If you know nothing about Dallas chef John Tesar — which seems impossible if you live here, but it could happen — you might know of his relationship with the culinary tradition called the Feast of the 7 Fishes. It's a Christmas Eve fish-a-thon, and he's cooked it every year dating back to his seafood restaurant Spoon in Preston Center. It is one of his Signature Things. (Here, he's doing a Feast of the 7 Fishes pop-up on December 24.)
So there could be no way he was not going to win on the latest episode of Top Chef, which aired on December 22. Title: Feast of the 7 Trash Fishes.
Guest judge Mike Lata explains that trash fish is the fish that gets thrown out when fishermen are trawling for shrimp. That's what happens when you go shrimping: You throw out a bunch of fish that is not as good as tuna. Except that we've depleted so many fisheries, we're having to reconsider this substandard fish, because we need our fish.
The contestants are put into teams of two. Tesar is partnered with Katsuji Tanabe, who cannot mask his joy. "The one person I didn't want to work with, John Tesar. Aaaaaagh," he says with an eye-roll.
Their love-hate relationship serves as one of the episode's plot points, and it involves Tesar kissing Katsuji on the head more than once.
The producers do a sneaky little thing: They include a quote from Katsuji where he snipes at Tesar's behavior while drinking, then show Katsuji himself slugging from a bottle of tequila, at least three times. Just so we're perfectly clear about the point being made: You're saying that Katsuji complains about others' drinking — yet drinks himself? Is that what you're rolling out here?
The tequila is one of the ingredients for the quickfire competition. Patron, btw; we don't want to leave out the important brand names. The chefs get a Chopped-style box and must use everything: Patron tequila plus a bunch of non-matching ingredients like pomegranates and wasabi. The two trick ingredients are appliances: a pressure cooker and a melon baller, two housewife specials that some of the chefs have OMG never touched or seen before in their lives.
The pressure cooker provides a platform for a fabulously sneering Tesar comment. "Have you ever watched Top Chef?" he asks, heavy on the scorn. "If you don't know how to use a pressure cooker, you might as well go home now."
Tesar also tells us what he does for the holidays: He hangs with wife Tracy and their son, and does it up totally Texan. "I go to my in-laws with a lot of red wine (lifts left hand) and a lot of cow (lifts right hand)," he says.
Former Dallas chef Casey Thompson wins the quickfire, which gives her immunity, rendering her invisible for the majority of the episode. The conflict comes from the three losing teams. Put-upon Brooke has to deal with whiny Emily being a slacker; their dish ends up overwrought. Nerdy Jim Smith has to deal with frenetic Amanda; their dish has undercooked beans. And Italian chef Silvia has to deal with redbeard BJ; their fish is overcooked.
To retain the element of surprise, all arrows point to Amanda, whose outlandish whirling dervish routine draws a disapproving eyebrow lift from invisible Casey. Amanda is also the one who undercooks the beans. Her partner Jim knows this is bad, and guest chef Mike Lata pronounces it unforgivable.
But then, gasp, BJ gets axed. Completely out of the blue. BJ and Silvia overcooked that fish together, so there is no visible reason BJ gets singled out, other than he's been kind of an annoying complainer throughout the show so far.
JT and Katsuji have the winning dish, and Katsuji wins because the judges like his sauce. Unibrowed judge Hugh Acheson gives them a passive aggressive compliment: "You guys really bridged the gap that I thought would be a monumental task for you to do for the size of your egos?" he says. "Good job."
Top Chef airs Thursdays at 9 pm CST on Bravo.