Top Chef 9.12 – Block Party

I don’t know if y’all are watching Last Chance Kitchen, but up until this week, it’s been awesome. This last one made me very sad. I’ll use invisio-text to explain, for those of you that want to remain unspoiled. (Click CTRL + A to read after the jump.)

Nyesha has beaten everyone she’s come against so far, and Nyesha is my girl. I love her. She went home too soon, everyone agrees. And Beverly beat her this week. And while I know Beverly makes beautiful food (she does) the twist in this competition made it completely unfair. It should be straight up food. Bad call, Tom.

Beverly went home last week, and you’d think she was some maniacal egomaniac the way the others are talking about her. Everyone but Grayson, that is. Grayson’s good people. A little simple in ways, but she’s good people. Charlize Theron pops back in to tell them thank you again, and they all fall that much more in love with her. And then they go home and sleep for 27 hours.

They come back to the culinary school for their next challenge and see the awesome Cat Cora standing there with Emeril and Padma. Quickfire challenge: 3 teams of 2 will have 40 minutes to make 1 pound of pasta, “shuck” a crate of corn, and peel, devein, and butterfly two pounds of shrimp. Whatever time is left over, that’s their time to make a dish with those three ingredients. (I say “shuck” because they wanted them to cut the corn off the cob. Shucking is just taking off the outsides. Ahem.)

The winning team will win $10,000. There is no immunity. They’ll call for the judges to check out their work to move on to the next phase, cooking. And…go!

Grayson and Chris are teamed up and seem to be having the most problems. Chris is slow as molasses and has the weirdest advice ever: “Fast is slow and slow is smooth.” No, fast is fast, slow is slow, and skill is smooth. There, fixed it for you. Grayson tries to get the pasta going, but it’s looking mighty rough. The judges eye her pasta as she’s rolling it out and just don’t think it’s going to work out. Grayson won’t stop, and pushes Chris to move his bloomin’ arse.

Lindsay and Sarah are rocking and rolling, and you know Sarah is all “I got this” with the pasta. Her middle name is pasta. Lindsay busts out the shrimp in record time, Sarah’s the first to finish her pasta (which is exactly as Mama Salvatore in Bari made is like-ah her mama, and her mama before.) They break their arms patting themselves on the back for how amazing they are, and how they would eat this particular dish “every day of my life.” I’m not a fan of either of these two. They’re confrontational, bossy to the point of being controlling, and so cock-sure it’s off-putting. (Sarah was so great in the beginning, too!)

Ed and Paul are the final team, which makes Paul nervous. Every time they’re paired up, he screws things up for Ed, somehow. (Evil genius? Or just unlucky?) They have a hard time finding a groove when working together, and it shows. They’re second on pasta, second on corn and last with shrimp. Oooooh, except the shrimp never made it to the plate. Oh, Paul!


  • Grayson/Chris: Fettuccine with toasted corn, poached shrimp, chili and bacon (the toasted corn and shrimp were praised)
  • Sarah/Lindsay: Fettuccine with corn milk, shrimp chili, taragon and parsley (Cat Cora hates the tarragon)
  • Paul/Ed: Big old goose egg because of the lack of shrimp. Which is a shame, because the flavors were good.

Winner: Grayson and Chris! That is a huge shock, and Sarah immediately starts bitching that her pasta was better. Well, it wasn’t a pasta challenge, Sarah.

Now to move on to the Elimination Challenge. Healthy Choice is getting some sweet product placement (as they do every episode) by teaming up with a local food bank in San Antonio (which I love – also, check to see if there’s a Second Harvest in your region. That’s my favorite food bank, because they work with local farmers/growers to take extras off their hands, making sure people get FRESH produce. How great is that?)

Whomever was your teammate, they are now your competition. Each team will pick one dish and a side dish, do individual interpretations of said dish, and one person from each team will win, and one person from the losing team will pack their knives and go home. Also, it’s for 200 people. Oh, and they’ll only have 2.5 hours to prep. Aaaaand there will only be 45 minutes to set up and be ready to serve. No big, right? So what’s it gonna be, teams?

Grayson and Chris will make a chicken salad sandwich and watermelon salad. (Chris can’t think of anything to contribute, so Grayson – Miss “Fill the plate with steak” Wisconsin – did the choosing.) Ed and Paul are going Asian (that’s racist) by making a Beef BBQ with pickled veggies. Sarah and Linday will be making pasta and risotto in a bitter sauce. Wait, no, they’re making meatballs and a veggie salad.

Padma thinks that sounds…really fatty. So the twist is that they’re going to make healthier versions of these dishes and the winner will get $15,000. Damn, son! Paul and Ed secretly bump fists, because Asian food is automatically healthier. (When cooked by actual Asians, not the “sweet and sour beef” from your mall’s food court, which I think is a stretch to call “Asian fare.”)

Chris pulls out a trick of making mayonnaise from tofu, eliminating most of the fat, right there. Ed is going to steam buns! (He doesn’t, though. I was excited for bao, and that’s not the end result.) Everyone races to get their prep done, then head outside where it’s 105 F in the midday sun. Oh, and there are bees everywhere. Chris is incredibly allergic (and afraid) of bees. As someone with an Epi pen in my car, I feel you, Chris.

The diners arrive with donations to the local food bank, and Grayson starts off in the weeds, somehow. She’s decided to serve-to-order these chicken sandwiches. (Hence being in the weeds. Last week I heard Emeril say she was “in the trees.” Emeril? Are you hard of hearing and think that your servers/chefs have been saying that all along?)


  • Paul – Turkey Kalbi, eggplant with peach kimchi. (It’s simple, but looks nice and refreshing. People ooh and ah it. The judges think the flavors are well balanced.)
  • Ed – Open-face Kalbi, kimchi chipotle puree, pickled cucumber-daikon salad. (He serves the beef short rib on a square of bread. That’s not bao. Whatever. It looks okay, but guests and judges complain the meat isn’t cooked properly and the flavors are flat.)
  • Grayson – Chicken salad sandwich on arugala, pickled red onion and a feta-watermelon salad. (The judges love the “to order” aspect as it keeps everything fresh. Dana Corwin of Food & Wine mag wished there was vodka in the watermelon. I love her.)
  • Chris – Chicken salad with tofu “mayo,” red lettuce, watermelon fruit salad with pineapple ice. (They like the curry in the chicken – me, too – but wish he would have made them to order. The bread is dry and the pineapple ice was chunky ice cubes for some of the judges.)
  • Sarah – Calabrese-style turkey meatball with a vegetable salad of shaved fennel and zuchinni and arugala, etc. (Emeril loves her sauce. The salad is praised by Tom until they realize Dana just has a few pieces of zuchinni and fennel, none of the other vegetables. Whoops.)
  • Lindsay – Mediterannean-style meatball and lemon yogurt, black-eyed peas and quinoa Greek salad. (Black-eyed peas are so mealy, I have a hard time imagining that salad tasting good. But the judges love her meatball, love it. It’s refreshing, which is surprising given that it’s a lamb and veal meatball on a hot summer day.)

The judges remark that the two healthiest were the two best dishes.


Grayson, Paul, and Lindsay are brought to the judges for having won their head-to-heads.

  • Paul is praised for being smart about using eggplant to make it feel like you were getting fat, even though it was super healthy. Tom wants Paul to bottle up his hot sauce and make him that peach kimchi daily.
  • Grayson is praised for the made to order aspect, how tough but essential that was. The flavor was good, but there could have been improvements. Also, chicken salad? That’s what she chose? Tom says she should have remembered that she would need to beat better conceptualized meals. Grayson gets puffed up and says, “Like a meatball?” Tom is taken aback. You can tell he knows she’s right, but he’s also not okay with being smarted off to. Grayson fidgets and says, “Look, I guess I don’t understand the problem here.” Oh, Grayson. You’re so literal.
  • Lindsay – They loved the lemon yogurt and the seasoning. She used chick pea flour instead of wheat to keep it nice and fluffy, which was smart. Her meatball was excellent, and Sarah’s was just good.

WINNER: of $15,000 for the healthiest, most innovative, rockinest dish there, is PAUL! Local boy done good, and if there’s money on the line, my man Paul is going to win it. He’s got to be up to something like $60,000 now, or nearly.

They send in the least favorites.

Chris – True, he used lean meat and healthier mayo, but they sucked out all the flavor. Also, there needed to be some salt. The bread and meat dried out by having them pre-made. He’s all ideas, no execution. (Ouch, Tom. True, but ouch.)

Ed – He may have lost the rice, but he used rice flour! Also, trimming the fat off short ribs makes the short ribs less tasty and stringy. Also, how was this healthier? He didn’t take the challenge seriously, the judges surmise.

Sarah – The dish was mild. She should have lost the weird cheese on the top of the meatball and added in some fat to the turkey. (May I suggest bacon?) Dana’s plate was incomplete of all the components. It was good, it just wasn’t great.

Padma says to the chef with her “I’m sorry!” face, “CHRIS, please pack your knives and go.” Whew, Ed. Time to redeem yourself.


Now, my Dream Four would have been Paul, Nyesha, Ed and Ty-Lor. Now we’re down to the last five, and of those, I’d like to see Paul, Ed, (Lindsay beaten by Bev), Bev, and Grayson, because I think that would be an interesting show down. We’ll see. (And clearly I want Paul to win it all.)

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  • Brunettepet

    I missed most of the Quickfire only coming in to watch Paul be all embarrassed at not getting the shrimp on the plate. Yeesh. I was sure the bitchfaces were going to take the Quickfire and was delighted that they didn’t. Sarah’s sore loser stance is really old.

    The elimination challenge was brutal. Three hours, two hundred people? Let’s not forget it was probably 110° at The Pearl Brewery. I think I would have died. After last week’s great dishes, the food was a let down. The creativity just wasn’t there. Healthy Choice Block Party didn’t seem to inspire innovative dishes.

    Paul’s kalbi looked phenomenal (cooked eggplant’s mouth feel replacing fat is genius). Peach kimchi sounds like a wonderful summer twist.

    Ed’s plate was sad. The meat looked tough and the hand made bread wasn’t what I was expecting. I was excited for bao, and that’s not the end result Me, too! I wanted to see him make three hundred bao in less than three hours. I was sorely disappointed. Ed was lucky Chris’ food was even worse because I think I would have sent him home just for ruining those delicious short ribs.

    Grayson’s chicken salad idea was uninspired to begin with and it seemed there wasn’t much innovation going on with either interpretation. Grapes? Curry powder? So? This is stuff home cooks see on Allrecipes every day. The tofu mayonnaise is a trick I learned in the 80’s. It’s certainly not cutting edge and it sounded like he didn’t add any lemon juice or other acid to perk the sauce up.

    Sarah’s meatball looked heavy and it was. I’m surprised because most Italian meatballs are light and fluffy. It’s probably because there’s so much delicious fat involved. Oh, well.

    Lindsay’s meatballs sounded fantastic. I have a bunch of chickpea flour in the freezer, so I think I’m going to wing some mediterranean meatballs this weekend.

    Of these offerings, the only things I wanted to taste were Paul’s lettuce wraps and peach kimchi and Lindsay’s meatball. I was happy to see them at the top, happier still to see Paul take it.

    I think Ed dodged a bullet because Chris had been on the block so often. Oh, well. At least he won five grand that morning!

    • I was blown away at the thought of steamed buns. I mean, that would have been hard core! I am still pretty blown away by “chicken salad.” And come on , curry makes it exciting? Does the diced celery add a surprising crunch? Is this Ladies Home Journal all of a sudden??

      I can say that I’ve never used chick pea flour, and now I’m fascinated and wanting to use it. They hadn’t gotten the recipes up online when I wrote this up, so I’ll have to race over and look for Lindsay’s meatball recipe.

  • Cate

    I need Sarah and Lindsay to leave yesterday. Sarah makes me nuts. She is a bully with a vastly over-inflated sense of her own skills. And when Grayson smarted back at Tom and he actually laughed from being so taken aback, I may have done a little fist pump.

    • Oh, they are just the Groaner Twins, right? Just full of themselves and their abilities. Which, hey. I’m sure all of the chefs know they’re capable. But Ed says that he wants to go against “THe Best” and Bev praised Ed, and Paul thought Ty-Lor was the bomb, and see where I’m going here? And who’s won more, Paul or Lindsay? She’s just sour. And Sarah is convinced that she’s Sarah Viggatori or something. MOVE PAST THE SAME DISHES, SARAH. Show you can stretch, jeez.

      Grayson is a DELIGHT. She’s as herself and honest as they get. Also, she’s not mean. And she’s fun. And she talks sex to Tom, ahahaha.

  • I do love Grayson’s literal brain. “Reimagine the meal your favorite family meal” = Literally a carbon copy of the Meat and Potatoes dinner of her childhood. It’s precious. Conversely, it’s a block party and damnit Chicken Salad Sandwich is what you’d have at a block party (and KFC, and that fluffy whipped cream salad thingy) in Wisconsin and making it to order and healthy IS a great idea. I mean seriously a MEATBALL? What is this, a cocktail party from the 1960s? Or a Mad Men viewing party?
    You mentioned this last week, and now I can’t stop noticing it, but Holy Buddha’s pinky toe Sarah’s “I’m super excited” face makes me want to step on her throat. Either she doesn’t know how to express her excitement or she isn’t actually excited. And we can tell.
    Also Lindsey, take off that stupid hat.

    • She really is literal, right? “Something for a serial killer.” Slaughterhouse display it is! I LOVED her dish last week. But this week? I was head scratching. But I do think the challenge lacked inspiration, as others have said.

      If it had been a 60s theme, meatballs would have been awesome! And an aspic! But those meatballs would have been two bites, not plate sized. Ahahaha, Lindsay’s hat looked ridiculous and HOT. Mostly hot. (Unless she was hiding an ice pack under it, in which case, I feel ya, sister. 105F plus, and that’s without standing over a stove.

      • it’s like they said, “Wow the last competition was GREAT! We had great food, and Charlize Theron… Sharlizzeee? Whatever. She was hot and wacky. What are we going to do for the next one? We can’t trump it so let’s just throw’em a softball theme covered in Hot Texas outside and a short time limit and hope someone passes out again.”
        Well sorry to disappoint, but Sarah only passes out when she’s got someone else to pick up the load and Lindsey was too exhausted wearing that silly hat to pout about her latest “stolen” win.

  • Ivyfree

    See, this would have been an awesome challenge if they had just had them draw random standard street food, and given them time to re-imagine it and re-create it in a healthier format. Making it for a couple of hundred people? Outside? Ridiculous.

    And that LCK: If you “inherit” somebody else’s partially-prepped protein, and you wash off what they’ve put on it- then common sense says you have to reseason it. One person was irritated by somebody else’s initial prep. The other person was commenting on the ordinariness of the first person’s idea. I thought it was pretty good, actually.

  • I’m so sick of Sarah and Lindsay. Grayson is wonderful though. Literal, but at least a decent human being.

    I’m all for “make it healthier” challenges, but I think there either need to be guidelines (under X calories, or less than X g sodium, or less than X grams of fat, etc). Otherwise it’s too arbitrary.

    I don’t think I’ve ever been in 110 degree heat in my life, but I would totally die this season with all of the outdoor challenges in the heat. Ick.

    • Agreed on Grayson – she’s good people! You always know where you stand with her, and she’d rather be happy than right when it comes to human interaction. I like that in a person.

      It was totally arbitrary! It just wasn’t a well thought out challenge. And it felt like a let down after last week’s AMAZING challenge.

      Ha, that’s just summer here in Texas, but when you’re not used to it, it’s deadly.