Top Chef: Texas - Let the Games Begin

Categories: TV

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I have absolutely no tolerance for reality shows of any kind, and I watch little food television programming aside from Chopped, Alton Brown and the PBS Saturday morning line-up. I do not understand the modern paradigm of chef as rock star. I don't know why food blogging has become so entrenched in the pop zeitgeist that it has become a plot line for The Simpsons.

In other words, although I am a food lover and a food writer and a consumer of most things food culture-related, I am not the target audience for Top Chef. In fact, I have never watched a single episode before. To date, my closest run-in with Top Chef has been insulting Tom Colicchio on Twitter and then getting my ass [rightfully] handed to me via DM by the chef himself.

And were it not filming in Texas this season, I would likely not be watching this latest "cycle" either. But it is. And your great State spent $400,000 of your tax dollars getting Bravo here, so I feel obligated to cover the show as a public service. Let's see how accurately the show portrays Texas, or how blatantly it exploits our many stereotypes; let's see exactly how the world desires to see us.

And let's see a Texas without its largest city, while we're at it. Let's see a Texas bereft of the fourth largest city in the nation, and the one that arguably houses the best and most forward-racing food scene. Am I pissed off that Bravo passed up Houston? Absolutely. But not only out of a sense of civic pride -- but because it's so hideously fascinating to see how easily Houston was carved off Texas's carcass like a piece of meat the producers deemed useless, as if we don't even exist.

With that introduction, let's get to the recap -- my very first recap of a television show, ever -- and straight to the ugliest part of the show: the opening credits.

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So many cheftestants, so few fucks to give.
The opening graphic listing three of the NOT LARGEST CITIES IN TEXAS is already embarrassing me. Also, there are roughly 50 establishing shots of boots or boot stores or neon signs shaped like boots. And, of course, some calf roping. Therefore, as a proud seventh-generation Texan who neither owns boots nor calves, I already want to shoot myself.

...and Padma's in front of the Alamo. Of course she is. Because we are nothing if not the national consciousness's hackneyed memories of bad John Wayne movies with no concept of the underlying history of the Alamo itself. I wonder if these chefs are as unimpressed with the Alamo as every other tourist ever. They sure look like it, but that could be because there are 1,574 of them and only 16 "real" slots on the show past these first two episodes. I hope they tear each other's throats out like mad dogs.

In that vein, I already hate this Tyler Stone kid. Someone please tear his throat out immediately so I don't have to hear bullshit like this all season long: "I've cooked for many celebrities, politicians..." That's not how you introduce yourself, asshat. How about where you've worked? For whom?

Non sequitur to: "This is really fucked up." You said it, random lady chef.

Emeril Lagasse is here in the Lone Star Kitchen, which -- seriously -- has Texas flags in the background. There is more pandering going on here than in a Ford truck commercial with Sam Elliot voiceovers. Eh... I guess it's nice to see a legitimate, old-school TV chef on a show like this, though.

Other random thoughts: I like the guy with the neck tattoos. I'm a sucker for those types. So. Much. Moto. And...here's Colin, the guy who can't dissociate George W. Bush from Texas. Yeah, that guy. He sounds like a hipster who makes stuff out of nut cheese.

The judges -- Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi and Emeril himself -- hold up a dark blue chef's jacket. Only a few are getting handed out tonight. I'm already rooting against Tyler and the nut cheese hipster, and before I can even think about a better name for Tyler the first cooking challenge has begun!

Challenge for the first group: All parts of a whole pig are up for grabs! An hour to cook each dish! G.E. PRODUCT PLUGS ALL UP IN HERE. It's like Liz Lemon's fever dream. Suckers are taking the easy shit like tenderloin. I like the guy who yelled out for the ears. In other news: THIS IS ALL MOVING VERY FAST.

"I've written my own cookbook," weasels Tyler. OH GOD SHUT UP.

"I let somebody else butcher my tenderloin," says Grayson, who's stupidly handed her cut of the pig off to Tyler. Already with the excuses. Not interested.

"I take a lot of pride in my butchering," VO's another contestant -- maybe the Cruise Ship Lady, I can't even tell anymore -- who's clearly light years ahead of these two fools. Much better.

Meanwhile, Tom Colicchio standing over my shoulder while I'm fixing pork cheeks would freak me the hell out, too. There is too much going on right now for me to even figure out who he's standing over and freaking out, though. Too many cooks in the kitchen, quite literally.

Loudmouth Cookbook Author Tyler (I'm sorry, but I'm simply not going to be bothered with learning names this early on in the reality show mindfucking) is already complaining about how he doesn't work with pig a lot. More excuses. Seriously, please leave.

"The tenderloin is just hacked," says Grayson of Loudmouth Tyler's miserable butchering skills. Well, that's what you get for not doing it yourself. She doesn't have to worry about this schmuck stinking up the show for too long, though...

"You're a chef and that's a basic skill," says Tom of Loudmouth Tyler's pitiful excuse for a pork tenderloin. Thank you for tearing into him, Tom and Emeril. But it gets better: "I think you should just leave now," says Tom. YES SIR THANK YOU SO MUCH. Pack up your knives and go!

"I know where I'm going and that's right to the top," smirks Loudmouth Tyler as he leaves. The top of what? The lucrative world of obnoxious, baseless self-promotion? The Kardashians already have that covered.

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41 comments
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Mike
Mike

Very entertaing and insightful.

But how can one overlook the Superbowl / NFL-esque dialogue, special effects and dramatic musical scores?

"It's 'game on'!" ... ."I'll FIGHT to the end and be the last man standing!" ... "It's all about who wants it the most!"  "This is what I've been working for all of my life!"

Even more likely to get the audience's adrenaline pumping ... the 'Hulk Hogan-turned-Rapper" poses ... arms folded across the chest, intimidating scowl on the face and some camerman lying among the garnish on the grease-covered floor photographing these guys so that they appear to be 8 feet tall.

"Reality?"  Reality is that any dishwasher learns on their 1st day that one NEVER runs in a kitchen.  NEVER!.

Reality is that even novice line cooks automatically "clean as they go."  No real "chef" would allow a properly operated kitchen to accumulate ANY used utensils to clutter the work surface.  And all surfaces would be constantly wiped clean, instinctively. 

And yet, I can't turn away.  These infomercials are fascinating.  I have multiple bruises covering the left side of my body - my wife continually slaps me and as I interrupt "her" program, with running commentary and editorial critique.

As a related (at least in my own mind) aside ... Viking Corp has its international HQ in Greenwood, MS - population not quite 20,000.

Among the home-based BBQ establishments, Mc Donald's and convenience stores that dispense rotisserie hot dogs .... the local Health Department Report was published last week.

Ratings were "A", "B" and "C" ... anything less resulted in immediate closure.

Only one of 23 received a "C" rating.  Yep  The "World Famous" Viking cooking school.

Mike Stanton

Derp
Derp

I literally laughed out loud at the "So many chefs, so little fucks" caption.  Spot on, Shilcutt.

MadMac
MadMac

"He sounds like a hipster who makes stuff out of nut cheese."

This is CANDY! Seriously late to this party but I love the show, (yeah, I know, but I can't stop watching it, kinda like a train wreck) and I love your commentary/critique of the show. Great stuff, Ms. Shilcutt.

Clay Wisner
Clay Wisner

This is the best article I've read in ages. Brilliant!

Pj Gustafson
Pj Gustafson

Katharine, I loved your recap, though I disagree with you on your hatred for the show in general.  Like Marty commented, I love this show and have learned quite a bit from it.  I had no idea what sous vide or molecular gastronomy were before getting into this show.  Sure, there's some manufactured drama and stereotyping on it, but hey, that's TV.  Do you think the people in Miami were happy back in their season when a whole episode was spent cooking for the cast of a telenovela? This show is actually better than many others with the manufactured drama - did anyone see 'Master Chef' on Fox? That was horrible!

I do have a couple of other background comments.  First of all, regarding the snubbing of Houston, we didn't get included because we didn't pay to be included.  Everyone should head over to CultureMap (http://houston.culturemap.com/... and check out the coverage there.  The state dished out $400k and San Antonio dished out $200k to get them there.  Houston decided it wasn't worth paying the money Bravo wanted.

Second, funny story about the d-bag Tyler.  My wife and I went to the Zest in the West festival a couple of Sunday's ago - we were one of 5 people in the crowd while we were there - and there was a big booth for cooking demonstrations by Chef Tyler Stone.  He had his cook book on display, as well as a big sign indicating that he was on Top Chef Texas.  He did not have a sign indicating that he was only on the first 30 seconds of Top Chef Texas.  After seeing his performance on the show I'm glad that the wife and I did not stick around to watch his cooking demonstration.

Lastly, if people here like the level of snarkiness that Katharine puts in her posts, you should all check out http://www.pleasepackyourknive....  It is every bit as snarky and sarcastic as this recap.

Anyway, great job Katharine, I look forward to reading your recaps throughout the season.

PJ Gustafson@t0r0nad0:twitter

Biker
Biker

I guess it's a matter of taste, but I love Master Chef and detest Bravo shows, for the most part.  Although I have enjoyed many seasons of Top Chef in the past, I think this time they've gone too far with the cliches and pandering to the masses' preconceived notions of what Texas is...if the first show is indicative of the season's offerings.  It's honestly offensive.  Their prejudiced ideas of this amazing, diverse, wonderful state are juvenile and facile. 

And equally asinine is the way they have taken "product placement" to the extreme of having the location be a "product".  I understand the expense of producing such a show and the need to underwrite such expense, but, dang!  Come on!  This is going too far.  I personally (as a lifetime Houstonian) am proud of this city for NOT giving them money (especially considering the city would have zero input in the content or editing).  Whoever made that decision within city government is a hero in my book!!!  I can't blame Houston for not wanting to be portrayed for the ninety thousandth time as nothing but smoking stacks of poisonous gas and a few scattered head of cattle and the inescapable cowboy paraphernalia. 

That being said, Bravo still should at least acknowledge that this city exists - it's pathetic and childish to basically say "fine, you don't give us money, then we're going to ignore you completely".  It's the television equivalent of a two-year-old's temper tantrum and pouting in the corner.  Grow up Bravo.  Do some legwork and some true portrayal of a location.  Let the investors be partners in your production.  You'd be pleasantly surprised at the outcome - it would be a thousand times better!!!!  Something this state could get behind and be proud of!

Pj Gustafson
Pj Gustafson

My issues with Master Chef had to do with Gordon Ramsey's constant screaming and berating of the contestants (as he does in Hell's Kitchen) and the fact that every toss to commercial break had to be framed as a cliff-hanger with no real payoff.  By that I mean that before going to commercial, they edited clips and sound bites and added the music to make it seem like something big was going to happen, but then you come back and it's really nothing.  That and they repeat half of the activities and sound clips from the previous segment each time they come back from commercial.  I likely would not have been able to watch that show had it not been for DVR.  I also didn't feel like any of the contestants had the skills to really deserve to be called 'Master Chef'.  They're better than I am, for sure, but then again I'm not going after that title.  

All that said, I did watch the entire season despite the annoying parts, and will likely watch again next season.  Why?  Because I'm a guy that loves food and loves cooking, and I seek out shows that highlight food competition and also focus on the food itself to give me inspiration for things I'd like to try to make.Don't get me wrong, I have my issues with Top Chef as well.  But, maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention to the Texas stereotype stuff to be overwhelmingly annoyed or insulted by it.  I just think it's the typical stuff that people not from here think of when they think of Texas.  It wasn't any worse, in my opinion, when they showed images of Italian-Americans eating pizza in New York, having a sausage competition in Chicago, or really playing up the gambling aspect of Las Vegas.  I'm sure that those places have a lot more to offer than the stereotypical images we as people not from there think of when we hear those names.  I think people here are just getting insulted now and reading more into this because it's just our turn to be painted with the broad brush this time around.You are absolutely right though that things are all a matter of taste.  That's what makes this country so great is that we can each have an opinion and feel free to voice it in a civil and respectful manner.

Siobhan
Siobhan

I love you, Katherine Shilcutt!

Kim (azshadowwalker)
Kim (azshadowwalker)

Sounds like someone's bitter.  Get over it.  Move on.  Get out of Texas.  Whatever it takes to gain some perspective.  It's a reality show, ffs.

As for associating Bush and Texas...if the shoe fits.  I don't defend Arizona, because Arizona is all the horrible things people say it is.  I have family in Texas and it, too, is all the horrible things people say about it.  If you can't admit it, you're part of the problem.

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

I've been out of Texas plenty of times and Texas AND Houston have plenty to offer besides the tripe this dumbass show is airing..  The only one who took time out to be bitter is you, for fuck's sake.  Get over yourself and move on to another website. 

Ed T.
Ed T.

GREAT recap, Katharine! You are totally gonna kick that other Top Chef recapper's ass (that would be Ms. Shellnutt over at chron.com) - your style reminds me a lot of how The Mighty "T" (Therese Odell) recaps reality TV shows, but with a lot saltier language. Which, somehow, seems totally right. Keep those f-bombs coming!

BTW, Sarah (from Spiaggia) also has some H-Town cred, being an alumni from Brennans.

Glad you commented on all the Texas stereotypes in the opening sequence. That was just so totally Bravo. About the only stereotype I didn't see was a Right-Wing Militiaman running around with the entire gun department of Bass Pro Shop slung over his shoulder.I fell asleep right after "Cooker for the Celebs" dude was sent packing, so I missed a lot of it. Which means I will have to catch an encore performance (or buy it on iTunes) before I can write up my own "review".

~EdT.

Deb
Deb

 I heard about more H-town cred for Sarah: I think she's an Art Institute of Houston grad.

Cmetz0369
Cmetz0369

Louis Pasteur /ˈluːi pæˈstɜr/ ?

and don't forget the "Looey-ville" Slugger.

Stef Edstrom
Stef Edstrom

Hahaha - Katherine, great write up! i was also very disappointing. hilarious!!

CameronByars
CameronByars

Great write up! I feel I may be too frustrated about them excluding Houston and stereotyping for me to watch this show. I'll give it a try though...

Jonathan
Jonathan

Pure awesome-sauce.  I'm intrigued by your tweet of Tom Colicchio and how he responded.  You just can't casually mention a little nugget like that and not give details! 

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Long story short: I talked shit about one of his restaurants on Twitter like a whiny jerk (although I'll stand by what I told him, which is that it was the worst dining experience I had while in NYC). He responded very swiftly and very professionally, but spanked me for being a brat. I still don't like that particular restaurant, but now I like him very much.

Jonathan
Jonathan

Thanks for the response!  I wonder if he has that much free time to be monitoring all social media sites that mention his name or if he's that pompous to have hired someone to do nothing but monitor his online reputation for him.  Either way, I'm not one to visit "celebrity" chef restaurants because it's not like they're in the kitchen cooking your meal themselves.  My bad experience with one such place was Batali's place in Vegas and that ruined the mystique for me.  I would make an exception for Rick Bayless though, his restaurants look pretty amazing (plus I'm a fan of his Frontera line of foods at Whole Foods though his cooking show on PBS with his daughter is rather annoying) though I tried making reservations to both places in Chicago months in advance and they were booked.  D'oh!

MadMac
MadMac

NY rent and investor expectations? Yeah, he makes the time to protect his brand. I do hit celeb chef restaurants and I've had great experiences, (Govind Armstrong's Table 8) and not so great (Mario Batali's Pizzaria Mozza). Mr. Bayless is incredibly warm and generous with his guests. Hubert Keller took time to meet and greet my Mrs. and I. On our way out of Fleur de Lys, the hostess presented us with a signed menu from Master Keller. A real experience.  

H_e_x
H_e_x

Nice right up. I don't know if I can bring myself to watch this. My tolerance for Top Chef has declined over the years, and I don't think I can make it though a stereotype driven image of Texas that excluded it's largest, and most diverse, city. Maybe one of the Austin challenges could be to make the most expensive and tasteless tacos but justify it by selling them out of a twee truck.

Marty
Marty

I enjoyed this recap a lot.  I like how you laid out your frantic, almost stream-of-consciousness thoughts about the show.  However, I just don't agree with all the Top Chef hate going on.

I could wax poetic about my love for this show for hours, but I'll keep it short.  Top Chef takes the basic concept of a reality competition and makes it better, IMO.  Some of the food these chefs create is nothing short of amazing.  I didn't even know what gnocchi was before TC -- now it is one of my favorite things to eat.  I know and appreciate food more because I watch Top Chef.  Everyone will have their own experience with the show, but I think if you keep an open mind you'll love some of the food you see produced. 

As for the Houston snub, it doesn't bother me at all.  OF COURSE Bravo is going to stereotype the shit out of Texas; that's what everyone outside of Texas does.  Good for them -- I know how awesome this place can be.  I don't care if other people don't.  And the fact that they didn't bring Houston into Season 9 is fine by me.  I also know how awesome the food and dining scene in Houston is, and I don't need justification.  Let them all think we aren't good enough -- we know better.  I am personally going to enjoy the ride of watching the show while hopefully learning something new about the culinary arts (aside from nut cheese).

I *would* like to propose a drinking game for this season, though:  Take a shot every time the Texas Flag is shown on screen. 

On second thought, we might not make it past the Quickfire Challenges if we do that.

MadMac
MadMac

I'm right there with you, Marty. Houston, (like Detroit and Milwaukee) is a red-headed-step city. We never get love. Sadly, I see Texans perpetuate all of these stereo types when traveling.

Mary
Mary

Brilliant, excellent, outstanding, hilarious, entertaining! Keep writing the recaps. They have to be better than the show. 

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Oh, and I promise that future recaps won't be as long. After all, there's only so many times I can talk about how shitty those opening credits are.

Albert Nurick
Albert Nurick

Brilliant.  I really, really want you to keep reviewing TV shows.  And movies.  And plays.  Even if they're at the local kindergarten.  I'd read every word.  Twice.

TQro
TQro

I am not worthy!!  Brilliantly entertaining.  I would now like to deliver lunch to you.

Ms. Pants
Ms. Pants

You had me last night at "nut cheese."  Of course, I immediately thought "is smegma technically vegan?"  I don't know why they'd bring in a vegan chef when the show is so meat-horny.  Perhaps just to make fun of the nut cheese vegans.

Sharon Worster
Sharon Worster

I'm so sorry that Nut Cheese went home. I love the way you say it. NUT CHEESE. With fire & brimstone & shit.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

How did you know that was exactly how I was saying "Nut Cheese" in my head? NUT CHEESE. NEEEEWWWMAN!

Terry Alexander
Terry Alexander

Love it! I have the episode on DVR but I'm really not sure I will want to watch it now. There is no way it can be as good as your recap just was. Maybe I can print this piece and use it as sort of a cliff notes while I watch the show.

On a completely unrelated note about the show - Learn a little more history about the Alamo before you grow balls big enough to diss it in print. It's a lot more than just a building that thousands of clueless people line up to take photos in front of. Bad move.TA

Jay Francis
Jay Francis

One of the best and most readable books on Texas history has to be T.R. Fehrenbach's "Lone Star". Would that this would be the text they used to teach with. Recommended to anyone wanting to know more about the events mentioned.

Terry Alexander
Terry Alexander

I have to get the award for the biggest dick ever! I just reread your comment and I have misconstrued savagely. I apologize profusely and wish I could buy you a beer for my idiot remark above. I stand humbled before you awaiting my punishment. Where is my Fucking edit button???TA

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

You might be the first Internet commenter in the history of the Internet to ever apologize to anyone for anything. I think you just won yourself 1,000,000 Internets and a shiny halo for that. :D

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

C'mon, Termin8er. You know me better than that. I sat through Texas History in seventh grade just like every other Texan. I know my Alamo history very well. What I was dissing is the Alamo's use as a prop by people who don't understand or care about its history, and just want a convenient backdrop for their Texas-set shows or movies. Read through again. ;)

Mike
Mike

"The winners write history."  The USA invaded Central and South America more than 40 times in the 19th Century.  'many reasons or for none, but mainly, 'cause they could ....

The Alamo massacre was provoked by the USA's intrusion into, and occupation of, a sovereign's nation's soil.  Shortly thereafter, the wack job "Republic of Texas" (some of whom still breed) became, potentially, 5 of the United States - depending upon how Congress later decided how to handle the "Slavery Issue" which was a major reason for the invaasion to begin with.

Ultimately, what is now NM, AZ, CA, etc... were also appropriated (be careful what you ask for ... )

Were it not for the "Yellow Rose of Texas" - a subversive hooker that kept Santa Anna "pre-occupied" and drunk 'til he slept through San Jacinto - Mexico would, today, be complaining about those pesky immigrants.

"Glory", "Courage" and "Heroism" are not the attributes I'd assign to a bunch of illiterate driunks ... 'more like stupid puppets.

 

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

Mike, what you've just written is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever read. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone on this board is now dumber for having to read it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your idiotic soul.

Eric Henao
Eric Henao

You know what? I really love it when you write mad. F'ing brilliant. Thank you for watching the drivel and letting me read your brilliant writer's wrath.

Francesco Orodinapoli
Francesco Orodinapoli

Right now I am laughing and touching my hand to my heart and pointing it back at Katherine Shilcutt (re: the beaver in the Michelin tire commercial) for this wonderful article.

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