Film and TV

Mediocrity Is Served at the South Fork Ranch on Top Chef: Texas

I have one thing to say in advance of tonight's episode: Dean Fucking Fearing. Thank God. An honest-to-Christ Texas chef as a judge on this show for a change.

That out of the way, on to the Quickfire Round!

Fearing, as mentioned, is the guest judge this episode, and the challenge this week is to create dishes incorporating one of the basic mother sauces of French cuisine.

Although Beverly bores by once again cooking the same Asian-influenced food she's been leaning on all season, Grayson surprises by continuing to be the dark horse of the competition and impressing Fearing with her corn ravioli. "I couldn't have made a ravioli in an hour and a half!" he laughs. And, of course, Paul Qui -- our own Texas chef -- is in Fearing's top three as well. Despite this, Grayson is the one who wins immunity in the end.

"I've had to prove a lot," she says. "I'm a force to be reckoned with." I'm starting to believe it.

The Cattle Baron's Ball is the main event for this episode, and the entire team has to made a four-course steak dinner for the gala -- with all of the steak prepared medium-rare. I am actually very okay with all of this. Yes, I guess the Cattle Baron's Ball is a little stereotypical. But it's also a great fundraiser, and it's a huge deal here in Texas, as is steak, so...let's run with it.

Immediately, I notice that Dakota has made damn sure not to place herself on the dessert team this time and ends up with the soup course. I'm also quick to notice that although there's the requisite bitching, the entire team is really working well together, especially on such a short schedule. But that doesn't make for good TV, of course, so we're quickly back to the insipid product placements -- Nyesha grimaces her way through her bit about how spacious the Toyota! Sienna! is inside -- and dumbasses breaking bottles in the grocery store.

And then poor Tylor saws into the webbing of his right hand, getting a nasty laceration that will require stitches. No one really steps up to take his place and assist him in the kitchen, though, because all the contestants are far too focused on CYA-ing. Remember what I said earlier about teamwork? Yeah, nevermind.

Also, remember the other thing I said earlier about the Cattle Baron's Ball being kind of cool? That was before the cheesy establishing shots of the [inevitable] South Fork Ranch: Cue shots of longhorns that may or may not actually reside on the property and a weird, off-kilter, MIDI version of the Dallas theme song that's close enough to be recognizable as the Dallas theme song but not close enough to violate any copyright restrictions. Lame. Lame. Lame.

Everyone seems to like the watermelon gazpacho with shrimp so far, although Colicchio thinks that Sarah's team is playing it safe. The next course, however -- Paul's course -- doesn't go over as well, with Hughnibrow wishing the team had peeled the tomatoes first in their New York strip steak carpaccio.

Then disaster strikes: The steaks were all fired way too early, meaning the steaks will likely be cold by the time they reach the tables. Worse, Fearing points out, the steaks aren't even close to medium rare, and are closer to medium-well. The only thing they really like is Nyesha's compound butter, but DUH. It has marrow in it.

The only truly interesting part of the entire episode, however, takes place when a flamingly gay cowboy in a head-to-toe, gray-and-red, rhinestone-covered outfit and cowboy hat raises a toast to that butter at a nearby table. I hear you, random gay.

In the house later on, the contestants try to decide whose fault those steaks were. Tylor immediately steps up and accepts the blame (because the steaks were his area), but points out that he also CUT HIS FUCKING HAND OPEN THE NIGHT BEFORE and that no one stepped up to help him. Excuses normally piss me off, but dude has a point. Heather, who called out Beverly for spending too long on the shrimp and being generally lazy, is called up by the judges along with Nyesha and Ugly Chris as the three best contestants. And it's Heather who eventually wins the episode -- and, naturally, also wins a Toyota! Sienna!

"It was just an okay dish done in a mediocre style," Hughnibrow tells the bottom three contestants about the second course, which was really the theme of the night: boring cooking and general mediocrity. "Usually, it's tough to send someone home," says Hughnibrow, before sending Whitney home for good. "But tonight you really made it easy."

Damn, man. Twist that knife a little harder. Wish I'd seen more of that this episode. Schadenfreude looks better on me than boredom.

Quotes of the Night:

"Look at Paul's knife skills over there; he's like a machine!" Random female contestant, who can't help but be in awe of our man.

"If it means drinking 18 shots of espresso, I'll do whatever it takes to win this competition." Tylor.

"Do you always leave the skins on the peppers?" Colicchio, who makes both me and Dakota question the way we've been slicing bell peppers our entire lives.

"Tonight's menu was underwhelming." A succinct Padma, echoing my thoughts on the entire episode.

...That's about it. Seriously, this was one boring episode.

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Katharine Shilcutt