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.
This week’s edition begins with a Quickfire Challenge in which the cheftestants must prepare dishes that pair well with (obvious sponsor) Don Julio tequilas. “Tequila sounds like a great way to spend the morning,” says Edward Lee, the teeth-grinding executive chef and partner at Magnolia in Louisville, Kentucky.
Personally I can think of better ways to spend a morning than by sipping tequila with every one of the “dirty dozen’s” dishes (because I don’t much like barfing to start off my day), but host and judge Padma Lakshmi and guest judge/Top Chef Masters’ alum Tim Love of Forth Worth’s Lonesome Dove Western Bistro approach the task with gusto.
“Padma looks like a banana stuffed into a sari,” my viewing companion notes. Maybe so, but you gotta give the girl credit for drinking that much tequila first thing in the morning and still stringing together sensible sentences when clearly she hasn’t bothered to put down a base of greasy eggs (or any food in a long while, for that matter). Love, for his part, offers less to the judging process, mostly calling dishes “interesting” or “pretty good.”
Among the dishes to get panned: Sarah Grueneberg’s fennel risotto with glazed scallops (“reeee-zo-tho,” as the executive chef of Chicago’s Spiaggia says it. Yes, we know you lived and trained in Italy. Congratulations. Your reeeee-zo-tho is still undercooked.) and Terhune’s rock shrimp with the reposado is deemed the new special at a new chain restaurant (“ouch,” another contestant utters).
Ty-Lor Boring, whose name never fails to amuse me and who spent most of the prep talk prattling on about “a dish I fabricated while I was on the beach in Thailand,” wins for his steamed clams in Thai-style fish caramel sauce paired with the 1942 tequila. So he gets $5,000, but no immunity.
For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs are paired and tasked with preparing different game meats for a dinner party hosted by Love that will be attended by other notable chefs, including our own occasional judge Hugh Acheson of Empire State South. It’s a double elimination, there’s a $200 budget, and the winners will split $10,000.
The food will go through final prep in Love’s kitchen, which appears to double as a hot-yoga room. The chefs’ sweat rains down on the counters.
The two finger-slicers from previous episodes, Boring and Lee (a good name for an ineffective crime-fighting duo, maybe, or a couple of accountants) are partners, as are Chris Jones of Chicago’s Moto Restaurant (enough with the sumo top-knot, dude!) and Grayson Schmitz of Olivier Chen Catering and Events. And then there’s the ungodly duo of Kim and Terhune.
“I just want to make sure it isn’t too Asian,” Terhune says, then later: “I don’t want it to appear to be like a completely Asian dish.” So yeah, you don’t like Asian food? Or your Asian partner? Pan over to one of the only other Asian contestants, Lee, who summarizes the scene for us: “Heather’s being a complete bitch.”
Meanwhile, Schmitz and Jones are struggling. Jones wanted to do some sort of twisty ladder whatever-the-hell with his sweet potatoes and fails miserably, instead cutting them into odd squares.
“I really f—– us here,” he says. “I should’ve nailed this.” Schmitz, by way of response: “These look like bleeeeeeeeeeep.” And when he starts to tell the judges how he messed up the taters? “Don’t bleep tell them bleeeep like that.”
Back to Terhune and Kim’s dysfunction junction. “Part of this is my rustic style, so we’re gonna have to compromise,” Heather snaps at Beverly, who meekly continues working on her part of the five-spice duck breast with creamy polenta and pickled cherries.
The judges include many an esteemed chef, but all I see at the table is a bunch of homeless-looking guys, one an unshaven Mr. Bean and another like David Cross with a giant beard. He’s talking about how he hunts and jumped on top of gators or some other such nonsense. Head judge Tom Colicchio nearly rolls his eyes, but maybe that’s because he can taste the contestants’ briny sweat in the food.
In addition to getting feedback from the chefs and our usual judges (with Padma channeling Janet Jackson in her “If” video, with that bone and feather choker), the contestants will also be judged by their peers this time, a twist that has everyone on edge as they await their fates in the kitchen. Sweaty Terhune continues her rant about Kim and argues with Schmitz while Dakota Weiss of Choice Hospitality and W Los Angeles and Grueneberg cry over their failures (Weiss’s venison is so rare it’s maroon, and Grueneberg’s sausage sucked).
Boring and Lee win for their sorghum quail with pickled cherries and eggplant. “The quail shines,” a judge says. Yeah, maybe because it’s coated in Lee’s face juice!
The bottom three pairs are: Weiss and Nyesha Arrington, executive chef of Wilshire Restaurant in Santa Monica; Jones and Grayson; and Terhune and Kim, who argue in front of the judges (well, Terhune goes to town on Kim’s work ethic and inability to trust herself; Kim mostly just cries).
“Heather was holding it against Beverly for something that happened in previous challenges,” Acheson says. “This is Top Chef. Every day is new.”
For the final verdict, Tom Colicchio adds his typically painful, punny line: “It was a tough challenge. Game is very, very difficult to cook. Unfortunately for two of you, the game will be over.” (There goes my tequila breakfast.)
Weiss and Arrington are asked to pack their knives and go. Next week: the gang hits the road to Austin, Patti LaBelle sings for them, and everyone sweats all over the food—again!