Top Chef Texas, Week 12: Attack the Block

It's a head-to-head matchup at the Pearl Brewery.

Soon to be reviewed in the pages of Food & Wine magazine.
Soon to be reviewed in the pages of Food & Wine magazine. (by Healthy Choice)

Last time on Top Chef: Bev missed out on immunity because she didn’t get her Rice Kurries on her plate in the Quickfire, a stark example of how high-stakes the Quickfires can actually be.

This week on Top Chef Brought To You By Healthy Choice, the chefs are hanging out at the Broken Spoke. Wait, what?! Clearly the editing monkeys did not think that we dumb Texans would not notice that the Broken Spoke is in Austin, not San Antonio. Yes, editing monkeys, we may not be bright enough to do anything other than keep electing Rick Perry, but we are sentient enough to know where our iconic local landmarks are situated. Good try, though.

This week in Padma’s Inappropriate Outfits: While introducing Cat Cora, an Iron Chef and host of Bravo’s new competition show, Around the World in 80 Plates, Padma looks quite comfortable in what is essentially a slightly oversized man’s plaid shirt. She appears to be using a shoelace as a belt, and her feet are shod in black cowboy boots. Is she trying to be the Asian Ellie May Clampett? You done forgot yore britches, girl. Hell, even Ellie May wore jeans. I wonder if Padma’s stylist has somehow fallen under the influence of Patsy from AbFab (“One snap of my fingers and I can raise hemlines so high that the world is your gynecologist!”).

It’s a team Quickfire: the final six chefs are paired up for a mise en place challenge of sorts. Each pair has 40 minutes to shell, devein, and butterfly two pounds of shrimp; “shuck” a crate of corn (what they really want is shucking – i.e., removal of the husks and silks – AND cutting the corn off the cob); make perfect fettuccine; and prepare a dish featuring those three ingredients. (There are a lot of voiceovers from Padma in this explanation of the Quickfire. I wonder if the draft on her nethers while filming hindered her ability to recite her lines effectively.) Paul is anxious because he feels like he’s bad luck for Ed. The other teams are Chris and Grayson and Lindsey and Sarah (natch). “Immunity is off the table from here on out,” says Padma, “but the winning team will receive ten thousand smackeroos! [Voiceover: Furnished by Healthy Choice.]”

And then this conversation took place between my husband and me:
Him: What are snackeroos?
Me: SMackeroos.
Him: Is that a dollar?
Me: Yes! What else would it be? Ten thousand magic beans?
Him: I’ve never heard of a smackeroo before. I’ve heard of smackers, but not smackeroos.

During the challenge, Lindsey and Sarah are fast and efficient and mentally tallying just how much the other teams suck. Chris and Grayson bumble along haplessly; Cat Cora kvetches that Grayson has overworked her pasta. Paul has to re-do his corn before he and Ed can start cooking, then forgets to cook the shrimp and disqualifies their dish, which has otherwise good flavors. Chris and Grayson are the winners of the Quickfire and get 5,000 smacker(oo)s each.

Padma informs the chefs that the Elimination challenge will be a “block party” at the Pearl Brewery, and that each team will be enemies, battling head-to-head. The chefs must decide on a dish that they will compete against each other with. Ed and Paul choose Korean barbecue. (“Asian showdown,” jokes Paul. Hmm … interesting. I would not have noticed that. Except that yes, everyone ON THE PLANET noticed that the two Asian guys were paired up.) Lindsey and Sarah agree on meatballs, and Grayson declares that she and Chris will do chicken salad. In a very important talking head, Chris says, “Chicken salad is not my favorite sandwich, and if I was having a block party, it probably wouldn’t be the first stand I’d hit. But I don’t have any better ideas.” Chekhov’s chicken salad sandwich?

After telling Padma what their choices are, the chefs learn that because this is Top Chef Brought To You By Healthy Choice, the chefs must make lighter versions of their dishes in order to make them more like Healthy Choice meals. So, I guess that means that they have to employ a lot of processed, pressed chicken, mealy broccoli, and watery, corn syrup-based sauces in their dishes.

During prep, we get a peek at the chefs’ dishes. Paul’s turkey ssam (except later he calls it kalbi, so I’m not sure which it is) lettuce wraps look pretty tasty (I am a sucker for a good lettuce wrap, though. P.F. Chang’s WHUT.) At the block party, Grayson frets that she is in the weeds because she is making her chicken salad sandwiches to order, where Chris’s sandwiches were pre-assembled. Lindsey bullies the block party guests into choosing her meatball as the better one. “I love that girl, but MY MEATBALL IS THE WINNER,” she menaces through clenched teeth.

Paul’s kalbi has been given some heft by some silky eggplant, he tells the judges, including guest judge Dana Cowin, who holds the power with her words to destroy careers. So she’s sort of the culinary Anna Wintour. Got it. Ed’s kalbi is more traditional, he used short rib, which is a bit tough. Grayson’s chicken salad sandwich has olive oil mayo, pickled onion, and arugula, with watermelon salad on the side. Chris’s sandwich is made with tofu mayo (gack), and his side of watermelon is slathered in pineapple buzzed with ice. Chris’s bread is starting to dry out. Cat Cora calls Chris’s dish “dry ice.” Damn, that is just mean. Sarah made a calabrese style turkey meatball and a summer salad with a bunch of stuff in it, but Dana Cowin was denied the goodness of squash blossoms. Kiss your career goodbye, Sarah. Lindsey made a Greek-style meatball with lamb and veal and other innocent baby animals. Probably some unicorns and pandas.

During the commercial break, we learn about the Healthy Choice Top Chef-inspired meals. This enormous mound of pasta, chicken breast, fresh basil, and veggies is truly Top Chef worthy. Former TC contestants Casey and Ryan (who are also Top Chef worthy, apparently), are pretty satisfied with this dish. They must have crossed Dana Cowin at some point.

My husband says, “So, there’s a Japanese cookie called a Snackoo.” He’s not letting this go.

Apparently Paul Qui owns no white socks. I have a feeling crazed fans are going to start smuggling brightly colored and patterned socks into Uchiko, then pressing them surreptitiously into their waiters’ hands, murmuring, “My compliments to the chef.”

Judges’ table: Paul, Grayson, and Lindsey are on the top. Tom takes Grayson to task for choosing a dish as boring as chicken salad and encourages her to make more creative things. “Like … uh meatball?” challenges Grayson. OH SNAP. Tom smirks. Padma looks maternally perplexed. Dana Cowin’s eyes glint. Paul is the winner of 15 thousand smacker(oo)s!!! For those of you keeping track at home, that’s $50K he’s pulled down so far. If he wins the whole shebang, he’ll be able to keep himself in novelty socks for the rest of his life.

On the bottom are Ed, Chris, and Sarah. Whatever. Chris is out, taking his hideous topknot and weirdly obsequious mannerisms with him to the Last Chance Kitchen, where he is unable to defeat Bev. Heather is probably eating herself alive at this point, trapped in a purgatory with her twitchy archnemesis. “She doesn’t think like a chef!” she cries out in her sleep. “Don’t you people understand?”

Next week, the episode we've all been waiting for: Bikes. The Alamo. Pee-Wee Herman. Yes.

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