Top Chef Texas, Week 8: Crack Kills
Top Chef Texas finally lands in Austin, where dreams come true.
By Melanie Haupt,
12:34PM, Fri. Dec. 23, 2011
Finally! We are in Austin. Except me. I’m not in Austin. I’m in Arizona, where the new episode airs at 11pm, which is bananas. I blame Joe Arpaio.
Anyhoo. Austin. Le Cordon Bleu. Paul Qui tells us about his pre-cheffing career as a dope peddler. This confession is accompanied by a photograph of a tuxedo-clad Qui looking like a boss with slicked-back hair and a red sports car. This leads to an assumption on my part that Qui is from Houston, but I have nothing upon which to base this, other than that is what boys of a certain age looked like in Houston twelve years ago when Qui was 18. Qui says he moved to Austin to change his lifestyle, which I reckon was a good move, considering. What would drunken hipsters on the East Side and bougie Central Austin parents eat if Qui were still selling grass in Houston in his tuxedo?
This week’s Quickfire is totally stupid: the chefs must cook according to directions given from Top Chef fans via Twitter. The first tweet-struction is that the chefs must cook something with bacon. Really? Bacon? Isn’t this bacon fetish played out yet? Chicago Chris says that bacon should be its own food group. Har har. Whatever. I’m over it. Cooking happens. Then another tweet-struction: chefs must select an ingredient from the pantry and give it to another chef, who must then incorporate that ingredient into their dish. Keeping with the latent racism of this season, TyLor hands a bottle of Sriracha to Ed because he’s Asian! And Asian people like Sriracha, amirite? Seriously, he walked over to the pantry and deliberately selected the spicy chili sauce and handed it to Ed. Compare this to the totally random and offhanded way that Formerly Fat Chris handed the same ingredient to Lindsay, like, he just happened to be holding it and Lindsay just happened to be standing there, like, “meh. Here you go.”
On the bottom: Grayson, Chicago Chris, and Ed (sabotage!). On top: Bev, Sarah, and Paul, who did a variation on bacon that the judges really seemed to love. In fact, they loved it so much that he wins! Ten thousand smackers! That’s a lot of tea, friends. And I don’t mean P.G. Tips, either. So, I think this brings Qui’s running prize tally to something like $40K? At least? “You’re going to have to take these guys out for drinks pretty soon,” Tom Colicchio jokes.
Speaking of which, the cheftestants are then invited to go have drinks on Padma at the Driskill. “Don’t go crazy, but enjoy yourselves,” says Padma. “In this economy, I can only afford club sodas.” This provides Heather and Grayson the opportunity to sidle up to Formerly Fat Chris, who is only attracted to Padma and John Besh, so he is naturally repulsed by these two desperate fishwives’ attention. And then! The special guest! Is Patti LaBelle! And her wigs! After she screeches a painful rendition of “Lady Marmalade,” we are informed that because Ms. LaBelle, who is also a cookbook author, learned to cook from her mother, grandmother, and aunties, the chefs must cook a dish that pays homage to the person who taught them how to cook.
And here’s where we float back into latent racism territory. We get all of these stories from the Asian cheftestants: Ed learned from his grandmother, who was the one who encouraged him to do things like wash his hair and also cook vegetarian food. So he’s going to be ballsy and make a vegetarian bibimbap dish. Paul learned to make the Filipino dish adobo from his grandmother, who made it for the family several times per week, and so he will make a Hill Country interpretation of the dish using Texas quail. Beverly wanted to be a housewife like her mother, and so will make Korean-style short ribs. I believe that this particular narrative device is Orientalist in nature because the Western imagination LOVES Asian mommy/grandmommy stories, because it helps Whiteys keep their own sense of superiority by keeping the Other in their place. If we can keep the Asian mommy in the kitchen, we don’t have to think of her and her children as anything other than nurturing and subservient. (Yes, that is a quick and dirty rehashing of Edward Said, probably a bit sloppy, but close enough.) Please also note that we got the story of Beverly missing her wee baby (which makes me think she’s the one with the breast milk in the cast house). It’s all part of the narrative, even tho Bev has some pretty killer tats on her arms. Please also also note that Ty-Lor’s dish paid homage to his Japanese nanny, Michiko. GOD HELP ME. IT’S ALL SO CLEAR.
That said, I also think that the narrative arc of this whole season suggests an Asian winner. Think about it: this is the ninth season of Top Chef, and of the previous eight winners, six of them have been white guys, one white woman, and one black man. I honestly think that we will see an Asian Top Chef this season (but it will probably be a man).
The bottom feeders are called first: Heather, for her pig’s foot-looking steak (that had to have KILLED her to hear that), Grayson’s slab of ribeye, and Formerly Fat Chris’s albumin-leaching salmon. Colicchio and company give Heather her karmic due for bullying Bev, taking her to task for braising her beef instead of putting it in the pressure cooker. “I didn’t want to do that because I put the duck in the pressure cooker last time and it didn’t work out.” Tom: “Bev put her short ribs in the pressure cooker and she’s not here.” OH SNAP.
On top: Bev’s Korean short ribs, Sarah’s sausage-stuffed cabbage, and Ed’s bibimbap. Sarah is the winner and she is so adorably happy I want to hug her. The bottom feeders are called back in and Heather’s out. Returning to the stew room, she bellows, “Don’t be upset” to her fellow cheftestants. Bev? Is not upset.
Next week: The Salt Lick, where I spent many an evening shlepping buckets of iced tea and plates of family style meats and sides as a high-school senior. Good times.
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