revenue generator and, of course, it was a total cocktease. No final decision was rendered, and now I (and everyone else) will have to wait until next week to see who gets back in the game.

See you then.