Top Chef Recap: The Pits

Now that's a big pit.
Now that’s a big pit. Photo: Bravo

Is anyone actually excited when Top Chef does an extended episode? This is a rhetorical question: Obviously the answer is no. And yet, Bravo continues to torture us with a superfluous extra fifteen minutes and present it as a treat, kind of like when the cafeteria proclaims salad day. This week’s very special long episode kicked off with Padma giving the chefs a homework assignment: Study the books of Modernist Cuisine, presented to them in a glass case. The chefs voice-overed about them in a product-placement-y way, but considering this is a product that needs no promotion we’re not so sure what was going on. Either way, the assignment made our cheftestants nervous.

Naturally, author Nathan Myhrvold — described by Ed as a “weird Renaissance man dropped in from outer space” — awaited the chefs for the Quickfire. (By the way, have you ever listened to the “Planet Money” piece on Myhrvold’s company, Intellectual Ventures? You really should.) He gave a nice little explanation of modernist cooking for the audience, and a nice little reminder that molecular gastronomy is only a small subset of what most chefs do. Obviously, many of them ignored this after Padma tasked them with creating a modernist dish, breaking out the chemicals and liquid nitrogen to molecular whizzbang stuff anyway. Malibu Chris explained that he is very modern because he likes to make paintings of naked women, but sadly for him he was not modern enough to win. That honor went to Ty-Lor Boring for his watermelon with vanilla bean honey and powdered olive oil. Yum? He also got a set of the books and immunity, which was a pretty sweet prize.

The elimination challenge was basically the Quickfire’s opposite: Make the best traditional Texas barbecue. The chefs broke themselves into three teams of three with pretty minimal drama and headed off to the famous Salt Lick restaurant to learn the secrets of good barbecue (our friend who lives in Austin assures us that the restaurant is indeed excellent and that they serve the best beans ever). The teams (Sarah/Ed/Ty-Lor, Paul/Grayson/Lindsay, Bev and the Chrises) got all night to cook chicken, beef brisket, and pork short ribs, plus two sides. “You can take elegance and throw it out the window,” said Ed, who clearly has never had Texas barbecue before.

The tour of the Salt Lick gave us the first drool-worthy moment this season (only took nine episodes). The owner then gave the teams a ride in a product-placement mobile to replicas of the restaurant’s barbecue pits, where the chefs got to start cooking at 10 p.m. Unlike the chili cook-off, they really did not get to sleep at all with this challenge, and quite a bit of delirium ensued. Beverly set a pot of bourbon on fire and then left it in the grass (“When it comes to common sense it seems like she’s missing a few chapters”), while creeper Chris took the time to talk to his beer-can chickens. For some reason, most teams opted not to use the smoker in the barbecue challenge based in Texas, a place where people buy smokers for personal use in their own backyards.

The lack of sleep followed by the heat of the day was too much for Sarah and sent her to the hospital, prompting Ed to ask, “What’s wrong, is she dead?” To be fair, this did make things rather difficult for him and Ty-lor, and forced them to change their game plan and slice their meat ahead of time, a big no-no in Texas brisket.

Team Paul/Grayson/Lindsay went with Asian flavors for their proteins and served them with charred Brussels sprouts, kimchee okra, and watermelon salad. The Chrises and Bev made beer-can chicken, spicy smoked brisket, and Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce pork ribs with beans and coleslaw. Team Sarah/Ed/Ty-lor showed off their roots and made Texas-style chicken, Kentucky brisket with salt-and-pepper rub, and Kansas City–style pork ribs with a dry rub.

Not to say we told you so, but the win went to the only team who used the smoker: Paul, Grayson, and Lindsay. Tom even asked for the chicken recipe, which we don’t believe he’s ever done before. Oh, and if you’re keeping tabs, Paul has now won $35K on this show, which is more than we made in a year during our first job out of college, so that’s nice. The remaining two teams shared the bottom two for their “failure” (Padma’s word) with their proteins. She, Gail, and Nathan had a long debate over whether the fault went to Creeper Chris for cooking the meat incorrectly, or to Malibu Chris for messing up the rubs and sauces. Alas, beauty did not trump salty rubs, and Malibu Chris was sent home. (What are the chances he’s already painted a naked picture of Padma?)

Next week: Restaurant wars, 9 bajillion episodes later than usual! It’s boys versus girls! Ed wears a suit with a pink shirt! A forgotten mushroom nightmare! Sarah yells! Hugh Acheson’s eyebrows return!

Top Chef Recap: The Pits