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All We Can Eat
Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 12/22/2011

‘Top Chef,’ Episode 8: Deep in the yawn of Texas

The cheftestants head to Austin this week, where Tom and Padma greet them in the “Top Chef” kitchen for the Quickfire. Padma talks about Austin’s role in the recent technology boom and tells them that Twitter (not founded or headquartered in Austin, but whatever) was widely used at the SXSW Festival, and now “it’s a worldwide phenomenon.” Is this Texas’ equivalent of Al Gore inventing the Internet? For the challenge, Tom and Padma ask their Twitter followers for Quickfire ideas that they will then shout out into the kitchen.

Of course, the first tweet is about bacon, which makes me want to just turn off my television and call it a night. Really? Bacon? How innovative and forward-thinking, Magical Elves. Padma instructs them to start cooking a dish with bacon in it. This Quickfire is so stupid. They read two more tweets — add a hash; choose an ingredient from the pantry and give it to another chef to incorporate into their dish — and then taste what the chefs put out. Most of which looks like something from the floor of a Port Authority bathroom.

Tom and Padma didn’t like Grayson’s shrimp, Chris J’s oversalted scallop dish and Ed’s burnt hash. They loved Beverly’s pork belly, Sarah’s burrata-stuffed squash blossom and Paul’s summery bacon-clam-asparagus-blackberry concoction. Paul wins the Quickfire and gets a $10,000 prize, but no immunity.

The chefs head to the hotel piano lounge where a nipped and tucked Patti LaBelle shows up to do that yelling-singing thing and be the Elimination Challenge’s guest judge. The challenge is to cook a tribute dinner for the person who inspired you to cook and become a chef.

The tears start flowing as people talk about their grandmothers, moms and dads. The chefs shop at Whole Foods and have two hours to cook the next day. No drama at the grocery store or in the kitchen. This might be the most phoned-in episode of all time. Some of the chefs get choked up as they relay their stories of inspiration, but none of them tug at my heartstrings or, it seems, at the heartstrings of the judges later on. Emeril’s back at Judges’ Table, joining Tom, Padma, LaBelle and two of Patti’s friends. Here’s what they ate:

Chris J.: Grandmother-inspired “steak and potatoes,” a lemon-pepper steak with baked potato and vegetables, all in miniature form. The judges have mixed feelings about it.

Heather: Her mom’s one-pot meals inspired her to make beef stroganoff with herb spaetzle and roasted wild mushrooms. Patti says the meat must’ve come from Big Foot. Emeril says it looks like hotel banquet food. Enjoy the bottom three, Heather, and start thinking about how you want to pack your knife roll.

Paul: His grandmother’s adobo inspired him to make quail adobo with ginger rice and green mango salsa. We hear nothing about Paul’s dish, and instead spend a few minutes watching Patti flirt with Tom while talking about the fried chicken and lobster and shrimp she’ll serve him and Emeril when they come to her house for dinner.

Sarah: Her grandparents’ stuffed cabbage and sausage motivated her to make cabbage stuffed with pork sausage and spinach with brown butter. Tom thinks it’s unexpectedly nice and light, and calls it “great cooking.” I want to eat this with a poached egg on top for breakfast every day for the rest of my life.

Beverly: Her mother’s Korean shortribs inspired a braised shortrib with edamame, scallion puree and mushrooms. Tom and Emeril like the texture and color.

Chris C.: His uncle’s love of fishing inspired him to make sockeye salmon with confit potato and brown sugar carrot puree. Tom doesn’t like the dish, slamming the technique on the fish, and the carrot puree that tastes nothing like carrot.

Ed: His grandmother’s bibimbap inspired him to make a modern bibimbap with lemon-chili sauce. Emeril loved the dish. One of Patti’s friends claims to be allergic to eggs but loved Ed’s dish. Which had a big honkin’ fried egg on top. Anaphylaxis, party of one?

Lindsay: Her grandmothers — one Southern, one Greek — inspired a trout spanikopita with crispy leeks and rainbow trout roe. Emeril thinks the dish is over-buttered. Patti tells us the roe is “very much like caviar,” and with that, we know that the producers hate themselves as much as they hate us.

Ty-Lor: His inspiration was his Japanese nanny who used to make him chicken tenders. He honored her by making duck fat-fried chicken tenders with pickled peaches. Patti loved it, and Tom loved the story behind the dish.

Grayson: Her parents taught her how to cook, so she showed them her appreciation through a sizable grilled ribeye steak with German potato salad and grilled vegetables. She has to be going home for this. I could cook this in third grade; it’s certainly not a dish worthy of being on this show, no matter how bad the show is. Patti’s friends thought the meat was stringy and gristly. Tom implied it wasn’t a chef-y dish. See you in the bottom three, kiddo.

Sure enough, Padma calls Grayson, Heather and Chris C. to Judges’ Table. Losers go first this week, it seems. Emeril, Tom and Padma all were unhappy with Grayson’s meat. Tom wonders why she did the giant portions and didn’t update it to make it her own. Tom tells Chris his fish was dry; Emeril thought the dill was overpowering; Padma was grossed out by the albumen coming out of the overcooked salmon. Tom tells Heather her beef stroganoff “went awry,” and Padma complained about the dry spaetzle. The chefs go back to the Stew Room to await their fate.

Beverly, Sarah and Ed head to Judges’ Table next. Tom tells them they did “nice work” in using the dishes they love and remember as inspirations for something that, ultimately, became their own. The judges were impressed with their technique and flavor profiles. The winner is Sarah. No cash prize, and no big trips or oversized bottles of Terlato wine. What a cheap-o season for Elimination Challenge winners, right?

Who’s going home? Heather is. Beverly goes into a big speech about karma and talks about the personal satisfaction she feels in Heather’s elimination.

Up Next Week: Briskets, sausages, sex talk, Sarah needing oxygen and an ambulance, oversalted dishes and even more viewer ennui.

By Carol Blymire  |  10:00 AM ET, 12/22/2011

Categories:  Chefs, Television | Tags:  Carol Blymire

 
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