Top Chef: Season 9, Ep. 11
Fit For an Evil Queen
After last week's restaurant wars, the chefs are heading back to San Antonio. Cue one of this season's features: awkward car rides! The boys acutely pick up on the fact that some if the girls are mad that Bev won last week. Cut to the girls, absolutely silent in their car. Lindsey tries to justify her behavior last week by claiming that she was making sure the food was a high standard, but considering that the target of her consternation was making the best food, her argument falls a little flat.

But enough about last week: This week's Quickfire has a conveyor belt! "I don't know what's going on, but I know it's gonna suck for us," Ed says. Eric Ripert, an old stand-by for Top Chef, is here to see how the Chefs can respond to quick thinking and fast decisions. The conveyor belt has different ingredients on it, all hidden behind a curtain. As it runs in front of the chefs, each chef has to pick three ingredients to use in their dish. It's an ingenious set-up, because in some ways it rewards two very different types of cooks. If you grab three things early, you have the time to think about and mentally dissect a dish before you have to start cooking. If you're patient, you might be able to find the perfect ingredients with less time to cook. Sarah sits by the conveyor belt and watches it like a hawk. Chris sees some lobster go by, right before it disappears behind the curtain and some sneaky producer or intern takes it off where he can't see it. Cue a lot of cursing. Paul grabs a bunch of ingredients that he's not thrilled with, but everybody has to make some serious compromises. Bev doesn't even manage to plate her dish on time.

When the judges walk by, each chef give their excuses for why their dishes were terrible. The judges seemed to agree: there's no profuse praise of any of the dishes, except for Bev's. Padma claims that, if she had been able to plate her dish, she would have won "by a mile." Instead, second best and immunity goes to Lindsey, which probably feels like a knife in the gut as much as a win. At this point, the editors were salivating. What delicious dramatic irony, on several different levels. You can imagine them discussing whether to flashback to this moment when Bev is at the judges table later in the episode.

For the main challenge, the chefs are told they'll be cooking for for a queen. "The Queen of England? Queen LATIFAH?," Chris wonders, as if the latter would be more outlandish than the former. Turns out it's the upcoming star of "Snow White and the Huntsman," Charlize Theron! By the way, whoever scores all the product placement and sponsors for Top Chef deserves some kind of medal, because I'm pretty sure this show could pay for itself with no commercial breaks. At least there were no ads for pick-up trucks in this episode. I heard you can fit like nine trees of wood in there! But I digress. Theron is apparently Sarah's favorite actress, which seems kind of on the nose. I can't tell if Ed is sarcastic in his praise (the man is a cypher!). Theron points out that her character, the evil queen, is basically a serial killer. In addition to making Bev inexplicably look like she had just been proposed to, it also reminds us that Charlize Theron won an Oscar for playing a serial killer, so by the transitive property this is sure to nab her another one. The point of the challenge is to make make food as beautiful and wicked as the evil queen herself.

Right away, something goes terribly wrong. The chefs, eager to impress a star, get some wacky ideas for their fairy tale meals. Paul is making "an enchanted forest" with stalks of vegetables. Grayson is going to mutilate a chicken. Sarah is cooking risotto, which is a signed death sentence on this show. She also pronounces it in the most pretentious way possible, obviously trying to cozy up to royalty. Grayson also claims that Bev sneaks up behind you, which I'm pretty sure is racist. LIKE A NINJA, GRAYSON? IS THAT WHAT YOU'RE SAYING?! At the house, they continue to talk about how they are going to incorporate evil into their dishes (nobody goes the obvious route, which is poison). Chris slips out of the house to talk to his wife on the phone, something that nobody thought existed. It's clear from the photographs that he normally has your standard dad haircut, which means his samurai top-knot is just an outward sign that he is going feral without the presence of his wife.

In the kitchen, problems begin to arise. Paul's dish has 20 different elements that need to come together, and it's no surprise when he burns one of the ingredients. Grayson utters the fateful phrase: "I've never cooked with this before." But the plates that go out start out strong, at least from a design perspective. Paul and Ed both come up with interesting plating ideas. Nothing negative is said about Beverly's dish as well - it's a strong start. Its the first episode of the seasons where the dishes are unanimously praised, which is always when you can tell that the show is getting good. Tom even praises Chris for using his "bag of tricks." Bev complements him on his maggots. Charlize Theron asks if she can have the losing chef's head on a silver platter, which makes me think she would be great in my modern, street-wise retooling of "Salome" (why don't you guys ever come to my shows?!).

At the judges' table, everybody gets praise. Everybody seems to be happy, everybody is all smiles, and Charlize gets to declare Paul's bloody handprint as the winning dish, along with two tickets to see Snow White! The chefs dismiss everybody but Bev, Sarah and Grayson, who are subject to minor complaints. Grayson being there was a surprise, considering the reaction she got at the actual dinner table. But at the end, Bev's mistakes were slightly worse. Here's my dirge for Beverly: Most of the other chefs chose to underestimate her, perhaps for good reason. But that underestimation allowed her to slip under the radar and produce some really good dishes. As Paul mentioned in the kitchen, she has more experience than any of the remaining chefs. Her personality quirks were easy (and fun!) to make fun of, but she could cook. And that's what mattered. If it makes her feel better, she's leaving on the best episode of the season.

Grade: A


-Once I saw Pop-Rocks on that conveyor belt, I would have bet a large sum of money that Chris would have grabbed them up. Good thing I didn't, and good thing he didn't.

-I know I don't always cover it, but y'all should be watching Last Chance Kitchen. Nyesha had been tearing it up, even as she seemingly begins to unravel a bit mentally. She's still feeling slights from the main competition, and every competition is filled with some kind of personal feeling. And then Bev manages to upend her on a challenge nobody thought she would lose. Go back and watch them all if you haven't, it won't take you long.
Tags: Top Chef
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