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'Top Chef: Texas': Excellence rarer than hen's teeth

December 22, 2011 |  2:14 pm

Top Chef Texas

Wednesday night’s loser on “Top Chef: Texas” wasn’t just Heather, but the Whole Foods Market butcher counter, whose gristly cuts played a role in not one but two disastrous meat dishes.

But even if it’s easy to aim some blame toward the upscale market, the inescapable takeaway from the episode was that it’s really hard to get excited about any of the remaining cooks.

We are just one week from reaching “Top Chef’s” halfway mark, when eight of the final 16 chefs will be left. And so far the unevenness of the cooking — not as it relates to steak — has been startling. Every remaining chef except Paul has finished on the bottom at least once, and nobody besides Paul has more than one elimination win (Paul also has two Quickfire wins, more than anyone else).

Heather, who was booted for a beef stroganoff whose dumplings were leaden and whose cut stumped judge Emeril Lagasse — “I don’t even know what it is,” he said of Heather’s mystery meat — and the long-departed Chuy were the only other chefs with more than a single-elimination win.

So what can be said of the remaining contestants? First, there’s apparently no Michael or Bryan Voltaggio (from Season 6) among them, someone who not only consistently meets the fundamental aspects of a cooking challenge, but also exceed them. Second, we’re not sure there’s even an Angelo Sosa (season seven), a cook who shows constant creative flair and is not married to a particular style of preparation.

Beverly seems one personal slight away from a total emotional breakdown, and rarely strays from her knitting. Grayson, who also served up some ghastly Whole Foods meat Wednesday night (in a portion so large it looked like a souvenir from an Ultimate Frisbee convention), rarely makes smart choices, and Chris C. continues to throw so many things on the plate it’s hard to find his entrée or its purpose.

We like Chris J., but finishing a steak with A1 sauce (as he did Wednesday) and his sweet potato debacle from a previous week don’t bode well for his long-term prospects, and even though Ty-Lör has one elimination challenge win, he’s been on the bottom on three separate occasions.

So that leaves Paul, who is clearly the most solid chef week in and week out, and ... Lindsay? She never wins anything (except one Quickfire), yet she’s rarely in trouble, either. Edward? It’s easier to get excited about the Indianapolis Colts finally winning a game. Sarah? She won Wednesday night for her sausage and stuffed cabbage, and has only been on the bottom once, in the first real episode (after the also-rans were excised).

Maybe the weeks ahead will clarify the picture. But right now it’s murky, which is good neither in a soup nor a contest.


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-- John Horn

Photo: Edward Lee, left, Beverly Kim and Sarah Grueneberg of “Top Chef: Texas.” Credit: Vivian Zink / Bravo