Top Chef Episode 3: My Super Sweet Mexican Substitute for a Sweet Sixteen

We are finally down to a manageable sixteen chefs, meaning the Quickfires and Eliminations can finally start. For the inaugural Quickfire, the cheftestants are given a peculiar protein: rattlesnake.  Sadly, the snakes are already prepared for cooking, so Bravo’s “Watch What Happens” tagline only involves the cheftestants opening boxes instead of wrangling venomous reptiles (boring). Guest judge Johnny Hernandez wants them to highlight the delicate snake flavor, and if Jack T. Colton was right and snake does taste like chicken, it makes sense that a handful of the chefs choose to fry it–including two of the top three.

Results, spoilers and more Romancing the Stone jokes after the jump…

Sarah G-Berg flash fries the rattlesnake and serves it with brown butter, and Dakota makes a tempura version. The other favorite was Beverly, who has been using both Korean flavors and the power of positive thinking to keep herself at the top of the heap. But although her rattlesnake nigiri was elegant, Johnny Hernandez felt that Dakota Weiss showcased the rattlesnake best–meaning that she nets the first Quickfire win, immunity, and five thousand bucks.  It’s no El Corazon emerald, but it’ll buy the former Parc sous chef another week in the kitchen.

Next up is the elimination challenge, in which the cheftestants need to cater the Mexican version of a sweet sixteen (a quinceanera), for Blanca Flores.  Edward Lee, still currently my favorite, thinks she might be a Mexican rockstar.  I was bummed that it wasn’t Blanka from Street Fighter II, but I suppose his palate wouldn’t be all that great.  Knives are drawn and two teams form, green and pink.  Self-styled “resident Mexican” Chuy has this in the bag, but he’s not cocky about it, because what have we learned after 9 seasons of Top Chef?

That’s right: That cockiness is akin to pack-knifey-ness. So rather than gloat, Chuy makes goat. Other things that we, or at least the chefs, should have learned by now: don’t make dessert and don’t buy shit that’s pre-made. There’s no way of begging off dessert, as cakes are required by the elimination challenge, so Dakota and Heather fall on the pastry sword. Elsewhere, Keith’s choice to buy pre-cooked shrimp makes it obvious that he didn’t have control of the TV remote when he was in the clink, and he compromises his kitchen cred. Both teams decide on pre-made tortillas, which really could go either way. You’re shopping at a Mexican supermercado, so the tortillas are probably good (or at least better than what the chefs—Chuy excluded—could make), right?

Wrong. This was a cardinal sin, but since the decision was global, the pre-made tortilla repercussions were neutralized.

When they get to the party, Team Pink is the first to serve, and Ty-L?r makes a boring fire roasted fritter. Two more hors d’oeuvres come out, a pork tenderloin huarache and a tapioca chicharron topped with carnitas. Neither are executed well–a portent of the poor dishes to come, including a ceviche with a mealy texture, an enchilada made with a flour(!) tortilla, and a flavorless cochinita pibil.


Green goes next with much more success. Whether it was Chuy’s Mexican advantage or a lack of pre-bought shrimp, their appetizers (tomatillo gazpacho, green chile and mushroom empanadas) and entrees were executed much better. The only major hiccup was Grayson, whose chicken mole was too heavy handed with the cinnamon. Pumpkin spices aside, it was clear to both the TV audience as well as the judges that Green’s food was lo mejor.

At Judges’ Table, Ty-L?r, Keith, Sarah, and Lindsay stand before Hugh’s eyebrow, Tom’s steely blues, an unfortunately-not-as-drunk-as-previous-seasons Padma, and guest judge Johnny. Tension’s on the thicker side, and Keith immediately gets thrown under the bus by Sarah and Lindsay. While that’s happening, Ty-L?r admits that he kind of sucks, and I’m thinking he’ll be the first to go, until I’m reminded that Keith used a flour tortilla in his enchilada, which is definitely worse than buying pre-cooked shrimp, and the gentle giant is sent packing. I suppose that’s for the best when you consider the subsequent psychological torture that the chefs will be put through. Next week’s chili cookoff and sleep deprivation challenge looks to be a real test of wills. It’s one thing for a tiny little dude like Richie to snap. Keith going into beast mode could’ve been a lot uglier.

I suppose we’ll have to watch what happens.