Before we start our recap of Top Chef: Texas tequila-and-game-meats episode, I’d like to offer a shout out to chef Hugh Acheson. In these posts I’ve tended to gloss over the judges’ contributions to Top Chef (after all, they’re not the ones competing), but last week it was brought to my attention that chef Hugh is a native of our nation’s capital. In the journalism game we call that “a hook.” Sure, it’s a small one, but the fact that Acheson grew up in Ottawa and began his career cooking at the renowned (though now closed) Café Henri Burger in Gatineau gives me an opportunity to pump up the city’s growing culinary reputation.
I lived in O-town for a few years in the early aughts. Back then the scene struck me as a bit wanting. Sure, there was a smattering of hot spots (I recall a wonderful meal at Beckta during its early days), but overall Ottawa diners seemed to make do with some decent if overpriced boites in the Byward Market and a few stuffy rooms frequented by politicians and diplomats. Since then a number of creative chefs have brought their talents to bear at eclectic restaurants like Town, Taylor’s, Oz Kafe and Black Cat Bistro. Which is all to say, if you find yourself famished after a day touring Parliament Hill, make a point of checking out some of Ottawa’s now-numerous options for gastronomic satisfaction.
Anyway, back in our regularly scheduled, Texas-based programming, the aspiring top chefs were presented with a Quickfire Challenge requiring them to create a dish that would pair well with one of a few types of Don Julio premium tequila. From the get-go, Ty-Lör was positioned to win, seeing as how he’d been to the state in Mexico where tequila originates. I’m going to trust him on that, because I have absolutely zero experience with the agave-derived spirit. What I do know is that it’s gained quite a bit of popularity amongst alcohol connoisseurs.
“Good tequila is made to be sipped, similar to a wine or a nice craft beer,” noted this episode’s guest judge, Tim Love. I call this the hoity-toity tea test: if you’re told to sip a drink, it must be classy (disclosure: I just made that up, but it has a ring of truth, no?).
As I was saying, Ty-Lör knows his tequila, and even though the stakes were low in this quickfire (immunity was not up for grabs), the mustachioed chef redeemed his poor performance from last week. His winning dish, briny steamed clams in a fish caramel sauce—paired with Don Julio 1942 tequila—was apparently dreamed up on a beach in Thailand. Texas? Mexico? Thailand? How cosmopolitan!
Now, while I’m far from a tequila expert, I do have a little familiarity with game meats. Some of my favourite meals ever have revolved around deer, bison, rabbit and other such tasty proteins. The elimination challenge, in which the chefs paired up to prepare dishes from quail, elk, boar and the like, had me salivating (another disclosure: I wrote this post after eating a disappointing stuffed pepper for dinner).
Before sending the chef’s to Whole Foods, Padma tossed a few wrenches in the proceedings. Namely, the chefs themselves would be responsible for choosing the three worst dishes served in the six-course dinner. Both members of the losing pair would be sent home.
This was another challenge that offered a nice window into the culinary souls of our cheftestants. Last week I defended Heather’s assertiveness in the kitchen, but this week she basically just spent the day bullying her partner, the significantly more introverted Beverly (Heather was also unnecessarily arrogant during the “choosing of the losers” segment of the night). Grayson, too, was disappointed in Chris Jones for messing up some sort of too-creative sweet potato thingamabob; ever the professional, he was disappointed in himself, too. Two of the more level-headed chefs, Edward and Ty-Lör seemed to get along well—or, at least, they had no catty comments or blowouts worthy of being shown on camera. And heavens to Betsy! Their dish of quail with pickled cherries and eggplant was the chefs and judges favourite!
On the bottom end of this dual-elimination challenge were Nyesha and Dakota; the latter struck out by under-cooking her venison. For shame! Ruining a perfectly good cut of Bambi like that.
So, did the judges rule justly in this case? Can you imagine the carnage if it had been Heather who was sent home, dragging poor Beverly behind her?
Moy is an editor at a Toronto-based city magazine. He also writes about all manner of cultural topics, including food culture.