Well wouldn’t you know it? We’re down to single digits on Top Chef: Texas. Episode nine saw our cheftestants operating at both ends of the culinary spectrum, inventing super-chic contemporary dishes in the quickfire, then getting down and dirty (a bit too literally, if one might say so) in a barbecue-based elimination challenge.
Let’s get right into it, shall we?
After some commiserating over Heather’s departure (and a bit of tension stirred up between Edward and Sarah), the nine remaining chefs made their way back to the kitchen to face perhaps their toughest quickfire yet. Presented with a copy of Nathan Myhrvold’s acclaimed five-volume gastronomy bible, Modernist Cuisine, the chefs did their best Ferran Adria, Heston Blumenthal and David Chang impressions to create a dish representative of the book’s tenets.
Chris Jones was super pumped for this contest—his cooking at Moto is thoroughly modernist in nature. He went so far as to make a three-element dish based around the so-called “miracle berry,” which actually changes the palate of its eater, causing sour foods to taste sweet. Other chefs tried to work similar magic with ingredients like “tapioca maltodextrin” (Ty-Lör) and togarashi (Lindsay), and such techniques as foaming (Chris Crary) and flash steaming (Beverly).
Unfortunately for all the other modernist keeners, Ty-Lör took home his second quickfire win by crafting a very simple dish: a watermelon cube with vanilla bean honey, black pepper, and a salted olive oil powder. Obviously I couldn’t taste the dishes, but to me, this seemed like a justified victory. Modernist cuisine isn’t only about being flashy with food science; like any type of cooking, it’s comes down to flavours and textures, and how those elements are brought together in novel, tasty ways. Am I right, or am I right?
So Ty-Lör won immunity, and instead of the usual cash prize, took home something that he likely prized enough more—a copy of Myhrvold’s enormous and expensive book (the 2,438-page tome retails for around $500).
Once the quickfire was done and dusted, Padma finally announced the season’s first real barbecue challenge. Seriously, how did they manage eight episodes of a cooking show in Texas without barbecue? Was it some effort to build anticipation? Did they only want the very best contestants to get their hands on the wood chips and smokers?
After splitting themselves into three teams, the chefs were pretty much thrown into the fire, so to speak. The challenge? Present barbecued chicken, beef brisket and pork spare ribs, plus two sides, to 300 diners at The Salt Lick, one of Texas’s most popular barbecue joints. Clearly the competitors were to be evaluated by some pretty tough customers.
Inter-chef camaraderie was front and centre again during this contest. Ty and Edward seemed to really enjoy working together, same goes for Paul and Lindsay, and the two guys named Chris. Edward and Sarah, however, no longer seem to have a taste for each other. On the apparently sweltering day of service, the latter had to be taken to hospital for what looked like heat exhaustion. Edward wasn’t really sympathetic to her plight, claiming he would’ve “pushed through it.” True, being shorthanded for a time was a raw deal, but our favourite wispy-bearded Korean burned a bit of goodwill in my book.
As with Sarah, I also felt a bit sorry for Paul, Grayson and Lindsay. During their overnight smoke session, they didn’t distribute the weight of their brisket properly on their smoking racks, and much of it fell off, causing them to lose precious cooking time. That said, it hardly affected their result—the teams’ Asian-influenced spread of smoked brisket with bourbon barbecue sauce, curry barbecue chicken and caramel-miso pork rib carried the day. Right now it looks like Paul is going to be the chef to beat. The judges emphasized that by noting that, across the various challenges, the Austin chef has won $35,000 in prizes. Even if he doesn’t, ultimately, become the Top Chef, he’s got to be happy with his haul.
Of course, for Paul, Lindsay and Grayson to win, others had to lose. The judges had a lot to discuss when deciding whom to send home. Sarah’s chicken wasn’t really barbecue chicken, Edward ruined his brisket by not cutting it to order, Chris Jones’s grilling “missed the mark” in general, and Chris Crary’s marinades were over salted. The complaints—especially Tom’s—went on and on. Too bad for Chris… C. Padma sent him back to the salty shores of California.
Then, on Last Chance Kitchen
Nyesha pulled out her third consecutive win, this time in a contest using $20 worth of ingredients found at a gas station. Her dish, an almost restaurant-style beer-glazed smoked sausage with chili cheese sauce, proved just slightly more accomplished than challenger Chris C.’s homey fried ham and pickle grilled cheese sandwich.
Moy is an editor at a Toronto-based city magazine. He also writes about
all manner of cultural topics, including food culture.