Top Chef – Texas: The Season So Far

E: Since M was MIA in the fall (grumble grumble), our recaps of Top Chef have been put on the back burner. But M is happily all caught up, and the two of us are prepared to dish on the Texas contestants and their mad skillz.  And their mad personalities.

M: Well, I’m not sure I’m going to discuss anyone’s “skillz”, or make any other ridiculous attempt to sound cool like my OLDER sister is doing, but I am ready to break the season so far down.  And due to my delinquency we haven’t written since the first episode of the season, so to catch up we have to go waaay back.  That said, let’s start at the very beginning.

E: A very good place to start.

M: Thank you Fraulein Maria!  Anyway, moving from Salzberg to San Antonio, we left off at the very beginning, with all of the 16 contestants not even having been chosen, and the concept of the Last Chance Kitchen having not yet been revealed.  In the second episode we got our slate of contestants, and the body parts started flying almost right away.  I don’t want to go into every elimination, since we’re so far into the season, but I do want to mention that one of my early favorites, Keith, the gigantic teddy bear of a former drug dealer who turned his life around to become a chef, got the boot right away.  I was glad to see him have a nice run in the Last Chance Kitchen (heretofore referred to as LCK), a weekly head to head competition between the most recent contestant kicked off and the previous week’s LCK winner that you have to watch on Bravo’s web site.

E: Oh, I was so bummed that Keith got knifed.  He was great.  It was the right thing, though, considering.  Precooked shrimp, in a cooking competition? Dude.  Of course, that really doesn’t excuse Malibu Chris letting him do it, or the way Sarah and Lindsay treated him for it.

M: Yeah, he deserved to go, but it sucked.  You touched on it with Lindsay and Sarah, there have been some firework between the contestants, that’s for sure.  One thing that has bugged me, and led to a lot of the fireworks?  Group or team competitions for the elimination challenges.  Let them cook their own dishes, dammit!

E: Dude, you need to get over that.  Cooking is a team sport.  Running a kitchen requires working with fellow chefs.  Team challenges make sense.  Get over it!

M: Ok, I agree that it’s at times team/group challenges make sense (for example, I love restaurant wars!), but it’s been ALL team competitions.  There have been so few individual challenges, and that’s when you get a real sense of each person’s style and ability.  I just want to see more of that, and see people get eliminated for their own deficiencies, not for those of the group.  To paraphrase a debate from the Wrath of Kahn, the skills of the many do not out weigh the skills of the few, or the one.

E: I will admit that it’s nice to get to know the contestants through their own food. However, the team challenges are where the show gets really dramatic (so clearly, they’re going to keep them around for that reason, too).

M: And it seems like a few people have been the cause of a lot of the havoc, that being Heather, Sarah and to a slightly lesser extent Lindsay.  Although, Sarah bore the brunt of it from Ed in the BBQ episode, and that was no fun to see, either.

E: Right.  Ed’s tricky too; we don’t so much see him being nasty to people’s faces as we see him complaining about them in confessionals.

M: He was kind of passively nasty to Sarah, but still, that was nothing compared to the beating that Beverly has been taking in just about every team or group challenge!

E: Mother of God, that poor woman. What is it about sweet little Beverly that brings out such condescension and such vile treatment from her colleagues?  Particularly her female colleagues?  I just don’t get it.

M: I think that she comes across strangely.  She stated in one of the voice over segments that she was home schooled and isn’t good interacting with people, I think it may be partly that.  More so, though, I think that several of the female chefs (particularly Heather, Sarah and Lindsay) don’t play well with others.  All three appear to have a decent sized bully streak in them, and Beverly is exactly the kind of small, meek person that bullies gravitate toward.

E: Until she was eliminated, I pretty much concentrated on hating Heather, even though Sarah and Lindsay had been nasty in the beginning.  But now that the wicked witched has been squashed by a house (and also Nyesha in Last Chance kitchen; how satisfying was that?) Sarah and Lindsay have been at it again.  Unreal.  Sarah telling Lindsay she should have won Restaurant Wars when she was responsible for the worst dish AND the poor service?  How deluded was that?

M: That was just spite, and was ridiculous.  No matter how awkward Beverly is, she’s done nothing to deserve that kind of treatment, she’s been every bit as good as Lindsay, and certainly not far, if at all behind Sarah.  I loved seeing Grayson stand up for her on that team.  Now, I have such a weird feel for Heather.  She is a bully to the Nth degree, especially but not only when it comes to Beverly.  However, the parts of the time that she wasn’t being an incredible ass, she came across as endearing and someone I could root for.

E: I get that, and I sort of feel like that about Sarah and Lindsay; by themselves, they’re fine.  But working with others?  Damn.

M: Exactly.  Neither of them are nearly the bully Heather was, but both have inspired equal amounts of sympathy and spite.  Back to Heather, Ty-lor, who is goofy in a good, made-for-TV way, seems to genuinely like her from the time they spent working together before the show, which has to count for something.  But that bully streak?  Whoa.  I really turned on her in the last two episodes, and like you was glad to see her go and to see her get beat in the LCK.

E: Gosh, I could not have been more happy.  I mean, holy crap, when she spent all her time berating Beverly in the pairs challenge, almost getting herself sent home in the process?  Just insane.

M: You know what’s another difference between this season and past years?  Not only is there no clear cut favorite, I’m not even sure there’s a clear top group.  Two “regular” seasons ago we had the quartet of the Voltaggios, Kevin Gillespie and Jen.  Last time we had Kevin Sbraga, Angelo, Tiffany and Ed.

E: Er, Kevin almost got sent home a bunch of times in the beginning.  So not a favorite even by the midseason.  I’ll grant you the previous season, but I don’t think they’re always that obvious.

M: Ok, I’ll give you that, but this time there isn’t really a single stand out.  Paul had a good stretch for a couple weeks, but it seemed too short for me to really consider him at the top of the heap, kind of like Kenny from season seven.  If not Paul (who’s also a reformed drug dealer, by the way), maybe Sarah?  Or even meek little Beverly, who can cook the hell out of a braised short rib?  There are only seven left, and I don’t know if I would put money on any one of them to win.  I also couldn’t say who I think should be the next one to go, except that maybe it’s time for Chris Jones to go?  I like his ideas, but his follow through seems to be lacking.  Overall, I just don’t know.

E: Well, Grayson and Paul and Beverly seem to be doing well.  Sarah and Ed are not doing to bad, either.  Really, everyone’d had a bad showing or two, but I think those contestants have shown better than average.

M: I don’t agree on Grayson.  I find her to be one of the most genuinely likable contestants, and am rooting for her and all, but I think in a “normal” season we’d consider her to be middling and just waiting for the right time for her to go, kind of like Season 6’s Laurine Wickett (if you’re asking who she is, that’s kind of my point.  She flew along mostly unnoticed, then got the boot on restaurant wars that season).  This season, however, with no clear striation in the contestants?  Grayson seems like a contender despite her food not really standing out at any point.

E: You don’t feel like Grayson’s getting into a groove now?  She did super well in restaurant wars – they raved about her dishes.

M: True, but that’s one challenge.  If she strings a few more top finishes in a row, then sure, but she’s not there right now.  Not for me at least.

E: I could see it being an all Asian finale, actually.

M: I want to see Beverly win with something other than short ribs before I label her a contender.  And while I mostly like Ed, like Grayson he hasn’t really jumped out, and has been in danger of elimination a few times.

E: True enough.  Ty-Lor (and nice guy, but how annoying is that hyphen?) had a good run, as well, but certainly when you look at the prize money count, it’s Paul all the way.  He’s definitely my favorite.

M: Ty not only has the hyphen, but I’m pretty sure there’s an umlaut over the “o”, too, which is almost as ridiculous as his mustache.  I think you’re probably right that Paul is the front runner.  If we were writing this three weeks ago I would have said absolutely, but since then he’s been kind of back down a bit.  All in all it seems like the Republican presidential hopefuls, with a different favorite every other week.

E: You mean the race to find someone, anyone other than Mitt Romney?

M: Pretty much, yeah.  But since I don’t think our readers want a political back and forth, let’s move to something we both agree on and are excited about… Nyesha is kicking ass and taking names in the LCK!  She got eliminated in a team competition (grrrr!) double elimination (ugh!).  Furthering the anyone’s game narrative of this season, Dakota, who had until then been pretty strong, completely bonked.  Nyesha was her partner and totally didn’t deserve to go.  That she’s still got a chance (as Tom said this past week, three more wins and she’s back in) feels right.

E: I’m loving Nyesha.  It’s funny; because she works for Joel Robuchon, I expected her to kick butt in the competition, and she struggled. But in the LCK, she’s been a powerhouse.  I’m psyched about it.

M: I felt the same way, expecting great things from her, being disappointed at first, and now really pulling for her to get back in the game.  Plus, it would further prove my point that they need less group challenges!  That reminds me, though, there are a few folks, eliminated and still competing, that I definitely expected more from.  After Nyesha, Chuy is probably at the top of that list, but I really expected more both Moto boys, Richie and Chris J.

E: Yes on all counts.  I really like Chris J, but he seems to be ready to throw himself on a knife (so to speak).  Richie seemed like a sweetheart.  And Chuy!  I was shocked to see him go.  I think actually part of the problem identifying a front runner is that so many of the people we thought were going to be frontrunners turned out to be, well, not.  Like Chuy.  And Heather, who is evil, but won two challenges and clearly has chops.

M: In general I feel like this is just a less impressive season.  There are no Voltaggios, no Richard Blais, no Angelo, no Kevin G or Kevin S, no Carla or Fabio, heck not even a Hosea and his bacon-themed tee shirts.  Do you think it’s because of the past three rounds being Masters and All-Stars, or is this just a down season so far?

E: Oh, really?  Other than the bullying, I’m enjoying this season a lot.

M: I didn’t mean it that way, more that the overall talent is a little down compared to previous years.  It’s been entertaining as hell.  That is, if hell is even as hot as south Texas!

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