Scenes From a Premiere: Top Chef Texas at Uchiko
Snarking and sipping at Uchiko's 'Top Chef' premiere party
By Melanie Haupt,
4:17PM, Thu. Nov. 3, 2011
Is it a cliche to say that spirits were high in the moments leading up to the premiere of Top Chef: Texas, which as we all know by now, features Austin culinary luminaries Paul Qui (of Uchi, Uchiko, and East Side King fame) and Andrew Curren (24 Diner)? Well, so be it.
On this night, Uchiko was packed from the bar to the private dining room, where local food writers and bloggers, chefs, and other media types congregated to eat, drink, snark, and Tweet about the hotly anticipated (and not a little controversial) new season of Top Chef.
The show's highlights included the skin-crawlingly arrogant Tyler Stone, a vegan chef forced to break down a pig, a plethora of talented folks from Chicago (including Chris Jones, chef de cuisine at Moto, and his sous chef, Richie Farina; no pressure there, Richie), and only a fleeting glimpse of a stoic-looking Qui in a long shot outside of the Alamo (which inspired cheers from sharp-eyed restaurant patrons).
The 29 cheftestants were lumped into three groups, the first two of which participated in a sudden-death qualifying round, wherein they could be eliminated before doing any actual cooking. Contestants from Group 1 had to prepare something from some part of a whole pig, rooter to tooter; one contestant literally made a purse from a pig's ear, while another's glazed ribs with Maytag blue cheese, corn, and bacon had the room (and Twitter) salivating. Group 2 had to decide on a protein that they all had to prepare; eschewing the sea urchin and other seafood-y things, the cheftestants opted for rabbit. Someone made rabbit nuggets – and was rightly sent to the dreaded "bubble," a sort of purgatory for chefs not bad enough for elimination but not good enough to slip past on the first try.
Four of my early favorites, Farina, Heather Terhune, Sarah Grueneberg, and Chuy Valencia, made it past the qualifying challenge, while the two chefs representing Austin won't get any screen time until next week. Will Qui and Curren make it past the qualifying round and escape the bubble, earning the coveted Top Chef jacket for competition? (The rumor mill suggests that Qui made it pretty far in the competition; the mill is rather quiet indeed when it comes to Curren's performance.)
While we Tweeted and joked about the show (surprisingly, no one commented on the compensatory "Houston: Now Taking Reservations" commercial featuring beloved chef Monica Pope talking up Space City's impressive culinary credentials), the attentive and obliging waitstaff kept wine- and sake glasses filled and passed tasting portions of a brightly flavored hamachi with oranges and a subtle diver scallop "koviche," as well as paper baskets heaped with lemony flash-fried Brussels sprouts and smoky grilled edamame.
At about 9:55, chef Tyson Cole stepped in front of the television and announced that while we wouldn't be seeing Qui or Curren this week, the viewing parties would continue apace at Uchi and Uchiko throughout the run of the show. Just be sure not to drink every time you see a Texas stereotype onscreen, unless you've brought a designated driver with you.
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