Top Chef recap: This Used to Be My Playhouse

The challenge? A gimmicky one inspired by a pseudo celebrity — nevertheless, I thought it a fun break from Texas-themed catering. Pee-wee Herman to the rescue!
Ep. 13 | Aired Feb 1, 2012

PEE-WEE HERMAN, the perennial man-child, has some adult tastes — he enjoys spicy, ethnic foods — but at the end of the day, all he really wants are eggs and ketchup.

Virginia Sherwood/Bravo

Stacks of pancakes tottered like geological formations as the five remaining contestants filed into the Top Chef Kitchen. Padma, having learned from her lumberjack hairshirt fashion mishap from last week, told the cheftestants that pancakes were the favorite food of tonight's guest judge. Grayson thought it had to be a kid, like Miley Cyrus (is she even A-list enough for Top Chef anymore?), and the only person I could think of who's famous for liking pancakes was Nate the Great. Instead, in rode perpetual man-child Pee-wee Herman on a Schwinn bike. While the chefs looked more disturbed than excited to see Pee-wee, both Grayson and Lindsay had the exact same childhood memory of eating pancakes and watching Pee-wee's Playhouse as a child. I wonder if they were as scarred as I was when they found out Pee-wee was actually a human man named Paul Reubens. Either way, Pee-wee was offering $5,000 in the Quickfire Challenge to the chef who could make the best pancake, and that was something Sarah, who hadn't won any cash prizes yet, would never pass up.

Grayson made a ricotta buttermilk pancake shaped like Minnie Mouse and worried that it wouldn't be "whimsical enough" for Pee-wee. Considering Pee-wee's second-best friend is a recliner who wears mascara, no, a Disney-shaped pancake probably wouldn't hold his attention. Yet Pee-wee made all kinds of faces, as if he were having a stroke or a challenging B.M., and proclaimed, "That's the best pancake I've ever had!" Sarah made Funfetti-inspired pancakes, leading Pee-wee to once again shout, "That's the best pancake I've ever had!" Also the best pancake ever: Paul's rolled pancakes with champagne Dippin' Dots and Lindsay's ricotta pancake with creme fraiche. I think Pee-wee may be a pancake slut.

My first unwarranted Beverly mention of the night: How much do you want to bet that Beverly would have made a Korean scallion pancake (pajeon) for this challenge? I would literally bet my left pinky toenail that she would and that they'd be delicious.

But Pee-wee's actual favorite pancakes ever were Ed's buttermilk chips of sorts, which he made by isolating just the crispy edges of pancakes. That reminds me of the ugly, drippy scraps I used to peel from the edges of waffle irons and eat obsessively. I used to call them a made-up word, "scrogglins" — it fit somehow. Anyway, it was Ed's first-ever Quickfire win, and it was well deserved for making something completely different, although the dish I'd be most curious to try would be Paul's champagne Dippin' Dots. That liquid nitrogen tank has been so neglected this season. I never thought I'd be so happy to see its return.

NEXT: Pee-wee wants you to mis-remember the Alamo...


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