March 7, 2012

Bravo's Season 9 Of Top Chef: Texas - Karma Is A Bitch and Paul Qui Wins!

Bravo’s Season 9 of Top Chef:Texas was great. How could it not be? One of my favorite episodes (#13)  featured Pee-wee Herman and his return to the Alamo - which was really funny. Another favorite episode (#11) featured Oscar winner Charlize Theron as a guest judge, and it was awesome. I never thought I’d mention Charlize Theron and foie gras in the same sentence, though I just did, and she was irreverent, beautiful, and a sharp wit - which made her episode lots of fun.

Paul Qui vs. Sara Grueneberg

I don’t know how I was able to avoid hearing who the winner of Top Chef: Texas was - before I could sit down and watch the final episode this past weekend. I was thrilled that Paul Qui was crowned the winner - and had a touch of sympathy for Sarah Grueneberg (in spite of her being so rude and cruel to Beverly) when they announced the winner.

I didn’t envy the judges having to deliberate, and choose a winner. Both Chefs impressed me in the kitchen. Sarah’s menu was a reflection of who she was, and she was firmly in charge of the line. She has a deft hand when it comes to making fresh pasta. If I had to guess, I would say the salmon course might have hurt her. She used a rye crust on the fish, and there are so many fish preparations that use panko, assorted nuts, other bread products, and potatoes as a crust. It might have been cooked perfectly, but it wasn’t an original or inspiring preparation in the same league as her pasta course.

Paul pushed the pedal to the metal, and also prepared a menu that reflected his Asian roots. He took a risk by not having a meat preparation, and it paid off. When I was listening to Paul explain his choices, I thought Sarah had the winning meal. After seeing the attention to detail in each plate, and how Paul was able to completely change a dish, while barely breaking a sweat, when the fresh crab meat couldn’t be used - I thought Paul’s going to win this thing.

It had to be tough to choose a winner - because it was obvious that each chef put their heart and soul into the final meal. Having Tom Colicchio announce that Sarah and Paul made the best food in a finale, is really incredible. Hats off to them!  I wonder what Richard Blais thinks about that!

I did find a new respect for Sarah as a chef, and as upset as she might be to come in second - she should be proud. I still take issue with how she and Lindsay Autry treated Beverly Kim, and they owe Beverly an apology. Sarah brought it in the finale, and was an able competitor.


Paul was steady and strong from the start of the competition to the finish. He flew under the radar early in the season, when a lot of the big personalities were still competing, and one of his most admirable qualities was the respect and kindness he had for his fellow competitors. He didn’t go on camera, like many of the others, and talk shit or put down, the other contestants.

The Judges

Emril Legasse and Hugh Acheson were guest judges this season. They seemed like nice guys, and know how to cook obviously, but didn’t add any excitement to the proceedings. I wish they’d make my fellow Jersey guy Anthony Bourdain a permanent judge, because he always has a one-liner, an anecdote, or an off-color remark that adds something to the show.

I love Gail Simmons, from her killer shoes to her sassy smile. She has an enthusiasm, an opinion, and a love of food and wine that’s infectious. A nice guy and a Jersey guy, Tom Colicchio, deftly plays the Dad --- and his unflappable and steady demeanor is terrific. You know that he’s the type of chef who you never see sweat , whether in the weeds or trying to get his head around what Pee-wee Herman is all about.


Padma Lakshmi Rocks!

You can’t write anything about Top Chef without mentioning Padma Lakshmi. Yes - she’s a beautiful woman with an obvious sex appeal, that many of the straight male contestants like to talk about. But she’s more than just a pretty face with a hot body. It’s a credit to her that she’s become the public face of Top Chef, and  I adore her.

It’s obvious that she spends more time on set, than any other non-contestant,  and she probably doesn’t get much of a break when the show is in production. I’m making that assumption because she becomes attached to the chef-testants, over the course of a season. Most reality show hosts say “see ya,” or "you’re off this island," and seem to care little about eliminated contestants. When she says “pack your knives” you can tell that she really does care, and while she rarely shows emotion, when she does -  it’s TV gold. She has empathy in spades, and I find that incredibly endearing.


Our Sapphic Sister Cat Cora

I have to mention our sapphic sister, Cat Cora, who was on the show, more than once this season. Did you hear them mention Around the World in 80 Plates? Only 80 times! Apparently she and Curtis Stone are hosting a new show that premieres on Bravo in May 2012. Does anyone else get the sense that she’s a “know it all”? I never watched Iron Chef, so I don’t know much about her, so I’ll try to keep an open mind. For now.

Bravo’s Top Chef is still must see tv. The Top Chef: Texas Reunion Special is on tonight at 10pm EST and PST, and 9pm CST. Check it out!



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