Ahhh, things are getting back to normal.
Finally down to our 16 chefs, we begin with a quick re-introduction to some of the contestants. The editors take the opportunity to re-hash things we already knew: Chris J. and Richie work together, Keith (AKA Rick Ross…if you don’t know who he is, Google it) went to prison, and Beverly’s Stuart Smally moment confirms that she is a little too sweetly optimistic to be trusted.
Then we jump straight into something that I didn’t realize I was missing so much, the Quickfire!
The chefs enter the kitchen, and it doesn’t matter who the guest judge was – Johnny Hernandez of La Gloria – all eyes are on the giant terrarium and albino rattlesnake. In front of each chef is some sort of snake box that holds the “not really going to be a surprise” ingredient. Is Top Chef going to get all Fear Factor on us?? Alas, no, it is all just a tease. The rattlesnakes lurking under the lids are dead and skinned.
Queue the predictable Snakes On a Plane reference. Oh Padma, you and your uncharacteristic swearing.
Some chefs take to the rattlesnake quickly, but plenty of them have no clue how to butcher it and even less of an idea of how to cook it. Paul, Richie, and Nyesha wind up in the bottom for covering up the flavor of the snake (Paul/Richie), or grossly overcooking it (Nyesha).
Beverly’s clever rattlesnake nigiri, Dakota’s beer battered rattlesnake, and Sarah’s flash fried rattlesnake all win Hernandez’s praise. Ultimately, Dakota takes home the $5,000 and waltzes into the first Elimination Challenge with immunity.
“Maybe she is a Mexican rock star?” – Edward
Close, but no cigar. It’s Blanca Flores‘ Quinceañera – 15th birthday for the gringos out there – and the chefs will cater her 100-person celebration with authentic Mexican cuisine. They draw knives, splitting into teams pink and green.
After a quick consultation/menu planning session with the birthday girl, the teams break into a mad dash to buy supplies. I have to ask- Was it a prerequisite for this season that none of the contestants could have EVER watched this show before?? Allow me to demonstrate the ridiculous list of rookie mistakes made during shopping:
1- Pre-made tortillas
2- Using boxed cake
3- More pre-made tortillas
4- Pre-cooked shrimp
At least both teams decided to use pre-made tortillas – in a challenge to cook AUTHENTIC Mexican food, mind you – so that they could share equally in Tom’s shaming grimace and disappointed scowl. And allowing your “pastry chef”, immunity or not, to use boxed cake is just asking for a turn on the wrong side of the judge’s table.
Perhaps some of the “umph” missing from the first two episodes was that they weren’t trying to draw their paring knives across each other’s throats yet. Not anymore!
Case in point? Chris C.’s handling of Keith’s pre-cooked shrimp blunder.
I knew I didn’t like that guy as soon as he made his Blais/Voltaggio comparison in episode 1. Last I checked though, Blais isn’t a certified snake-in-the-grass.
I know, I know. “But Jon, this is a competition; they aren’t there to make friends, blah, blah, blah.” And I get that if many of us saw Keith lining up the sword against that big ole belly, why stop him from falling on it?
Sure, Nyesha and Ty-Lor also let Keith buy the frozen shrimp, but the difference is Chris knew better. It could have been editing, but it looked like Ty-Lor was too busy scrambling to care and Nyesha actually thought it was ok (prediction: she’s gone inside of 2 weeks.) But Chris? He knew it was a terrible idea, looked to his teammates to see if anyone else was going to stop that train wreck, and let the big guy belly flop onto the saber.
The problem is that Chris wasn’t just screwing Keith. He screwed the whole team. He knowingly allowed Keith to weaken the entire team, and his oblivious teammates let him do it. Once the rest of the team discovers the shrimp disaster, they smartly 86 the dish.
At the party, the teams serve up two appetizers, a full buffet, and a cake. From the start, it is obvious that the green team works as a more cohesive unit, and seems to actually know what they are doing. The pink team, however, is just a hot mess.
With a few exceptions, like Chris J.’s chili, mushroom, and Oaxaca cheese empanadas, the overall level of food presented in this episode seemed below average. Even most of the good dishes simply looked better next to mishaps like Keith’s flour tortilla enchilada (AKA, a “buuurrrriiitoooooo”) and Ty-Lor’s dry, fancified hush puppy.
Not surprisingly, the pink team crashes and burns. And while the green team celebrates, no individual winner is chosen.
Keith, Ty-Lor, Sarah, and Lindsay are the worst of the worst, and we get our first real Judge’s table. It is brutal and embarrassing. After all of the finger pointing is done, Keith’s decision to buy pre-cooked shrimp and his ignorance of what constitutes an enchilada send him home.
Or does it? Forgot about Last Chance Kitchen, didn’t you? I won’t spoil it for you. It is only 7 minutes long, check it out.
Next week on Top Chef: No clue, my DVR cut off. Sorry.
Quotes and Notes:
“There is no rule that I can’t follow a recipe on a box” Yeah Dakota, and there is no rule that you can’t run to McDonald’s and serve up a fish filet sandwich, but it isn’t going to impress anyone.
Chris J. – I like him, partially because of his Star Wars and Dazed and Confused references, but someone should tell him to pick one pair of glasses and stick with it. This isn’t the 80’s, and those aren’t popped pastel collars.
I already enjoy Hugh’s food, but I’m starting to love him as a judge. He doesn’t sugarcoat, and brings out the snark exactly when it is deserved.
- By Jon Watson, Food & More blog