Top Chef Recap: I Learned It By Watching You

Austin.  Home of SXSW, the Salt Lick, Vince Young’s alma mater and, now, 10 cheftestants whose first task is to elude a chainsaw-wielding maniac wearing a dead skin mask (Texas Chainsaw Massacre fans, raise your hands). Who would win that Quickfire? Probably Ed Lee, because he’s secretly a ninja. Unfortunately, the actual Quickfire is a bit more boring, but not totally uncreative. The guest judge, Patti LaBelle (really?), is sleeping in, so Colicchio makes a rare early morning appearance to announce that the cheftestants will be making dishes based on the tweets of a bunch of fake Twitter handles.

The first request? Bacon. Handsome Chris (who has been appropriately dubbed “Malibu” by his fellow cheftestants), says this is a lay-up, but there’s always a twist, and the first (thanks to @habitat67) is to incorporate some sort of hash into their dish. A problem for some (Ed Lee) and not for others (Grayson), but the clock’s ticking, so no time to complain. The final suggestion from the tweanut gallery (courtesy of non-existent @koreanblue), is for the chefs to hand one ingredient to each other and then incorporate that into the dish–because that’s exactly the way things work in real kitchens. Ed Lee is confounded even further when Ty-Lor hands him a bottle of sriracha, and his original idea of bacon pate with soft shell crabs devolves into a burnt and bitter mess.

The other two chefs who couldn’t bring home the bacon were Grayson and Less Handsome Chris. The first misrepresented a shrimp puff, and the second used an entire box of salt on his scallop with bacon and corn puree. On the more successful side of things, subtlety puts Beverly’s pork belly and Sarah G’s squash blossom in the running for ten thousand bucks. But it’s Austin’s own Paul Qui that wins again with an unusual dish of clams, bacon fat, and blackberries.

Then, it’s off to the Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin for some cocktails and the musical stylings of Patti LaBelle, who announces this week’s elimination challenge: create a dish that honors your cooking inspiration. For most of the cheftestants, it’s grandma. For Ty-Lor, it’s his Japanese housekeeper, and that’s why he decides to make chicken fingers.


Ed, whose origin is a bit more humble, opts for a vegetarian dish of bibimbap, and although he’s concerned about its simplicity, the judges loved it.

Overall, the dishes that weren’t too literal enjoyed the most success and, along with Ed, Sarah G and Beverly are called to the winners’ circle–the first for a sausage stuffed cabbage, the second for a perfectly executed galbi jjim. Remember what I said about Tom’s Korean (food) fetish?

Although it wasn’t enough for a win (Sarah G’s stuffed  cabbage was made with a tad bit more love), Beverly still got to enjoy a bit of “I got some ice cream and you ain’t got none” in Heather’s face, who screws up her beef stroganoff and lands in the bottom three next to Handsome Chris and Grayson.  All of them took the challenge too literally, but the bigger offense was that all of them, apparently, forgot how to cook. I thought Grayson would be sent packing for serving a plate that looked fresh from a Sizzler billboard, but since she didn’t spend the entire first half of the season being a bully, she’s spared in favor of Heather the Hutt–who probably knew she had it coming.  Sounds cliché, but karma’s a bitch, and Christmas comes early for Beverly.

Speaking of which, have a safe and happy holiday, and do your best not to tell your mom to pack her knives and go–even if she doesn’t execute those Brussels sprouts like one of your favorite chefs.