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Author Christine Van Dusen

  • Christine Van Dusen

    Editorial Contributor

 

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 Read more...

Top Chef 9.12 recap: The brutality of chicken salad and bees

I think the time has come for a fashion intervention for the lovely host and judge of "Top Chef: Texas," Padma Lakshmi. Let’s all pull up a chair in a comforting circle and tell her how her belted gray jumpsuit from last week made us sad, and how this week she made things worse in what looked like one of Emeril Lagasse’s fat-day flannels, cut off at the sleeves and belted at the waist and with no pants. And Padma, I’m concerned—where is your butt? You turned around in a tiny romper and your posterior seemed to have skipped town. No, please don’t make excuses in that affectless, Hannibal Lecter voice of yours. I’m trying to help you. Read more...

Top Chef 9.11 recap: The last seven dwarves

Given that this week's episode of "Top Chef" was one long, shameless plug for the upcoming "Snow White and the Huntsman" movie, it seemed appropriate to take a moment and come up with some dwarf names for the Bravo show's final seven cheftestants. But really, I just found myself wanting to name most of them Dopey, except maybe Sarah Grueneberg of Spiagga in Chicago, whom I’d call Sweaty. Her impressive perspiration was once again on display during this week’s Quickfire Challenge, which gave the chefs 30 minutes to prepare a sophisticated dish made from three ingredients they would pick from a conveyor belt. The first items on the belt would be the least useful—Pop Rocks, Goldfish crackers, Saltines, etc.—and the better stuff would come later, when there was less time left to work with them, according to guest judge Eric Ripert of New York’s famed Le Bernardin. In a fantastic display of can-do attitude, Ed Lee of Magnolia in Louisville, Kentucky, tells us: "I have no idea what’s going on, but I know it’s going to suck for us." The best part of this segment is watching Chris Jones of Chicago’s Moto repeatedly try to grab a bucket of lobsters but fail to do so because he can’t move fast enough to catch them on the fairly slow-moving conveyor. "Those f-ing bastards," he grunts. (Dude, you’re only ten feet away from the belt! Pick up your pace!) Eventually, on his third or fourth try, he manages to snatch one wriggling crustacean. Paul Qui of Uchiko in Austin makes one of the worst dishes: mussels in ginger with bitter melon broth and some component made with Wonder Bread. Eric Ripert takes a bite and makes a face like he has smelled baby poop. Beverly makes black eyed peas with tofu and curried Rice Krispies but fails to get the cereal on the plate when time is called. Had she managed to get that ingredient plated, "you would’ve won this by a mile," says host and judge Padma Lakshmi, wearing an unfortunate and bunchy gray jumpsuit. But Beverly misses out on immunity, which instead goes to winner Lindsay, who made bouillabaisse in fennel and Pernod broth. Next up is the Elimination Challenge, in which the chefs are tasked with creating a gothic feast fit for a queen. "Queen Latifah?" Chris J. wonders. Nope, it’s actress Charlize Theron, who stars as the Wicked Queen in "The Huntsman." Sarah nearly cries. Ed’s head is "a-spinning." Each chef gets $250 to spend at Whole Foods on ingredients for "wickedly beautiful" dishes. Ed thinks maybe he should get pig’s blood and spray it on everyone. Chris J. is thinking maggots and worms.   The next day, the chefs have two hours to each prepare a course for Charlize, Padma, Eric, guest judge Emeril Lagasse, and head judge Tom Colicchio. Ed’s dish is the first course: Tuna tartare with black garlic ponzu and Asian pear vinaigrette (and fried fish scales), which has a dark and a light sauce that are supposedly battling like good and evil over the tuna in the middle, or some such nonsense. "You put good and evil together and you get a politician," Tom says, inspiring the fakest giggles ever uttered by Padma and Charlize. Paul is next, and offers up foie gras with bacon, pumpernickel, pickled cherries, and beets, with a "bloody" handprint on the plate. "I love this. So beautiful. And so scary," Charlize says. Eric winces, and says he hopes Paul wore a glove. "It’s a beautiful love song," Padma says, making me wonder if the ladies took some ecstasy before the meal. "A beautiful murder song," Charlize coos. Who knew she was so method? And now for the usual dinner table patter: "We have eight dwarves," Charlize says, of "The Huntsman." "Is that a union issue?" Tom says. Padma: "If there was an eighth dwarf—" Charlize: "—it would be Tom. Read more...

Top Chef 9.10 recap: Return of the Hughnibrow

If you're wondering whether Hugh Acheson is blissfully unaware of the stir caused by his honkin' unibrow--that caterpillar's got its own Twitter feed, after all--wonder no longer. After this week's episode of Top Chef: Texas, the Atlanta and Athens chef went on Watch What Happens Live and talked about how he'll split that brow into two if the group Wholesome Wave raises $100,000 by March 1. The term "Hughnibrow" was also the show's secret drinking game word, and was said at least nine times during the live talk show. (Hiccup!) That unibrow was back again on this week's episode of Top Chef, featuring the long-awaited "Restaurant Wars" competition, which breaks the contestants into two teams and requires each to create, decorate, and serve a meal in a restaurant of their own design. This time, it was boys against girls. They got $7,500 to spend on design and $4,000 on food in order to create a three-course menu with two choices in each course for 100 guests. The teams were given 45 minutes to hatch their plan, during which time poor Beverly Kim of Aria Restaurant in Chicago was shut down by Sarah Grueneberg of Chicago's Spiagga at every turn. Lamb shank? No. Beets? No. (As Acheson put it on his own Twitter feed, "Sarah wants to beet Beverly." Har, har, Hugh!) It's clear there's going to be some serious tension on this team, even without big bully Heather Terhune to harangue Beverly at every turn. The girls opt for Half-Bushel, a warm and cozy farm-to-table eatery, while the boys go for the more rustic and quirky mess-hall-style restaurant called Cantine. The battle is joined, and—according to Chris Jones of Chicago’s Moto—presents the chefs with a Kobayashi Maru. For those of you who've lost your virginity, that’s a Star Trek officer training test "designed to test the character of cadets in the command track at Starfleet Academy . . . the test's name is occasionally used among Star Trek fans or those familiar with the series to describe a no-win scenario," according to Wikipedia. The boys are up first, and while things flow fairly smoothly at the front of the house (led by Edward Lee of Magnolia in Louisville, Kentucky), the kitchen quickly becomes chaotic, given that the team forgot to identify a member as the expediter. In their concept, the guys of Cantine opted for an open kitchen, giving the judges a view of the scatterbrained action. "My wine is warmer than my meal," a guest says, and the main problem seems to be the servers, who I'm guessing are the aspiring-actor nieces and stepchildren of Bravo executives. The first course is Austin chef Paul Qui's ham and pork pate with mushrooms, braised mustard seeds and duck fat crostini along with Brooklyn chef Ty-Lor Boring's Thai-style crab and shrimp salad with caramel fish sauce. The second course features Ty-Lor and Paul’s poached salmon with warm tomato water, clams, salmon skin, and tomatillo jam and Paul’s crispy-skin pork belly with green apple and sweet potato puree. For dessert: Ed's Almond Joy cake with malted chocolate mousse and banana coconut puree along with Chris J.'s homemade Cracker Jack with cherries and peanut butter ice cream that was frozen in liquid nitrogen. The food gets a rousing "meh" from the judging team. "I expected a lot more from Paul," says head judge Tom Colicchio, capitalizing on the chef’s insecurities bred by a mother who had high expectations for him (and, I’m assuming, helped spur his later career as a drug dealer?). Says Ty-Lor: "We definitely shouldn’t have played bleep circle jerk expediter." Ooh, that sounds like an interesting game! Pitch it to Andy Cohen on Watch What Happens! The girls take over the next night, with Lindsay Autry of Omphoy Ocean Resort in Palm Beach heading up the front of the house and telling us she was prom Read more...

Top Chef 9.9 recap: Oh, the sexiness!

I get the feeling that at this point in this season of Bravo's Top Chef, with nine contestants left, the cooks are kinda hard up. I’m using some serious powers of deduction here, but when Grayson Schmitz says to a tank top- and apron-clad "Malibu" Chris Crary "I think you look beautiful," or Chris Jones wonders "did I put it in the right hole," or Grayson tells head judge Tom Colicchio her food is going to be "like sex in the mouth," it seems food porn is no longer cutting it for the competitors. Any aspiring hook-ups are squashed, though, as the contestants look worse and worse each week. Chris J. of Chicago’s Moto appears to have put on an unfortunate paunch, and the Texas heat—a big plot point in this week’s episode—keeps them soggy and smelly. Though he oozes little sensuality (and, notably, very little perspiration when other chefs are soaked), the "beautiful" Chris C. of Whist Restaurant in Santa Monica apparently has his own freaky side. We learn this week that when he’s not cooking, he likes to paint pictures of nude women, specifically their breasts and butts. “It’s definitely something I like to do,” he says in a clip from his casting video, as the camera pans over what look like a fourth-grader’s naughty drawings. He shares this tidbit as a means to segue into the Quickfire Challenge, which requires the chefs to create a modern art dish, as described in the lauded Nathan Myhrvold’s six-volume Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, a chart-heavy Bible for devotees of molecular gastronomy. The chefs have forty-five minutes to whip up something kooky, and the winner will win immunity and five of the books (why not all six?), which the competitors seem to think are as hard to get as a Zhu Zhu Pet at Christmas. (Psst, guys, you can get the collection on eBay for $448.) Poor, poor Beverly Kim of Aria Restaurant in Chicago comes across again like a ditz, this time spraying the judges with her ill-conceived curry foam and knocking over a bunch of trays. "Is she an oddball? Yeah," says Edward Lee of Magnolia in Louisville, Kentucky, ever the sage. Chris J. is waaaay excited by this challenge—even going so far as to say, "A lot of the techniques in this book, I’ve actually maybe done first"—and puts together a deconstructed cheesecake and sparkling water with lemon and lime. The key to his dish is something called Miracle Berry, a red tablet that changes the flavor profile of what you eat afterward (allowing host and judge Padma Lakshmi to take a big bite of lemon and declare it delicious). Guest judge Myhrvold calls it a "hell of a dish," but Ty-Lor Boring of Brooklyn wins for watermelon with vanilla bean honey and black pepper, topped with olive oil that has been rendered into a powder using maltodextrin. Now it’s on to the main challenge, in which the chefs will split into three teams and spend all night barbecuing three types of meats that will be served the following day to 300 people at Austin’s famed BBQ joint, the Salt Lick. The teams stay up through the night, mopping brisket with sauce, stuffing beer cans into chicken butts, and inhaling smoke and each other’s sweat fumes. Beverly lights up a pan of bourbon inside one of the nearby RVs, setting off the smoke alarm and solidifying her role as village idiot, prompting Chris C. to say, "I feel for Beverly. She’s really book smart, but when it comes to common sense, she’s missing a few chapters." When morning dawns, the sun beats down on the chefs, kicking the sweatiness up yet another notch and sending Sarah Grueneberg of Spiagga in Chicago (who grew up in Texas and, annoyingly, has adopted the accent out of nowhere) to a medic. With an oxygen mask in her hand, she is wheeled to the hospital. Teammate Ty-Lor seems to recogniz Read more...

Top Chef 9.8 recap: Tweets for twits


"Everything is better with bacon." "Do a hash for a hashtag challenge." "Pick an ingredient and hand it off to someone else to use in their dish." "Pomegranate relish!" "Use a dessert ingredient in a savory way." "Salsa." Seriously,  Top Chef viewers? This is as creative as you could get, in sending to the producers your suggestions for this week’s Quickfire Challenge, which required the remaining 10 chefs to prepare a dish according to suggestions and directions sent in by Twitter followers? The first three Tweets above made the cut this week; the other three were ignored. I’m hoping the Bravo folks already deleted better suggestions, like: "Force Heather Terhune to wear Beverly Kim in a Baby Bjorn while they cook. #stopthecrying." After telling us that he spent his formative years selling weed to his friends and decided to change his life after waking up one morning to an apartment that was trashed with dog food and "(unintelligible) s--- everywhere"—sheesh, were you living at Jesse Pinkman’s house on Breaking Bad?—Paul Qui of Uchiko gets a win for his bacon fat, crispy bacon, blackberries chorizo and mushroom hash. The prize: $10,000, but no immunity. It’s a hometown win, as the gang is now on Paul’s turf in Austin. We saw them make the drive, and listened to their annoying patter. Heather, it seems, likes a guy with dark hair and who’s tall and funny. "It’s difficult to have a long relationship because I’ve been so career focused," she says. Riiiiiiiight. That’s why you’re single. She also says she’d choose a night with former judge and Louisiana restaurateur John Besh over $5,000. Good thing. He might want that money, a la "Indecent Proposal." After the Quickfire the gang heads to the Driskill Hotel for some drinks and a very awkwardly unsexy pretend-flirtation between Heather and Chris "Malibu" Crary of Whist Restaurant in Santa Monica. Patti LaBelle saunters in, all silver sparkle and flat-ironed bob wig, and gives us a lounge-lizard version of her hit, "Lady Marmalade." Host Padma Lakshmi then steps on stage to tell us that LaBelle is the guest judge for the Elimination Challenge, for which the chefs will prepare a dish inspired by the person who inspired them to start cooking in the first place. Cue more tears as the contestants talk about beloved grandparents, parents, uncles and—in Brooklyn chef Ty-Lor Boring’s case—Japanese nannies who make a mean chicken tender (?). Back at the house, Beverly cries again, this time because she misses her husband and son. Chris Jones of Chicago’s Moto gives us an unwelcome glimpse of his crack. And Edward Lee of Magnolia in Louisville, Ky., tells us he’s got balls and "I’m gonna show ‘em." Please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t. The next day the chefs are given two hours to cook before serving their dishes to LaBelle, two of her friends, head judge Tom Colicchio, Lakshmi and occasional judge Emeril Lagasse. Cookbook author LaBelle is wearing her best Sophia Loren Collection wig, and promises to serve fried chicken and mac-and-cheese to Tom and Emeril if they ever come to her house. "We’ll be there with bells on," Tom says. "LA-Belles," LaBelle says. The hits just keep on coming on this show! When Heather serves up her beef stroganoff with ribeye, Emeril says he’s unsure of even what kind of meat it is. "It’s Bigfoot," LaBelle deadpans. And now, some fun with homoeroticism! Emeril: "I feel like I’m at a banquet at one of those hotels you would drag me to." Tom: "Me?" Padma: "I don’t even wanna know the rest of that story." Oh, har, har, har! Please, get the unemployed writers from the canceled NBC comedy "Community" up in this piece! These people need some mater Read more...

Top Chef 9.7 recap: Tears of a chef

Poor, poor, teary-eyed, slow-prepping, oft-maligned Beverly Kim. The chef de cuisine at Aria Restaurant in Chicago takes quite a drubbing on this week’s episode of Top Chef: Texas. To the point where she loosely compares her Elimination Challenge partnership with Heather Terhune (executive chef at Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago) to a previous abusive relationship. Yikes! But more on these two crazy kids later. Read more...

Top Chef 9.5 recap: "Don't Be Tardy for the Dinner Party"

A finger spewing blood in the kitchen, a pig carcass attacked with a hacksaw, a mysterious bagel-related accident, tears at a rodeo, and a scream of “nobody take my breast milk!”—welcome to the in-progress ninth season of Top Chef on Bravo. This time the show—set in Texas and featuring Atlanta/Athens chef and Top Chef Masters contestant Hugh Acheson as one of the new judges—begins with a showdown at the Alamo among twenty-nine chefs, broken into three groups, to be whittled down to the official starting sixteen. Among the contestants vying for a coat: Whitney Otawka, who was sous chef under Acheson at 5&10 and now serves as executive chef of Farm 255 in Athens, and Janine Falvo, the executive chef at Briza Restaurant at the Renaissance Atlanta Midtown Hotel. Falvo tells us that she’s had a rough go lately. Her long-time girlfriend recently dumped her over the phone. Sorry, Debbie Downer, but Acheson and his m-dash of an eyebrow will show no mercy to your seared scallops. She’s sent packing. Now we’ll fast-forward, past the snake-cooking challenge (which prompted the world’s lamest take on Samuel L. Jackson’s f-bombs from the movie Snakes on a Plane from our fembot host and judge, Padma Lakshmi), the team challenge with the requisite bus-related reference (instead of the usual “she threw me under the bus,” a contestant yells at another: “You love driving the bus, hitting people!”), a quinceanera, and a chili cookoff appropriately brought to you by Prilosec. This week’s episode, “Don’t be Tardy for the Dinner Party”—way to cross-promote your mind-numbing reality shows, Bravo!—has the chefs moving from San Antonio to Dallas (“Dolly Parton—isn’t she from Dallas?” chef Beverly Kim asks. C’mon, now!). They’re first sent into a muddy and crappy field to make meals out of emergency kits, and the sardines, Vienna sausages, and canned meat they throw together look as bad as that field probably smells. “It smells like holy s---t,” Chris Jones of Moto in Chicago says wisely. Acheson is absent this week, and the guest judge is . . . Tommy Hilfiger? No, wait, sorry—I was blinded by those giant white chompers for a minute—it’s Louisiana restaurateur John Besh. He picks Lindsay Autry of Omphoy Ocean Resort in Palm Beach, Florida, and her Saltine cracker sandwich. From here the chefs are split into teams to provide the appetizers, entrees, and desserts for a progressive dinner party in a tony Dallas 'burb, hosted by short, rich men and the tall, tawny ladies who clearly love them for what’s on the inside. These ladies have lots of requests (they like pink, hate cilantro, and obviously aren’t going to eat anything anyway), most of which inspire fake heh-heh-hehs from the female chefs and later prompt serious eye-rolling from Besh and head judge Tom Colicchio. Um, Tom? You lost all cred when, in talking about a cigar-inspired dish, you say: “Close, but no cigar.” Heh-heh-heh. Bleh. Chef Chris Crary of Whist Restaurant in Los Angeles is on the dessert team, which he thinks is a good fit, since the host for that part of the party wants the cooks to channel their inner fat kids. Crary’s fat kid was on full display until two years ago, when his pals taunted him for being chunky. You too can lose 70 pounds with the help of ceaseless mockery!
 In the end, Paul Qui of Uchiko in Austin, Texas, wins for his brussels sprouts and Chuy Valencia of Chicago’s Chilam Balam gets dismissed for his overcooked salmon slathered in goat cheese and wrapped in scorched corn husks. Tune in next week for more steaks, more sweaty chefs, a trip to the hospital, Kim’s “f-ing slow” shrimp prep, and more Read more...
 
 

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