Category: Top Chef: Texas

'Top Chef: Texas': Haven't we seen that cake before?

Top Chef Texas
Was that a snake in the grass? Or is Heather an even bigger conniver than Sarah?

After a few weeks of fledgling mediocrity, the remaining 13 chefs in “Top Chef: Texas” revealed some of their true colors Wednesday night. The cooking was so dismal that lead judge Tom Colicchio said he had no trouble sending a cook home.

Even on the scale of “Top Chef” disasters, Whitney’s uncooked potato gratin (just the kind of cool side dish you want when it’s more than 100 degrees outside) was an epic fail — a bad idea poorly executed. And when you’re grilling steaks in Texas, as Ty-Lör did, it’s probably best to cook them just a shade more rare than a 20-year-old horse saddle.

But what really caught our eye was Heather’s demeanor. We had just started warming to her when she recycled her Quinceañera cake from three weeks ago, passing off as her own creation a dish that is actually based on Edward’s recipe. She compounded her error by calling out Beverly in the stew room and generally acting like a bully in the kitchen.

Chris J. cooked a delicious steak salad, Grayson excelled in the Quickfire with her scallop ravioli, and Nyesha, having stumbled early with her sauces, redeemed herself with a compound butter.

We’re at that point where it’s possible to discern the winning (and unlikable) personalities more so than their cooking. We continue to root for both Chris J. and Chris C., but we’re off the Heather bandwagon. She and Sarah deserve each other, but we’re not sure if it’s physically possible for them to throw each other under the bus at the same time.


'Top Chef: Texas': Fixin' to get interesting

'Top Chef: Texas': Diners are all hat, no cattle

'Top Chef: Texas': Make your own tortillas, or else

Photo:  Heather Terhune in "Top Chef: Texas." Credit: Vivian Zink/Bravo

'Top Chef: Texas': Diners are all hat, no cattle

Top Chef Texas

The hook of Wednesday’s “Top Chef: Texas” was catering a progressive dinner party, but given the flat-as-a-pancake palettes of its Dallas diners, it should have been called a regressive night out.

If any more proof was needed that money can’t buy you taste, the well-heeled hosts for the cooking competition’s three-stop dinner party (appetizers, main courses, desserts) proved at every stop that they might be happier eating at a local Black Angus. One host, who considers herself an expert in entertaining, admitted she doesn’t like to try anything new. Another said his favorite dessert involved gummy bears. Another disparaged a beautiful dessert by saying it looked like Elmo. And another mistook a red wine reduction for blood. They then capped the dinner party with a classic after-dinner drink — margaritas!

When Padma remarked of Ty-Lör’s poor pork tenderloin, “so much and nothing at all,” she could have been talking about the diners themselves, and we can’t blame the remaining 14 chefs for mostly struggling to figure out what the heck the three couples really liked or wanted.

Fortunately, the Dallas dilettantes weren’t judging the finished food, because they might have given the top prize to Chris C.’s cupcakes, which the real “Top Chef” judges detested. Paul won for his roasted brussel sprouts (we cooked the same thing for Thanksgiving, although not nearly as nicely), and while we were relieved to see that Chris J. wasn’t eliminated a week after his colleague Richie was dispatched, it did feel like Chuy was properly expunged for a disastrous salmon dish that he admitted he cooks in his own restaurant.

Texas may have a rich food tradition, but let’s hope “Top Chef” can find diners in its upcoming episodes just a bit more adventurous than 5-year-olds.


'Top Chef: Texas': Fixin' to get interesting

'Top Chef: Texas': Make your own tortillas, or else

'Top Chef: Texas': A last-chance kitchen that has many problems

-- John Horn

Photo: Lindsay, Sarah, Chris J. and Whitney in "Top Chef: Texas." Credit: Vivian Zink / Bravo

'Top Chef: Texas': Fixin' to get interesting

Top Chef Texas
It's only the second real episode of "Top Chef: Texas," with the first two installments cutting the herd of cooks from 29 to 16, yet even at this early juncture a number of storylines are emerging.

Although it’s far too soon to identify safely who might last well into the competition, it’s safe to say who we will be rooting for and against. At the same time, the remaining 14 contestants after this week's cut might remember some potential lessons based not only on what’s happened in this ninth season but in previous “Top Chef” seasons.

Who and what stands out?

1. Even with so many chilies, enough with the “Padma is hot” remarks. There’s been only one episode so far in which a chef hasn’t commented on host Padma Lakshmi’s pulchritude. Last season, “Top Chef” wrapped things up with lingering shots of her in a bikini. On Wednesday, she rode a horse like Lady Godiva in chaps, as if she were sauntering down a fashion show runway in the middle of a rodeo. It’s a show about cooking, not curves, and anyone with eyes already gets that she’s attractive.

2. Chris C. has the most reality show smarts. He noted of the duplicitous Sarah over some grocery store ploy, “There’s just something about Sarah that’s rubbing me the wrong way.” Us, too. Chuy’s self-aggrandizing act, which started funny and is getting tiresome, was spotted early by Chris C., who remarked of Chuy ironically, “I’ve dubbed him the most interesting man in the world.”

3. Go big or go home. Paul won the Quickfire Challenge as the only chef willing to cook with the ghost chili, which is so hot you can degrease most Caterpillar tractors with three of them chopped with a teaspoon of warm water. In the elimination challenge, which called for teams to make chili, the white team almost went home for plating chili that wasn’t spicy.

4. There’s no crying in cooking. Nyesha made this remark when Beverly started crying a gully washer of tears at the rodeo, not over the cruelty to the animals but because she missed her husband. We’re not sure Nyesha’s right -- anyone who’s slaved over a soufflé only to have it come out of the oven the height and density of a Frisbee, is allowed to weep -- but it’s probably good reality show advice.

5. Chris J. is now our new favorite. We like Heather’s personality, and are intrigued by Ty-Lor’s sense of humor, but Chris J. might have the biggest heart. Although the double glasses seems more affected than practical -- outside of flash fires, when do you really need sunglasses in the kitchen? -- it was impossible not to be touched by the compassion and concern he showed for Richie, with whom he works alongside in Chicago’s Moto restaurant. We didn’t get that much affection in a whole season from the brothers Voltaggio.


'Top Chef: Texas': Make your own tortillas, or else

'Top Chef: Texas': A last-chance kitchen that has many problems

'Top Chef: Texas': Don't mess with Tom Colicchio

'Top Chef: Texas': Make your own tortillas, or else

--John Horn

Photo: Beverly Kim, Nyesha Arrington and Richie Farina in “Top Chef: Texas.”

Credit:  Virginia Sherwood / Bravo


'Top Chef: Texas': Make your own tortillas, or else

Ty-Lör said it best: “Nothing was great, and a lot of things sucked.”

The first real episode in “Top Chef: Texas,” after the initial field of 29 was trimmed to 16 finalists over the last two weeks, pitted two teams against each other in a quinceanera cook-off.

While the food wasn’t inspired, and some (like Ty-Lor’s golf-ball sized fritters) appeared inedible, most of the drama came down to tortillas.

First of all, in a misstep that called to mind John Somerville’s epic fail in season seven when he was immediately dispatched for using frozen, store-bought puff pastry in a dessert, neither the pink nor the green teams made their own tortillas, a critical misstep for a meal designed to showcase “elegant Mexican cuisine.” When you’re asked to do the same for Italian cooking, would you immediately run for Ronzoni, De Cecco or Barilla pasta? 

But the real issue was that even when the cooks grabbed the ready-made kind, Keith chose flour over corn, turning his would-be enchilada into a soggy mess of a burrito. We can understand why the judges didn’t like his choice, but more confounding was that none of his teammates staged a culinary intervention. And we’re calling you out by name, Sarah.

Continue reading »

'Top Chef: Texas': A last-chance kitchen that has many problems

Top Chef Texas

Is it a second chance? Or one more shot at being humiliated? And does the math even work?

Outside of the bake-off to trim the final roster for “Top Chef: Texas” from 29 contestants to 16 finalists, one of the key inventions of the ninth season in Bravo’s cooking competition is “Top Chef: Last Chance Kitchen.”

The idea is to give popular cooks one more opportunity to get back into the match after being eliminated. But having seen its debut in Wednesday’s second “Top Chef” episode, I can say the invention appears to be creating as many potential problems as solving them and presents a mathematical obstacle that might worry Ben Bernanke.

Head judge Tom Colicchio said the Internet-only “Last Chance Kitchen” was partly inspired by last season’s dispatch of Tre, who stumbled in the series’ restaurant wars showdown. But in its premiere, in which Andrew was able to make a better pizza than Janine, the actual logistics of “Last Chance Kitchen” came into focus, and it’s not a pretty picture.

First of all, because it resides on Bravo’s website, you can’t TiVo the thing, meaning you have to get up from the TV, start up your laptop and (of all the indignities!) be forced to watch the commercials. As Colicchio explained it, though, there will be a “Last Chance Kitchen” every week, meaning that Andrew isn’t back in the show at all, but must repeat the whole exercise next week against whoever else has to pack their knives.

If you start crunching the numbers, whoever finally prevails in the “Last Chance Kitchen” might have to win a dozen or more head-to-head challenges. While that’s still a lot easier than working in a coal mine, it does require a remarkable run of execution and luck, and ultimately subverts one of the underlying (yet not always visible) tenets of “Top Chef” -- namely, that you can make it very far into the show having never won anything.

Last season, in “Top Chef: Masters,” Tiffany made it to the final four without winning a single elimination challenge. A season earlier, in the regular “Top Chef,” Amanda made it to the final six also without taking one elimination challenge prize. The loser’s bracket, in other words, is materially harder than the winner’s bracket. Whoever triumphs through the parallel “Last Chance Kitchen” contest could very easily win more direct matches than any of the finalists. And did I mention you have to get up from the TV to see it?

“I think it would almost be cooler,” Andrew said, “to win it from the ‘Last Chance Kitchen.’ ”
We have to agree.

-- John Horn

Photo: Lindsay in "Top Chef: Texas." Credit: Virginia Sherwood/Bravo



'Top Chef: Texas': Don't mess with Tom Colicchio

Photo: Emeril Lagasse, Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio in "Top Chef: Texas." Credit: Virginia Sherwood / Bravo The theme of Wednesday's "Top Chef" premiere was that "everything's bigger in Texas." Yet there's also something noticeably smaller in the Lone Star State -- Tom Colicchio's patience.

In what had to be the fastest sendoff in "Top Chef" history, the series' lead judge dispatched the cocky but otherwise clueless Tyler Stone to the showers before the Sacramento personal chef even cooked one thing. We can't disagree with the decision -- Stone was butchering a cut of pork the way Daniel Boone might have slaughtered a grizzly with a machete -- and hope that the cooking show's ninth season won't shy away from similarly unapologetic dismissals.

Given that 29 contestants must rapidly be reduced to 16 finalists this year, there's a real necessity for "Top Chef's" arbiters to be judge, jury and executioner in one fell swoop.

Bravo's popular cooking show prides itself on the courtesy it extends its contestants, even as they're shown the door. While we're not asking that "Top Chef" adopt heartless, "Survivor"-style exits, the show in recent years has been mighty slow to separate some obvious chaff from the tastier wheat. It took eight episodes, for instance, in the last regular season of "Top Chef" finally to be rid of Stephen Hopcraft.

Anyone who bothered (and we did) to watch some of the audition videos for "Top Chef: Texas" could have spotted Tyler's fate immediately. As in many reality shows, a "Top Chef" contestant's longevity is   inversely related to how long he or she predicts he or she will stick around. In his tryout video, Tyler said, "this little dummy is going to cook you under the bus" -- a strangely tortured metaphor -- while also boasting, "I have great knife skills," and, "I know I can hold my own."

When he started butchering his pork, Tyler quickly retracted his audition hubris, telling Colicchio, "I'm not a butcher," preferring to have his proteins sent in nicely prepared by some unseen hand. "I know," Colicchio said. "But you're a chef. And that's a basic skill."

It's too early to say who the favorites might be, but given his looks, I'm betting that more than a few women (my wife included) are hoping that Chris Crary, who calls himself "a culinary artist," is around for more than a few weeks.

But if one of your favorites is sent the way of Tyler, don't despair. For the first time, the exiled will have a chance to cook their way back into the competition in a future, Web-only segment called "Top Chef: Last Chance Kitchen." It's similar to the kind of pardon that allowed Hugh Acheson, who was booted at the start of the last "Top Chef: Masters," to come back into the kitchen. And now Acheson will be a judge on "Top Chef: Texas."

Let's hope he's not too kind.


'Top Chef' shows it has the recipe for success

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-- John Horn

Photo: Emeril Lagasse, Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio in "Top Chef: Texas." Credit: Virginia Sherwood / Bravo


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