Top Chef 9.6 recap: Cue the “Dallas” theme music


This couldn’t be a more appropriate episode for me to pinch-hit recap for Christine Van Dusen (whose issue-laden Samsung TV currently sits in a Marietta repair shop). I worked as the dining critic at the Dallas Morning News in 2007 and 2008, so the terrain on this stretch of Top Chef: Texas looks mighty familiar. From the balcony views, it appears that Bravo has housed the cheftestants in the Uptown neighborhood, roughly the Dallas equivalent of Atlanta’s Midtown.

It begins: After a brief, lame aside about how the competition is shaping up to be a boys-vs.-girls scenario (if only for that one scene the producers undoubtedly staged), the group heads to Le Cordon Bleu culinary academy for the Quick-Fire Challenge. And there, standing next to Padma, is Dean Fearing, the perfect choice to rep Dallas chefs. He was one of the originators of the eighties Southwestern cuisine movement and long the chef at the famed Mansion on Turtle Creek before opening his own restaurant in Dallas’s Ritz-Carlton. I once wrote that Fearing has an “improbably charming demeanor that combines the aw-shucks-ma’am cordiality of Roy Rogers with the maniacal ebullience of the Emcee from Cabaret.” You don’t really see that persona in this episode: The show edits Fearing to seem fairly subdued, mildly stately, and, occasionally, slightly dorky—especially when he’s standing awkwardly with Padma while she rattles on about the Quick-Fire task, which is to make a mother sauce.

Now, Fearing never struck me as a classicist in the kitchen, but after the cooks prepare creative riffs on béchamel, espagnole, tomate, hollandaise, velouté, he asks pointed questions: Did you clarify the butter for the hollandaise? Did you use a roux for the tomate? (“The true, classic tomate sauce has a roux,” intones Fearing sagely to our local cheftestant Whitney, who responds in interview that she would never make that sauce with a butter-flour base. Hear you, girl.) Grayson, whose win you could guess from ye ole Editing of Foreshadowing, triumphs with her scallop and ravioli sauced with a charred corn hollandaise and blueberry-balsamic reduction.

(I admit I have, after nine seasons, become an intermittent Top Chef viewer. When did they make the cheesy editing decision to insert a commercial break right before announcing the Quick Fire winner?)

And where will the elimination challenge be held? A foregone conclusion: South Fork Ranch, which functions solely as a conference center and a tourist draw. It’s why Atlanta will never host Top Chef: There’s no stereotypical Tara plantation for the chefs to take over. So the task is to cook steakhouse grub for the Cattle Baron’s Ball, which I remember hearing from my DMN fashion reporter friends is a bona-fine big-deal society shindig, and an opportunity for the cameras to capture the crowd looking way more over-the-top Texan than they would in their daily lives.

During prep, while removing marrow from roasted bones, Ty-Lör (that name, seriously) cuts himself with an oyster knife. He’s in charge of cooking the steaks and though he stalls and at first just wraps his hand, he decides to head to the ER. He returns in the morning with four stitches but determines to plow through the cooking.

The meal isn’t an inspired team effort—though we do get to see our boy, Hugh Acheson, sporting a new parted and slicked ’do. (“My hair is suave. Just kidding. I look goofy,” he tweeted last night.) Tom rails on overly safe dishes. Dean Fearing stated unequivocally that those steaks better all arrive medium-rare. Ty-Lör opted to mark the steaks on the grill and then finish them in the oven. His colleagues fired them unevenly (in some cases, too soon) but Ty-Lör was the one ultimately responsible for Fearing’s medium-well steak and other temp blunders, so he ends up on the chopping block. Ed (who’s an early favorite of mine) is up for judgement too, for a dull garnish of asparagus and chopped tomatoes atop the “seared steak carpaccio” appetizer. Our own Whitney Otawka, of Farm 255 in Athens, gets called in as well for undercooked potato gratin.

Whitney, sadly, must please pack her knives and go—she had plenty of time to prep and cook a righteous gratin, according to Tom. But there’s hope for her! Not sure yet how this Last Minute Kitchen situation will work to one cheftestant’s favor (maybe the one who wins the most challenges gets back to the main competition?), but Whitney triumphs with her butter-and-sausage-infused elk burger in a match against Chuy’s ostrich burger.

Next week: Still in Dallas, look for more drama between bossy Heather (who triumphed this ep with her cake dessert and won a Toyota in the process) and teary Beverly.

Photo credit: Bravo