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 queen and graduated top of her class in college, which makes her subsequent bitchy, bossy behavior seem fitting. Instead of seating guests, she’s in the kitchen, berating poor Beverly for botching the halibut. Meanwhile, the judges stand impatiently at the front door. “I’m getting hungry,” whines host and judge Padma Lakshmi.
Back in the kitchen, which is thankfully cut off from view in the main room, Beverly’s getting lectured by Sarah, who treats her fellow chef like a complete moron (I keep expecting her to say, “Beverly, do you want to go into time out?”). Sarah is also yelling at Grayson Schmitz of Olivier Chen Catering and Events. “Lindsay’s tone is, frankly, bitchy. I’m starting to feel maybe she wasn’t the right choice for front of house,” Grayson says. Yay for girl power! Feel the love!
For the first course, Grayson offers a grilled peach salad with pickled shallots, bacon vinaigrette, and candied pistachios. Sarah offers an arancino (risotto ball) filled with sweet and sour eggplant, along with celery salad. For the second course, Beverly cooks a braised short rib with Thai basil, potato puree, apple slaw, and kimchi. And Lindsay’s halibut, executed by Beverly, is served with chorizo and fennel and cherry salad. For dessert, the team serves Grayson’ schaum torte with vanilla meringue and champagne berries and Sarah’s donuts with hazelnut cream and banana sugar glaze.
The judges and diners (who grade the teams using a fancy app) agree that the girls made better food and the boys provided better service. As Paul puts it, “We choked.”
Just before the girls are summoned to the judges’ table, Lindsay puts in one last dig at Beverly: “You were f-ing up my dish.” And there sits poor Beverly, who seems to be shrinking by the week, visibly curling up into herself to protect against the blows. But guess what? The judges loved her food, and she is the winner. She gets a huge bottle of wine and a trip to Napa. Pan over to Sarah and Lindsay to see their not-happy faces.
“The underdog, me, has won against such amazing chefs. I felt like I was justified for who I am,” Beverly says, nearly breaking into tears again. Lord, that woman likes to cry.
Then the boys are summoned to the table. As they make their way, we see Sarah saying to Lindsay (within earshot of Beverly): “You deserve as much praise, or more, in my opinion.” Grayson rubs her face with disgust.
The Cantine team is given an F for their soggy croutons, jumbled mess of Cracker Jacks in a bowl and the fact that Ed’s Almond Joy did not feature the strong taste of coconut. They go back to the kitchen with hangdog expressions, to await their fate. “Is this to sit on?” Ed says as he spies a beer bottle on his chair. “Take it in the rear!” A twist on musical chairs! Another fun game for our chefs!
In the end, Ty-Lor is eliminated for his Bo-ring (ha!) crab dish.
Next week: Charlize Theron is a guest judge, and apparently wants to eat animal hearts and the head of one of our chefs. Who knew?