Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Top Chef: “BBQ Pit Wars”

Illustration for article titled Top Chef: “BBQ Pit Wars”

The chefs explore both high- and low-country cuisine tonight, kicking things off with molecular gastronomy before jumping into the barbecue pit. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the chefs fared better with the former.


Tonight's Quickfire challenge begins with one of reality television's favorite conventions: There's someone at the door! At least this time it's not a cryptic Tyra mail, or Tim Gunn coming in to see which contestants sleep with retainers. Instead it's nearly 2,500 pages of Modernist Cuisine. The chefs flip through the tomes, and Beverly of course stays up past her bedtime trying to memorize her flash cards. It's product placement, sure, but at least it's a good fit. The following day, when author Nathan Myhrvold introduces the challenge, his introduction doesn't sound like a scripted commercial with the contestants feigning excitement. ("What a great and wonderful truck this is!") Instead, Myhrvold conversationally explains that molecular gastronomy is just a small part of modernist cuisine, and that the movement's really just about bringing new techniques and creativity to delight and surprise diners.

The chefs, then, have 45 minutes to show off their inner modernist. This is probably my favorite quickfire to date, and if anything, I wish more of this bloated episode's minutes had been spent up front. Fewer minutes of sweaty Sarah, more minutes of watermelon cubes, please. This quickfire challenges the chefs, but not in any artificial ways. It pushes them to incorporate complex techniques into their cooking with little time to experiment with those techniques, and the results looked amazing. Chris J. jumps at the chance to show off what's normal for him, starting the course off with a miracle berry tablet. It's a gimmick, sure, but I'm starting to like the gimmick instinct in Chris J. because it seems to come from such an earnest place. He was totally geeking out just to be standing next to Myhrvold, who, OMG, grows those berries in his basement. But Ty-lör Boring takes the win with a simpler route, mixing some malodextrin with olive oil to form a powder, which he serves over peppered cube of watermelon. This is one I'd love to taste because it sounds so strange but was clearly delicious.

On the bottom, Beverly, amazingly, misread the chapter on presentation and manages to explode curry foam all over Padma and Myhrvold. Then while scurrying to clean it up, stumbles and knocks over all of the pans and prep bowls at her station. (Later, she almost sets a trailer on fire.) I am now a Bev fan.


Providing a nigh balance to the highbrow first challenge, the chefs are thrown into the barbecue pit for the elimination. This has them literally jumping for joy, even before they see the truck they're going to ride in. As it turns out, our modernist poster boy Myhrvold is also a barbecue champ. (And in case you're feeling good about yourself, he also holds 200+ patents, founded Microsoft Research, and has a PhD "in math­e­mat­i­cal eco­nom­ics and the­o­ret­i­cal physics" from Princeton. He's basically what Bev's parents wished for in a child.) The chefs take off for The Salt Lick, the barbecue joint where they'll do their cooking… all night long, in a challenge quite reminiscent of the chili cookoff.

This is the second all-nighter for this round a chefs, a particularly cruel reality-show trope that usually leads to contestants crying or laughing hysterically, or both. Here the effects are a little worse than intended: Sarah's taken to the hospital after becoming overheated. Since this is another team challenge, this leaves the read team, Ty and Ed, in the lurch. Ty handles the situation admirably, wishing Sarah well, telling her not to worry, and adapting to the new situation. Ed acts like a dick. Maybe he's like Grayson, and has fatigue-induced Tourette's—only instead of being goofy and promising Tom Colicchio sex in the mouth, he yells at a teammate for letting something short of death pull her away from the competition.

To be fair, his rancor isn't totally unfounded. Sarah's departure sends Ty and Ed into a panic while finishing prep. Sure they won't have enough time to serve 300 guests, they choose to slice the meat ahead of time. Ed realizes as this is happening that it's a mistake, one that lands the team on the bottom: The meat looses it's flavor and texture to the steamer. The white team (Beverly, Chris J., Malibu) don't fare much better, joining the red team on the bottom, even with a full crew. The ribs are salty, the brisket's chewy, and the beans aren't cooked. Hearing the footage before judge's table, it was clear the white team would land there. What's surprising is that they chose to put all six chefs there, instead of only the losing team. The result was a drawn-out stink-fest criticizing most of the dishes for everything from lack of ingenuity to poor cooking technique to unusual mint flavor. This episode didn't need to be 15 minutes longer. Malibu goes home no sooner than his nickname was chosen, and the blue team takes the win for its Asian-flavor spin on barbecue.

Grade: B+

— Are you contributing to the Fund to End Unibrows?
— Surprised they pulled both teams to the bottom for a chew-out round.
— If you haven't had Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce, I recommend it.