Vivian Zink/Bravo
December 22, 2011 at 05:39 AM EST

Top Chef

TV Show
Current Status
In Season
Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, Gail Simmons
Reality TV

Immediately following the ugly dust-up between “Queen of Mean” (Padma’s words, not mine) Heather and the surprisingly resilient Beverly – more on their ongoing feud later – Padma announced that the Top Chef caravan is heading to Austin! I’ve never been, but it’s awfully trendy to sing Austin’s praises, so I’ll do so: Austin rocks, it’s totally the Little Five Points of Central Texas! (A thousand Disqus “likes” to anyone who gets that reference).

Paul, who’s been extremely preoccupied with representing Austin all season, was “sweating balls” (or sweating “from” them? I don’t get it and don’t want to) over the prospect of getting eliminated in his hometown. Previously, all we knew about Paul was that he’s from Texas and he doubts himself a lot even though he’s kinda awesome. But last night we got a disturbing glimpse at his misspent youth: Before he found his way to culinary school, he sold weed and was too lazy to rid his nasty apartment of dog doodie. As it did for Keith Rhodes, cooking saved Paul from a life of crime. Cheffing is my anti-drug!

Last night’s “high-tech” Quickfire Challenge was probably better in theory than in execution, but it made for some small thrills nevertheless. Fans could decide the twists and turns of the challenge by tweeting in suggestions. The Twitterverse started by lobbing a real softball at the chefs: Cook something with bacon! In reality competition terms, cooking with bacon is the equivalent to singing “God Bless America” on American Idol or the opposite of stepping up as Project Manager on Celebrity Apprentice. It’s the safest move you can make because everyone loves bacon, and everyone loves talking about how much they love bacon.

Of course, the Tweeters threw e-wrenches into things. In honor of hashtags, everyone had to incorporate a hash into their dish. Then, each contestant had to incorporate an ingredient selected by a competitor. Ooh, to the Twitter troll who dreamed that one up, nice thinking! Lindsay handed Crary maple syrup, and Crary handed her a bottle of Sriracha sauce, which Lindsay treated like a Mario Kart banana peel. My powers of reasoning tell me Beverly would have been happy to receive Sriracha sauce.

Landing in the bottom were Grayson for her non-puffy shrimp puff, Jones for his over-salted potatoes, and Ed for his burnt hash. Sarah garnered kudos from Tom and Padma for her nicely fried, subtly smoky Burrata-stuffed squash blossom with bacon and zucchini hash. Beverly impressed with a non-Asian – take that, sour-faced Heather! – crispy pork belly with corn, bell pepper, habanero and potato hash. But the winner was Paul, who seems to be stepping up as a frontrunner who can be relied upon to deliver an inspired dish. His bacon three ways incorporated a smorgasbord of ingredients that shouldn’t be combined, like bacon fat, blackberries, chorizo, mushrooms, clams, and others. Tom called it a weird dish that shouldn’t have worked, but it clearly did — Paul’s $10,000 richer.

NEXT: Patti Labelle wants more, more, moooooooooore

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