I have never been to Texas, and therefore I've never made the drive from Austin to San Antonio. From what I gather, it is long. But I've made other long drives, and none of them taught me to cook. But that is apparently what happened before last night's Elimination Challenge. The seven clowns still vying for the Top Chef crown, who thus far this season had barely been able to keep their pants up much less make consistently great food, made the overnight drive to San Antonio and got their collective shit together. (Also, my metaphor doesn't work. If their actual pants were falling down, that'd be a little exciting, which this season has been anything but.) But in this episode they cooked interesting, surprising food. It felt like I was watching a different, better show. I hope everybody keeps it up.
Maybe Charlize Theron is the X factor. I'm all for Charlize Theron being in every episode, and I don't think anybody involved with the show would disagree. Tom Colicchio would certainly not disagree. He was like an awkward school girl last night, cracking bad jokes and trying to force himself to act natural, his head dewy with flop sweat. "You know what happens when you combine good and evil? You get politicians." Cough. Crickets. I can picture him standing in his dressing room before meeting Charlize and practicing saying hello. "Hi Ms. Theron, I'm Chef Tom, I'm a big fan of your Tom. SHIT. Hello, Charlize? Can I call you that? I'm Top, welcome to Tom Chef. Fuck."
As of our chefs make the long journey to San Antonio, Sarah and Lindsay still seethe with resentment over Beverly's win. Sarah says of the team's win, "It's a little bittersweet for me, because Lindsay should have won." Lindsay's got sour grapes of her own. They are very sour grapes. They are basically wine, at this point. But not very good wine. "This wine smells like vinegar." These two can't leave it alone. Consoling the guys' team, Sarah says, "Everyone has a bad day." Yes, Sarah, like you, every day. All your days are bad days, because you are horrendous. A great day to know if you are having a bad day is to compare your day to Sarah's day, any one of Sarah's days, and see if it's similar.
Renowned French/Buddhist pescaphile Eric Ripert and a romper-wearing Padma greet the chefs in the kitchen. Behind them lies a conveyor belt. What could this challenge be? Do they have to grab luggage from baggage claim and cook something using underwear and vibrators? Sadly that is not the case. Chef Ripert lays out the challenge succinctly. "DARE ARE TIMES WEEN EES MOS SHALL ENGINE EEN THE KISHIN." What? He was particularly difficult to understand last night, and I for one love his accent. Padma explains it more clearly. The chefs have thirty minutes to make a dish with three ingredients from the conveyor belt, but the conveyor belt will take its sweet time kicking out anything truly worth cooking with. It's up to the chefs to decide whether they want to sacrifice cooking time for quality product.
The conveyor belt starts spinning, and it's stuff like saltines and cottage cheese. Most of the chefs smartly start prepping food from out of the pantry while they wait for decent things to come around on the conveyor. Ed loses patience and grabs macadamia nuts "because this is challenge is nutty." Oh, Ed. You should grab a deck of playing cards because that is what you are, a card. A lot of ingredients pass the chefs by on the belt, and they ignore it. I like to hope all the stuff they don't use goes to a shelter or something, but it probably goes straight in the trash. Chris keeps spying and missing lobster. It happens more than twice, and each time it makes me so happy seeing him run around and not get it quick enough. It is some torturous, Clockwork Orange-level shit. Chris keeps calling "them" bastards, over and over. Why are they bastards, Chris? Because you are top heavy and can't reach the slow-moving lobsters quickly enough? He finally gets it on the third try.
Time's up, and Beverly can't get her curried Rice Krispies on her salmon. It's inches away, and she's disqualified because all three of the belt ingredients don't make it on her plate. It's a shame, because Chef Ripert tastes hers both with and without, and he tells her that had she gotten them on, she would have won by a mile. It's almost cruel to tell her. It was very fun having to watch these chefs serve dishes made with garbage ingredients to such a respected chef. Ripert didn't care for Chris's butter-poached lobster with foie gras, so all his truffle-shuffling was for nothing. Grayson's citruses overwhelmed the rest of her dish, and Paul's bitter melon was, as advertised, bitter. The Ripper preferred the dishes of the Ice Queens, Sarah and Lindsay. Sarah made a fried soft shell crab with cottage cheese sauce, and my pants filled with barf. But Lindsay's bouillabaisse with fennel-Pernod broth wins. For a second, she almost seems happy.
To win this week's Elimination Challenge, the chefs must create a dish fit for a queen. Which queen, you ask? Well, who is the first person you think of when someone says "queen"? Obviously it's Charlize Theron, star of Snow White & the Huntsman, a movie that comes out six months from this episode's air date. Get that buzz building, studio execs! "Our first goal is to corner the yuppie foodie audience." Charlize Theron is a very big star (she won an Oscar for Mighty Joe Young, after all) and this is a big get for Bravo. No one is more excited than Sarah, who flips out. I would not have pegged her as a major Theronhead, but she can barely contain herself. The only person more excited is Tom Colicchio, who is off camera doing curls and pushups. A shame Chris Crary isn't still around. He'd be noticeably excited to see Charlize, I'm sure. I half expected to see him tip-toeing into the back of the kitchen. "Only eight chefs remain, am I right, guys?" The chefs are charged with making a Gothic feast. Like this?
Each dish should be wickedly beautiful, with real indulgence and risk taking. I hope every dish is poisoned. This is a fun theme. Ed will be doing a black sauce and a white sauce, representing "the classic struggle between good and evil." Yeah, bro, that is totally a CLASSIC struggle. Like, vintage. I am sort of expecting this meal to be like church haunted house, with a bowl of peeled grapes as eyeballs. Chris Jones won't let me down, I'm sure. He also talks to his wife on the phone. She says he is the strongest person she knows. How many people does she know? Are they all sick? His wedding photo proves his hair decisions have always been perfect.
Emeril, Eric, Tom, Padma, and Ms. Charlize will judge the Elimination Challenge. The Evil Queen takes the head of the table. You can tell she's evil because her nails are painted black. There are lots of awkward questions like, "Charlize, can you tell us about your upcoming movie a bit more?" Why, funny you should be forced to ask! She'd love to. Also, I'm confused about the timeline. She says more than once, "Can I use this for my character?" Haven't you already made this movie? What are you talking about? Sure, you can use this sauce "for your character." What a showbiz weirdo. When Lindsay says her dish has dragon beans, Charlize says, "How perfect! If you were going to cast a bean in your dish--" WHO IS CASTING BEANS IN DISHES? "Well, bean, if you really want the part in this stew, you need to come over to this couch and sit on my lap JK what's going on?"
Believe it or not, everybody makes great food, food that cleverly draws inspiration from the theme. Up first is Ed, serving a tuna tartare with black garlic ponzu and an Asian pear vinaigrette. There are also fried fish scales. Man, one look at those black and white sauces and I am totally reminded of that CLASSIC battle between good and evil.
Paul creates an enchanted forest filled with temptation: foie gras with bacon, pumpernickel, pickled cherries, peppers, and beets. There is a bloody handprint! It looks very neat. Eric hopes Paul was wearing a glove when he made the handprint. Very spooky. I am spooked out. I turn off my TV for ten minutes and go outside for a walk just to clear my head of all this spookiness.
To show Lindsay she can cook a piece of fish, Beverly has a seared halibut with red curry coulis and forbidden black rice. I think she says the seared halibut represents Snow White prevailing. Sure! Her explanation is the wackiest, but the fish is cooked perfectly.
Lindsay serves a seared scallop over a "witch's stew" and dragon beans. Tom loves the short rib stew, and Padma can picture an old witch stirring a cauldron. What an imagination on that one. As noted above, Charlize likes how perfectly cast the dragon beans are. Sure. And the Oscar for best beans goes to these beans.
Sarah goes indulgent with an Amarone risotto and lamb heart. It doesn't look pretty, but the lamb heart tastes great. Charlize's eyes light up and she can't stop going on about wanting to eat more hearts. Alright.
Grayson's plate is intense, meant to evoke a slaughtered chicken. She cooked a black chicken with beets, foie gras, and a quail egg. She says the egg represents the baby that was inside the chicken when it was killed. Whoa! Getting political. "Life begins at Quickfire." It looks very cool.
And finally, there is Chris Jones, the strongest man I've ever known. He serves a poisoned apple dessert with apple powder and cherries and cinnamon and all sorts of stuff. It looks great, and Tom is genuinely impressed, at last, with Chris's bag of tricks.
Everyone at Judges' Table agrees it's one of the finest meals they've ever eaten on Top Chef. That is saying a lot! I would not have expected out of these bags of bones. All the chefs are called before the judges, and their praises are sung. Charlize says, "If I was a queen and had a castle, you would all be coming with me." You are not a queen, but no offense, you probably have a castle? You certainly could have a castle. Nothing is stopping you from buying a castle, and frankly celebrity is the new royalty so whatever, call yourself the Queen. My point is: take these chefs with you. Her favorite is Paul, who wins two tickets to the world premiere of Snow White & the Huntsman. Sarah shoots him many daggers, as she wanted to go and be Charlize's new best friend FOREVER.
Ed, Lindsay and Chris are also safe, so it comes down to Beverly, Sarah and Grayson. At this point, the judges are just nitpicking: Sarah's risotto was a little too cheesy, a little undercooked; Beverly's arrowroot sauce got sticky; Grayson's egg and foie didn't quite gel with the rest of her dish. Each chefs begs the Queen to spare them. Sarah talks about wanting to wear Ms. Theron's skin as a cape, Beverly weeps about her family, and Grayson angrily asserts that she played by the challenge's rules and went outside her comfort zone, unlike Beverly. Maybe Beverly did play it too safe, because Padma tells her to pack her knives and go. This probably comes as a relief to many of the other contestants, sadly. Beverly marched to the beat of a different drummer, and that drummer sort of drummed in a weird way. And tragically, had she had two more seconds to get the curried Rice Krispies on her Quickfire dish, she'd have immunity. In conclusion, don't forget to see Mirror Mirror, coming soon.