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Top Chef 9.13 recap: Pancakes, not porn, for Pee-wee

I remember watching "Pee-wee's Playhouse" on television (even though, as a kid in junior high and high school, I was perhaps a bit older than the target demographic--and no, I wasn't high) I recall enjoying the fifties-era kitschy weirdness of his abode, the genie in the TV, the tin-can telephone, and how he could get away with spending a good portion of an episode wrapping his face with Scotch tape while sitting on a talking chair.

But my prevailing memory of Mr. Paul "Pee-wee Herman" Reubens is his 1991 arrest for masturbating publicly in an adult theater in Sarasota, Florida. So it is through a somewhat pornographic lens that I watch this week's episode of "Top Chef: Texas," for which Pee-wee has inexplicably been cast as a guest judge for the Quickfire and Elimination Challenges.

For the former, the final five chefs must create a creative pancake for Pee-wee in twenty minutes. Winner gets $5,000. "Let your imaginations run wild," says host and judge Padma Lakshmi, who's starting to look and sound more and more like a robot, though at least this week she's not wearing a belted garbage bag.

Grayson Schmitz of Olivier Chen Catering and Events can barely keep her eyes from rolling out of her skull as she says she hopes her ricotta buttermilk pancake with peach compote, blackberry, and basil is "WHIMSICAL" enough for Pee-wee. He tries it first.

"Pee-wee's making all these crazy faces. It's almost like he's having a stroke," Grayson says.

But Pee-wee deems it the best pancake he's ever had. And as he travels from dish to dish, he says the same damn thing. Grayson's eyeballs officially rattle to the back of her head.

Edward Lee of Magnolia in Louisville, Kentucky, wins for his pancake bits with fruit, bacon, and brueleed marshmallow.

Now it's time for the Elimination Challenge. In the 1985 movie "Pee-wee's Big Adventure," our favorite sex offender's bike is stolen and he travels the country in search of it, eventually ending up in Texas after a psychic tells him the Schwinn is in the basement of the Alamo. So the cheftestants have three hours to ride their red Schwinn Panthers through San Antonio, locate food and spend no more than $100 for a family style meal, then find a kitchen to cook it in before serving Pee-wee and the judges at the Alamo.

"I have an open mind and an open mouth," Pee-wee says. Let the double entendres and porn-theater jokes begin! No? Hmph.

Next we see Paul Qui of Uchiko in Austin--who has become something of an expert in telling stories that start out benign but end up with him in a drug den--riding confidently over a curb, annoyingly trailed by Grayson, and sharing the news that two years ago he was going fast and hit a manhole and smashed into the pavement.

"Now, if I drink, the left side of my face gets all red, like I've been in a fight," he says. Hmm. Not sure the two correlate. But anyway . . .

After most of the food is purchased at the farmer's market, the chefs seek out restaurants that will let them borrow some burners and a few ingredients. Sweaty Grayson finds her spot first, and soon most of the others end up in eateries throughout the city, with Ed camping out in the kitchen of a bed and breakfast.

Only Lindsay Autry of Omphoy Ocean Resort in Palm Beach, Florida, seems to struggle with finding a place to cook. She locates a kitchen but leaves to find ingredients she needs, and when she returns, Sarah Grueneberg of Spiagga in Chicago has already set up shop. Time is ticking as a ticked-off Lindsay looks for another location.

As Ed puts together chicken and grits in the pristine white kitchen of the bed and breakfast, the owners are still working nearby to make breakfast for their guests. When Ed is asked to pitch in and make a couple of poached eggs, he's practically horrified. A Top Chef, cooking at a lowly B&B? Oh, my! How terribly and hilariously beneath you, Ed!

After everyone's done cooking they zip off to the Alamo on their bikes, with Grayson stupidly carrying her very hot dish in her bare hand.

The judges this time are Pee-wee, Tom Colicchio, Padma, and Gail Simmons, the special projects director for Food & Wine magazine and the host of Bravo's "Top Chef: Just Desserts."

Pee-wee adds little if nothing to the judges' discussion about the quality of the dishes they're sharing: Sarah's summer vegetable egg salad with chicken skin vinaigrette; Grayson's chicken breast stuffed with egg, spinach, and gorgonzola with roasted butternut squash; Lindsay's roasted zucchini stuffed with braised beef cheeks, rice, and goat cheese; Ed's chicken and grits with raw corn, kale salad, and red-eye gravy; and Paul's roasted chicken with red curry gastrique and summer salad with basil blossom oil.

"They look like little boats!" Pee-wee exclaims when he sees Lindsay's dish. Astute observation.

As he's eating Grayson's chicken, Pee-wee notices the egg folded inside. "I got a prize in mine!" he says. "I thought it was delicious, but I have a lot of childhood issues with runny yolk that I'd have to lie down to tell you about."

Tom's response: "Did it catch you?"


Wait, what? Do you mean that runny = running, so Pee-wee is running from yolk? I just don't know what to say. Personally, the yolk comment had my mind going back to the floor of the porn theater. My husband says I need to wash my brain out with soap.

Padma's attempts at humor are similarly stilted and awful. "I know you are but what am I," she says, echoing a Pee-wee catch phrase. "I'm rubber, you're glue . . ." he responds. Everyone, just please stuff some more gorgonzola in your pie-holes so I'm not forced to watch you on mute.

But no, it goes on. They finish the meal and joke about getting on bikes to go to the judges' table.

"Tom, you're in the basket," Padma says.
"Where he usually is," Gail says. Wha?
"I'll have a few more drinks," Tom says. Yeah, me too. Time to knock myself out.

Lindsay is deemed the winner and Grayson is told to pack her knives and go. But before we conclude the episode, the judges tell the final four about "Last Chance Kitchen," the online show that's been going on, in which eliminated contestants battle each other for a second chance. So now the chefs know that we'll see, next week, the return of Grayson or poor blubbering Beverly Kim of Aria Restaurant in Chicago.

As Padma puts it with a completely inappropriate level of gravitas: "Will Beverly shock the world?" Stay tuned.

PREVIOUS RECAPS
9.12: The brutality of chicken salad and bees
9.11: The last seven dwarves
9.10: Return of the Hughnibrow
9.9: Oh, the sexiness!
9.8: Tweets for twits
9.7: Tears of a chef
9.6: Cue the Dallas theme music
9.5: Don't be tardy for the dinner party