Hot cookies and high stress for our local competitor

For a cookie obsessive like me, this week’s Top Chef Houston episode started off with a bang. Twelve different cookie dishes, overseen by guest judge Chris Williams of Lucille’s? Bring them.

Cookies are in the spotlight at Lucille, as are the even more fabulous Hot Rolls. (The latter pays homage to her grandmother Lucille B. Smith’s groundbreaking mix of hot rolls, the first of its kind.) So the show kicked off with a true Houston flavor, even as the city itself remained firmly in the background for two studios. kitchen challenges.

The Quickfire asked contestants to bake cookies from scratch and turn them into a full dish in 45 minutes. I bake cookies myself, which allows me to appreciate the necessary thinking speed, timing and muscle memory.

When Monique moaned, “I need my recipe,” I felt her pain. For years, I traveled with my cookie formula jotted down in the back of my planner, just in case.

My ears perked up at Luke’s mention of putting on sweet corn with kumquat and chili jam. Evelyn’s chorizo ​​peasant sauce also looked promising. I chuckled as Nick stowed a Mississippi-shaped cutter in his chef’s bag, a nifty bit of self-branding.

Jackson’s cheeky statement that “I need some crunchy cheese redemption” gave me a new appreciation for his self-deprecating sense of humor. He even made fun of himself when he decided to make sausages out of the ostrich meat he found in the studio’s kitchen pantry.

Jae’s hoarse laugh and down-to-earth humor also grew on me. Winning last week’s main event seems to have given him some bounce. When she announced, “I don’t like to cook, I just like getting baked,” I had to backtrack to make sure I heard correctly.

I tsk-tskd on all the decisions to put fried chicken in the cookies. I blanched as I watched Ashleigh pour what looked like a quarter cup of cracked black pepper into her batter, then toss her freshly baked cookies into a deep fryer.

This idea landed it in the bottom three, along with Buddha’s overly crumbly cookies and Jae’s stiff cookies, the product of overworked dough. I started to really feel for Ashleigh. His stoic flinch when his work is criticized breaks my heart. It’s as if she took a beating.

Homegirl Evelyn once again found herself in the top three, and for a while – bolstered by Williams’ declaration of “wonderful” and Colicchio’s appreciation of the balance imparted by the herbs in her pickled tomato garnish – I was convinced that she would win the challenge. But it was Jackson, with his ostrich salad and devious square of fried cheddar, who triumphed.

He got to choose his teammate for the upcoming elimination challenge, which featured famed molecular cuisine genius Wylie Dufresne, at the end of which WD-50 in New York I once ate one most amazing meals of my life.

Jackson’s smart choice was Buddha, a fellow modernist who’s been beset by weeks of queso, samosa, and cookie family chores. The pair would also benefit from an additional 30 minutes of cooking time.

The challenge was suitably diabolical, introduced by two Wylie dishes supported under domes, set to eerie music of the kind that accompanies Star Wars stormtroopers. The dishes looked alike – snake tentacles, knotted and stuffed – but tasted completely different, one salty and one sweet. Ergo the title “Doppelgangers” of the episode.

“Lord, have mercy,” Jo sighed as the complexity of the challenge sank in. She and Evelyn had teamed up and – get it – the losers would both be sent home, in a double elimination. “I know how much Evelyn wants it,” Jo told the camera. “It’s not that I don’t want it, but you don’t want to be the one to sink someone’s dream.”

And there you have the tension of this episode in a nutshell. I oscillated between fascination and dread for the rest of the hour. I was transfixed by the technical and imaginative challenges posed by the need to produce visual unity with divergent flavor profiles.

I could tell that Buddha’s background was paying off when we took a look at his notebook, quickly filled with detailed illustrations of his ideas. It was nice to see him finally become his. Wasn’t fun watching Jo and Evelyn wade through a pork belly/goats cheesecake idea that refused to take the proper shape because the mashed cauliflower refused to settle properly and that damn belly pork remained decidedly tough.

Luke and Ashleigh, who have worked together twice before, fell into an easy pace at their station, each cooking up part of the other’s dish. Luke’s idea of ​​cutting the scallops and oyster mushrooms into cylinders, then slicing them again to insert other ingredients, earned them a spot in the top two.

Buddha and Jackson’s dazzling sweet and savory treatments – intricate and technically challenging games over an everything bagel and dessert of strawberries and cream – snatched the winning spot. Nor could the judges be silent about their dishes, or those of Luke and Ashleigh.

Alas, the ‘pork belly leather’, as Gail called it, plunged Jo and Evelyn to the bottom – along with Robert and Sarah, whose panna cotta didn’t take enough and whose prawn mousse took too well .

I thought I would jump out of my skin waiting for the final decision.

Phew. Robert and Sarah put away their knives. Evelyn and Jo live to fight another day.

Someone gives me an aspirin.

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About James Almanza

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