Recap: ‘Top Chef’ – ‘Red Hot Chili Cook Off’

11.24.11 6 years ago


It’s back to Texas for, yes, a chili pepper-focused challenge followed by an actual chili cook off. I know, everything is meant to fit a theme, but I’m hoping we move away from “things people might want to eat on a ranch” pretty quickly. 

Before we get started, Lindsay and Sarah tell everyone that they don’t feel they turned on Keith. Oh, okay. That throwing him under the bus motion? That was just a vigorous upper body exercise. Nyesha thinks she’s seen everyone’s true colors and feels the competition has turned cutthroat. I think Nyesha’s dead on. 

Dakota walks into the workroom and sees a bunch of chilis (I prefer chiles, but Bravo has gone with the Americanized spelling, so I’m just going to get on board). Two Hot Tamales and Border Grill co-owners Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger will be the guest judges. Padma explains the Scoville heat scale and then, the challenge — create a dish highlighting one chili pepper. The hotter the pepper you choose, the more money you stand to win. But if you burn the judges’ faces off, you probably won’t win anything. 
Not everyone is thrilled with this challenge. Richie isn’t a spice fan. Chris Jones’ stomach has issues with spicy foods. But wait! Chuy is a spicy guy and he choses the habanero chili, which is worth $12,500. More importantly, he cooks with it constantly. Nyesha is also cooking with a habenero. So is Grayson. But Paul picks the ghost chili, the hottest one in the world — and it’s worth $20,000. He’s the only one who picks the ghost chili. Paul is either brilliant or insane. 
Beverly – Anaheim chili
Anaheim chili credit with ssamjang paste
This looks a little bland, but it is interesting that she’s the only chef who isn’t cooking her chili. 
Sarah – Fresno chili
Salmon belly seared with fresno chili relish
This might be good, but just looking at it gives me indigestion. 
Richie – Fresno chili
Fresno slaw with pineapple curd and seared bay scallops
Pineapple curd? He says he’s going for sweet, but this sounds awfully sweet. 
Chris J. – Manzano chili
Seared chicken with manzano vinaigrette
This looks okay, but I’m not sure it’s wildly innovative. 
Chris C. – Thai chili
Coconut soup with Thai chili
This sounds good to me — coconut soup with a spicy element. This is the first dish we’ve seen that I’d actually order. 
Heather – Thai chili
Date & pistachio cous cous, pickled cucumbers, red onions and Thai chili
Date and pistachio? With Thai chili? 
Chuy – Habanero chili
Sauteed scallop with achiote
Padma seems to realize the tomatoes are canned, not fresh. Bad move, Chuy.
Grayson – Habanero chili
Habanero popper with cream lime sauce
I love that she made a popper. The cream lime sauce looks good, too. 
Nyesha – Habanero chili
Baby fennel & rock shrimp salad with orange habanero vinaigrette
Why shrimp? There’s so much seafood being used in the challenge — and I’m not convinced it’s the best choice to stand up to a really hot pepper. 
Paul – Ghost chili
Chilled coconut soup with kaffir lime, ghost pepper relish
Another coconut soup — again, I think that’s a good idea. Who knows, he might win big after all.
Sadly, we only see ten of the fifteen. Let’s just imagine all of the other dishes were tasty. The good news is that none of the judges gagged or cried, so even Paul must not have burned off anyone’s face. 
Susan says some of the chefs were wimpy. The worst were Beverly (she didn’t do enough with the pepper), Richie (too sweet), Chuy (overpowering canned tomato flavor). On the best side, we have Heather (exactly the kind of food Susan likes to eat), Grayson (she showcased the chili) and Paul (he had the confidence to cook a ghost chili and it was actually delicious). 
The winner is… Paul. Because he chose the ghost chili, he gets $20,000 and immunity. 
There’s no time for celebration, because we’re already moving on. The Elimination Challenge is… the Chili Cook-Off. Each chef will be part of one of five teams. Chris C. isn’t thrilled about being on a team with Sarah, given how she tore into Keith. Each team will be cooking a big pot of chili, at the house, for 200 rodeo regulars. And they have all day (and night) to torture themselves with the task. 
The teams go shopping and it’s a fight for the meat. Then, back at the house, it’s a fight for the contents of the fridge, cooking utensils, spots for cooking and basically anything else you can think of. Luckily, it doesn’t get too ugly, though you can tell some of the chefs either want to punch holes into walls or cry. 
As everyone starts cooking, Tom drops by the house. He discovers Nyesha’s Blue Team is putting chocolate in their chili. He seems to be impressed. I know it sounds gross, but it really can be good if you haven’t tried it. Next, Tom visits the White Team, which is cooking at the fireplace outside. Tom seems to be grossed out when Heather tells him the Blue Team will be serving pickled peaches on the side. 
Oh, look, a commercial for Prevacid! How apropos!
The cooks cook all night. They get punchy. They dive into the pool. Chuy drinks more of the beer than he should. Some people nap. Some refuse to rest. It’s like a college dorm party right before finals. Sarah, of course, gets some rest. It’s not like anyone would try to throw her under the bus for getting a full night’s sleep while other members of her team were still stirring and cooking, right? Oh, we can only hope!
After they arrive at the rodeo and set up, the judges arrive — Padma, Tom, Susan, Mary Sue and Gail. Gail needs help opening her beer due to a weird bagel accident. Really, a weird bagel accident, I didn’t make that up. 
Green Team – Sarah, Chuy, Chris C.
Chili con carne
Mary Sue loves the depth of flavor. Tom says it grows on him. Gail thinks it’s a little thin. Mary Sue thinks it should have been served with a tortilla.
Red Team – Dakota, Whitney, Chris J.
Braised brisket and short rib chili
Gail thinks it has a subtle smokiness. Tom thinks it’s seasoned well. Susan thinks it’s a little stringy. 
Blue Team – Heather, Edward, Paul
Smoked brisket chili with summer pickles
Gail says that, having eaten this, pickled peaches are now her favorite thing to eat with chili. Tom thought the vegetables were great, but the chili, hmmm…
Black Team –  Nyesha, Beverly, Richie
Chili mole with cornbread
Susan likes the cornbread but Mary Sue thinks their food is unfocused. 
White Team – Lindsay, Grayson, Ty-lor
Three bean and beef chili with poblano cornbread
Gail wishes they hadn’t put the pickled vegetables in the chili, but Susan loves them. 
Tom is glad he doesn’t have to pick a winner (that will be done by the rodeo attendees). But Gail points out they still need to pick a losing team, which will be just as hard. Gee, Gail, you really know how to bring the room down. Go eat a bagel. 
The Black Team (too sweet), Red Team (the shredded meat was unappetizing), White Team (not enough heat). 
Lindsay refuses to go back to the bottom with this challenge. I don’t think you have much of a say in this, Lindsay, but I have to admire your determination. Unless you intend to start hurting people or something. I wouldn’t put it past her, really. 
The chefs watch the rodeo in a stupor and Beverly begins crying, thinking that her husband is missing all the fun. Nyesha tries to comfort her, but I think she’s a little freaked out that her teammate is melting down into a puddle of goo before her eyes. She’s right to point out that showing emotion makes your teammates assume you’re weak — not a good thing when you have to scrap for food and cooking tools on timed challenges. 
The winner is… the Green Team. Unfortunately, the Black Team is the losing team. But they’ll get one last chance to prove themselves, according to Padma. They must transform that losing chili into a winning dish in thirty minutes. Nyesha, Richie and Beverly look exhausted, and I half expect one of them to stand up, say screw this, and head home. They’re that tired. 
Chris C. is panicked thinking his little buddy Richie might go home. He tells everyone that Richie would give anyone who wanted it a kidney, and he’d pluck it out from his side on his own, because he’s that strong. I think Chris C. might have been hitting the beer with Chuy. 
Seared tuna with habanero creamed corn
Frito-encrusted black tiger shrimp with roasted corn salsa
Frito-encrusted pork tenderloin, potato hash and ricotta cheese chili puree
The judges eat and talk. Susan was disappointed in Richie’s dish. Tom thought it was one note. Padma thinks he did a lot in 30 minutes — but let’s face it, you don’t get points for quantity. Gail thought Nyesha’s shrimp were beautiful but she needed more sauce. Tom was unimpressed with her corn salad. Mary Sue thought Beverly’s dish was imaginative. I think Richie might be going home. 
Our defeated, exhausted three face the judges. Tom tells Beverly her dish was everyone’s favorite, and she’s safe. Nyesha’s dish was nice but didn’t go far enough. Richie had a lot of imagination but it never came together. Padma tells Richie to pack his knives and go.
Richie, utterly defeated and worn out, bursts into tears and falls into Chris C.’s arms. Man, get the guy a bed and something to eat. I’m sure he’s sad to be eliminated, but I think this challenge pushed everyone, not just Richie, way too hard physically and emotionally. No, they didn’t have to cook all day and all night — but with chili, everyone knows that’s the best way to develop flavor. 
The good news is that Richie shouldn’t be too sad — he can still try to beat Keith in “Last Chance Kitchen!”
Do you think it was Richie’s time to go? What did you think of a chili cook off challenge? And do you think anyone is emerging as a frontrunner?

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