Top Chef 9.3 – The Actual Competition Begins

Less stock footage of cowboys on steers punching cows with their hammy fists means they’re going to tone down the whole “git along, little doggie” stuff. Oh, except for the rattlesnakes. Yee-haw!

Look, I love Texas. I’m Texan. I’m so Texan I piss excellence, and it has the piquant odor of chipotle. But they keep doing these stereotypes, and I’m going to tease them every single time. I will say, though, that the quick cut to a sign at a roadside stand announcing “2 bean & cheese tacos of 99¢” made my mouth water because YOU KNOW THOSE WOULD BE THE BEST DAMN BEAN AND CHEESE TACOS EVER. Even the tamales at the gas station in that part of town are muy delicioso, gente, I’m serious.


But on to the chefs! They show up in the kitchen and there’s a huge aquarium with an albino rattlesnake hissing and spitting. And there are vented wooden boxes in front of each of them. Uh-oh. They meet Johnny Hernandez, local chef known for wild game (which is prevalent here, a lot of upscale restaurants specialize in this), and find out that the Quickfire Challenge will be to cook rattlesnake.

So open you box and get started! Uh…oh, okay, it’s just the long strip of meat in the box, they don’t have to actually kill a rattlesnake. (I can’t believe they thought they would. They can kill you, rattlesnakes. Side story, when I was leading a group of campers back in my apocalypse training camp back in the day – it’s a thing, we’ll talk about that later – we came across a Coppermouth, almost as dangerous as a rattler. I whipped out my trench shovel and cut its head off. YEAH. I’m kind of bad ass. And we cooked it. They are a bitch to clean and skin.)

And the chefs get them cleaned and skinned, saving them a lot of time. (But now they don’t get to take in the snake spirit, thanking the Good Mother for their fortune, and then having the ability to speak Parsletongue.) The winner of this challenge will win $5,000 and immunity for the eleimination round, so that’s pretty sweet.

Padma throws out the expected, “I better see some mother truckin’ snakes on those mother truckin’ plates,” and they all laugh because they’re nervous, not because it was funny. I get it. They all scramble, trying to figure out what the hell to do with this three foot long tube of meat, some are more deft than other. Chuy (I have to use real names now) grew up on a farm, so he’s not bothered at all. Paul, one of the Austin chefs, says how he needs to represent the local chefs. This is never good when they single someone out, guys.

It’s TIME, and here’s the breakdown on the people they cared about:

  • Sarah (One of the Chicago Bad Ass Women) – flash fried with shallot and browned butter
  • Beverly (Korean-Mom) – Nigri with Thai Basil Aoli (get in my mouth)
  • Sergeant Handsome (I can’t remember his name, he blinds me with his attractiveness) – Niciose with oil oil and panko
  • Chicago Crazy Hair (eh) – breaded with cumin and bacon
  • Paul – Asian-street food inspired with slaw (it looks delicious)
  • Dakota – beer tempura
  • Keith (Chef Chef) – sweet corn griddle cake and beer battered with a tequila ancho fondue (Honey, down here we call that queso. Also, you had me at tequila.)
  • Nyesha – braised with tequila (Again, see: I love you) with citrus and jalapeño
  • Chuy – adobo seasoned with pasilia balsamic BBQ and I want to soul kiss this man. And then eat this.
  • Richie (Other Chicago dude) – grilled jerk-seasoned with roasted corn. (Eh.)

Least favorites:

Paul (oooooh, that’s gotta hurt, Local Boy) because they couldn’t taste the meat
Rich – could only taste the citrus
Nyesha – it was one dimensional and overcooked.

Most favorite:

Beverly – it was gorgeous on the plate and was utterly delicious
Dakota – by far the favorite (hey, I wonder if that means she won?)
Sarah – her’s was perfectly cooked, flaky, tender and flavorful

Dakota won five large and immunity. So she can slack off tonight, right, gang?


Elimination Challenge

The chefs draw knives, pink or green. They will be preparing a meal for an important event. An adorable young lady steps out, Blanca Flores (White FLower, aw!) and they will be cooking for her Quinciñera! (Think Mexican Bat Mitzvah.) Each team will have 30 minutes to talk with her and organize, then it’s time to shop.

The Green Team has Chuy, who happens to be Mexican, so they’ve got a leg up. They find out how spicy she likes it (mild – not all Mexican food is dripping in fire) and she mentions that her favorite meat is cabrito (goat) and sí! Ay, me gusta cabrito. Chuy is also pleased, as his abuelo taught him how to slaughter goat when he was little and has been cooking it for years. (America is the only country that doesn’t eat goat commonly. You know, it’s the most commonly eaten meat in the world. Because it’s delicious.)

The Pink Team is going to be run by Chef Southern Forehead (Lindsey) as she lived in Mexico for three years as a sous chef. Her thick Georgian/Florida panhandle accent cracks me up. They decide on a bunch of things, and Chef Chef says they should do enchiladas, because they’re easy. NO. No they are not. They are easy when they are crappy. Ugh.

Both teams head out to shop, half at Whole Foods (which is expensive) and the local Mexican Grocery Store (which is not.) And then Chef Chef decides to save money by purchasing a bunch of pre-cooked shrimp. May I remind you that he owns a SEAFOOD RESTAURANT on the coast. And he bought pre-cooked shrimp. In a cooking competition.

Dakota makes it easy on herself by buying a cake mix, because she can follow the recipe on the box, right? Are you…what?! Guys, let’s just get ready. ALSO. The Pink Team bought pre-made flour tortillas. They might as well as Blanca Flores’ abuela to get on her knees so they all can spit in her face. Pre-made tortillas? Like, manufactured tortillas? Shame on you.

They have three hours of prep time, and I hear that people are making mole and carne asada, and those things take hours. Like, a full 24 in the case of mole. Proper mole, I should add. Here’s the menu breakdown for each team:

Green Team:

  • Shrimp Yuzu
  • Ceviche (hm, I always feel like they make this because they think it’s easy. It’s not.)
  • Pork chicharrón
  • Chicken mole (say moe-lay)
  • Tomatillo gazpacho (which sounds like it could be amazing, or really really sour and awful)
  • Green chile empanadas
  • Beef short ribs with kimchi (oh my god, what?)
  • Braised Cabrito Birria (I love you, Chuy)
  • and a Tres Leches cake

Pink Team:

  • Pork tenderloin huarache
  • Ceviche
  • Choclo con chile
  • Carne asada (which takes hours, by the way)
  • Green Chile pozole
  • Enchiladas with Salsa Verde (I have no faith in this dish, guys)
  • Cochinitia Pabil
  • And a cake. From a mix.

They have two and a half hours to cook before serving, and we’re off to the Quinciñera. There’s a Mariachi band, the place looks lovely, and Padma has a gorgeous dress on with a peony in her hair. Padma? Save a little pretty for the rest of us, would you?

Blanca Flores is introduced to society, she looks beautiful in her full dress, and her family is adorable. Everyone gets the appetizers to judge (including Blanca) and she is not a fan of Ty-lor’s avocado fritter, as you cannot taste the avocado. There’s a close up on a little girl spitting one into her mother’s napkin, ha ha! Rich’s chiccharon had a soggy middle, but one older lady said it tasted muy auténticos y delicioso. Muy bien!

Chef Chef’s pork wasn’t cut into small enough chunks, so when people bite into his huarache, huge pieces trail out. I hate that, too. Allow me to eat like a lady, chefs!

The judges find out about the Pink Team’s tortillas (and they’re so easy to make and taste a million times better, come on, chefs) and they are not pleased. Also, he used flour tortillas on his enchiladas, which is a no-no. CORN. Maíz. Corn tortillas, por favor. So he made soggy and massive burritos for the native folk. (Note: burritos are not Mexican. They are American. They are delicious at times, but ellos no son auténticos.)

At the Green Team’s side, that empanada from floppy hair-Chicago chef looks awesome. He calls it “Mexican cheese” inside, and the Mexicans eye him and say, “Oaxaca?” Do you tell Italians you’re making Italian sausage? Moron. But it looks delicious.

Chuy knocks it out of the park with his cabrito, as we all expected. Beverly says her kimchi short rib was soaked in tequila, making it Mexican-Korean fusion. Um. That’s actually a thing, I know, but just using tequila doesn’t make it Mexican, in my book. Whatever. And is it any surprise that the chicken mole was inedible? Also, she put a ton of cinnamon in there (Pinch. A pinch!) and left out important ingredients (there are, typically about twenty plus ingredients in mole, and everyone makes it differently) and everyone makes a face.

The cakes are brought out and the Green Team’s tres leches is leaning dangerously, as it was really hot in the kitchen, and that is a dense cake. The Cake Mix monstrosity looks like they picked it up at the local Albertson’s.

Blanca thought there was way too much frosting on the cake mix cake, also, it was super sweet in a really bad way. But the tres leches cake was delicious, even if it looked like an Easter basket gone rogue. The guests all loved the tres leches cake, as well.

Blanca has her dance with Papi, and it’s so sweet and lovely, and it makes Beverly tear up because her father doesn’t think much of her because she’s a girl and he’s a traditional Korean man, and oh, Beverly. Poor thing.

Tom tells the teams that one team stood out for going the extra mile, and it’s the Green Team (no surprise there.) The Pink Team will be hitting judges table and losing someone. Chef Chef is nervous, assuming he’s going to be thrown under the bus. Sure the shrimp will come out, but the tortillas were also an egregious error.

Judges Table

Ty-lor, Sarah, Lindsey, and Keith (Chef Chef) are called in and asked to explain their horrible food that was good, just not amazing. Tom also says that if Dakota didn’t have immunity, she’d be in there for that cake.

Hugh tells Chef Chef that was dumb to buy pre-cooked anything, also, Hugh is kinda bitchy, huh? I’m waiting for a finger snap and head roll. The fritter was dry and gross, the tortillas were a disaster, and the enchiladas… Where to begin. Did he just not know about corn tortillas?

Nope, he didn’t. But Sarah grew up in Texas. And she didn’t tell him. And this was a team challenge. Ooh, it’s not looking good for her, better figure this out now, backstabbing on this show will bite you in the ass.

They’re sent away and Padma thinks they all need to be sent away. Tom laughs, well, they’re all talented, they just acted like babies during this challenge. Also, Those “enchiladas” were huge and had melted cheese on the top, nothing elegant about them. There wasn’t proper use of aromatics in the foods, and again, Chef Chef didn’t know how to make a dish, didn’t ask, and bought pre-cooked skrimps. Oh, hale no.

Padma: KEITH. (Chef Chef) Pack your knives and go.

Hugs all around in the stew room because he was a really nice guy. But. Come on.

Next week: Chili cook off! Of course. (And guys? Chili takes forever. If it’s going to be good. Can’t wait!)

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  • Sally R.

    Flour tortillas for enchiladas? Boxed cake mix? Pre-cooked skrimps? WTF? I can’t even imagine. The cake mix just kills me. I mean… it is super easy to whip up a scratch cake. I get that a lot of savory chefs don’t excel at desserts, but a basic cake? I mean, if they’re going with a mix, then they weren’t doing anything super complicated. Flour, sugar, eggs, butter — you don’t need much beyond that for a party cake. Good grief. /steps off the pastry soapbox

    You’re comment about gas station food is right on. We’ve got a lot of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans where I live and there are a couple really good restaurants up here. But the best food is from a little “grill” in the back of the Conaco. It’s a family-run place and they make these amazing burritos for the gringos, but the food that everybody wants are the tamales. Every Saturday morning the wife gets up at like 2am to make tamales. And they are usually sold out by 9am because they are insanely good.

    • CAN YOU STAND IT?! Mission tortillas. I mean, those are the most disgusting of the manufactured tortillas, and I just can’t even with the damn cake. HOW DO PEOPLE STILL NOT TEACH THEMSELVES ONE DESSERT BEFORE THEY COME ON THIS SHOW??

      There’s actually a gas station here in DFW that’s famous for having a 5 star chef that cooks food in the back of a gas station that is outstanding.

      The holes in teh wall where they all look at your, wondering what you’re doing there, that’s always the best food. Oooooh, just like mama made.

  • StrtMyOrange

    The most amazing chili verde I have ever eaten in my life was from a Chevron gas stop outside of Fresno, CA. OMG!!! I went there for lunch every day for a week so I could try everything! And, yes, goat…YUM! All of my American friends look at me weird when I wax rhapsodic about eating goat and bunny.

    Mole in less than 24 hours??? WTF!!! If you’re not stirring it constantly from sunrise to the following sunrise you 1) don’t know what you’re doing and B) don’t care!! Shame on them!

    • Chevrons and Conocos, man, they always have something awesomely random.

      Rabbit is DELICIOUS. We’re mostly game eaters in my family, I try to NOT buy commercially grown meat. The taste it oustanding.


  • darkhawkhealer

    You know what the best/worst/most mind-boggling thing about this episode and the manufactured tortillas thing is?

    You know what it is.

    It’s that we have this lovely little store called an H-E-B in our great state, and I tell you what, my mexican GRANDMOTHER gets her tortillas from there. (Because she’s 80 and she’s been making them her entire life, and if anybody has earned a break it’s the woman who raised nine children for over half of her life. But still!)

    All I’m saying is, both teams used pre-made tortillas, and if they were going to go that route, Austin Chef (AT LEAST) should have stood up and spread the good word about where to get the quality pre-made tortillas.

    I mean, hell, I would have settled for the Laredo taco attached to the Stripes, because the little old ladies at my gas station can rock a tortilla. (Third coast represent!)

    Also, did you notice that not even Chuy pronounced ‘quincinera’ correctly? Tom (Tom!) is the only one who did a passable pronunciation of the squiggly thing on top of the ‘n’. I did a full on arms-up cheer when I heard it. I heart him like woah. <3

    Speaking of Padma and pretty – the Quickfire outfit had me swooning. How does an outfit that dressed down look that good on her??

  • Brunettepet

    Making your own tortillas is not hard – if you’ve done them before. It’s a learning curve like empanada dough or fresh pasta or all of the other fiddly stuff that make the end result better once you’re good at the fiddly bits. I don’t blame these people for anything but choosing the worst possible tortillas. Seriously, Whole Foods and the Mexican Market had nothing but Mission? You’re lying if you say they didn’t. I don’t make my own tortillas but I sure as hell know where to buy them (in San Antonio nearly every hole in the wall restaurant makes their own and they are phenomenal).

    So many bad choices – Mole, cochinita pibil, boxed cake mix, flour tortilla “enchiladas” – of the four missteps, in my head the first three are worse than the last. Mole is intricate and roasting and melding flavors is key. It takes attention and time – neither of which the chefs had. Cochinita Pibil takes a pretty specific (though flexible, there are components to any classic dish that are expected) spice profile and banana leaves to roast the meat in. Again total fail. Boxed cake mix tastes like box cake mix. Forever and ever the end. People, real vanilla doesn’t taste like that. These are culinary experts, but even the rank and file know the difference. Hell, would you want to eat that cake?

    I think the frozen shrimp should have been repurposed into an empanada filling and Chef Chef should have been advised about corn tortillas instead of flour, but I’m not in competition with the man and now nobody is.

    • There’s definitely a learning curve for making basic tortillas and making outstanding tortillas, but still. They bought manufactured tortillas, not even the handmade ones at the store that is in EVERY GOD DAMNED GROCERY STORE. I wouldn’t even go to a grocery store that didn’t have a tortilla lady making them fresh. (I’m looking at you, Albertson’s. Ptooey!)

      I definitely think the mole was the biggest mistake. Talk about a huge error. And the time limit? There’s her inexperience showing. No way she’s going far in this competition.

  • Lois

    I am tearful from the delicious. I miss Texas. And the gas station tamales? ARE THE BEST ONES. Eclipsed only by those made by mothers who sell theirs through the screen doors of their clapboard kitchens. WANT.

    And cabrito! \O/ One of my favorite memories was me and my dad going out every Sunday morning to the relative of one of his co-workers, who’d sell tamales or cabrito through the screen door of her lovely clapboard house. There was often a line down the little driveway. Cabrito and scrambled eggs for breakfast? HELL YES. And if we got there in time, we’d get some of the fresh tortillas (those’d sell out fast).

    And then we’d get home, where my mom had the table ready to go so we lost as little time as possible before sitting down to EAT. Oh, food/family memories…

    How perfect is goat for birria? Gah. Yum.

    Making mole from scratch? Yikes. It’s hard when you actually know how to do it. Flying blind? I’d be terrified.

    I so want to make a tres leches cake for the folks here in Oz. I suspect I could rule the continent in short order, but then they’d fight back with Tim Tams and it might be a draw.

    • Lois? I know you can’t get the goods out there, but holy crap, when you come back, you need to load up. I cannot wait until New Years Day when I can whip out all the masa and wild boar and get my tamales back into my freezer where they belong. CABRITO. People who don’t understand how freaking delicious cabrito is…I just feel sorry for them. That and tacos al pastor or a proper chile relleno, and I’m in heaven.

      MIGAS Y CABRITO? Ay yi yi, yo deseo!

      I can only imagine that the guests realized this was being filmed and didn’t spit out the mole on the floor. Three hours? I ASK YOU.

      (You can get all the things for a tres leches!! Oh, but Tim Tams…I’ve had them before and they are DELIGHTFUL.)

  • Steph

    What I would love is for these chefs to learn a very important term: “-inspired.” As in, “I can’t make a true mole in the amount of time you gave me, but I wanted to use some of the flavors of a traditional mole in my mole-inspired dish.” Saves you a world of trouble from the judges if you don’t actually call it something it can’t authentically be.

    As for the rest…*sigh* To me, buying the mass-produced tortillas is probably the worst sin. I think a lot of the rest suffered more from how they named the dishes, because it sets such a specific expectation in the judges’ minds. Of course, if it doesn’t taste good, regardless of how authentic (or not) it is, no amount of marketing is going to save it.

    • Yes. YES! INSPIRED BY. This would save me from my agita. ;)

      Everything in your last paragraph, word. That’s it, precisely.