It’s getting down to the last of our intrepid Top Chef: Texas contestants. After catching their breath and counting their bruises from last week’s over-the-top, Olympic-themed challenge, the final three head on to Vancouver for some challenges that better display their culinary prowess.
This week’s Quickfire is a merciful change in direction from last week’s apparent integration of Extreme Chef into the Top Chef: Texas repertoire, which as Emily mentioned, was basically what would happen if Tyra Banks were allowed to have a food show. The three chef-kateers headed to Chinatown, where Emeril and Padma met them with what’s probably the last Quickfire of the season. Luckily, it was a pretty interesting one. Each chef had to team up with an Asian cuisine master chef, drawing knives to be paired with dumpling Empress Anita Lo, the affable Mumbai chef Floyd Cardoz, or Top Chef Masters winner Takashi Yagihashi. It’s a shame Beverley didn’t edge Sarah out last week, if only so we could have seen her in her comfort zone, working with one of those grand impresarios, but this turned out to be a pretty entertaining test of the remaining chefs’ skills.
The teams all had 40 minutes to make a delectable Asian dish, but not together—every 10 minutes the master chef and partner have to trade off, meaning that they have to communicate the direction of the food they are making without speaking to the other member of their team. It’s an exercise not only in execution, but also in trying to suss out the way another chef thinks. Paul matches up with Takashi, and figures out without much direction that Takashi is going for a geoduck sashimi dish. The two work nicely together, despite the exotic ingredient, but Paul ends up dashing their chances by adding too many Thai chiles to the finished dish. Lindsay got Anita Lo, who seemed like she had the most difficult dish to parse, a preparation of scallops three different ways. Lindsay managed to intuit making the dish two ways, but it seemed like they didn’t quite see eye-to-eye on it. Sarah was maybe the most uncomfortable with Asian flavors, but the curry she made with Floyd Cardoz went off without a hitch, thanks in part to Cardoz’s apt hints at what Sarah should do next, and she pulled off the win, as well as a hefty $20,000 prize.
Usually at this point in the game, the challenges delve a little more into the chefs' creativity and personal history, a la the “Mentors” episode a few weeks back, but this week’s elimination challenge felt like it would have made more sense a couple of weeks back. The gist of it was that each chef had to serve a dish and a cocktail that incorporated the theme of a “Fire and Ice” cocktail party. Serving 150 people dinner is no mean task, and it certainly gave the chefs a chance to show their individual cooking styles, but it still fell a bit flat. Maybe because when we’re so far along that the mistakes tend to be nitpicky and not disastrous, teasing out the tiny flaws in each preparation seems better suited for a large meal than a cocktail challenge.
Lindsay opted for halibut with a roasted tomato soup and a fancied-up Bloody Mary. The fish was at least in part an attempt to redeem herself after the imperfectly cooked dish during the Restaurant Wars challenge, and it seemed like it was well done across the board. The problem seemed like her dish was overall too safe, and that the cocktail began to separate. A tomato ice garnish was a somewhat last minute addition, thrown on because Lindsay was nervous that she hadn’t taken the theme literally enough. Normally that’s the kind of mistake that isn’t fatal, but in the final three, as those in the stew room are wont to say, it’s the tiny things that send you packing.
I’m rooting for Paul, but he has a bad habit of overthinking his dishes and adding a last minute garnish that puts the judges off. In the Quickfire, it was the extra dash of heat. For the cocktail party, Paul served a king crab dish with a lemon snow that melted into it, as well as a drink that sounded pretty delicious, a rum and palm sugar concoction topped with chili-infused egg white foam. But the arugula he used stood apart from the rest of the ingredients, falling into the dread "useless green" category. Plus, it seemed to drive Tom Colicchio completely nuts.
Meanwhile, Sarah decided to do a five green-filled cannoli with a frozen ginger sformata on top of it. I’m not entirely sure why the pasta is supposed to evoke fire, but it looked tasty enough. The problem was with the sformata, which Sarah left on an amazingly named freezing contraption called the anti-griddle a tad too long, turning it into solid ice. (Doesn't an anti-griddle seem like something a Batman villain would use to make grilled cheeses?) Her drink looked good, too—a gin, mango, and kumquat mixture with a Prosecco floater—but it didn’t match up with the rest of the dish. To me, the solidly frozen mousse on pasta sounded pretty unappetizing and was a worse culinary sin than either Lindsay’s flat cocktail or Paul’s footloose arugula sprinkling, but Padma and company sent Sarah along to the finale, ginger ice and all.
And then it was between determined, exacting Lindsay and dark horse Paul. I’m glad that it was Paul that made it through, but I think watching friends Lindsay and Sarah face each other in the kitchen would have been a good show. As it is, we’re set for a Texan v. Texan finale, which won't be boring. Knives out, y’all.