Top Chef 3.2 – When Is Barbecue Not Barbecue?


After last week’s season opener in which the new contestants were forced to finish their welcome buffet by turning it into fine food in a QuickFire challenge and then were thrown into the lion’s pit, cooking a full range of bizarre proteins, at the mercy of Anthony Bourdain, this week’s exploration of citrus and barbecue would seem a refreshing breeze. However, when it comes to Top Chef, nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

After the cameras panned through an eye-popping display of the best in Florida citrus fruits, Padma Lakshmi introduced this week’s guest judge, Norman Van Aken. He is a pioneer of Florida fine dining which makes Van Aken a sensible choice with Top Chef in Miami this season. Padma introduced this week’s QuickFire competition as the straightforward challenge of using Florida citrus to create fine food. The usual frenzy ensued. 14 chefs cooking under fire in one kitchen! Although citrus would seem one of the less difficult ingredient groups for our talented group, the judges suffered through a wide range of mediocre creations.

On to the elimination challenge which this week involves the humble barbecue. However, the goal is to create upscale barbecue for a party of Miami’s social elite. With $200 in hand, the chefs invade the grocery meat counter with gusto. In what seemed like it could be an effort at foreshadowing, we see Micah suffering through a bad case of homesickness missing her family. Tre puffs up with word of how he and Hung are the ones to watch following their perches at the top of the pack in the first week. The creations for the barbecue challenge look much less daunting to potential diners than last week’s black chicken and kangaroo. We’re treated to the eye candy of salmon with peach bbq sauce, lamb with grilled halloumi cheese, grilled swordfish with chorizo sausage, and much more.

As we make our way to the judging table, the judges are once again quite pleased with the quality of food prepared by this season’s contestants. When it comes down to the top 3 of Brian, Micah, and Sara, it is clear that this season things can turn on a dime. Sara and Brian were near the bottom last week. The winning dish is an intriguing seafood sausage put together by our reigning eccentric chef (remember last week’s eel and rattlesnake?) Brian (photo at right). He calls it Chino Latino as it’s accompanied by a jicama slaw and the sausage is brushed with an Asian chimichurri sauce. The selection of the bottom 4 – Howie, Joey, Sandee, and Tre – touches off a round of bickering between Howie and Joey over who is more of a man. The judges ultimately determine that the elimination must be based on who committed the most unforgivable sin in not appropriately following instructions. Is it worse to not be barbecue, which is Sandee’s problem, or, is it worse to not be upscale where Howie and Joey land? Tre ends up in the bottom 4 because the self-proclaimed frontrunner simply made food that wasn’t very good. Finally, the judges decide that Sandee’s barbecue dish that wasn’t really a barbecue dish constitutes the most egregious violation and, to the shock of her fellow contestants, she is out, leaving the bickering manly men to fight another day.

For those who have questions, barbecue, by definition, involves the slow cooking of food over a low, dry heat. Sandee’s dish involved poaching lobster which is cooking in liquid. Then her use of the barbecue grill was simply to warm the already cooked lobster. Important note to Top Chef wannabes – follow the instructions!

Photo © Bravo Television