If you’ve been watching Top Chef: Texas, you might have seen the episode two weeks ago about the Cattle Baron’s Ball. Well, if you were there, raise your hand. Not so fast, everyone who isn’t my wife and me. Yes, yours truly got to go to a Top Chef challenge. My wife is a longstanding member of the Cattle Baron’s Ball (side note: my wife’s aunt founded the organization). So when I got a call from her (my wife, not her aunt) that we were getting to go to a taping of the show, I was excited. Eat great food, watch a show being shot — what’s not to love?
Well, we were in for a surprise.
Now, to start off, despite what Top Chef said, this was NOT a Cattle Baron’s Ball event. That involves months of setup and thousands of participants. This was actually a sit-down, four-course meal. Cattle Baron’s Ball is a huge event, with live and silent auctions, music and dancing — a huge party. This was a TV show. Two totally different things.
When we got to South Fork Ranch, on a boiling hot Texas day, we had to sign wavers stating we wouldn’t talk about the show before it aired. Done. Time has passed, so I figure it’s fair game now. The wife and I made sure we got there early-ish, so as not to have to wait in lines and such. We both come from TV production backgrounds, so we kinda knew what we were in for.
After signing in, there was an open bar and snacks available while we waited for everything to be set up and for the crew to call us for shooting. It was a nice big group there for the show: a couple of hundred people, easily. After our fair share of beer and wine, they called us to line up and get ready to take our seats in the dining area. We were told not to stare at the judges (what, are they easily scared?). Yes, I know, they don’t want shots of us gawking at the talent. Understood. They want a party atmosphere. We were ready to do our best. We were excited as the food was delivered to us. And yes, we were being picky, because we expected high quality food.
Tomato-Watermellon Gazpacho, Cold Poached Shrimp, Avocado Mousse
This was actually pretty good. The mousse added a nice twist to the gazpacho.
New York Strip Carpaccio, Candied Pistachio Vinaigrette, Mushroom “Bacon”, Red Onion Jam
Now, mine was a pretty good carpaccio, but it could have been a little thinner. My wife, on the other hand, got a big, oily plate of meat. It just goes to show that attention must be payed to each specific dish.
Grilled Ribeye, Creamy Potato Gratin, Braised Greens, Thyme Jus
Again, mine was wonderful: a nice medium rare. But if you watched the show, you know that there were some problems with timing on the meat. And, naturally, my poor wife got a completely overdone ribeye. Practically grey in the middle. So we shared mine.
“Right Side Up” Texas Peach Cake, Whipped Mascarpone, Pecan Streusel
This was probably the weakest of the four dishes. Very tart, not very Texas.
While we were eating, we could, as each course was served, see that one of the chefs was coming out to discuss their plate, but we couldn’t hear what they were saying.
After it was all over, they let us go… BUT WAIT! There’s more. They realized they needed more shots of the judges walking in. They asked us all to line up behind them and walk in the room in groups. Of course, they didn’t use that footage, but such is the life of a TV background extra.
Afterwards, when the wife and I got in the car, our A/C had completely died, but that’s a story for a different show. As in, what show wants to volunteer to jazz up my ride already?