Top Chef: “Higher Steaks”
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Top Chef: “Higher Steaks”

It was only a matter of time before the Top Chef: Texas contestants encountered two of the things the Lone Star State’s biggest exports: steak and references to the soap opera Dallas. This week brought them both, but neither seemed to aid the contestants very much. 

Quickfire challenge

It’s clear that the classically-trained chefs sometimes just have the edge in the Quickfires competitions, particularly ones like this week’s, in which the contestants had to draw upon the depths of their culinary knowledge to create a version of one of August Escoffier’s mother sauces. Each of them pulled a knife to determine which concoction they would have to put a personal spin on: hollandaise, velouté, tomate, espagnole, or béchamel. It was a nice departure from last week’s frantic roadside survival challenge, and it lets the chefs show off what they’re made of a little more. They also get a decent amount of time for once—a whole hour and a half—and the medium terrifying Dean Fearing for a judge, who reminded me a little bit of Will Ferrell’s impersonation of Harry Carey, what with his wild white hair and head bobbling. 

I’ve been pulling for Grayson since the casting special, and this Quickfire showed her to be a real contender. Not only did she make the obvious joke (“I’m feeling fucking saucy!”) she also turned out a dish that looked genuinely delicious: a charred corn hollandaise on ravioli. Her hollandaise nabbed her the win, though Chris C.’s andouille velouté looked equally worthy. 

Elimination round

It’s back to the team challenge this week—after all, with 13 chefs left in the game, it’ll be a while before we start getting a lot of face time with each of them—and this one’s serious. Together, the chefs have to cook a four-course meal for 200 guests at the Cattle Baron’s Ball (head, obviously, at the Southfork Ranch), featuring steak in at least two dishes. It’s an approach that forces the chefs to delegate amongst themselves, which they do only somewhat effectively. Each course gets a group of three or four, but there was no overall coordinated effort to make the dinner into a cohesive whole. One team chose soup, another a beef carpaccio, another the main steak dish, and the fourth concentrated on dessert, but none of them really seemed to connect with each other. Heather took it upon herself to berate Beverley for being slow prepping her shrimp. It may have been a fair point, but it does seem rich from someone who opted to do the same cake as a couple challenges ago at a steak dinner. 

The elimination round could have also been called “Tylör and the terrible, horrible, no good very bad day.” As the chef who had the most steak experience, Tylör took it upon himself to be solely responsible for cooking all of the steaks to medium rare. His method was to grill the steaks before finishing them in the oven, which might have worked if a few catastrophes hadn’t interfered. First, he gave himself a nasty wound towards the end of prep on the first day, which required him to spend that night in the emergency room waiting for stitches. The next day, running on about an hour of sleep, he grills 200 steaks in 100 plus degree heat. Lindsay, fretting over whether the steaks will get done in time, pulls the trigger on putting them in the oven too early, which leaves ten minutes between courses for them to get nice and cold before going out to the diners. Not that his is the only disaster. The whole dinner ranged from not so bad to airplane food, thanks to the uninspiring gazpacho, Whitney’s undercooked gratin, and Ed’s lackluster asparagus salad. 

It’s uninspiring when all of the contestants seem to be trying to play it safe at the same time.  Nyesha ends up in the judges’ good favors for a compound butter, while Heather ends up winning the prize for her cake, a sign of just how middling the choices were. Ed, Whitney, and Tylör and up in the bottom with a visibly unhappy Tom Colicchio. “I’m starting to think that we chose the wrong chefs,” Tom berates them. To his credit, Tylör takes the blame for the steaks, even though he could have spread it around to the general unhelpfulness of his team members, but he was saved to cook again by Whitney’s even worse gratin. “Usually it’s a hard decision to send someone home, but tonight it was easy,” Tom announces. Ouch. 

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