Barbecue and Big Books of Modernist Cuisine on Top Chef: Texas

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We've had a week off, and in that time frame the Top Chef: Texas contestants have moved on from Dallas to Austin. My drug of choice this week is cough syrup, which I've been drinking all day long. I feel like a gangster. (More on this later today.)

Nathan Myhrvold is the guest judge this week, and TV Guide tells me (because I'm 67 years old and it's packaged with my Reader's Digest subscription) that the main competition will involve Texas barbecue. I'm conflicted about this for two reasons.

Number one, having Nathan Myhrvold judge a barbecue cookoff is a little bit like that time Jethro Tull won a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance. And number two, I'm not the hugest fan of Myhrvold after reading myriad articles suggesting that he is a rather malevolent little patent troll. (Read Hanna Raskin's article at Seattle Weekly for a basic primer on the whole situation.)

Coming on the tails of another episode featuring a controversial figure -- Patti Labelle, whose security detail beat up a West Point grad outside of Bush Intercontinental Airport -- I'm wondering who is responsible for securing talent on this season of Top Chef and exactly how much they secretly hate the show and all of its viewers.

The Quickfire challenge involves cooking modernist cuisine -- surprise, surprise -- and the big award is immunity in the barbecue challenge and the nearly $500 set of Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine tomes. Ugly Chris is super excited, as this is right in his little Moto wheelhouse. So is our own Paul Qui, but -- quite surprisingly -- both of them are handily beaten by Tylor.

The entire segment features many surprisingly cute moments, like when Paul can't pronounce "molecular gastronomy" or when Grayson talks about MG like it's "magic" or when Chris shows us the interior of his apartment and it's decorated with fingerpaint-level oil paintings of crudely drawn nude women. No, wait. That last one's just creepy.

Wasting no time, the groups are given their next assignment: shopping for all that barbecue they have to cook up at Austin's most famous (deservedly or not is a question for the comments section) barbecue joint, The Salt Lick. Which is actually in Driftwood. But whatever.

"This is Texas barbecue," the contestants pronounce as they dig into a family platter at Salt Lick. Except that it's not. Because -- like barbecue everywhere -- it's really difficult to confine the cooking style to one specific geographic area. Just as Memphis barbecue is different from North Caroline barbecue, Central Texas barbecue is very different from -- say -- the East Texas barbecue I grew up eating. Like the comfort food notion from a few weeks ago, this is an idea that's great in concept but doomed to fail in execution.

On the other hand, it's nice to see the contestants slave away on their barbecue all night long. When my folks and anyone else serious about 'cue enter these types of cookoffs, they most certainly do stay up all night long to tend their pits. As predicted, though, everyone is doing wildly different styles of barbecue, from Saint Louis to Kentucky.

Meanwhile, poor Sarah is starting to feel the effects of the raging hot barbecue pits combined with the record Houston heat this past summer, but I'm momentarily distracted from her heatstroke plight by Ugly Chris's awesome T-shirt, which reads "I Eat Vegans." Almost every single contestant is concerned about the fact that she has to be taken away by ambulance -- because, yes, heatstroke is a very real, very bad thing -- including a very sweet Lindsay and Tylor. But not Ed.

Ed, her teammate, is pissed that Sarah had the gall to be affected by the million-degree weather that Texas threw at us this year. He slams shit around and acts like a general dick while he VOs to the cameras that, basically, Sarah isn't dead and therefore should be there with him. When she does manage to return later, having been cleared to do so, he isn't any nicer. I'd be more concerned about this except that Ed has generally shown throughout this season and this episode itself that he doesn't care about anyone except himself. It's a reality show competition, and he's here to win it. Who am I to begrudge him or the show their manufactured drama?

In other words: I give up.

And in the end, it's the Blue Team that wins the $15,000 prize -- Grayson, Paul and Lindsey -- for their creative barbecue that took on a lot of Asian influences. It was a smart move, since Asian-style barbecue isn't something any of the judges grew up iconizing, making them more open to the varied flavors and techniques the team used.

The White Team -- Beverly, Chris and Ugly Chris -- is taken most to task for their oversalted, inedible ribs, boring coleslaw and undercooked beans. But it's Chris who ultimately gets sent home for making the Dr Pepper rub that rendered those ribs inedible. The other contestants only mourn the loss of their token "pretty person," and my opinion of the show's superficiality remains intact.

So long, Chris, and thanks for all the creepiness. May you stalk John Besh and draw lopsided boobies from Top Chef heaven.

Quotes of the Night:

"Don't tell me how to fucking cook." - Ed, muttering under his breath to Sarah while displaying his typical level of class.

"Malibu, are you wearing a wife beater?" - Lindsay, on Chris's questionable wardrobe choice while barbecuing.

"Did I put it in the right hole?"
"Yeah. It's so tight in there."

Both of these are references to the beer can chicken, but I prefer to leave them standing alone just like that. Because I'm also a 12-year-old boy.

"You're gonna love it. It's like sex in the mouth." - A sleep-deprived, punch-drunk Grayson to Colicchio about her barbecue. Girl, you just described how I feel about burrata.

See our previous Top Chef recaps here:

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