Two “Top Chef Finalists” Are Texans

The show moves to British Columbia, but takes a bit of Texas with it as Austin's Paul Qui of Uchiko and Houston native Sarah Grueneberg advance to next week's final.
Thu February 16, 2012 11:53 pm
Bravo | Virginia Sherwood

Top Chef: Texas moved one step closer to the end last night, leaving the state for Whistler, British Columbia (where, incidentally, for all the snowy vistas, it was only 46 degrees today) and an especially-ludicrous Winter Olympics-themed series of competitions.

For the first challenge, the four remaining "cheftestants" were asked to cook while riding up and down Whistler-Blackcomb's 2.73 mile Peak-2-Peak gondola:

Austin's Paul Qui of Uchiko came in with a rare last-place finish--Florida's Lindsay Autry won it, giving her a pass into the final round--but Qui bounced back in the second segment, which required everyone to chip out their ingredients from giant blocks of ice.

Not only did Qui's  Brown Butter Poached King Crab and Mango Chutney  win him both the challenge and a spot in the finals, but he also showed class and confidence in taking the time to help his competition pick apart the ice. 

"This challenge is about the food and not how many ice blocks you can smash," Qui said, in what was certainly the episode's most sensible moment. 

As they cooked outdoors, Qui asked Sugar Land-native Sarah Grueneberg, who now works at Spiaggia in Chicago, if she'd rather be in cold weather or hot weather. Grueneberg said the former.

"Man, you're supposed to be from Houston," Qui (a Robert E. Lee and U of H graduate himself) teased. "That's cool. You're from Chicago now. I understand."

As the Houston Chronicle 's Allison Cook  noted at the beginning of the season, Grueneberg went to Dulles High and got her culinary education at the Art Insitute of Houston before working for four years at Brennan's. Because she works for the same Chicago restaurant group that has the Houston Rockets concessions contract, she  cooked at their home opener against the Spurs  this past December.

And it turned out that Grueneberg needed all those Texas roots to beat out Beverly Kim as the third finalist, thanks to a challenge that co-host Tom Colicchio termed a "culinary biathlon" - cross country skiing, followed by a bit of target shooting, with each target tied to a particular ingredient. 

"Growing up in Texas, my whole family pretty much has guns," Grueneberg said, but initially, Kim looked to be the faster and better shot, which kept Grueneberg from geting to the beets.

"My Dad is not happy with me now," Grueneberg said after a few more misses.

Then she reminded herself to take deep breaths and focus, resulting in a string of bullseyes that allowed her to cook up  Braised Rabbit Leg and Heart, Cherries, Cabbage Puree and Hazelnut Sauce , a partial tribute to her Texas-German heritage (she called it "sauerkraut puree" on the episode).

It was good enough to put her with Paul Qui and Lindsay Autry in next Wednesday's grand finale. That episode will move the Top Chef: Texas action from Whistler to Vancouver. How's it goin', eh, y'all?

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