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 recognize the gravity of the situation: “I understand just how concerning it would be.” However, teammate Ed is slightly less sympathetic: “The first thing we both think is, ‘Is she okay? What’s wrong, is she dead?’ I don’t know. If it was me, I would’ve pushed through it.”
Missing a key third member of Team Red, Ed and Ty-Lor work frantically to prepare for the onslaught of customers at Salt Lick, kicking into what Ed calls “oh-my-f— mode.” The other teams are similarly stressed out as they set up chafing dishes of meats, coleslaw, drinks, and other sides.
Team Blue—Paul Qui of Uchiko; Lindsay Autry of Omphoy Ocean Resort in Palm Beach, Florida; and Grayson Schmitz of Olivier Chen Catering and Events—offer up Asian spare ribs, chicken, and brisket, along with brussels sprouts, purple okra, and watermelon with fish sauce.
Team White—Chris J., Chris C., and Beverly—give the guests and judges beer can chicken, smoked brisket, and a Dr. Pepper-glazed pork rib with beans and coleslaw. And Team Red presents a medley of barbecues inspired by their home states of Texas, Kansas, and Kentucky, along with poppy seed coleslaw and pinto beans. Sarah returns from the hospital—all hydrated, rested, and clean—in time to worry only about her chicken, which angers a sweaty and surly Ed.
The Blue team wins the $15,000, and then a gong sounds in the distance to remind us that the fate of one of the other teams is not so sunny. “Both teams failed on all the proteins,” Padma says gravely. But it is Team White’s Chris C., for his overly salty rubs, who gets the ax. I guess it’s back to drawing pictures of boobies for you, Malibu.
Next week: Restaurant Wars! And more fighting among the female chefs!