Top Chef Texas, Week 13: Life on Two Wheels
The chefs go mobile in an homage to "Pee-wee's Big Adventure"
By Melanie Haupt,
3:27PM, Mon. Feb. 6, 2012
My people! My apologies for the radio silence. Would you believe that I have been too busy to sit in my living room, pajama-clad, recapping Top Chef: Texas on a weekday afternoon? Well, believe it. But here I am, nothing but time on my side, and rest assured that I'm in flannel-clad comfort now.
Last week on Top Chef: Texas, we learned that Chicago Chris is allergic to bees, and also to winning. Cat Cora and Dana Cowin from Food & Wine magazine are mean girls. Grayson has a smart mouth on her. On Last Chance Kitchen, Bev bested Chris in a “Mystery Box thriller.”
This week: Grayson misses Chicago Chris. Ed gets out of bed wearing a blazer and boxers. Lindsay talking heads that her family was disappointed that she pursued a career as a chef because it is not financially rewarding. (But they’re totally okay with her being the bitchiest bitch who ever bitched? Okay then.)
Upon entering the Top Chef kitchen, the remaining five cheftestants find themselves staring down hundreds of pancakes teetering on every available surface. (“What a waste,” grumbled my husband, the bureaucrat.) Padma announces that for the Quickfire, the chefs would be preparing the guest judge’s favorite food. “I was thinking it would be a child or a child star, like Miley Cyrus or something,” says Grayson. Never mind that Miley Cyrus is, like, 30 now.
Anyhoo, Pee-wee rides in on a bright red Schwinn, honking the little horn and, let’s face it. The chefs are disgusted, especially Ed and Paul. The women laugh politely. I die a little inside. I have loved Pee-wee Herman since I was in grade school and seeing Paul Reubens, who is 59 years old, all puffy and slathered in pancake makeup in a painfully forced reprisal of a beloved character that should have been put out to pasture 20 years ago is just painful. PAINFUL. But I am comforting myself with the thought that the pancake challenge is a sly gesture to the amount of makeup required for Reubens to look even marginally convincing as Pee-wee Herman.
Sarah makes confetti pancakes because she wants to win some money to pay for her wedding (perhaps not taking off six weeks of work might have helped pay for the wedding, too). Lindsay used to eat pancakes while watching Pee-wee’s Playhouse as a kid, so she’s making a very kid-friendly lemon-ricotta pancake. Ed is making burnt pancake bits. Paul is making champagne dippin’ dots, which sounds like of awesome. “I have an open mind … and an open mouth,” cracks Pee-wee. That’s what she said? Grayson, because she overthinks every goddamn thing is making a pancake in the shape of Minnie Mouse topped with peach compote. Pee-wee tastes everyone’s pancakes and declares that each one is “the best pancake [he’s] ever had.” Ed wins for his surprising, original, and creative burnt pancake bits. Ed feels a little more warmly toward Pee-wee.
For the Elimination Challenge, Padma explains, the chefs must help rehabilitate Pee-wee’s memories of the Alamo, given his previous misadventures in San Antonio. So, the chefs must prepare a family-style lunch for Pee-wee and a few friends. They will be provided a bike, a map to the Alamo, and $100. They must procure the food and find a space in which to cook it themselves.
The next morning, the chefs hop on their Schwinns and cycle down to the farmers market to buy some ingredients. Then they start scouting restaurants. This is where the episode gave my husband and I some consternation. Grayson and Paul arrive at Rosario’s first, which tells us that they are in the King William district, about a mile away from the Alamo, and where there is a ton of restaurants, including the Liberty Bar, Casbeers, El Mirador, and, a little farther south, the Blue Star Brewing Company. We were confused why the chefs would be grappling for space in the tiny, tiny (and I mean tiiiiny – but still delightful) Mad Hatter’s, or winding up in some dinky little B&B with the universe of restaurants available to them in the area surrounding the Alamo, not to mention the squillions of restaurants on the Riverwalk.
At Rosario’s Grayson asks if they have shallots and talking heads that Rosario’s is a Mexican restaurant, “definitely not my style of food.” Ugh. Girl, you are in Texas. More specifically, you are in San Antonio, less than 100 miles from Mexico. Climb up the golden stepladder and get the hell over yourself. And while you’re at it, maybe take a liberal arts class or two. And then Lindsay asked the manager at Rosario’s whether he has couscous (“Not rice, but any other type of grain”). HAVE THESE PEOPLE HAD MEXICAN FOOD BEFORE? (By the way, if you’ve not been to Rosario’s, I highly recommend a visit. Really excellent – and potent – margaritas and completely legit guacamole and salsas. I don’t think I’ve had anything there that I didn’t love. But I also always have at least two margs while there, so… your mileage may vary.)
And you know what? By the time Lindsay rolled up to Frank’s Hog Stand, I was done. I have gimmick fatigue with this season of Top Chef. This episode was The Amazing Race meets Top Caterer (although the moment where Ed had to make a couple of eggs over easy for the B&B folks was hilarious), and if I were competing on this show, I would be insulted that the craft I’d been trained in had been, essentially, reduced to stunt cooking. Note how the producers of this show never make the contestants on Top Chef Masters do this shit.
Sarah made a soft-boiled egg with summer vegetable salad with chicken skin vinaigrette. Grayson did a chicken breast stuffed with spinach, gorgonzola, and an egg yolk (what is it with her and the chicken paired with egg thing? Is she trying to insert a pro-life discourse into this show?). Lindsay made roasted zucchini stuffed with braised beef cheeks, rice, and goat cheese. Ed did a variant of chicken and grits with redeye gravy. Paul did a roasted chicken with a red curry gastrique with a summer salad with basil blossom oil. So, basically, this is a buffet of chicken and vegetables. Exciting. Top Chicken!
At Judges’ Table, we learn that everyone did a great job, and that tiny little things separate the losers from the winners. The judges loved Paul’s dish. Ed’s chicken had a weird texture. Grayson had good flavors apart from pairing butternut squash and tomatoes (maybe because butternut squash and tomatoes aren’t seasonal together and weren’t intended by nature to be eaten together? Hmmm?). Sarah’s eggs were perfectly cooked and perfectly underseasoned. Pee-wee loved that Lindsay’s stuffed zucchinis were little boats. On top: Lindsay for being fun, original, creative, and changed Pee-wee’s mind about the Alamo. Out: Grayson, for having a smart mouth and serving giant chickens.
But then the chefs are yoinked back in front of Judges’ Table, where they are apprised of the existence of Last Chance Kitchen. Will “Bullied Beverly” make it back into the Top Chef kitchen, or will Grayson, her only friend, stomp on her fragile wee ego? WE JUST DON’T KNOW. (Seriously, we don’t know. It’s a cliffhanger.)
Next time: PAUL QUI IS CRYING. Get a rope. Nobody makes our Paul cry.