Top Chef Seattle Episode 8: Jalapeno Business
The chefs harvest oysters, consort with the Rat City Rollergirls, and learn the power of a well-made jalapeno popper.
Each week we chronicle how Seattle represents in the show's tenth season.
Previously on Top Chef: Tuna turmoil! Foil product placement! Josie being really effing weird!
The chefs are waking up at the Olive 8 Penthouse of Sleep Deprivation. Lizzie finds a card on the counter. It calls for a morning quickfire, commanding them to plug a mysterious address into their Toyota Camry's built-in Bing interface. Home team technology! Hey, Chuckanut Drive? Bow, Washington? That’s Taylor Shellfish Farms!
On the drive, the chefs exclaim over the scenery and wager on what sort of shellfish they will be harvesting. Fun fact: Micah grew up kosher so he discovered shellfish in culinary school. Upon their arrival, a preponderance of signs proclaim the fresh oysters.
The chefs rubber boot up and hit Taylor’s oyster beds to marvel at the massive shells they can scoop up off the ground, shuck, and eat on the spot. Josie somehow gets suctioned into the deep mud, while John-the-most-hated-chef-in-Dallas humblebrags that he knows oysters since his father was “a banker and a bayman” on the East Coast.
The chefs bring their harvest back to the Top Chef kitchen, where Padma and Emeril await. Being an oysterphile from New Orleans, Mr. Lagasse is particularly jazzed about the quickfire. Chefs have 25 minutes to make him some oysters on the half shell; a stack of red and blue aprons dictates who will do hot preparations and who will do cold. Most chefs lunge for the five red aprons that confer hot prep privileges.
Micah is particularly stoked to be cooking for Emeril, likening it to “what Moses felt like when he was meeting God.” He has been taking hyperbole lessons from John-the-most-hated-chef-in-Dallas. Much like her relationship with her fellow chefs, Josie’s sauce has broken and she tries to recover.
Overall the oyster dishes look superb, but Emeril singles out Sir Bart’s un-Champagney Champagne treatment, and Josie’s broken sauce as his least favorites. Also, John-the-son-of-a-bayman’s garlic and parmesan foam lacks something that makes it pop.
Emeril is way more jazzed about Lizzie’s oysters with crushed currant juice, despite the alarming magenta hue, Micah’s perfectly fried oyster, and Brooke’s salsa verde. Micah’s crispy fried oyster wins! Take that, kosher upbringing.
No time to celebrate; Padma rolls them right into the elimination challenge. Her pun is most definitely intended—the chefs will be cooking for “one of the hottest sports teams in Seattle.” Which would be the Rat City Rollergirls. The ladies blow into the kitchen and skate around as fierce electric guitar music plays. Josie is especially psyched to see her fellow professional female athletes…she used to play for professional women’s football team the New York Sharks. Lizzie just hopes she won’t be cooking on roller skates this time tomorrow. Also, she did not realize people still actually roller skate, since the 1970s are over and all.
Padma instructs the chefs to pair up. Kristen and Stefan’s sexual tension pulls them together like magnets. John-the-most-hated-chef-in-Dallas asks Brooke if she will go steady. Sheldon and Josh decide to go as friends, and Sir Bart, the sweetly doofy foreign exchange student, finds himself stuck with Josie.
The assignment: each team will make a dish inspired by a rollergirl’s derby name. These include Teriyaki Terror, Kutta Rump, Eddie Shredder, Jalapeno Business, and Tempura Tantrum. Ladies—can we be friends? However a quick scan of the online roster has me wondering why the show didn’t include D’evil’D Meggs, Ophelia Melons, or Shorty Ounce.
Emeril fusses that such a bold and brassy crew doesn’t want fussy food. Or lame concession cuisine. And since Micah won the quickfire, he chooses Jalapeno Business as his culinary muse. Hearing Lizzie pronounce “jalapeno” never gets old.
That night the chefs hit up KeyArena in their finest derby spectator attire. For Sir Bart, this means a psychedelic pink and green button-down shirt. Josie, as usual, is annoyingly overenthusiastic, and chefs roll their eyes in the background. She wears eye black (technically red) so she doesn’t have to worry about excessive glare while viewing the athletic endeavors. But then again, so is John-the-most-hated-chef-in-Dallas.
Back to the Olive 8 Penthouse of Smack Talking. Josie naps on the couch while the dude chefs sit on the balcony and marvel at how annoying she is. Oh, snap! Josie overhears and rises up from her blanket to give a really weird tirade. She tells Micah, “This tree right here, you don’t want to bark up…This right here knows what she is.” Alrighty, then. She finishes off with “Namaste, bitches.” Sir Bart soothes his partner while wondering what kind of trainwreck awaits him in the morning.
Space Needle. What’s it called? Monorail!! Please, let the Simpsons cast stop by later this season to judge a challenge based on the monorail song. But I digress. The chefs arrive at the rink and set up shop amidst the black walls and fluorescent doors. Hopefully Tom will come in and turn on the black light. Lizzie is nervous because she has never cooked with Micah before, and Sir Bart is nervous because Josie is weird and always on the bottom.
Josie talks up her Puerto Rican-Italian-Filipino background, and says she’s all about spice. Sir Bart, on the other hand, is always afraid of being too spicy. What could go wrong?
John-the-most-hated-chef-in-Dallas says his first date in the 1970s was at a roller rink. She skated and ignored him, while he ate pizza. Then he launches into a tale that’s even sadder. Working with Brooke reminds him of his daughter. See, he went through a nasty divorce and his wife took his daughter away when she was just a year and a half old. Clearly the natural transition from this frank and teary-eyed moment is footage of Josh and Sheldon marveling at a tempura batter that looks better suited to pancakes. And making jokes about the chefs couple skating.
Shockingly we are not treated to any shots of Kristen and Stefan making kissyface. Instead, Stefan disses Lizzie and Micah’s glorified jalapeno popper while he and Kristen construct a sort of shredded chicken, featuring the liver and an egg atop corn puree. Stefan reminisces about being 14 in 1986. Kristen tells him she was 3 at the time. Hot.
Time is up and skaters arrive. So do the judges. Emeril apparently went to a lot of roller rinks growing up. Hugh wishes that Padma’s roller derby name was Padma Smacks Me. Though the judges aren’t on skates, they do gather around a table set up in the middle of the rink. Which isn’t awkward at all. Kutta Rump approves of John-the-most-hated-chef-in-Dallas and Brooke’s cut rump of Thai beef with lobster, jasmine rice, and Thai slaw. But next up, Teriyaki Terror damns Bart and Josie’s steak teriyaki with forbidden rice and beet blood with the words “really unique.” And she means “uniquely crappy,” not “uniquely awesome.” It’s weirdly earthy, thanks to the beets, and Padma laments that the purple liquid also obscures the memorable black color of the rice.
Hugh should just quit cheffing and start a business coming up with derby names; he anoints his co-judge Emeril Bam Bam Lagasse. He does not even try to come up with a name for Tom.
Padma’s next introduction, “Guys, you remember Jalapeno Business” sounds funny in her breathy purr. The group digs Micah and Lizzie’s jalapeno stuffed with crab. It’s better than the lame bar snack they were expecting. Stefan and Kristen’s shredded chicken for Eddie Shredder seems clever, but Tom pines for actual pieces of shredded chicken.
In honor of Tempura Tantrum, Josh and Sheldon have a tempura yuzu curd and all sorts of fun sauces to drag it through—the splatters of sauces, see, are the tantrum. Unfortunately the tempura isn’t fried very well. That batter did look awfully thick and gummy. The judges’ discussion get all technical and uppity, until Tempura Tantrum interjects to declare the dish delicious, reminding us all that even imperfectly fried food is still fried food and hence worthy of our love.
The interstitial features Padma preening around the rink on skates. She even blows a kiss or two. Tom and Hugh look rightfully uncomfortable, but Stefan salivates and says weird, pervy things.
A few downtown scenes zip us back into the stew room. Padma strides in and requests the company of John, Brooke, Micah, and Lizzie. Clearly nobody from this group is going home. Hugh declares John-the-most-hated-chef-in-Dallas and Brooke the winners. They do not try to kiss each other. But Stefan does kiss Brooke many a time upon hearing her good news.
Sadly, the winning chefs must send back Josie and Sir Bart, Sheldon, and Josh. Josh is still indignant that a jalapeno popper landed someone in the top. Tom switches into irate father mode to berate Sir Bart and Josie: “If something is properly seasoned and something else is bland and you put it together, you end up with bland.” He also slams Sir Bart for consistently underseasoned food. Moving on, the judges heap criticism on Sheldon’s tempura.
Josh “hopes this isn’t a CJ thing” but he has to ask—what up with all the love for a jalapeno popper? Padma and Tom helpfully list all the elements of Micah and Lizzie’s dish that were more successful than Josh and Sheldon’s tempura.
Tom utters the words “what you gave us what just Teriyaki Terrible,” but Padma ends up sending Sir Bart home for wussy seasoning. Then she pours salt in the wound by promising to send him a bag of salt.
Next on Top Chef: The contestants cook some recipes from seasons past, and big-time chefs like Jonathan Waxman, Chris Cosentino and Wiley Dufresne come to town. And hopefully we can answer pressing questions like: Why does Josie’s very existence sadden my soul? Who will Stefan ogle next? Does John-the-most-hated-chef-in-Dallas borrow Josh’s mustache wax to help affix his glasses to his forehead?
Coolest Seattle moment: The chefs harvesting, shucking, and eating oysters right off the beach—just like at the annual Walrus and Carpenter midnight picnics.
Lamest Seattle moment: Everyone wanting to do hot preparations on our pristine Samish Bay oysters. Most local oyster lovers I know tend to enjoy them in their unfried, unbuttered, natural glory.
Line of the night: “It would have been sweeter if I’d won it alone.” – John-the-most-hated-chef-in-Dallas’s gracious response to his and Brooke’s win.