Top Chef: Texas Does Dallas at a Fancy Schmancy Highland Park Dinner Party
via Bravo The winning dish: Paul Qui's Fried Brussels Sprouts with Grilled Prosciutto
Socioeconomically speaking, Dallas has a pretty damn diverse food scene. The Big D is chock-full of $1 taco stands (if you're of the financial status to seek them rather than pass with blinders), $2 slightly fancier tacos found at many bars (LaGrange's are tasty), barbecue shacks out the wazoo (hey, reality TV, if you want to stereotype Dallas, come hither), and of course, a lion's share of overpriced mediocre steakhouses, as well as fare that's exorbitantly priced but well worth the splurge (or the effortless swipe of the corporate card, depending).
Top Chef: Texas, in its first of several Dallas-based episodes, chose to explore the upper crust of our city, the rich and manicured with food choices as picky as their dining tables are elegant. So where did Top Chef take viewers last night? Highland Park -- it's not even technically part of Dallas, yet it's everything reality television would like people to believe about our city -- massive homes, decorated to the hilt; beautiful, thin, manicured women; men who love meat; and food choices largely qualified by phrases like, "It's colorful!"
Really, though, it can't be denied that the monied minority of Dallasites make for very entertaining television.
"Who's the one with the really bi-- ... Dolly Parton, isn't she from Dallas?" Cheftestant Beverly Kim commented at the outset of the episode, when chefs packed their belongings in San Antonio and set off in their Toyota Siennas (lest we forget the repetitious product placement) for Dallas.
Suddenly -- they're pulled over by highway patrol at a closed road. But it's not just any closed road. Padma's waiting with guest judge, chef John Besh, to issue the quickfire challenge.
"We get this reflection off of John Besh's beautiful white teeth, and his hair blowing in the wind, and wow, John Besh is a handsome man. I'm not gonna lie," said Chris Crary, who gushed about Padma the same way in episode 1. Crary was deemed "beautiful Chris" by Chuy Valencia, so as not to confuse him with Chris Jones, whom we'll dub Austin Chris. On the drive from San Antonio to Dallas, we find out that Crary was formerly 70 pounds heavier --- photographic evidence pops on screen. Shocker, he looks like a different person, not that there's anything wrong with either version of Crary -- dude's a heartthrob.
The quickfire challenge is to make a dish using food contained in an emergency pack. They're in the middle of a cornfield, so utensils and cookwear are just about nil. Somehow, Edward Lee busts out a nori-wrapped crabcake with Thai peanut soup -- how he pulled that off is still unclear, perhaps someone should have checked his sleeves, but it still wasn't enough to win. The cash prize and immunity went to Lindsay Autry with a vienna sausage soup and sandwich bound between saltines -- a dish that did not translate well on TV.
"Dad, I hope you're proud," Autry announced to her father, who she said pops vienna sausages like potato chips. If he's a little embarrassed, he shouldn't be.
Once chefs arrived at their cushy new digs in Dallas, the elimination challenge was cooking for a progressive dinner party in which appetizers would be eaten at one house, the main courses at another, and desserts at another neighbor's house.
Chris "Austin Chris" Jones commented on the uncanny resemblance shared between Highland Park and Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives.
At the first elegantly decorated, massive home, the woman doesn't like bell peppers or cilantro and would prefer not to serve food that gives guests bad breath. Oh, and "I hate when things get stuck in my teeth," she adds.
The second home is that of another cilantro-hating vegetarian and her carnivorous husband.
At the dessert home, another opulent space belonging to a third beautiful couple, the wife proclaims that she'd like a dessert "worth every calorie," while the husband reveals, "My wedding cake was a giant gummy bear."
Austin Chris makes a dish that looks like a cigar, while Paul Qui tells the camera that's a "ballsy move," since "if you impress the lady of the house, the guy's just going to agree with her."
The man of the appetizer house says, "I think some were fantastic, and others needed a little bit of work," and in a joke appropriate for the surroundings, Tom Colicchio says, "So, close but no cigar?" Uproarious laughter ensues.
Colicchio was on with the zingers; his eye-rolls punctuated the episode like exclamation points, after easily read thoughts. When another dinner party guest called Grayson Schmitz's dessert "a little too rich," Colicchio stepped up, "I thought it was impossible to be too rich in Dallas, Texas."
Before judges table, the Deep Ellum sign flashed through a Dallas montage, that made me quickly think, "Hold up, is this the same city?"
For listening to the guests' desires, however picky, and for executing a dish on which everything "just really made sense," according to Besh, Paul Qui, executive chef at Uchiko restaurant in Austin, served the judge's favorite dish with his Fried Brussels Sprouts with Grilled Prosciutto. Earlier, while enjoying the meal, one Highland Park party host had even complimented her husband for finishing his Brussels sprouts (she later told him, "pace yourself" on dessert.).
Valencia, however was not so lucky. The 25-year-old Mexican spit-fire had to pack his knives and go for making salmon that had to be overcooked in order for the goat cheese inside to cook properly. It was a bit cringe-inducing when he announced that the dried-out fish with the mealy cheese was something he cooks regularly at his restaurant. Valencia bowed out gracefully, saying he had "no shame" losing to such a talented group. He was, after all, the baby among them, but it's a shame, we were just starting to like him.
Next week, the crew is headed to Southfork Ranch in Parker (not Plano). It's safe to expect a decidedly lower-brow hour of television. It remains to be seen if they'll ever make it to Dallas proper.