All right, cowpokes and ranch hands (barf, sorry), this week’s episode of “Top Chef: Texas” opens with the final 16 cheftestants introducing themselves to us. We’ve got everything from a gal who designed a “Top Chef” motivational poster for her bedroom mirror to a man who once served a prison sentence but this year was nominated for a James Beard Award.
We get to the “Top Chef” kitchen right quick for this week’s Quickfire, and what is awaiting our cheftestants but this writer’s greatest fear: a glass tank full of snakes. The challenge is all about testing “nerves of steel,” and the chefs have to cook rattlesnake. Guest judge for the Quickfire is Johnny Hernandez (La Gloria, San Antonio). Immunity and $5,000 cash are up for grabs. Padma channels her inner Samuel L. Jackson and tells the chefs she’d “better see some >bleep< snakes on some >bleep< plates.” The chefs carefully peek into the boxes in front of them and are relieved to find snakes that are already dead and skinned.
The chefs get to work, and not one makes a “tastes like chicken” joke. After the tasting rounds, guest judge Johnny says he could’ve done without Paul’s barbecue rattlesnack (a typo and I’m keeping it) with peaches and southeast Asian spices, Richie’s jerk-seasoned grilled rattlesnake with pineapple, jalapeno and roasted corn, and Nyesha’s tequila-braised rattlesnake.
He loved Beverly’s rattlesnake nigiri with Thai basil-jalapeno aioli, Dakota’s beer-battered tempura rattlesnake and Sarah’s flash-fried rattlesnake in brown butter-shallot-caper sauce. The win goes to Dakota for her T.G.I. Friday’s-inspired dish.
Before announcing the Elimination Challenge, the chefs draw knives and are split into two teams: Pink and Green. They’re told they’ll be catering a Quinceanera for young Blanca Flores. Each team has a 30-minute menu planning session with Blanca so she can tell them what foods she likes and doesn’t like. They shop both at Whole Foods and a Mexican meat market. Beverly spazzes out and acts like a crazy person with her kimchi demands and demanding that the butchers wait on her immediately. The Pink Team makes critical mistakes both in buying frozen, precooked shrimp and buying an item just for the cake recipe on the package.
They have three hours to prep, and on the Pink Team, Lindsay is angry that Keith bought precooked shrimp, forcing her to 86 the dish she’d planned. After their prep time is up, they head back to the house for more planning and some sleep. The next day, they go to a local restaurant to finish cooking. As they work, it becomes clear the Pink Team is falling apart and the Green Team will win.
Blanca arrives at her party, the waiters pass some of the food as hors d’oeuvres, and the rest is served banquet-style. Tom, Padma, Johnny and Hugh Acheson are the judges. Beverly cries watching Blanca dance with her dad, and blubbers out some convoluted story that leads us to believe that her own father wanted a son instead of her. Why people choose to go on reality TV rather than see a therapist is beyond me. But I digress.
Let’s check out their menus:
The Pink Team
Ty-Lor: Fire-roasted summer fritter with avocado mousse (dry, flavorless, “it’s a hush puppy,” says Hugh).
Keith and Lindsay: Pork tenderloin with pineapple salsa (meat sliced too thick).
Nyesha: Tilapia ceviche with tomato, lime, avocado and spiced popcorn. (Tom gives the tilapia the side eye, as he should because that fish is nasty.)
Chris C: Corn salsa with chili picante. (Padma and Tom loved this one.)
Keith: Chicken enchiladas with salsa verde. (He used flour instead of corn tortillas, “so it’s a burrito,” says Hugh.)
Ty-Lor: Carne asada with pinto beans and store-bought tortillas.
Sarah and Lindsay: Cochinita pibil.
Whitney: Green chili pozole. (Apparently not good enough for the judges to discuss on air.)
Dakota: The most unattractive “Miami Vice”-looking layer cake with fruit and abundant frosting. (The colors were apparently inspired by the living room sofa on “The Golden Girls.”)
The Green Team
Richie: Tapioca chicharron with pork carnitas (too soggy).
Paul: Shrimp ceviche with yucca chip and corn salsa (no rave reviews, but no thumbs down, either).
Ed:Tomatillo gazpacho with chicharron (generally well liked).
Chris J: Green chili, mushroom and Oaxacan cheese empanadas (not very daring).
Chuy: Goat birria with cabbage, red peanut salsa and handmade queso fresco (well liked, though the cabbage didn’t “make sense”).
Beverly: Short ribs with kimchi. (Tom and Padma thought the flavors were good.)
Grayson: Chicken in ancho-pepita mole with pickled red onion, cilantro and lime (panned across the board).
Heather: Tres leches cake, listing to the side and covered in a funeral arrangement’s worth of flowers. (Blanca preferred it to the other cake.)
After all the tasting and talking, the judges go to the back of the party room where the chefs are waiting in their teams. As suspected, the Green Team wins this one. The Pink Team loses, and Ty-Lor, Sarah, Keith and Lindsay go before the Judges’ Table for having the worst dishes of the event.
They go down the line and talk about why each of them didn’t execute to their potential. Hugh calls them out on the store-bought tortillas. Not only does Keith cop to buying already-cooked shrimp, he says he’s never had a corn tortilla enchilada because there aren’t corn tortillas in his “region” (which, I just don’t even know what to say about that).
Sarah says she didn’t want to be the one bossing everyone around. Keith tells Sarah she’s good at driving the bus — and hitting people with it. Tom calls everyone out on the fact that no one told Keith enchiladas are made with corn tortillas. When they get back to the Stew Room, the other chefs ask how it went and what was said. Ty-Lor responds and delivers what I hope won’t be the mantra for the whole season: “Nothing was great, and a lot of things sucked.”
Back at Judges’ Table, Tom, Padma, Johnny and Hugh talk about the surprising lack of leadership among this crew, especially given their backgrounds and experience. Hugh wants to know how someone who buys frozen, precooked shrimp and doesn’t know when to use corn tortillas is even on the show. They also discuss Lindsay’s rather big failure with a traditional Mexican dish, cochinita pibil, given that she lived and worked as a chef in Mexico for a few years.
The four “worst” cheftestants are brought back out, and Keith is sent home. Which is not a surprise, right? And of course he says, “Thank you for the opportunity.” I mean, I didn’t love Jen Carroll’s meltdown when she was eliminated, but just once I’d like an eliminated chef to say something — anything — other than “thank you for the opportunity.” Boringville. And you know what? There was a winning team, but no winning individual chef on this episode. Which tells me that even the judges didn’t find any of these dishes outstanding.
Another week in the can, and I didn’t fall in love with any of the dishes on the show. The tomatillo gazpacho sounded good, as did the corn with chili picante. But, really, this show was as dry and boring as frozen shrimp wrapped in a store-bought flour tortilla.
Up next week: The chefs have to cook for 200 at a chili cook-off at the rodeo, and Beverly cries again. And it looks like Keith goes to the “last chance” Bravo online-only kitchen to try and earn a return shot on the show.