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

Top Chef: “The Heat Is On”

Illustration for article titled Top Chef: “The Heat Is On”

Howdy, Top Chef Texas folks. I’m filling in for Emily this evening—and for a few more episodes later on in the season—and looking forward to all the antics this season has in store, particularly with the grave and jowly Emeril at the judges’ table. Though I’m not usually a fan of hour-and-half premiere episodes of things, the gluttonous two week-long casting-stravagazna that Top Chef has opened this season with seems like it really could have been squeezed into less time. This week, the second half, seemed to draw out the elimination of the “on the bubble” contestants unnecessarily. After the rapidfire format of coat, no coat, or maybe, the long judge’s table felt ponderous and slow, particularly since we have minimal investment in any of the chefs that they just introduced.

At the top of the casting continuation, 11 chef coats had been doled out, and a precious 5 remained to the third competing group and the chefs that had been selected for culinary do-overs. Maybe all the stunning, coat-worthy chefs really were in the first two rounds, but it seemed like the spots remaining gave short shrift to the other two groups, and the judges took a harsher turn on some dished that might have ended up on the bubble in friendlier circumstances. I thought the third group challenge was more inventive than the previous two: each chef had to choose an ingredient with a mystery cloche that, when dramatically removed, revealed that every contestant had twenty, forty, or sixty minutes to cook.

For some, that seemed fair enough: Mushrooms or Brussel sprouts can definitely be done well in twenty minutes. But the forty minute risotto and short-rib seemed pretty killer, and it seemed like no surprise that the contestants who gravitated towards more difficult ingredients (oxtail, octopus) and thus slightly longer times also ended with the most spots in the Top Chef house. There were no moments as good as Tom Colicchio’s snap-judgment elimination (http://www.avclub.com/articles/everythings-bigger-in-texas,64363/) of the smug Tyler Stone. There was only the heartbreaker of Chaz, chef de cuisine at the mind-numbingly delicious New York Malaysian joint, failing to get his hastily crafted risotto to the plate at all. The twenty minute round yielded only one coat, for a delicately grilled piece of trout, while the sixty minute round nabbed two more hopefuls, Ashley with her Korean octopus and Lindsay, with her braised veal.

Though it’s hard to know who to root for just yet, I think Lindsay is worth keeping an eye on—whipping out braised veal while helping a fellow chef in a (literal) pressure cooker situation left her with barely a mussed hair. My allegiances were somewhat more finely tuned in the “on the bubble” round, where the poor contestants were in limbo in the stew room for what seemed like 24 hours. The previous three rounds had left six chefs fighting for just two spots. Like Emily, I’m a fan of the gutsy cruise ship chef Molly, as well as the sassy between-jobs Grayson, who answered the “when did you know you wanted to be a chef” prompt someone presumably threw at her during confessional with aplomb. “My mom sat me down when I was 15 and asked what I wanted to do. I was 15 year old! All I wanted to do was drink. But I’ve been working in kitchens ever since.”

Molly, unfortunately dropped the ball and got sent packing, but a fig, shrimp, and grits number kept Grayson around for another quickfire. The final spot had some other likable contestants, but by far the most impressive was the stalwart Kentucky-by-way-of-Brooklyn Edward Lee, who managed to meld Southern and Korean cuisines, all while bleeding profusely from a cut on his hand. “He can take my entire torso; I’ll cut with my feet.” That’ll be perfect for the next challenge, no doubt. His dish snagged the last of the chef coats, finally completing the roommate roster in the Chef house. Though we got to see the results of the in-between chefs, this episode lagged just as much as the first one. But this season looks promising—was that Pee Wee Herman in the mix? Let’s hope that “Texas-sized” refers to the portions (or the hats Tom Colicchio has to wear) for the rest of the season.