Forty-seven-year-old gentle giant Keith Rhodes of Wilmington, North Carolina, was the first official casualty of Top Chef Texas. In last night's episode, much was made about Keith's buying precooked shrimp for a Quinceañera celebration, but in a phone interview, Keith explains it wasn't so much the shrimp but his choice of flour tortillas that proved his undoing—not to mention a few other chefs and a guest judge.
Preparing for the Quinceañera, a girl's 15th-birthday fiesta, chef Keith Rhodes purchased precooked shrimp to be used in a shrimp cocktail. At the time, no one seemed to mind, but back in the kitchen, the shrimp already had a discernible odor. The other cooks on his team were shocked to "discover" Keith had gone the precooked route and by the end of the episode, he and three of his teammates were under fire at the judges' table.
"A huge deal was made about the precooked shrimp," Keith says in a phone interview. (Much to his surprise, the shrimp, which he says looked good in the display case, also turned out to be frozen.) But according to the chef, what did him in was not the shrimp, which his felllow contestants knew he was purchasing, but rather the flour tortillas he used instead of corn. "These chefs had tex-mex experience and not once did they say I should use corn tortillas."
Another decisive factor in the elimination process was guest judge Johnny Hernandez. "Who?" asks Keith, regarding the San Antonio chef. "You have one restaurant. How did you even get on Top Chef?" Keith will defend his precooked shrimp as a time-saving matter but wishes someone told him not to use flour tortillas—it's the only kind he's ever used. Would he have eliminated another contestant? "Yes, I would have eliminated Lindsay [Autry] or Sarah [Grueneberg] or both." Keith considered Lindsay's pork dish to be especially bad. "I told her not to cook it overnight. You're not familiar with the equipment." By the time of the Quinceañera, "her pork was still not done. It was fibrous. It wasn't good."
But still Keith says it was a great experience ("I'm not bitter, I'm a grown-ass man") and spoke briefly about the Last Chance Kitchen and clams, hinting that we'll see more of him this season.