D Magazine’s Loren Means loves to watch Top Chef: Texas. Therefore, she volunteered to watch all of the episodes this season and write a recap. She’s reviewed episode one, two, three, and four. Today she reports on episode five which takes place in Dallas. Go, Loren.
Episode five of Top Chef begins with the 14 cheftestants headed for “Big D.” Loaded into three SUVs are Heather, Edward, Chris J., Chuy, Ty, Chris C., Dakota, Whitney, Lindsey, Sarah, Nyesha, Grayson and (saving the best for last) Paul. Spirits are up, stories are being shared, and they are rolling down the barren highways of Texas when they encounter a roadblock. A state trooper directs the cars to the side of the road, where Padma and guest judge John Besh, chef/owner of Luke in San Antonio and August in New Orleans, stand on dry, cracked land ravaged by drought. I kept waiting for tumbleweed to blow by. Bravo should have arranged for that. It would have appropriately set the tone: a Quickfire in the arid lands of Texas.
The judges inform the chefs that there is a survival kit in the trunk of each SUV that contains supplies for a challenge that will test resourcefulness and inventiveness. The chefs run to the cars, pop the trunks, and are shocked to find survival kits there. Now, I don’t want to be one of those people who talks through movies saying things like “that would never happen” or “no one just rolls over afterwards and goes to sleep like that in real life” but c’mon, where was their luggage? How did the chefs not know there were survival kits in the back of their cars? Anyway, the chefs find inside a variety of canned foods, but no can openers or cutting boards and very few utensils. Chris J. runs to the nearby corn field, exclaiming “fresh is best.” The ground is literally cracked, and he’s hoping to find a moist husk with golden kernels inside. Aw, that’s cute.
Dallas here they come.
With little to no tools, the chefs are clawing their way into aluminum cans of preserved goodness. Lindsey opts to use Vienna Sausages in her dish, although the memory of her father eating them straight out of the can repulses her. I hear this and have flashbacks. OMG. I used to eat them out of the can when I was little. I clearly have to blame my mother for this. Of course, as an adult I’ve been known to throw salt on a pinch of raw hamburger meat and eat that, so maybe I’m just as disgusting. I do, however, draw the line at canned pickled herring, which Grayson used in her dish. I am a lady, after all.
Time is up, and the chefs present the finest concoctions they could come up with given the limited ingredients. Falling into the bottom are Whitney, Dakota, and Chris C. John and Padma didn’t “feel the love” in Whitney’s beer and peach chicken, Dakota’s was too sweet, and Chris C.’s combination of raw tofu and crab meat was under-seasoned. The top three are named, and Ed, Chuy, and Lindsey’s faces light up. The detail in Ed’s Thai peanut soup wowed the judges, and Chuy’s canned smoked trout was a pleasant surprise. In the end, Lindsay’s French onion soup with Vienna Sausages paired with a tuna club sandwich (using saltines instead of bread) proved to be the best showing of resourcefulness and inventiveness.
The cheftestants roll into Dallas and are taken directly to Highland Park, described by Padma as “one of the most exclusive residential areas in Dallas.” I like to refer to it as the Bermuda Triangle, a dangerous realm where speeding tickets are given out like candy. The challenge is to prepare a “progressive dinner” for three neighbors. The guests will have a different course at each residence.
Sarah, Lindsey, Paul, and Chris J. pull up to the home of Kim Schlegel Whitman and her husband Justin. We get an upward shot of the house, because I guess big isn’t big enough for Bravo. Mr. and Mrs. Whitman greet the chefs at the door and lead them into the kitchen. Justin informs them “this is our kitchen.” (DUH!) Kim takes over from there and gives the group an idea of her expectations for the appetizer course. She outlines her dislikes — such as bell peppers, cilantro, and anything that can get stuck in her teeth. Who doesn’t hate that? In addition to these guidelines, the chefs are also armed with the knowledge that Kim is not at all adventurous when it comes to food.
Cut to another upward shot of a similar home as Ty, Beverly, Heather, Chuy, and Nyesha arrive to meet Kari and Troy Kloewer. Kari is Kim’s sister, and she recently hosted an intimate wedding with 700 of her most cherished family and friends in attendance. It’s intimate compared to Kim’s wedding with 1,200 guests. (I’ve been to a wedding with 23 bridesmaids so, yes, Dallas can be a bit over the top.) The chefs are invited inside, and Ty describes the house: “You can smell the smell of money.” Like the Whitmans, Kari and Troy discuss their likes and dislikes with the chefs. Basically, everything he likes, she won’t eat. Good luck, chefs.
For the dessert portion of the evening, Edward, Chris C., Whitney, and Dakota arrive at the home of Kameron and Court Westcott. Both are eager to share their love for fudge, cupcakes, cake balls, and bananas. There was even mention of a banana obsession. I get this. I go wild for a bananas foster. I don’t care how ’80s it seems. Court also tells the chefs that he’s gaga for gummy bears. Ed is horrified. “I can’t compute that someone with that kind of elegance is telling me I should cook gummy bears,” he says. Court’s No. 1 request was that he wanted something to make his inner fat kid cry. Kameron backed him up with “more is better here in Texas.”
After a quick trip to a Whole Foods at Preston-Forest (Why not Highland Park?), the Cheftestants head back to their respective kitchens and get to work. At the Whitman home, Paul is smart and realizes that in this type of setting, it is imperative to listen to the needs of your clients. Most importantly, he knows that you must win over the lady of the house “because if she likes it, the guy will just agree with her.” His wisdom gives me chills.
Back at the Kloewer house, Beverly is hogging the kitchen space, taking up sinks, burners, and colanders. I knew she couldn’t go an entire episode without annoying me or her fellow competitors. At Casa de Westcott, Ed is whipping up a dessert that has no gummy bears whatsoever, y’all. He is doing his own thing. “Some of it is based on what the couple told me, and some of it I just ignored because they just kept saying things like fudge and bananas,” Ed says. Ed is now second on my list because I like funny, and I appreciate his nature to disregard things he thinks are dumb.
Service begins at Kim and Justin’s house, and among the guests are judges Padma, Gail, Tom, and John Besh. All five appetizers are served, and the progressive dinner begins. Chris J.’s cigar-shaped starter of chicken and collard greens confuses everyone and proves difficult to eat. In discussing the dish, Tom hits one out of the park and puts everyone in stitches with a “close but no cigar” remark. <rimshot> Maybe if I’d been there and had five glasses of Chard, I would have laughed too. Lindsay’s beet salad was tasty but boring, and Whitney’s sea scallop was nice but not the conversation starter Kim was looking for. Paul and Sarah were the stars of this course. Sarah’s artichoke with date puree and Paul’s Brussells sprouts with grilled prosciutto were a total success. Kim must have mentioned she loved Brussells sprouts, and Paul listened.
“Y’all come on over,” Kari says to encourage the group to head to her house for the entrée. Dinner is served family style. Heather presents her lamb chops and is sweating profusely as usual. I love you girl, but get a do-rag or something. Chuy’s salmon is overcooked, and he knows it. Beverly’s scallop and creamy polenta looks delicious. If there were to be a show called Top Scallops, I’d gladly be a judge. Ty has made pork tenderloin with avocado salsa, and Nyesha serves a filet of beef with a red wine sauce. Kari is repulsed by Nyesha’s dish. “It almost looks like there is blood decorating the outside of it,” Kari says. Judge John Besh laughs politely and reassures her it’s not blood; it’s a red wine reduction. Kari’s opinion really shouldn’t count since she doesn’t even eat meat, but Kim backs her sister by agreeing the dish didn’t look very appetizing.
For the third and final portion of the evening, the guests arrive at the Westcott house for dessert. When Chris C.’s cupcake is placed in front of Court, his face lights up. There is a kid inside all of us, and sometimes that kid is fat. I appreciate Court’s ability to adore the little things in life. Dakota’s bread pudding is a hit with everyone. Grayson’s chocolate sponge cake is described as good but a little too rich. Tom takes this opportunity to be a comedian again. “I thought it was impossible to be too rich in Dallas, Texas,” he said. <rimshot> Whatever. Edward’s dessert of panna cotta with cantaloupe consomme and raspberries stuffed with basil pudding makes me nervous. There’s no fudge, no gummy bears, no bananas, and Kari said she hated raspberries. Edward has made a mistake. Kari is immediately turned off because it’s “jiggly looking,” and Kameron jokes that it looks like Elmo. Kim is very respectful and says it tastes fancier than it looks. Court announces they are headed out for margaritas, and dinner is over.
The chefs with the four best dishes are our boy Paul, Dakota, Grayson, and Sarah. It must be a Top Chef record to have anyone from a dessert group, let alone three dessert dishes coming in on top. Dessert is normally the kiss of death. Alas, listening pays off, and Paul’s savory sprouts are this week’s winner. At the bottom of the list we see Chris J., Chris C., Chuy, and Ty. Chris C.’s cupcake had too much going on. Ty’s dish was not proportional. Chuy’s salmon was overcooked and Chris J.’s “cigars” were too gimmicky and not focused on flavor. The judges couldn’t get past an overcooked salmon filet, and our little friend was sent packing. Adios, Chuy.
Last-Chance Kitchen: Keith vs. Chuy (online only)
Chuy and Keith head to Bolner’s, an old-fashioned meat market, to get their protein. Each chef is given a rib rack and sent back to the kitchen. The challenge is to butcher five bone-in rib-eyes and cook one perfect medium-rare steak. Keith uses his “blackening salt,” and I like to think he uses a little love. Chuy decides his plan of attack is to “butcher the F out of this thing.” When time is up, Tom tastes both steaks and decides that while they are neck and neck, Keith’s filet was seared more on one side and this mistake sends him packing. Chuy now reigns in the LCK.