by Monica Y. Hong
This week our two Korean American chefs, Beverly Kim and Edward Lee, give us a taste of their cooking styles and personalities as we finally get to see them duke it out on Top Chef Texas.
As Beverly is getting ready at the Top Chef house for the first day of real competition, she unfolds a piece of paper and places it up on her mirror.
“I printed out a sheet that says, ‘Congratulations, Beverly Kim Clark!!!! You have won Top Chef Season 9 and $125,000!!!!!’ I look at it everyday. If I can believe it, I’m going to achieve it. I keep telling myself that.” Another week, another trusty piece of paper. Last week’s “I CAN I MUST I WILL” worked out for her so all I can say is to each his own.
The 16 “cheftestants” enter the kitchen for their first quickfire challenge only to be met with a terrarium filled with snakes. Each chef has a small covered box in front of them that contains a succulent serpentine surprise. They have to cook up some rattlesnake in one hour, with the best viper winning them immunity and $5,000. Sssuper!
Host Padma Lakshmi sends them off to begin their challenge with these words of encouragement: “When time is up, I better see some motherf–kin’ snakes on some motherf–kin’ plates.” I say, Top Chef producers, that is some poetry right there. Bravo, Bravo.
Luckily, the boxes are filled with dead, skinned snakes. If you’re wondering what raw rattlesnake meat looks like it is three feet of translucent gray flesh with a touch of pink.
Chef Beverly is seen basting her filets of snake on a roasting pan with what looks like a gochujang sauce.
“I’m a little unsure if I’ve cooked the rattlesnake properly,” Kim laments. “It has a little bit of a chew, but [being] from a Korean background, some things are supposed to have a chew to it so I go with it.”
She presents three pieces of vibrant red rattlesnake nigiri placed along a lime green circle of Thai basil jalapeno aioli. A feather green garnish sets off the vibrant and playful dish.
Guest judge Johnny Hernandez of La Gloria Restaurant in San Antonio likes Beverly’s snake sushi. “I felt that the elegance of the dish presented really nicely and the doneness of the snake was excellent,” he said.
Unfortunately, Chef Bev doesn’t take the cake or the five grand. The judges choose a beer battered rattlesnake instead. Boo. Hiss.
In the elimination challenge, the chefs draw knives and are divided into two teams of pink and green. They have to create a meal for 100 guests at a quinceañera celebration for a Texan teen, Blanca Flores. A quinceañera is like a dohl for a 15-year-old or a Mexican bat mitzvah.
The green team has all the Asians including Beverly, Ed Lee and Filipino American chef Paul Qui. They have 30 minutes to plan an elegant Mexican menu. The team gathers around the teenager.
Paul asks, “Do you like ceviche?” Ed follows up with, “You like boys?” Blanca giggles and says, “Yeah.” Umm, uncomfortable!
The teams have $1500 to spend at Whole Foods and a Mexican meat market. Inside the Mexican market, Beverly is seen marching up and down the meat counter, waving one arm high in the air and yelling at whoever will listen, “We need to get someone here please. This is very, very important. This is the most important dish here. I’m sorry I know everybody here has stuff to do. I need a butcher.” Definitely not the first time a Korean has been seen getting aggressive in the name of kalbi.
For the party, Chef Ed whips up a tomatillo gazpacho with watermelon, jicama and pork rinds and continues to impress with his artful presentation. His bowl of pale green gazpacho with dots of bright green, streaks of creamy white topped with bright pink watermelon is truly modern art.
Chef Beverly’s entrée is a beef short rib asada marinated in tequila and soy sauce with a piña kimchi. Judge Tom Colicchio calls her out on it saying, “it sounds like a food truck.” That’s pretty much what it is – a Korean beef taco.
After dinner, Beverly is full of emotion with tears streaming down her face watching the father-daughter dance.
“I always think about how I still want to make my dad proud and show him that, like, even though I’m a daughter, hey, you know, I can just do as much as a son would do.” Oh dear.
The judges taste the green team’s dishes and judge Hugh Acheson is a fan of Ed’s flavorful cold soup while judge Johnny finds Beverly’s carne asada tender and delicious.
Beverly looks oblivious when the judges announce her team the winner. I don’t think she remembers what color team she’s on. However, we realize this is good news: our KA chefs are safe.
Next week, the chefs have all night to prepare for a chili cookoff at the Texas rodeo for 200 people. No clock means no sleep, which would explain Beverly’s breakdown on the rodeo bleachers.
A fellow cheftestant says, “It’s just weird. There’s no crying in cooking,” as Beverly is seen wiping yet another tear. I see a pattern here. Let’s just hope they’re tears of joy, people.