Santa Claus Comes to Top Chef
by Monica Y. Hong
Turns out Santa arrived early this year and he overloaded us with presents! This week’s Top Chef Texas is all about paying tribute to whoever inspired you to cook. This week I take inspiration from Santa and offer you these scrumptious gifts! I can hardly contain my excitement so instead of giving it all away, I’ll just say Santa really paid attention this year to who was naughty and who was nice. Ho ho hooray!
Let’s start with a stocking stuffer aka the quickfire challenge. This week the twitter fans dictated what the chefs would be cooking. The cheftestants start off with forty five minutes to create a dish using bacon. Super easy. Our bacon obsessed society is already oversaturated with this salty wonder so using bacon shouldn’t be a problem for any of the chefs. The first curve ball is thrown when Padma and Tom choose a tweet that has them make a hash as a hashtag challenge. Then with 15 minutes remaining, @koreanblue tweets that the chefs must choose a pantry ingredient and hand it off to another chef to use in their dish. Bev hands Grayson a tomatillo and Ty-lör passes Ed some sriracha. Ed is none too happy about that!
Chef Beverly Kim presents a perfectly crisp cube of pork belly with a corn, bell pepper, habañero and potato hash. The judges enjoy her subtle yet flavorful dish. On the other hand, they are not a fan of Chef Edward Lee’s potato cocoa nib hash with a braised bacon and mustard spread and soft shells crabs deglazed in sriracha. Judge Tom Colicchio calls his hash burnt and bitter.
For the elimination challenge, the guest judge is none other than Miss Patti Labelle. The cheftestants must make a dish to honor the person who inspired them to become the chefs they are today.
“My mom is the reason why I love cooking,” says Bev. “Seeing her in the kitchen inspired me. I wanted to be like her. I wanted to be a housewife.” She lets out a slightly maniacal laugh. Frightening in so many ways.
Beverly decides to cook kalbi jim or a Korean braised short rib dish. She presents her version with an edamame horseradish scallion pureé and hon shimeji mushrooms. Her plate is delightful with a stripe of creamy pale green, dots of bright color and one juicy looking piece of beef. Drool city.
Ed’s inspiration is his grandmother. “When I was a kid, I spent so much time with my grandmother,” recalls Ed. “She kept me from being too much of a delinquent. She was the one who was like ‘Keep your hair clean’ or ‘Shave your stupid beard.’” Listen to your halmuhnee, Ed! Shave off that Fu Manchu beard, please!
We see a photograph of a teenage Ed in a tuxedo on the dance floor cutting a rug with his grandmother. Awww, so adorable.
“We were kinda poor when we were growing up so we actually didn’t buy a lot of meat,” says Ed. Therefore, his grandmother would make a lot of vegetarian foods at home. Even though he doesn’t usually cook a lot of meatless meals, he decides to do a veggie bibimbap.
Just as Ed is about to present his dish, he worries that it may be too simple. He’s the only one serving a vegetarian plate and his dish of rice, egg and veggies and nothing else is “a little scary” to him.
He presents his version of a modern bibimbap as “basically a humble Korean dish,” but it is anything but that. It’s the fanciest vegetarian bibimbap ever. A round rice patty on the bottom with a perfectly sized fried egg atop that with pickled carrots and cucumbers, sautéed zucchini and nori giving the dish some height. All placed on a plate that has been whimsically painted with a vibrant brick red Korean chili sauce. Simply gorgeous.
Our Korean American brethren are among the judges’ favorite dishes of the night. Guest judge Emeril Lagasse loves Ed’s dish and Patti Labelle lays on the compliments by saying, “You put your heart and soul on a plate. I thought Ed’s dish was amazing. It was just a beautiful presentation.” Then Padma goes on to remind Ed, “This is your second time on the top. You’re on a little bit of a roll.” To which Ed replies, “Let’s keep it that way.” Word.
Beverly’s dish is not short on praise. Tom remarks, “Presentation was quite beautiful. Looking at the whole dish, everything had a purpose. I don’t think you could look at the dish and say let’s take something off to make it better. I’m sure your mom would be very proud of the work that you’re doing.” Such amazing feedback! Didn’t I mention Santa Claus is coming to town?!
Unfortunately, neither Ed nor Beverly win the challenge, but come on, when else can you say that kalbi jim and bibimbap are among the favorite dishes at judges’ table on Top Chef? Super proud of those two!
As for the least favorite eats of the night, Patti Labelle says it best while commenting on Heather’s dish, “I thought I had bigfoot on the plate.” Ouch. Pretty sure that hurts. Hopefully really bad.
And then Padma says the magic words: Heather please pack your knives and get the hell out of here! Santa Claus has left the building! Happy holidays everyone and joy to the world!