30
Nov
2011
Top Chef: Season 9, Ep. 5
Don't Be Tardy for the Party
Michael Richardson
Top Chef Season 9 Episode 5

First thing's first, I have to apologize. Last week was Thanksgiving, and I was spending so much time with my family that I did not even pause to think that there might be a new episode of Top Chef on. I was wrong, and I missed a write-up, and I'm sorry about that. It probably won't happen again. So I'm going to start this week with a miniature recap of last week's episode before I get started on this week's episode.

I'm surprised Top Chef featured chili and chilies on the same night. When I think Texas and Southwest cooking, that's all that comes to mind, so combining them must have been some kind of sweeps-week trickery. The quick-fire was especially good - the spicier chili pepper you used, the more money you stood to win. Paul risked a lot by cooking with the dreaded Ghost Chili, the spiciest pepper known to man. Even Chief Wiggum would probably think twice about putting it in his chili. Paul uses just the right amount to thrill the judges and pocket a nice little paycheck. It was exciting to watch.

The main course for the evening was the chili cookout, to be served for a confederacy of cowboys for the next day's rodeo. The twist: the gang is cooking at their house, and they have unlimited time. And everybody knows with soup, stew and chili, the longer it cooks the better it tastes. Cut to some drunk chefs trying to stay up as they spend the entire night stirring and slicing. Some of the crews know what they're doing - in Texas chili, beans are apparently a no-go (yet another reason I distrust those secessionist cowards). Other teams tried to go a classier route, including the losing dish, which added chocolate to approximate the taste of molé. The judges sent them back into the kitchen for a final challenge to figure out which one would go home. The judges reflect that it's a cruel move, but I think it was totally necessary - without separate components it would be impossible to figure out whom to send home for a bowl full of chili. At the end, Richie get's sent home. It was a great episode, certainly the best of the season. I'm sad I missed it.

Now onto this week:

The Top Chef crew is off to Dallas. "When I think Dallas, I think Dallas Cowboys," says Beverly (henceforth known as "The Crier"). Little does she know, she's about to see a completely different kind of Dallas. The "Old South" rich folk who would be killed off in a Flannery O'Connor story to confirm that a cruel God dispatches justice.

But first the quickfire: The Chefs find themselves pulled over to cook a delicious dish using the insides of a survival kit. I love this kind of challenge, mostly because I'm terrified of getting stranded in the woods somehow. The chefs have to make good with packaged and dried food, though the selection is pretty good (chocolate, dried crab, etc.) but without implements to cut, it becomes a bit more difficult. There's a lot of difference in how fancy these chefs thought to make their meals. Some made stews and soups and other camp-side favorites, while some made elegant looking plates. Chris' idea to use fresh corn backfires when it ends up too dry, but at least we got that hilarious shot of him sprinting across the cornfield. Lindsay wins with a dish composed of Vienna Sausages, in honor of her Dad's love of the "food." I would love to watch this show with a Freudian Psychologist, because between Lindsay reminiscing over her father's sausage and Beverly constantly crying over her father, there is some goddamn rich subtext here.

And then we were on to the main challenge. The chefs split up into three groups, one of which was in charge of the appetizer, one in charge of the main course, and the last in charge of dessert. The twist is that they have to cater to the demands of some upper-class socialites with, shall we say, "underdeveloped palates." One man in a fuchsia oxford expresses his love of gummy bears. The chefs, all of whom work in cities where it isn't acceptable to make eye-contact with your neighbors (never mind enter their home to eat food) seem to be incredibly uncomfortable. So am I.

Most of these chefs cook upscale food, so the recipes aren't the problem here -with one major, glorious exception. Chris, in a moment of clarity, decides to shape his appetizer like a cigar, including the ash. Now, from what I've heard about the restaurant Chris works at, the food they serve there is inventive enough to make Richard Blaise look like an Italian grandmother. But there is no excuse for the ugly mess he puts on the table. He earned himself a trip to the judges' table for sure.

The other meals, however, were nothing special. Because all the guest of honor put the kibosh on anything adventurous, most chefs cooked something they probably make at their restaurant for high-class clientele. Paul was very observant when he says that with this kind of people, you can't cook what you would like, you have to cook what they might like. Filets, scallops and traditional cuts abound. Paul won the day at a judges' table where "traditional" and "classic" were thrown around a lot.

Surprisingly enough, Chris doesn't get sent home for an edible cigar. Chewie's dish was so poorly thought out that it seemed to disgust Tom: if it wasn't hot enough, the cheese wouldn't melt, but that means that the salmon get's overcooked. It's conceptually flawed, in a different way from Chris. Chris had a novel idea that didn't look appetizing. Chewie had a novel idea that should never have come together in the first place.

Grade: B+

Miscellaneous:

For those of you are devoted to the show, you know that Bravo is doing a Last Chance Kitchen as a supplement for this season. On their website each week, the eliminated chef from that week takes on the reigning champion from past weeks in a one-on-one competition. Whoever is left at the end gets back on the show at some point. I was going to write at length about it this week, but since I was recapping two episodes I'll push it to next week instead. Look forward to it!

Am I too cynical in thinking that Bravo is basically just doing location scouting/personality testing for a new Real Housewives show? These people made me wish that some kind of brushfire destroy their homes, so I think they found a match.

Every season there's one contestant who talks about how much weight they lost at some point. I'm not sure who this is for, but it get's repetitive.

At first I thought Chris was just kind of creepy for talking about how hot Padma is in his talking head segments, but then he went and gave the same compliments to John Besh. It's way funnier to think of him as a foodie pansexual now, like Dionysus in a fauxhawk.

John Besh: "People in the South love to entertain, and love food." That is true about literally every region on earth. There is no anthropological veto for cultures that like consuming tasty calories and human contact. Stop making Southerners feel special, Besh.

Tags: Top Chef
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