Top Chef Texas 9.4 – Chili Cook-Off

Guys, thanks for letting me have Thanksgiving to feed my family. Mostly I needed the brain vacation to recover from the LIES in this episode, and the LIE for those that aren’t immediately nodding your head, is that they had a “chili cook-off.” Brisket in broth is not chili. Never was, never will be. I almost wanted to frog march those Yankees out of my state. 

But before we get to the bastardization of the food of my people, there was a quickfire challenge that was pretty boss. The chefs come into the kitchen to see bushels of chiles with their Scoville rating listed next to various dollar amounts. The hotter the pepper, the higher the value. Two lady chefs, Susan Finiger and Mary Sue Miliken, who are known for their spicy Southwest style restaurant (quick note: southwestern food is not Tex-Mex. But whatever) are there to judge who can be the most creative with a pepper. Whoever wins gets the dollar amount next to their pepper, so taking a risk could pay off.

We have weak-ass peppers that are not much spicier than a green bell, worth about $500 all the way to the hottest known pepper in the world, the Ghost pepper, worth $20,000. Daaaaaamn. Second hottest on the list is a habanero, which I love. There was a restaurant in Dallas called The Firehouse that specialized in habaneros. Everything had habanero in it, from the pasta to the sauce. Awesome if you were stuffy; clear those sinuses up in one bite. But it was really flavorful food, not just a tongue blaster. (I always got a chicken breast on habanero pasta with crab and habanero sauce on top. Crazy delicious.

Beverly, who is already pulling away from the pack as the weakest member, grabs a few peppers (Anaheim and Poblano, both of which I love) and bites the ends off to see how they taste. (Go grab one of those jalapenos are do that Bev, I dare ya.) She decides to just “showcase the freshness of the pepper.” Aaaand that’s going to cost her.

I was happy to see that a lot of the chefs put on gloves to clean their peppers. Guys. GUYS. Wear gloves. For the love of Mike, wear gloves. You don’t know how many times I’ve accidentally rubbed my nose or eye and spent a half hour sobbing in the shower like its The Crying Game. Quick tip, though: milk. And you don’t soak your fingers in it, you drink it. The caseins in the milk neutralize the capascin in the pepper, but you have to drink it. The guys that worked in the restaurants with me here would constantly dip their hands in bleach after every fourth or fifth pepper, but good hell, that’s harsh.

  • Beverly – Anaheim, crudite with ssajang paste, fresh and uncooked (insert Price is Right loser horn)
  • Sarah – Fresno, Salmon belly seared with chili relish
  • Richie – Fresno, slaw with pineapple curd and scallops (they deem this too sweet, no fire)
  • Chris J – Manzano, play on a Buffalo hot wing
  • Sergeant Handsome/Chris – Thai chile, coconut soup with thai pepper (they loved it)
  • Heather – Thai, Date and pistachio cous cous with pickled cukes and chiles (they loved it)
  • Chuy – Habaneo, Seared scallop with habanero achiote (they love it, he grew habaneros as a kid)
  • No Job/Grayson – Habanero, whole, stuffed, breaded and fried with lime sauce (they loved it)
  • Nyesha – Habanero, baby fennel and rock shrimp salad with orange habanero dressing
  • Paul/Austin Chef – Ghost pepper! Chilled coconut soup with ghost pepper relish on top.


Least Favorite:

  • Beverly – not enough of the pepper flavor.
  • Richie – pretty, but way too sweet.
  • Chuy – he added canned tomatoes, they hated that. (He’s super embarrassed.)

Most Favorite:

  • Heather – Thai chili ($10,000) was perfectly showcased, food delicious.
  • Grayson – Habanero ($12,500) ballsy to stuff the whole thing, plus it was scrumptious
  • Paul – Ghost, ($20,000) So delicious. So delicious that it’s the winner, dude just earned immunity AND twenty large!

Elimination Challenge is now announced, and I’m very excited as it’s a Chili Cook Off for the Tejas Rodeo, a small, fun rodeo in San Antonio. Everyone opens the lids to their pots to find colors for teams. There will be no clock on this, because it’s chili. They have until 7pm tomorrow night, but first they’ll have 30 minutes to shop in Whole Foods.

And here is where I almost black out from rage. The first person that yelled for brisket at the meat counter caused my eye to twitch. Guys? Brisket is a pretty damn common Texas meat, we do it pit-style, it’s our BBQ. Ribs are ‘Bama, brisket in a pit is Texas. But BBQ is NOT chili! Chili we are known for. Texans and chili are like French and cheese, we go together.

Brisket. BRISKET. It’s stringy! Meaning, it’s fibrous! Chili is ground meat. Now, you cannot grind a brisket. Why would you grind a brisket? That’s sacrilegious. And they’re all ordering brisket. Some of them are ordering beef short ribs, too. WHAT IS HAPPENING. Why. WHY. I have no idea, guys, I was apoplectic over this.

They race back to the house, because they’ll all have to fight for space there. Someone gets the grill, a few people buddy up in the fireplace, and someone else makes a pit. So they all can smoke their brisket. FOR CHILI.

Sergeant Handsome, however, has a chuck roast. Sgt Handsome? You are my favorite. Some people are braising their brisket so they can make a “mole” style chili (they have no idea what that word means, I’ve decided.) Others are grilling their meat outside, and I just throw my hands up at the whole damn process.

Chuy, meanwhile, is drinking all the Shiner Bock, which let me explain something about Shiner. It’s a good, local beer. But once you drink a Shiner, that’s all you’ll taste. Chuy, getting pretty trashed, is listing off all of his accomplishments in life, and Sgt Handsome deems him “The Most Interesting Man In The World.” Take that Shiner away and give him a Dos Equis, then.

By 3 am they’re transferring meat into stock pots of broth (broth. BROTH. Like it’s soup. I’m crying.) and I hear Beverly ask her teammates if they “can taste the cinnamon at the end.” There is no crying in baseball, there’s no basement in the Alamo, and there is no cinnamon in chili! Sarah, who is from Houston, heads off to bed letting everything settle in. This is important, you’ll see. (Also, her dad was a bull rider, so she’s all over this challenge.)

They all head out to the rodeo, they have an hour to heat everything up before service. It’s a good 100+ degrees outside. Welcome to Texas in July, way to not plan, producers. The crowd comes in and lines up – and they’re the ones that will pick the winner, not the judges. Thank goodness.

The most important question ever gets asked right off the bat: “Is this real Texas chili?” It takes a bit for the non-natives to figure out that it means THERE ARE NO BEANS IN TEXAS CHILI. You show up to a cook off with beans in your chili and they’ll ask if you’re from California or something. Meat. Meat and flavor, that is what Texas chili is. And it has to be ground meat. (Have I stressed how agitated this whole thing has made me?)

The judges come, drink a Shiner (nooo! You’ll never taste anything! Lone Star, damn it, drink a Lone Star!) and start tasting.

  • Green Team, Sarah, Chuy and Sgt. Handsome. GROUND CHUCK. I love them. Evidently it’s a little thin, though. (Stir in some masa, next time.)
  • Red Team, Dakota, Whitney, Chicago Chris. Braised brisket and short ribs. (Some old cowboy slaps them across the face. Ha, no, but you could tell he wanted to.) The flavors are praised, but it’s called stringy. HEY I WONDER WHY.
  • Blue Team, Heather, Ed, Paul. Smoked brisket and oh god, pickled peaches as a relish. Paul? You’re from Austin, son, what are you doing to me!? Also, pickled peaches? WHAT IN TARNATION. The locals are trying to be polite, but come on. Gail loves it, because she wants me to have a heart attack, evidently. Tom is not so fond. Thank you, Daddy Tom.
  • Black Team, Nyesha, Beverly, Richie. “Mole brisket” chili. No. They made cornbread that was good. And…that’s all people have to say.
  • White Team, Lindsey, Grayson, Ty-Lor. THREE BEAN CHILI. I ask you. Now, you should know right off the bat what was wrong here without me saying. Also, they put pickled veggies INTO THE CHILI. An old pioneer lady fell over dead in the dust, clutching her heart, the words “Vaya con dios!” on her lips.

The rodeo starts up, and it’s a blast, and if you’ve never been to a rodeo, you should fix that. Barrel racing! Goat roping! Bull riding! My aunt Gay was goat ropin’ champeen when she was a girl, it’s a good time. And somehow this fun time gets Beverly to start sobbing in the stands, wishing her husband was here to enjoy this. Um, someone needs to sleep.

Padma rides out on a horse to announce the winner, and let’s all just take a moment to appreciate how damn beautiful this woman is. Sgt. Handsome even compares her to Fabio in a romance novel, you know: breathtaking. Ahaha.

The winner, without a doubt, is the only team that actually MADE CHILI. Green Team! The losers are the Black Team with their horrible mole chili that even little children spat into the ground, crying about. Wait, though, they’re getting another chance to see who is going home from the group. They have 30 minutes to take their chili and turn it into something delicious. Go!

Nyesha and Richie grab Fritos and dress up various cuts of meat and work on the chili as Beverly flails around for a bit. Time’s up and Nyesha realizes she didn’t put enough sauce (made from the chili) onto her plate.

  • Beverly made a seared tuna with habanero creamed corn and sauce from the chili.
  • Nyesha coated shrimp in Fritos and reduced the chili to a sauce.
  • Richie coated a pork tenderloin in Fritos and made a ricotta cheese and chili puree.

Um, one of the guest judges had a smart-ass look on her face and said the biggest lie of the night. She says Fritos are from the midwest. Woman, those are fighting words. Those chips came out of SAN ANTONIO, where your ass is sitting. Don’t mess with Texas, lady, Frito Pie is national treasure.  Elmer Doolin is rolling over in his grave, good hell.    (And Dr. Pepper is from Waco, and…)

Sorry. This whole episode has me so upset, I just can’t keep it in check.

The results are that Beverly made something delicious and new, Nyesha’s was fine, but needed more sauce, and Richie’s was plain boring and one-note. Bye, Richie. He’s worn out, exhausted, and shuffles out to the others, immediately taken into the arms of Chicago Chris, who holds him, tells him he loves him, and as their foreheads are pressed together, I think, well this show just got interesting, didn’t it?

Richie leaves and calls out to Chris, and I’m not making this up, “Be a Jedi, Chris, win it all!” Okay, bro, go get some sleep it’s been 30 hours.

[Side note: proper things to make chili out of: chuck, sirloin – ground, buffalo tenderloin – ground, venison tenderloin – also ground, armadillo – ground.  I’ve had all, and I just still cannot get over the damn beef short ribs and brisket pulled apart and slapped in broth. Just…that is NOT CHILI.]  And my husband wants me to stress that his Arma-chil-o (eyeroll) was super delicious and would have won this competition.

Next Week: They hit Dallas! I am hopefully not going to be disappointed, hometown represent!