Pee-Wee Herman Plays His Eternal Role on Top Chef: Texas

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What you see above is one of the Healthy Choice Top Chef-branded entrees they keep hawking on this damned show. I bought two on an impulse tonight while shopping* at Target (*shopping = wandering the aisles vacantly and fondling various throw pillows and lamps instead of buying the 25-foot coaxial cable I came for). I'll let you know at the end of the episode if it's any good or not.

"My family wasn't ecstatic about me becoming a chef," says Lindsey in the first few minutes of this week's episode. I can't tell you how many times I've heard that from other chefs whose own parents were less than supportive of their chosen career path. Maybe the upside of shows like Top Chef -- for all the bitching I do about them -- is that more parents will be supportive of kids going into the culinary arts, because it is a worthy and important career path. Period.

My reverie is interrupted by Pee-Wee Herman, this week's guest judge. Why? Because why the fuck not. I am not going to pretend to know or care anymore.

The Quickfire challenge this episode is to make fancy pancakes for Pee-Wee, who needs to join the club alongside other non-agers Johnny Depp, Uncle "John Stamos" Jesse and Jennifer Connolly. It's disturbing, and ultimately distracting from the episode because I've veered off the viewing path entirely and am now looking at old videos of Pee-Wee's Playhouse on YouTube.

I do, however, like the fact that Pee-Wee completely fucks with each of the contestants by telling them that each person's pancake is the best pancake he's ever had. It's classic Pee-Wee, who taught the fine arts of absurdity and sarcasm to a generation of impressionable youths.

The video above is yet one example of why I weep for today's kids: They are never going to fully comprehend how awesome this goddamn show was.

Ed wins the Quickfire challenge, so...good for him. Whatever. He's still not going to win. All I care about at this point is Pee-Wee, which doesn't say much about the five contestants left.

Ed and the other contestants are soon on Pee-Wee-style bikes of their own, charged with riding them to the Alamo (where Pee-Wee's bike was stolen in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure; it all makes sense now) to serve Pee-Wee and the judges lunch. But first, they have to buy groceries -- most of them from a local farmer's market, which is kinda nice -- and then bargain with local restaurants to be allowed to use their kitchens for a few hours to make the lunch.

I don't get the sense at all that any of the restaurants didn't already expect the contestants to come. It's a ridiculous gambit to try and pitch it that way to the viewers, as the editing makes it very clear that all of the restaurants were expecting the contestants and are getting great airtime as a result. "The chef's really nice," VO's Paul about the Belgian place he's ended up. "And I see a lot of quality ingredients in here."


On a weather-related note, I do actually feel sorry for the contestants having to ride their bikes all around San Antonio on a hot summer day. That blows. They all look like they're handling it better than I would. Also, the cynic in me has a feeling that the entire point of this episode is to show potential tourists how easy it is to get around San Antonio by bike: Look! the episode yells. You can ride from your hotel to farmers markets to restaurants to the Alamo and EVERYWHERE IN BETWEEN! It's all just too contrived for me.

Side note: This trailer for an upcoming Tyler Perry movie is doing absolutely nothing to convince me that Perry is not on the DL. I just can't buy that man as anything but Madea anyway.

Back in the kitchens, I'm somewhat amused that although Ed has the "nicest" kitchen of the five -- he's in a spacious bed and breakfast -- he's the one that gets asked to cook extra food by the owner of the B&B itself. "Can you just do a couple over-easy eggs while you're on that burner?" the owner asks. Ed, to his credit, laughs it off and makes the eggs with a smile.

Soon, the chefs are done making their various lunches, paying the restaurant owners for the kitchen ingredients they used and packing the food up. Now the tough part begins: Biking all the food to the Alamo, courier-style.

I'm frankly shocked that any of the food ends up looking presentable after the bike ride, and that Sarah's eggs in her updated egg salad have managed to be so perfectly cooked. The judges are impressed too, except for the weird chicken in Grayson's dish. Pee-Wee, interestingly, is the first to call it out. And Colicchio agrees.

"I bet you never saw yourself saying, 'I agree with Pee-Wee' today," says Pee-Wee to Colicchio in a moment at the judges table which makes me terribly contemplative. Because it's Pee-Wee Herman, y'all, not Paul Reubens, that's chatting with fellow judges Colicchio, Padmannequin and Gail over lunch in full bowtied schtick. Instead of being entertained by my favorite childhood performer, all I can think about is how weird it must be to attend a meal "in character." Like, you're on that entire time... Chewing food, drinking water, wiping your mouth, talking to others...all as Pee-Wee Herman. That has to be incredibly exhausting.

Okay, since the judging portion of this episode is fairly boring -- except for the judges rightly taking Grayson to task for stupidly denuding her chicken of its delicious skin in a misguided effort to make it healthier -- I'll tell you what I thought of that Healthy Choice entree above. In a nutshell: It's fine. It's no better or worse than your typical frozen dinner. I counted about two shreds of basil in it, and it was in desperate need of salt. I added some kosher salt and extra balsamic on top and it became quite edible, especially washed down with wine. (Which I know defeats the whole purpose of the entree anyway, but...meh.)

Lindsay ends up winning the overall challenge, which she deserved for her beef cheeks dish. Ed, Grayson and Sarah have all been called into the bottom three. I honestly think it's time for Grayson to go -- chutzpah notwithstanding. She's been good comic relief and she's a fine chef, but she's not at the level of a Paul or even a Lindsay or Sarah.

Sure enough, Grayson is gone. In a twist after her departure, however, the contestants are told about the "secret" Last Chance Kitchen episodes that have been airing after the main episode each night. I haven't watched any of them because -- as I think I've made clear -- I don't really care all that much about the show. On next week's episode, we'll see which one of the Last Chance Kitchen kids has made it back onto Top Chef, and we'll also apparently see Paul cry. SO TUNE IN NEXT WEEK FOR MORE EMOTIONAL MANIPULATION, GUYS.

Check out our past Top Chef recaps here:

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