Top Chef: Season 9, Ep. 6
Higher Steaks
Michael Richardson

Top Chef is a wonderful kind of reality competition show, because the competition rarely becomes hostile in any way. Everybody is cooking to win, that can't be denied. But nobody seems to be hoping for anybody else to fail. Perhaps that's because of the pedigree of the competitors, who all respect each other professionally even when they don't necessarily get along. But I also think it's because of the wonderful structure of the show. We can see from tonight's competition that the way one person's dish comes out directly affects the perceptions of other people's dishes. If the steak sucks, the sauce can only go so far, and if the potatoes are undercooked, it makes the steak look worse. It has a civilizing affect on a genre that could use more civility.

In tonight's episode, set in Dallas, our chefs have to complete another challenge based on things that Texans, and all real Amurcans, love. But first they have to perform a test they probably learned at their fancy Northern culinary schools (featuring French teachers, I'm sure). Each chef is assigned to one of Auguste Escoffier's 5 basic mother sauces (from hollandaise to tomate) and then have to put their own twist on them. This is your basic Top Chef quick first, just dressed up with some fancier words. Advantages were laid out from the very beginning: Grayson worked as a Saucier, which is apparently the most prestigious place to work on a line according to guest judge Dean Fearing. Bev tries to cook a Korean sauce, as she is wont to do.

Fearing walked around the chefs like the stereotypical terrifying prep school teacher. He scoffs at two different chefs for not using a roux, and generally seemed to pick up on any little slight. The chefs who did the best were the ones who stuck closest to the sauce they were basing their dish on. Bev get's slammed for burying her sauce under all the other ingredients, while Grayson takes the prize after spicing her hollandaise up with some extra ingredients while managing to actually make a ravioli.

Tonight's real meat (sorry) is the Texas-sized (sorry) steak dinner for the Cattle Baron's Ball. In an extra twist, it takes place at the Southfork Ranch, the site of the show Dallas. Because we're in Texas, and that kind of reference was probably obvious to the producers from day 1. As a group, the chefs have to produce four courses, two of which have to incorporate steak in them somehow. The winning dish earns someone a Toyota hybrid. The chefs split up to make a number of dishes, from the interesting (a watermelon gazpacho) to the traditional (potatoes gratin). The dinner goes pretty well, until the chefs lose track of time and begin to reheat the steaks before the second course is even done. Then comes the frantic plating and the sloppiness that earns criticism from the judges table.

The biggest loser at the challenge: Ty-Lor. Witness his Sisyphean task of cooking each steak to a perfect medium well. He's the most well-versed in steaks, but that hubris evaporates once he cuts himself during the prep. He bandages it up, keeps cooking, and then goes to the hospital. During this time, the other chefs are already conspiring on how to make up for his loss, but he's there the next morning, short a night's rest and a sore hand. Luckily for him, he get's to stand outside in the Texan heat all day cooking alone. Did I say luckily? Forget that. That his results in the end were a little spotty is forgivable.

That didn't even earn him a trip home, though he did end up going to the judges' table. He was likely saved by the intervention of Whitney, who undercooked her potatoes badly enough to give Tom a minor fit. Heather, after a night of yelling at Beverly and acting like bully, earns herself a car with a pilfered recipe that they had used in a challenge from two weeks ago. Supremely disappointing.

Grade: B-


Grayson, during the sauce challenge: "I'm feeling fucking saucy." Grayson continues to cement her status as my favorite.

A guest of honor at the banquet - a representative from the American Cancer Society. I wished they invited the American Heart Association to watch in horror as these people stuffed their faces.

And now, a reading from my notes on this episode: ""˜"These people eat steaks on a daily basis' - Jesus Fucking Christ'

It seems like Whole Foods has a pretty good deal going with Top Chef. The chefs were mentioning the store a bit more than normal, if I'm not mistaken.

Tags: Top Chef
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