The Austin Chronicle

Top Chef Texas, Week 10: Restaurant Wars

By Melanie Haupt, January 13, 2012, 2:51pm, On the Range

This week’s episode begins with very little fanfare. The chefs saunter into a dead-empty Palm Door, which is downtown near the conference center. “We are not in a kitchen,” says Grayson, whose powers of observation are unparalleled.

Padma and Hugh “Hughnibrow” Acheson announce that the time has come for Restaurant Wars. (Whither the Quickfire? Isn’t this usually when they have the mise en place challenge? That’s my favorite Quickfire.)

Now, the Palm Door is a sweet little place with hardwood floors and a long bar with classy shelving and barware. Some adorable friends of mine got married there in the fall of 2010, and while I will forever associate that weekend with the most vicious bout of food poisoning I’ve ever had (I do not mean to suggest that I got food poisoning from the wedding food, mind you), I have fond memories of watching the world’s most adorable couple get married in that sleek little space. My point? Granted, while the tables used at the wedding were large and round, there were easily 100 people at that wedding and it was, shall we say, a bit snug. But then, when you really think about it, the Palm Door is sort of the perfect place to stage Restaurant Wars, because it’s got that working commercial kitchen (home to Pink Avocado catering), plus a space that is essentially a blank slate.

So, rather than drawing knives (or, since we’re in Texas, rattlesnake tails or belt buckles), the producers opt for the groundbreaking move of pitting the cheftestants in a boys versus girls battle. (What would they have done if they’d had a trans cheftestant?) Ty-Lor’s shocked face seems inappropriate to the situation. Then again, it is the same face I make when Sarah talking heads that she’s concerned about Beverly, because as we all know, Beverly sucks.

“Chefs, we want to see a three-courszzzzzz menu,” Hughnibrow slurs, “with two choiccccesssssss per courszzzz.” One person must assume FOH (that’s front of house for those of you not in the biz) duties, and each chef must be responsible for at least one dish. (Hey, you know, we had some pretty darn fine sliders with Belgian-style fries in paper cones at the wedding; maybe there’s a recipe lying around in the kitchen back there…) Padma announces that the teams have five hours to cook and decorate the restaurant before service begins. All the chefs can do is laugh, because really? Five hours? That is some bullshit.

The teams have 45 minutes to plan their menus. The guys decide upon their restaurant name, and start planning the meal. Meanwhile, the camera cuts over to the women and all you see is like this big blur of fur and claws, punctuated by yowls and screams and hisses. “Beets beets beets beets beets beets beets beets beets beets,” mutters Sarah as she gashes Beverly’s cheek with her bloody claw. Sarah has had enough fucking beets, thank you.

Okay, I’m just going to fast-forward here because on the whole, Restaurant Wars is a gigantic bore. The men have trouble staying on top of their tickets because no one is working as expo. I will say that Ed’s description of the team’s menu is pretty compelling: elevating humble, simple ingredients (ham, eggs, pork belly) into a cuisine for a community. Colicchio, though, gets a burr under his saddle because Ed’s “Almond Joy” dessert doesn’t have any/enough coconut. Alternative names: “Chocolate rectangle with almonds.” “Almond Malaise.” “Shut the fuck up and eat it, Jesus, Padma.” The men wrap up their service with a pretty keen sense of their failure. “All we need is for the girls to blow up at each other tomorrow,” says Ed.

Cut to the next day: Hiss! Yowl! Blur of flying fur! Claws! Bev takes a bite of food, ignores the huge glob of gunk on the corner of her mouth. All she wants is to find a table to hide under. Lindsay, despite being the designated FOH showrunner, cannot stay out of the kitchen. While the judges wait and wait and drink all the lemonade, Lindsay tries to “be in three places at once.” Lindsay, honey. You are not meant to be at three places at once. You are meant to woman the front door, and seat the guests as they come in. That’s it. That is one place.

Service happens, the girls win. I find this interesting, and kind of disappointing, simply because Lindsay is a team assassin. Think back to the steak challenge at Southfork, when she panicked and ordered the rest of the team to start firing the steaks, which was a huge mistake and effectively threw Ty-Lor under the bus. This is a lady with some serious control issues, and she winds up torpedoing her team in the process. Add this to Sarah’s bullying of Bev (did she and Lindsay make some sort of pact with Heather to pick up where she left off when she got eliminated?), and Bev’s victory (for her short ribs; this is probably the only other time she’ll be able to get away with making those in this competition) is that much more delicious. For reals, though, Lindsay needs to be the next one to go.

The guys get raked over the coals. Ty-Lor is axed for his poorly seasoned endive-snuggled Thai crab thingie with fish caramel (and yes, producer monkeys, we saw what you did there when you gave Paul, who I really hope breaks out of the pork-belly-Brussels-sprouts cycle soon, the loser’s edit; I guess y’all couldn’t really talk about the thing that makes Ty-Lor interesting?).

Next week: Charlize Theron is the guesty guesterson, and I’m guessing that the challenge is somehow linked to her role as the Evil Queen in Snow White and the Huntsman, which is coming out this summer? Otherwise, I cannot explain the bloody handprints on the plates and Theron saying imperiously, “Bring me more heart!” Meanwhile, Nyesha’s winning streak continues in the Last Chance Kitchen.

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