As usual, there's a lot of sneaky intel out there, but I'm endeavoring to keep this blog a spoiler-free zone. This isn't just for the readers, but for me, too -- I don't want to know what happens! As such, anything that's already been broadcast or has been posted on the official Bravo site is fair game for discussion. I will, for example, discuss the preview of next week's show at the end of the post. But if you've heard rumors that one chef has been hosting a lot of dinner parties, or that another chef was spotted boarding a plane to an exotic locale, please keep them to yourself.

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November 16, 2011

Top Chef - S9E3 Postmortem

Well, I can't say that's how you want to see somebody go, buuuuut... yeah. His team could have and maybe should have saved him from himself, but the fact that he needed to be saved in the first place makes it a no-doubter.

I trust I'm not the only one who thinks the level of cooking, particularly considering that some of the chefs were undoubtedly unfamiliar with the nuances of the cuisine, looked pretty damn high. There were a couple of boneheaded moves, is sounds like the flavors weren't where they should have been on a couple of dishes, but aside from the enchiladas, did anybody completely fall down?

Could've done without the Snakes on a Plane reference. Not because I found it offensive. Because I found it dumb.

So what's up with no winner's circle?! That's a first, isn't it? Here's hoping the blogs will fill in.

Speaking of supplementary materials, just to space things out a bit I'm thinking making Last Chance Kitchen a regular Friday thing. Postmortem Wednesday, LCK Friday, Power Rankings Monday. Subject to my usual occasional delays and flights of oops.

More Monday (and Friday). Discuss!


Was offended by the profanity that Padma chose to use.

...Wait, seriously? The Snakes on a Plane joke offended people? Huh.

Sad to see Keith go, but buying precooked shrimp was a bad choice. However, I noticed two chefs standing there silent and not saying a word. Also, no one said a word to Keith about the flour tortillas. The leaning cake sounded yummy; the winning team benefitted greatly from Chuy's presence.

Also, can we talk about how awesome it was to have the first regular episode of the season be 1) a quinceanera 2) all about Mexican food?

I was very sad to see Keith go. Knew it was over for him the moment they opened the precooked shrimp, though. If I ever find myself in Wilmington, I'm going to his place. Seemed like a really genuine guy.

Overall, the level of cooking seemed higher than in prior rounds of sixteen. There was nothing that was termed inedible, and even the eliminated chef had a dish that some thought tasted good. Pretty awesome that they catered a quincaneara...I kinda wish they'd catered my Bar Mitzvah.

Moto Chris's empanada looked seriously tasty, IMO.

When Keith went for the frozen shrimp, I gave my wife an ominous "DUM dum dum". At least they just left it off the menu.

No winner? What gives? I think that's a first in Top Chef history...

I'm sad to see Keith go. He surely deserved it, but his team did throw him under the bus.

I mean, he was really begging for the team to give him advice on dishes when they were talking at the table in the house, and his team sure didnt help out with the shrimp thing when a bunch of them could.

So yeah, Keith may have deserved to go home, but I really do think less of pretty much everybody on his team.

So yeah, Keith may have deserved to go home, but I really do think less of pretty much everybody on his team.

You said exactly what I was thinking. He might have been responsible for the worst errors, but I thought that there was a lot of passive-aggressive ass-covering from everyone else right from the start. I loved that they showed the replay of three other chefs okaying the shrimp.

I know that I shouldn't be surprised by this, but I was happy they chose the ugly cake over the pretty one on account of the taste.

I got the giggles listening to Blanca talk about the food. She was tougher than Tom!

Also - while much has been made of Dakota's tears, I think Beverly is the most likely to completely snap and shank someone.

Wife's comment on the snake challenge: that's the slowest I've ever seen a QF start.

The snakes on a plane reference was lame, but the movie is so completely forgettable other than that line, the line has some charm.

Keith should have known that corn tortillas are normal. Someone should have stopped him. Big negative Karma points to the two guys standing next to Keith when he suggested cooked shrimp and no one stopped him. So much my theory that the fish guy would warm Tom's heart.

I know people will be clamoring for Dakota to take a drop because her cake wasn't good, but it seems that no one on the team has pastry experience, so the girl with immunity took one for the team.

So yeah, Keith may have deserved to go home, but I really do think less of pretty much everybody on his team.

I was annoyed by the guys who "whatevered" buying the cooked shrimp, but I was really turned off by the way Lindsay seemed to immediately decide that she would use that against Keith in case of losing. Some chefs might decide that it was time to rally around and figure out how to salvage things, help the guy out some, and try to win. I know they're competing against each other, but it was a team win or loss, and it seems to me that it wasn't being treated that way by several on the losing team.

I liked the Snakes on the Plane reference. It's nice to see Padma with a little life. Plus, I just like cursing, damn it.

As soon as he started talking about just tossing some enchiladas in the oven I had a strong suspicion he was a goner. The way he talked about them made it sound like he really was catering a quinceanera in Paducah KY and that Taco Bell was the only "mexican" food he'd ever had. They looked awful. And combine that with pre-cooked shrimp and I don't even see how his teammates supposedly threw him under the bus. He was most directly responsible for those two gaffes. Even if his team should have said, hey, don't buy the pre-cooked shrimp, don't make your enchiladas like that, he shouldn't have gone down those roads to begin with.

I was really hoping to see him stick around for awhile though.

Snakes on the plane reference was really cute - lighten up! (I actually don't know the movie so I didn't get the reference, but I thought it was hilarious)

Doesn't Keith work at a seafood restaurant? And he's on Top Chef? Does he REALLY need 7 other chefs to tell him not to get cooked shrimp? Seriously?

And even if we can forgive his reasoning to save money a little bit of credence (better to save on any other ingredient than the main protein, but whatever)... did he actually say that buying the cooked shrimp was a time saver? Has the guy ever cooked shrimp before? It takes 2 minutes to cook shrimp. Plus it's a cooking show.. you're kind of supposed to want to cook things.

Plus - flour tortilla = burrito; corn tortilla = enchilada. Any counter person at Taco Bell knows that. Kind of shocking not one of eight cheftestants had a clue there. I mean even after he made the damn dish - just call it a burrito for god's sake.

Yeah - don't have much sympathy here.

Very surprised neither team attempted to make their own tortillas... I'm sure they had access to a tortilla press at the TC kitchen and that's exactly the type of thing that wins big points with the judges and isn't that difficult to pull off. Plus they'd be saving money by making tortillas themselves.

It did look like both teams griddled the store-bought tortillas so I'm not completely sure why one team got called out on them and the other didn't...

I thought it was unfortunate that no one helped steer Keith in a better direction, not because they had any personal obligation to, but because the easiest way to avoid going home in a team challenge is to win the damn thing. That doesn't speak well to the chances some of these folks will have in the small group challenges. The drama, she will be brought.

That being said, pre-cooked shrimp? And my (utterly whitebread) family makes better looking enchiladas for Christmas dinner. Keith threw himself off that cliff.

I did wonder about the lack of winner's circle. The pacing on this episode was really weird.

Hugh Acheson's blog is worth the price of admission. A nicer side of snark than Bourdain.

I'm generally liking the level of cooking. It looks like the warm-up did filter out the folks that can't cook quickly and well. Case in point, it looks like this may have been this year's Wedding Wars. Has Wedding Wars *ever* been done as the first challenge out of the gate? If so, it speaks to the fact that the Magic Elves were confident that the contestants wouldn't let them down.

On the downside, I'm not getting a feeling that anyone did any homework before the show. Before a Texas season, I'd have expected more folks to have practiced with Mexican flavors and the proteins you might find down here. Are you Rick Bayless? No? Then don't try a mole sauce in a timed challenge.

If there's a BBQ challenge, I'm afraid. Very afraid.

If I can defend Keith's Notchiladas for a second, Tom said the filling was good. The tortillas killed him though. I thought they looked fine, otherwise.

In agreement that the Mexican food angle and the classic Mexican cultural event was a great start. The girl was really cool. Nice to see young people into food.

I agree with TokenOmnivore. How much time did they have where they knew they were going to be in Texas? Even if it was only a week, they should have planned for at LEAST a Tex-Mex dish or two - you know there's going to be a nod to the location at some point.

I can't blame anyone for falling down on rattlesnake, though. I know people who would have refused to open the box, even after they knew the snake was dead, even if it meant defaulting on the challenge.

I saw Dakota pulling box cake off the shelf and thought "oh man, there she goes...oh wait. Immunity." Lucky her.

As for the swearing - I've gotten more sensitive to it since my daughter was born earlier this year, even with bleeping. However, Padma's reference doesn't bother me nearly as much as the show on the new cooking channel called Someone's Bitchin' Kitchen. I can avoid or cc shows when the little one is around, but the commercials are everywhere. /*rant off*/

Liking the season so far. Where is everyone here though?

I can't blame anyone for falling down on rattlesnake, though. I know people who would have refused to open the box, even after they knew the snake was dead, even if it meant defaulting on the challenge.

Me first for the exit.

FWIW, I never use profanity, and there were many reasons I had no intention of seeing Snakes on a Plane (er, many slithery reasons), but I knew that scene, and thought Padma's delivery of the "snakes on a plate" line was just what was needed to break up the tension, as the chefs stood there before those boxes with air holes. Aside: Acheson's blog put it well: No TV show has enough insurance to pit 16 nervous chefs with knives against 16 live but doomed rattlers. We already had the medics on the job last week...

Me too on the snakes. No 200,000 would have been worth that.

I sometimes feel like Hugh Acheson is being played by Jim Carrey.

"Also - while much has been made of Dakota's tears, I think Beverly is the most likely to completely snap and shank someone."

She certainly seems... driven.

"I liked the Snakes on the Plane reference. It's nice to see Padma with a little life. Plus, I just like cursing, damn it."

I don't mean to overstate my annoyance. It was a groaner, not an issue. Thing is, I like Sam Jackson. I've seen Sam Jackson. Sam Jackson is an old favorite performer of mine. Padma, you're no Sam Jackson.

"And even if we can forgive his reasoning to save money a little bit of credence (better to save on any other ingredient than the main protein, but whatever)... did he actually say that buying the cooked shrimp was a time saver? Has the guy ever cooked shrimp before? It takes 2 minutes to cook shrimp."

I suspect it was the shelling he was trying to avoid. That's kind of time-consuming. This should in no way be misconstrued as support for the choice.

"If there's a BBQ challenge, I'm afraid. Very afraid."
You and me both. Particularly because of the time needed for BBQ. If they try to shoehorn a BBQ challenge into a short period of time, I'm going to be annoyed.

Did Dakota use a boxed cake mix? It seemed to me she was just looking at a cake recipe on the side of the flour, and she said it was legal to use it.

So, if it's not already there, I'm thinking: Thou Shalt Not Use Frozen Protein should be on the Top Chef 10 Commandments.

Ignoring the tortilla issue for a moment: I agree; there were a lot of people who should have stopped Keith from buying frozen shrimp. But I think they were just in a rush, he asked a question, and without really looking, they said "yeah, whatever" to move the process along. Heck, if they were smart, they may have even thought "he's a seafood chef; whatever he's doing with seafood is probably fine".

I mean, seriously. A seafood chef, buying frozen precooked shrimp. Even frozen shrimp that were NOT precooked would have been a problem.

Note: he does know how to handle seafood; watch him on Last Chance Kitchen (LCK please?).

The food all looked good but I must admit that I was shocked that both teams went with store-bought tortillas. They really aren't that hard to make and the difference in flavor and texture is huge.

I was glad that Keith went. First off, his priorities seemed screwy. He didn't say that he wanted to make enchilladas because he had a great recipe or idea - he said he wanted to make them because it would be easy and not time-consuming. Huh? This is TC, not Almost Home Made. And he owns a seafood restaurant and thought that using pre-cooked frozen shrimp for a shrimp cocktail was acceptable under any circumstances. I just found it hard to believe that he couldn't sense that using that ingredient in a fairly simple way wouldn't scream FROZEN PRE-COOKED.

All in all another great episode.

"Even frozen shrimp that were NOT precooked would have been a problem."

This I'll defend. There are precious few places where you can find shrimp that haven't been frozen. Unless you live in an area where there are shrimp fisheries, or you pay an obscene amount of money, any shrimp you buy has been frozen at some point before it got to you (most people have never had fresh shrimp). San Antonio is close enough to the gulf that they're probably attainable, but I'd be very, very surprised if the Whole Foods would carry them, and certainly not the little Mexican market.

I'm going to defend the store bought tortillas. Now, true, in Texas, you can probably buy the right corn to make tortillas, but at that volume, you're going to need a press, preferably automatic, to actually get enough done. Further, I would think a "Mexican market" would have good locally made tortillas. I know when I lived in SoCal, the ethnic markets had them, and they were good, better than the national brands, and certainly good enough for buffet served food, even in a cooking competition. Lots of Mexicans use store bought. Chuy didn't blink when they did that.

Did Dakota use a boxed cake mix? It seemed to me she was just looking at a cake recipe on the side of the flour, and she said it was legal to use it.

That looked like a King Arthur box to me, and probably could have been flour or cake mix.

Something I haven't seen mentioned is that the shrimp weren't even for Keith -- they were on the phone comparing prices, but whatsername that was going to make the shrimp (shrimp cocktail for TC, is that right?) could have specified -- when I shop for shrimp, I'm always double-checking cooked/raw, tails on/off, shelled/in shell. All the combos are available, in different sizes -- I would think that the one doing the shrimp dish would specify, not just look for the cheapest. No one with Keith was doing the shrimp dish, either, so no one at the counter had any investment in the shrimp.

Now, I still think that Keith as a seafood chef shouldn't have gone there, but the whole thing could have spun a little differently.

I didn't see the episode, drat. As a San Antonian, I'm really sorry I missed the Tex-Mex episode. Re-runs! Somebody mentioned a Blanca. Would that that have been Blanca Aldaco?

Dave, no, it was a random 15 year old girl name Blanca Flores, I believe. She was a good "client" for the show.

Man, as soon as Keith said during judges' table that he would have changed from flour to corn tortillas if his teammates had told him to do so, I knew he was a goner – and rightfully so. Yes, it was a team challenge, and yes everyone should have worked together to pull out a win, but his two lapses in judgment and his willingness to follow the lead of others in the preparation of his dish meant that his elimination was a no-brainer.

The thing about the store-bought tortillas was the fact that they were also a day old. I make my own tortillas sometimes, but we also live near a Mexican grocery that gets them delivered 2 or 3 times a day. Normally if we run over in the late afternoon we can get them when they have just been delivered and are still warm.

They aren't as good as made by hand, but they are leagues ahead of day old tortillas.

Kat, good catch. I missed that.

What was Keith thinking? Precooked shrimp? Flour Tortillas! Think his approach to the Team Competition was off the mark, Giving up quality for time saving will not make TopChef. Watch the LCK video and then I'll say more.

Living in Southern California, we have our share of Mexican restaurants, markets and fast-food joints. The construction and ingredients in their foods are fairly consistent, it's just that some are better than others because of flavor. I've had the opportunity to travel in the south and along the east coast and have found enchiladas made with flour tortillas in some areas. I don't care for the heavy, doughy taste/texture, but can understand if one (Keith) has only seen them made with flour tortillas and never been exposed to making them with corn tortillas, they might think that's the proper way to make them. Not trying to make excuses for anyone not knowing what to expect when cooking in Texas and bordering Mexico, but, as others have said, members of his team should have informed him.

"Padma, you're no Sam Jackson"

I was thinking how much it would have rocked if they could have gotten Sam Jackson, even just taped on a monitor, to say the line.

I'll echo some of the comments that Keith deserved to go, but that I just lost a whole ton of respect for the rest of the team. Particularly Sarah, tossing her own team members under the bus. I understand it's an individual competition, so I don't fault her for not correcting Keith, but it would have been different if she kept quiet instead of shouting from the mountaintop, "I've eaten enchiladas my whole life, I never do enchiladas with flour tortilla" at the first opportunity.

Not much of a leader. Disappointing all around.

First off, since I've been out of town part of the last two weeks and have been intentionally keeping the TV and computer turned off the rest of it, thank you, Dom, for dimming the blog background to #E8E8E8. I can't imaging that's not enough contrast for people and it's so much easier to read on my end.

From last week...
"You cut me deep, Padma.", said the man to the pretty lady with a highly visible seven inch scar.

Sara, awesome to you, painful to me. Polyester dresses, a Mariachi band and a white leather jacket with the American flag on the back? And I thought Hugh's shirt was bad, help me Jebus.

"... the level of cooking... looked pretty damn high."
The Bravo site is even more of a mess this year, where are the damn photos of the dishes from this week? OK, I'm going to have to watch the episode online again to see, but as a non-culinary person who doesn't see the refinements in Mexican food (it's all beef and beans in a tortilla, right? I keed, I keed...), not to me, no. My impression was gazpacho, enchilada, some greasy looking appetizers, a couple of truly hideous looking cakes, all served over Sterno in a rec-center in San Antonio. Flour tortilla, corn, I couldn't care less, pass me the caille en sarcophage. When we're trying to see who's the best, I'm all for bringing out the snobbery.

OK, found the photos. They're probably exactly where they've always been, I just rarely visit that site as it's a hot mess...

Goes to show how much atmosphere and presentation can affect one's impression of a meal as most of those dishes look delicious, though, to me, I think the rattlesnake plates have the edge.

Hugh Acheson's smirky eyebrows deserve their own blog.

For those looking for a reality show chef competition based in, yeah, reality, I just saw my first episode of Food Network's "Chef Hunter" and I recommend it.

@Dom, last comment, the anti-spam feature only asked me to enter characters on the second of those last messages of mine (and it looks like it's going to let me slide this time, too).

The box was King Arthur Pastry Flour and indeed, it has a cake recipe on the back. This episode did not show our loosing team in a good light. Self preservation seemed to be a higher value that producing an excellent buffet for the young girl Blanca.

The pre-cooked shrimp was the nail in the coffin though. I am allergic to shrimp and I know that much!

I can't imagine they'd hold a competition in Texas without a barbecued brisket challenge. I would imagine it as an overnight challenge - 4 hours to prep, and 20 hours in the smoker, with plenty of alcohol-fueled drama in between.

The preview for next week sure looks like an up-all-night slow-cooking challenge.

@IG Next week appears to be a chili cookoff overnight. Agree the level of pre-show prep done by these chefs seems nearly non-existent. A few probably already played their one "Mexican dish" card already.

Surprised nobody has said that you can not find fresh shrimp in Texas from the gulf when they were shooting this episode. The good shrimp are available starting in early August. I believe the season is closed from May to August for wild shrimp (Google seems to back me up on this). Only thing available is frozen or farmed shrimp from across the ocean.

The real issue was calling for shrimp in the first place.

How long ahead of time did they know they were going to Texas? Long enough to spend some time with a smoker, and in the kitchen refining things? Or just long enough to do a little research on the net?

Born in Houston, raised in Dallas, live in Austin for 16 years, been to San Antonio countless times...have never heard that flour tortillas equal burrito, corn equals enchilada.

Not saying it's wrong, just think labeling it's much ado about nothing. Taste is what matters, I hope.

"Not saying it's wrong, just think labeling it's much ado about nothing. Taste is what matters, I hope."

Precisely. In this case, a poor choice in terms of flavor and texture. As is typically the case in these scenarios, the fact that it isn't authentic isn't a problem in and of itself, it's that there's a reason corn tortillas are traditional in a dish like that... they work better.

i agree with nomnomnom, shrimp cocktail seemed like a bad choice to begin with.

i thought it was truly bad form that the two chefs bossing everyone around decided to blame others for the teams mistakes. in fact they seemed to be preparing the blame game in advance.

before judge's table, you could almost see the wheels turning in sarah's head, trying to think of how to bring up the shrimp without seeming like a tattle tale. we're on to you sarah. >.>

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