This whole issue makes me slightly stabby. A chef is a chef is a chef, plain and simple. The word “chef” means leader, not “male” and not “female.” What irks me even more is that I have a sneaking suspicion that because gender discussion was given air time, it can only mean one thing: There are going to be at least two women in the finals. Maybe three! Or four!! (She gasps and clutches her pearls.)
Even worse, Bravo will make a big deal out of it, because it’s clearly more important to classify these chefs by their genitalia, not honor them for their talent. I hope I’m wrong about this. I hope they edit it like it’s no big thing, and business as usual. Just show us some talented people who cook great food and can lead a kitchen. That, my friends, is a top chef.
The cheftestants walk into the kitchen of the Dallas campus of Le Cordon Bleu to see Padma and Dean Fearing, the original chef at Mansion on Turtle Creek. The Quickfire will test each chef’s skills as a saucier. The chefs draw knives to determine which of the five “mother sauces” — espagnole, hollandaise, tomato, bechamel and veloute — they have to build on to create their own sauce. I know this lays bare my nerdist soul, but I love this challenge. I would kill at this challenge. This challenge makes me happier than is probably socially acceptable.
Fearing didn’t like Dakota’s peach-infused bechamel over seared scallop, black truffle and lemon crab; Nyesha’s “muddled” tomato sauce with coconut ras el hanout and braised lentils; or Beverly’s imbalanced crab maki roll with ribeye, charred shallots, peppercorn, sake, red wine and espagnole. He enjoyed Grayson’s scallop with charred corn hollandaise, corn ravioli and blueberry-balsamic reduction; Chris C’s halibut over mussels, andouille, mushrooms and veloute; and, Paul’s quail with pickled and roasted mushrooms, garlic scapes, okra and espagnole.
Grayson wins the Quickfire “with a mother sauce cooked to perfection,” and earns immunity in the Elimination Challenge.
This week’s Elimination Challenge is all about steak. The chefs must work as a team to create, cook and execute a four-course steak dinner for 200 guests at Southfork Ranch, and two of the four courses must incorporate steak, which must be medium-rare when it hits the table. They’re given 30 minutes to plan, then three hours to prep and another three hours the next day to finish and execute. They split into four small teams to cover all the courses.
We see the usual shopping and prep footage, and just when there seems to be no shenanigans or mishaps, Ty-Lor cuts himself, sees the medic, gets his hand wrapped and keeps cooking. After the timer goes off and the cheftestants head back to the chefpartment, Ty-Lor heads to the ER. The chefs talk about how they’re going to fill in and change their coverage in the kitchen to make sure the steak is taken care of. Ty-Lor gets back from the hospital the next morning just as the chefs are finishing breakfast and, sans sleep, jumps back into the fray and is ready to cook.
They head on over to Southfork to finish cooking, with the most janky “Dallas” theme rip-off music playing as they walk into the kitchen. Guess the music-rights budget fell victim to the recession. #OccupyBRAVO. Heather and Lindsay are already well-prepped for their food responsibilities, so they prepare the dinnerware, set up the expediting stations, write and manage the lists of who’s doing what and oversee the process of pulling the whole dinner together. They will also execute and expedite when it comes time to serve the guests. On a show that’s known for people not wanting to manage much of anything, I love it when someone with strong organizational, list-making chops steps in and just does their thing. I also love that Heather is not afraid to tell Weepy McCryerson that she’s slow and inefficient, because she’s deveining shrimp like an elderly woman. Wait, I take that back — I didn’t mean to slam the aging community. Don’t sic AARP on me.
Tom and Fearing meander through the kitchen, posing loaded questions to the chefs: “So, you like skins on bell peppers?” and “So, you’re not doing it in a double boiler?” Then Ty-Lor tells Tom they’re searing the steaks on the grill, but finishing them in the oven. Tom fails miserably at keeping a poker face.
A short time later, Tom, Padma, Fearing and Hugh Acheson arrive to eat. Here is what they’re served:
First course: tomato-watermelon gazpacho with poached shrimp and avocado mousse (Sarah, Dakota, and Beverly.)
Tom thinks they played it safe. Hugh thinks it’s slightly too acidic.
Second course: grilled New York strip steak carpaccio with heirloom tomato-asparagus salad and mushroom “bacon” (Ed, Chris J. and Paul.)
I’m not sure how you can call something carpaccio when it’s been cooked. Tom says, “There’s no point of view in this dish.” Hugh wishes they’d peeled the tomatoes. Fearing says the “doneness of the steak was nice.”
And here is where it all starts to fall apart. Searing steaks for 200 on a small, outdoor charcoal grill then finishing them in the oven might not have been a smart strategy for a lot of reasons. Ty-Lor says “somebody” finished the steaks too soon. But, if he was in charge of the steaks, shouldn’t he have been managing that process and delegating accordingly? Let’s find out, shall we?
Third course: grilled ribeye, creamy potato gratin, braised greens and compound butter (Nyesha, Ty-Lor, Whitney and Chris C.)
No one is happy that the steaks are overcooked and the potato gratin is undercooked and sloppy. The compound butter and sauce get thumbs up from both Tom and Hugh.
Fourth course: peach cake with peach salad and candied pecan streusel (Lindsay, Grayson, Heather.)
The judges love the dessert, and Tom was grateful it wasn’t sweet at all. Hugh wanted some more sugar. A dude in top-to-bottom sequined, rose-patterned clothing nearby raised his glass to toast the dessert. #OccupyFashionSense.
To sum up, Tom wishes the cheftestants had pushed themselves a lot harder. With only 200 guests and 13 really experienced chefs, he expected more. Tom, now you know how we feel about the whole “Top Chef” franchise, my friend.
In the makeshift Stew Room, Heather initiates a discussion to find out what happened with the steaks since, “that’s what they’re gonna nail us on.” Ty-Lor said he would take responsibility for it, but that he also was working on one hour sleep. Heather calls out Beverly saying, “You spent a lot of time working on shrimp, and besides that I’m not really sure what else you did.” Beverly’s hands and fingers go around her eyes, but the editors throw us a bone and don’t show her actively crying this week.
Padma calls Nyesha, Heather and Chris J. to the Judges’ Table where she tells them they “did the best in this challenge.”
Fearing tells Chris his steak was cooked perfectly, and Hugh loved it, saying “the flavor came through really well.” Tom praises Heather’s dessert for being light and flavorful after such a heavy meal, and Fearing calls it “perfect.” Tom tells Nyesha her compound butter “saved” the overcooked steak dish. The winner is: Heather! Is this the first time someone has won a “Top Chef” challenge by making dessert? Regardless, she not only wins the challenge, she’s taking home a brand new car.
Coming before Judges’ Table next are Ty-Lor, Whitney and Ed.
Padma tells them the evening’s menu was underwhelming, and that their three components “missed the mark.” The judges harp on the steaks’ uneven temperatures at their table alone, not even factoring in how inconsistent they must have been in the entire dining room. Ty-Lor, to his credit, steps up and owns the mistakes and says, “the buck stops with me.”
They rail on Whitney and the rawness of her potato gratin. Fearing says, “We’re talking about a dish that every chef should have done correctly; I mean, this is 101.” Tom and Fearing are disappointed in Ed’s boring, flavorless salad accompanying the second course. “An okay dish done in a mediocre style,” says Hugh. “That was just kind of the theme of the night.” Or, you know, the whole series. Ahem. Just before announcing who is getting the boot, Tom tells them, “We chose 16 chefs, and I’m beginning to think maybe we chose the wrong chefs.”
Who’s going home? Bye-bye, Whitney. “Thank you, that was a great opportunity,” she says. And the nation drinks. #OccupyMyLiver.
Up Next Week: Double elimination! I know it shouldn’t make me giddy, but it does. And it looks like the cheftestants have to choose among the bottom three dishes which two chefs get sent home. Can we eliminate Beverly twice? Please?