This week’s Top Chef was either part two of the three-part finale, or part one of part two of the two-part finale, depending whether you use the Gregorian or Euclidean reality cooking challenge calendar. In either case, only three chefs remained. Meanwhile, Top Chef‘s producers decided the fairest test of the chefs’ cooking abilities at this late stage of the game was to send them to Mexico to make them buy strange produce in a foreign tongue and cook it over metal trash cans.
I exaggerate only slightly. But for the most part it was an episode of extended backstory montages and whack challenges. Not that I’m really complaining. If this show was on Food Network, Shirley’s poignant comment about her disapproving mom would’ve been repeated in six mid-show promos and been the basis for a 15-minute montage. Instead of having to cook traditional Mayan food in a cenote (“sinkhole”) using primitive tools, because that’s what the Mayans used, Alton Brown would’ve made them cook with a flyswatter and ceiling fan, because he’s a prick. All things considered, this was pretty good.
Anyway, after some schmancy resort product placement (“Am I in a Jay-Z video?” -Sheldon) and gratuitous sea turtle footage, Mexican chef and “Mexican food anthropologist” Roberto Muñoz Zurita showed up to introduce the quickfire: creating a dish using the local habanero pepper, which has apparently been cultivated for 8500 years. You’d think my butthole would be able to handle them by now.
All the while, the judges sweat and the local birds interrupted conversation with their raucous squawking. “Shirley Birds,” as Brooke calls them. Oh, also, Padma got resort braids:
The winner, meanwhile, would take home seven nights at the Secrets Akumal Riviera Maya, which was… the place… that they just stayed at? For free? But fine, whatever, still a good prize. To win that, they first had to shop at the local market and make a habanero dish, prompting a cutaway to Sheldon saying “It’s about to get hot in here!”
Damn, man, don’t you have any rap references from after 2002? Also, I expect better quips from this season’s best dad joke deliverer (“I’m allergic to tequila. It makes me break out. In dance.”).
I expect that “hot in here” crap from ol’ Expository Pete/Captain Obvious/Whatever His Name Was, but he got kicked off in Episode 4.
“Blah blah blah something painfully obvious blah blah.”
After that, the chefs headed on down to their trash fires to cook hobo food in a bat cave. Excuse me, “cenote.” For real though, it looked really hot down there:
Brooke said she felt like she was in Indiana Jones, while Sheldon quipped that as long as they were cooking caveman food using primitive tools he might as well take his clothes off. Phew, okay, he’s back, I was worried for a second there.
Also, Johnny Cool Frames was back:
“I came here to contribute nothing and wear overwrought shirts, and I’m all out of nothing!”
Where the hell is Gail? BRING BACK GAIL! Give me Gail or give me death!
Also this week, Tom Collicchio revealed his SECRET WRIST BAUBLES!
No wonder Chef John lasted so long! They were secret bracelet bros all along. Oh well. RIP, Bangles.
3. (-1) ((Eliminated)) Sheldon Simeon, AKA Shel Chillverstein
Aw, man, not Shel Chill! He was my favorite! “And on that day, a cool breeze stopped blowing.”
I’ll be honest, I did *not* expect the Hawaiian guy to go home on a cooking-fish-over-an-open-fire challenge. What happened, brah? So Shel Chill botched the cenote challenge when he didn’t do a test fish (unlike Brownnoser Brooke, the Judges’ Pet) and his attempt at roasting a whole fish turned into a “pile of meat,” per Tom. Which “tasted like crab.”
Wait, is that a bad thing? Crab is delicious. Also, isn’t this Sheldon’s third or fourth annatto thing? Annatto is to Sheldon as hibiscus is to Brooke.
Anyway, I actually thought we were headed for an All-Asian finale when the judges were comparing Brooke’s bland-but-beautiful snapper (heh) to Sheldon’s possibly-too-spicy but crab-looking pile of meat (ew). In fact I object in principle to the idea that a slightly bland dish with perfectly cooked protein beats an exciting one with less-pretty meat (heh).
That being said, Shel Chill botched the quickfire when he tried to buy cheese and ended up with tamal colado. Not knowing enough Spanish to successfully buy cheese is like a 100s-level course at chef’s college. Honestly, a head chef failing rudimentary Spanish is like an architect failing drafting. Thus, he probably deserved to go, not that that made anyone less sad about it. Padma literally wept.
“B-b-but I like-a the spice!” she was heard to sob.
There, there, darling. Here, take my handkerchief and this ziplock full of Thai chilis.
2. (+1) Shirley Chung, AKA Bowl of Hug, aka Hotpot, aka Peppercorn
Shirley won this week’s elimination challenge, so you could make a case that she deserves this week’s number one ranking, but come one, this whole episode was kind of tailor-made for Shirley. She apparently bites habaneros to stay awake, thus justifying the nickname “Hotpot.” Of COURSE she’d be the one to excel at exotic ingredients and primitive cookware. I bet Shirley could make spicy stew with nothing but tree bark and half an oyster shell.
Shirley also opened this episode tequila drunk and emotional (possible spinoff idea?), moaning about being jealous of season-mates Sheldon and Brooke’s bond. She also revealed that after her third-place finish on her original Top Chef run in season 11, her mom told her “Okay so now you can just be on TV and you don’t have to cook anymore, right?”
Which is like top-level belittling mom comment. Just superb. Anyway, Hotpot got baggage, expect a montage next episode. Nonetheless, she cooked what looked to me like the tastiest habanero dish:
Dumplings, chicharron, egg yolk, AND hot peppers? Hot damn, figure out how to incorporate gravy or a stew into that and I’d put a ring on it. Straight up, I’d eat that until my asshole fell off (from all the hot peppers).
Then Shirley’s elimination challenge dish was good enough to upset Brooke after three straight challenge victories. Shirley has the momentum and a real shot at winning this. My advice? Cook a stew! Stew your heart out, Shirley! Stew like your life depends on it! Make a bowl of hug so comforting it could smother the Earth in its peppery tentacles.
One. (even) Brooke Williamson, AKA Biscuits, aka The Girl With The Radish Tattoo, aka Hibiscus
Brooke was nicknamed the “Quickfire Queen” by her competitors this week, which in my mind was mostly just an ego-protecting way to say “the chef who’s probably gonna win this thing.”
My pro-Brooke bias is well-known, but I’m only biased by the fact that I’m pretty sure she’s going to win. Hell, she even won the Quickfire this week cooking a pork loin, of all things. Which I took as a personal insult, given all the pork loin-bashing I’ve done in this column.
Homegirl loves her shaved radishes
To be fair, that looks good. Probably not as good as Shirley’s egg yolk/cracklin/dumpling concoction, but good nonetheless.
Brooke seemed thrown by this week’s lack of onions and garlic (no garlic? I think we may have figured out what finally took down the Mayans — vampires) and as a result came damn close to going home. She may have even deserved to.
That said, being such a Judges’ Pet that she cooked a test fish to make sure it wouldn’t stick to the grill (kind of shocked no one tried to pull crudo this week, actually) is the kind of ruthless strategery that makes Brooke such a perma-favorite. I’m leaving her at number one because she tends to come back strong after a weak performance and I have to think she’s the one to beat with a full pantry. I just hope she wins with some biscuits. Radish biscuits.