Did you watch last night's first episode of Top Chef: Texas? Episode summaries are usually Edwin's beat, and he usually weighs in toward the end of the season, after we've learned which cheftestants to root for. I'm going to take a different approach at the head-end of the season and make some risky predictions about foods that might appear on Top Chef: Texas.
5. Rattlesnake Something
This one's a gimme, since a quick glimpse of chefs skinning a snake has already been aired. We've talked before about cooking rattlesnake on this blog. Will the cheftestants face a Quickfire snake challenge? Watch for them to fast-grill rattlesnake, or perhaps prepare snake crudo or carpaccio.
4. Butchering a Steer
Episode one featured a cocky chef Tyler Stone rightfully getting booted for turning a beautiful, large pork subprimal cut into unusable trash. Asking the chefs to butcher a hog in cow country might foreshadow a more Texas-appropriate challenge: breaking down an entire steer carcass into a meal for hundreds of guests.
3. Real, Texas Barbecue
As a competition barbecue cook myself, it has always chapped my hide that slow, overnight cooking of real, smoked barbecue has never been featured on Top Chef. Watch for an episode in which this Texas staple will challenge the classically trained chefs. Why? For starters, fine-dining chefs always think real barbecue is easy to cook because if rednecks can do it, so can they, right? Wrong.
Also, chefs always try to fancy up their barbecue with extraneous oddball ingredients when it's best done with salt, pepper and post-oak smoke. Those are the only seasonings used in Central Texas, and Hill Country locals won't appreciate some fancy Chicago chef using some exotic ingredients to “improve” a centuries-old tradition.
2. Frito Pie
There's always a kids' challenge on Top Chef. You know, “make a healthy school lunch the kids love.” Haven't we seen enough variations of mac-and-cheese with puréed butternut squash or some other high-minded malarkey?
I want to see the chefs update another native Texas dish that goes way, way back: Frito Pie. That's a single-serving bag of Fritos split open and smothered in chili, cheese, onions and jalapeños, like nachos but a thousand times better. It's a Friday-night high-school football tradition that's apparently fading, according to author Lisa Fain on this recent episode of KCRW's Good Food. Top Chef would do a great service by having chefs reinvent Frito Pie instead of the zillionth remake of mac and cheese.
1. Chicken Fried Steak
The No. 1 prediction is the riskiest. I was weighing the odds on what Texas classic is more likely to appear on the show: a whole, roasted Sonora-style cabrito, or the more gabacho chicken fried steak. I was hoping for the more ranchero-Mexi influence in the great nation of Texas, but it's gotta play to mainstream America, so I'm putting my chips on the chicken fried steak and a cold beer on a Friday night.
There you have it, dear reader. We'll see you again at the end of Season Nine and see how clear my crystal ball turns out to be.