Top Chef Masters
Top Chef Masters, the 10-episode miniseries run that tested the limits of how much petty, humiliating crap one group of bewildered superstar chefs can be put through, is history. Who won?
The Chicago-based chef bested Hubert Keller and Michael Chiarello in a four-course cook-off judged by the Masters crew, the regular Top Chef-fers (Tom C., Padma and Gail, who should have a spin-off that involves them driving around in a Saturn and solving food-based mysteries) and past TC winners Harold, Ilan, Hung, Stephanie and Hosea.
The thematic approach for each course ï¿½ the final three had the help of their favorite sous chefs for the meal ï¿½ was melodramatic to say the least, but at the end of the day it was the ideal challenge for these three, all of whom
For the opener, the finalists whipped up a dish that represented their first food memory, Anton-Ego-scarfing-ratatouille style. Bayless, whose family ran a barbecue restaurant when he was a kid ("barbecue sauce coursed through my veins"), prepped smoked quail with watermelon. Chiarello got the ladies at the table to crack a little with his story of his momma guiding his hand over the gnocchi board. Keller accompanied his Alsatian lamb/beef/pork stew with a paint-a-peasant-portrait story about women in his teeny French village eating the stuff on laundry day. He's the only dude in history capable of making laundry day sound idyllic. "You can feel that he's been cooking that dish since he's been a child," coos Ilan, who probably used his leftover broth to drizzle-write his digits on a side plate for his new French BF.
Second, the chefs were asked to prep the dish that made them want to become a chef. Keller's beautiful salmon soufflï¿½ and Chia's polenta in a claspy jar were hits, but it seemed like Bayless ran away with this one thanks to a 27-ingredient Oaxacan black mole with ahi tuna. Alright fine, but I will say that I feel like food heads are predisposed to caressing mole over all other sauces because it's so whimsical and sexy, what with all the painstaking effort and million-and-one secret elemental components that comprise it. Mole is The Wire of sauces.
Third challenge ï¿½ each chef had to recreate a dish from his first restaurant. Ahh, so '80s. Bayless' cochinita pibil gave way to Chia's Miami-influenced ginger-stuffed rouget with mango salad and Keller's lamb chop with a vanilla merlot sauce. "Rick's speaking my language here," says Hosea.
Fourth and final task ï¿½ developing a "heady dish" that conveys where you're heading as a chef. Keller wants to stay budget-conscious since we're in a recession, so he serves sweetbreads (OK, affordable) and Wagyu beef cheeks (is Wagyu anything affordable?). Chia brines a short rib with five kinds of onions, while Bayless gets a little guff for draping chorizo "air" (too fussy for the Rickster?) atop a paella-type deal with tomato/jalapeno broth.
Each man gets stuck with a few quibbles at judges' table, but in the end, Bayless takes home the bragging rights and the $100K charity prize with a score of 18 stars, edging out Chia by one.
I definitely had some critical things to say about Rick and his presumptuous television personality, and I still think he's kinda enamored with the sound of his own voice, but it would be wrong of me not to point out that I didn't warm to the guy quite a bit as the championship round of Masters transpired. There's something about his geeked-out, child-like excitement over all aspects of Mexican cuisine ï¿½ even after cooking in the same style for decades ï¿½ that's infectious. I called his victory earlier this season and it's dope to see him give a hefty boost to his Frontera Farmer Foundation.
So congratulations of a well-deserved win, chef Bayless. (I'm still ambivalent about the fact that your brother is Skip Bayless, but we'll talk about that some other time.) Now producers: If Tom C. isn't a competitor next season, I'ma pitch a fit.
Watch the Top Chef: Las Vegas premiere tonight at 10 Arts with the infinitely good-looking Eric Ripert
10 Arts (The Ritz-Carlton, 10 S. Broad St.) whose chef Jennifer Carroll is a contestant on the sixth season of Top Chef (premiering tonight at 9!), will host weekly viewing parties for the Bravo show every Wednesday throughout this season. 10 Arts exec chef Eric Ripert is coming through tonight to show his girl a little love, so stop in starting at 7 p.m. if you want to catch a glimpse of the dreamy Frenchman in all his ominous structure-scaling glory. (Seriously, look at that dude! What is he even doing in that picture?) The viewing parties will be held in the lounge, which boasts multiple flat-screens.
Oh and don't forget that Jennifer Zavala, formerly of El Camino Real and now over at Xochitl, is also a cheftestant this season. Check out A.D. Amorosi's Nov. '08 profile for some background on girlie.
Check Meal Ticket tomorrow morning for a recap of the premiere, as well as a recap of the Top Chef Masters finale.
God bless ya, Season 4 hothead Dale, for refamiliarizing us with one of the simplest joys of this show: watching one person in chef's whites post up on another person in chef's whites because the first person in chef's whites feels the second person in chef's whites is HATING. You, sir, are our Gatorade, you refreshing bastard, you. Ahhh.
Bravo played up the clash between the former finalist and Top Chef Masters competitor Michael Chiarello like crazy in the teasers leading up to Wednesday night's penultimate episode, for obvious reasons: Most of the cheftestants on TCM have been too nice, too tired or too professional to flip out. That's where Dale, who got all "whatchu gon do about it?!" with Chiarello after being talked down to, came in. Best part? Dude didn't cheapen the gulliness by apologizing after the fact. From a bravotv.com statement on the incident:
Looking back, I cannot see myself handling it in a different way. When confronted by this "Master" chef, I took his comments and tone to be insulting. Had this situation taken place with, for example Joel Robuchon, Charlie Trotter, Thomas Keller, Alain Ducasse, I know I would react differently, as I have had nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for these great chefs.
My apologies if my reaction negatively impacted my team and the other chefs in any way. Do I think how I reacted was appropriate? No, but inappropriate is part of the chef's life. Thatï¿½s who we areï¿½ï¿½ a degenerate, compulsive, irrational, egotistical and passionate breed that knows how to cook.
YO CHIARELLO, DALE IS COMING FOR YOU WITH THIS COMICALLY OVERSIZED WHISK!
But Episode 9 did have another redeeming quality, aside from our dude's scrappy short-fuse antics. It gave us insight into the Masters finalists' managerial styles, a true testament to their acumen as executive chefs.
Some people came off better than others.
Quickfire: Host Kelly Choi blindfolded the final four -- Chiarello, Hubert Keller, Anita Lo and Rick Bayless -- and made them taste random stuff to see what they could ID, with a lineup of ingredients both easily nameable (peanut butter, corn) and rather random (a few of them got papadum). Chiarello, who referred to the challenge as a "culinary whiteout," ends up naming seven ingredients correctly, edging out Lo and Bayless (six apiece). Keller, who named only five, deserved some bonus points for wryly stating that the best part of the challenge was "Kelly putting the blindfold on me." Hubert, you French cad!
Elimination: The final four must prepare a buffet lunch for 200 "Hollywood insiders." To help, each chef is allowed to pick sous chefs from a crop of a dozen former Top Chef-fers. Bayless grabs Alex (S5), Betty (S2) and the dude Richard (S4; he talked to Meal Ticket back in November). Lo gets Dale, S2 winner Ilan and S5er Jamie, aka the Duchess of Scallopshire aka we used to hate on her unfairly but now love her. Keller gets Elia from S2 (remember when she chopped all her hair off?), Antonia (S4) and S5er/recent guest judge Spike. This leaves Chiarello with seafood chef Brian (S3, looked like he was wearing mad makeup), the never-not-entertaining Fabio (S5) and cut-up former volleyball player CJ (S3).
Prior to selections, the four finalists are allowed quickie interviews with their potential sous chefs. This is where Chiarello solidifies his dickwad status for the evening, forcing interviewees to chop carrots and scolding them when they mispronounce his last name. Strong work, Mike.
During the prep stage, with all manner of chefs running amok through the kitchen, it's easy to see how people could get heated. But it took a special brand of douchebaggery to get Dale to flip his shit the way he did -- in this case, it was Chiarello condescendingly calling the guest chef "young man" in reference to a question about a fridge that really set him off.
"For the first 20 years of my career, I ate three Dales for breakfast," Chia explains.
"Michael had it coming to him," observes Alex. "He was acting like a douche."
As the chefs scramble to get their buffets in order ï¿½ each develops a menu in his/her wheelhouse, nothing too interesting to rehash here ï¿½ Choi drops an unexpected twist: The 200-head buffet, originally slated for inside the SLS Hotel, will now be outside under the baking sun. This royally screws Lo, who'd tasked Jamie with popping hundreds of oysters/clams for an elaborate raw bar spread. Keller, who worked beautifully with his team, ends up earning the W with his beautiful and complex 18-tiny-dish approach, and Lo gets the ax, earning just 17 stars. This elimination kinda sucked because it was wholly conditional; the judges criticized quite a few of Chia's dishes, and it's not a stretch to guess the results might've been different had they served their grub in the AC.
Next week: Masters finale, and Vegas premiere. For now, please enjoy this disjointed list of quotes from our Episode 9 notes:
- "It's very odd-looking." - James Oseland on Chiarello's buffet
- "It's a Top Chef world, and we've just got to make the best of it." - Bayless
- "I'm sweating like a mountain goat at the beach." - Fabio
- "Tastes like Mexico!" - Oseland on Bayless' buffet
- "It was furry and mealy. I thought maybe it was old swordfish." - Gael Green on Chiarello's buffet
- "I'd give you a galaxy of stars if I could!" - Oseland on Keller's buffet
Last week's episode of Top Chef Masters saw the remaining superchefs cooking a vegan and gluten-free meal for Zooey Deschanel. In the next-week teaser at the end of the ep, we noticed Angry Dale from Season 4 yelling at finalist Michael Chiarello. If that alone is not reason enough for you to catch Wednesday's penultimate airing, here are new details on the ep straight from Bravo:
The final four chefs enter their last quickfire challenge blindfolded. The elimination round presents the chefs with the goal of catering a large event ï¿½ only they are not allowed to touch the food. Each Master must use his or her leadership, teaching, and directing skills to accomplish their vision at arms length.
The elimination sounds right-on ï¿½ these contestants will likely be at their best expediting in the kitchen and overseeing a big crew, Angry Dale notwithstanding. But the blindfold thing? Seems like a cruel and unusual choice for chefs of this caliber. Meaning it's gonna be hilarious.
Who'd have thought that a well-mannered vegan celiac chanteuse would be the first person to give five world-class chefs pause?
Yes, universally adored emaciated-boy crush object Zooey Deschanel was featured on last night's Top Chef Masters, joining NPH and the dudes from Lost as the latest example of this miniseries' celeb-pulling power. ("I loved her in Elf!" exclaims Art Smith.) And yes, Z is a vegan ï¿½ and gluten-intolerant and anti-soy. The girl probably has more wispy scarves and vintage berets than she does true meat-eating experiences.
While tasking these bad-ass chefs to create vegan dishes may seem a bit like tasking a philharmonic orchestra to play Jonas Brothers songs ï¿½ just ain't in their wheelhouse ï¿½ you gotta admit it's a fascinating, albeit cruel, thing to watch on TV.
Quickfire: So there was one other "celebrity" featured this ep, as well ï¿½ Super Size Me's Morgan Spurlock, whose over-coiffed handlebar mustache rivals Rick Bayless' goatee as least awesome facial hair ever to appear on Bravo, joined former cheftestant Spike Mendelsohn (D.C.'s Good Stuff Eatery) and Sang Yoon (L.A.'s Father's Office) to judge a burger cook-off between the remaining chefs ï¿½ Bayless, Smith, Hubert Keller, Anita Lo and Michael Chiarello. (Eating a shitload of McDonald's for a month makes you burger expert? I got nothing.)
Keller, who owns Burger Bar locations in three cities, does a beef/roquefort burger with rustic taters. Bayless serves his with three types of guac ï¿½ judges hate on it, and he hates on them back all nasal-like ("There's three kinds of guacamole that are very unusual ... they can't even perceive that!"). Chiarello makes a 2.5-pound beast dubbed "hamburguese enorme." Art wraps his patty in a hoecake with fried green tomato chips, while Lo does some Dali-inspired cheese soup that causes Mendelsohn to recoil and compare the burger element to "boiled meat." She gets shafted with 1.5 stars, while Chiarello and Bayless tie up with 4 a pop.
Click here for a joke about Lo that's probably a little more racist than it is topical.
Elimination: In a challenge eerily similar to the plot of every one of Deschanel's movies, the chefs bend to her every whim because she is cute and emits the sweet stench of unattainability when she sweats. They're asked to cook a five-course vegan luncheon for a group of 20 crunchy people, with each chef tackling one course.
And South-in-your-mouth Smith ï¿½ aw, Art ï¿½ so flummoxed by having to do a dessert without butter, lard or a combination of both, purchases rice milk ice cream (sadtrombone.com),ï¿½ ribbons it up with fresh strawberry and tops it with almond brittle for a lackluster meal-ender that not even Deschanel's look-on-the-bright-side compliments can save. He's offed with a total of 12.5 stars, while Chiarello takes home $10K for charity with his 22-star pasta effort.
Next week: Top Chef alums come back to assist the masters, including Dale, my favorite pissy Filipino chef!
At the outset ofTop Chef Masters, I predicted that it wasn't going to get compelling till the championship round, when the winners of the first six eps would face off in a series of so-below-them challenges in the name of a hefty $100K charity prize. Last night, the finals got rolling, and my prediction held true, as the Quickfire featured the cut-above six-pack ï¿½ Hubert Keller, Suzanne Tracht, Rick Bayless, Anita Lo, Michael Chiarello and Art Smith ï¿½ rocking menial tasks they probably haven't rocked in decades.
Yes, it was time for the mis en place relay race. (Y'all remember when Season 3 winner Hung STRAIGHT DESTROYED the chicken butchering challenge?) Working in threes, the chefs had to take on the thankless jobs that their staff typically handle ï¿½ shucking oysters, dicing onions, chopping birds and whipping up egg whites into a stiff froth. Our fave Tom C. ï¿½ heretofore known as "Big Daddy," thanks Art Smith ï¿½ who dressed like how your dad dresses for church for the occasion, acted as ref.
Impressions ï¿½ Lo, who did the chicken thing like a champ (lesson: always pick the Asian to do the chicken), kills it when she describes Season 3 race participant Casey as "some poor woman chopping onions for way too long." Bayless referring to Keller as a "French demigod" = somehow creepy. Smith making a "cry myself a river" crack while hacking his onions = fully expected, fully appreciated.
Keller's team wins, and the chef, who took on two tasks in the race, picks first for Elimination ï¿½ each chef must reinvent a competitor's signature dish. Keller picks Lo's scallop/urchin, sticking her with his lobster cappuccino; Tracht and Smith flip-flop, taking on seared grouper and chopped sirloin with a fried egg, respectively. (The Obamas love that grouper, says Smith ï¿½ hey, have you heard he's friends with them? Also Oprah?) The last pair-up sees Chiarello handing his quail over to Mexican master Bayless, who puts his roast lamb with pasilla chiles and figs in the hands of the Italian chef.
Judging the plates are a group of TCM cast-offs, including the dude Ludo Lefebvre, who apparently enrolled in dialect lessons after Bravo subtitled him, Morimoto-on-Food-Network style, in Episode 3. Producers didn't feel the need to do this to him this time around, causing Ludo to be like "the fuck?"
The judges like Keller's urchin cream, so he gets 21.5 stars. They're also all about Bayless' not-that-Mexi interpretation of Chiarello's plate,ï¿½ earning him 23. Winning, though ï¿½ and earning a gushing "genius" nod from Britcrit Jay Rayner ï¿½ is Lo, who tallies up 24. (Her twist on Keller: corn chawanmushi, champagne gelï¿½e and a lobster biscuit sandwich.) Smith, who stuffed a boiled egg inside a ball of undercooked lamb (Gael Green calls it "grotesque") gets just 15 stars, but the ax falls on Tracht, who drastically overcooks her fish.
Nice how this group worked out to be relatively diverse ï¿½ two women (one Asian), a French dude, a Medi-looking dude, a gay dude, a white dude who at least knows a lot Mexican people ... foreal, we're about one armor-wearing dog and one wheelchair-bound child away from
Next week: Zooey Deschanel. (500) Days of Forcing Chefs Against Their Will to Cook Vegetarian.
The final Top Chef Masters episode before the six-slot championship round featured massive amounts of dudelove. In a way, it represented both what is most and least appealing about this spin-off ï¿½ while it's refreshing to watch pros hand out cellophane-wrapped bundles of luvandrespect to each other, the lowbrow, finite-attention-span reality TV fan in all of us wants needs to see jettisoned colanders, drunken screaming matches and duplicitous pan-fried sabotage on the reg.
I don't see the show getting any more trashy. These last few episodes will probably feature a good amount of bro-hugging and cheek-pecking and helping-hand-ing as the sextet reaches for that $100K donation. Maybe I'm wrong ï¿½ but if I'm not, at least it'll make the Aug. 26 debut of the regular Top Chef seem that much trashier/glorious.
This week's lineup: Art Smith (former personal chef for Oprah and onetime contender for the head chef job at the Obama White House); Michael Cimarusti (seafood-focused chef from L.A.'s Providence); Jonathan Waxman (the iconic NYC chef whom I, for some reason, associate with all those funny-named restaurants in American Psycho); and Roy Yamaguchi (the Hawaiian fusion chef who's got an outpost here at 15th and Sansom). These dudes were so goddamn kind and sweet and close it was kinda like:
In a way.
Quickfire: The chefs get assigned the "Aisle Trail" ï¿½ each man has to cook a dish using ingredients taken from a single grocery aisle, with a budget of 20 bones. Cimarusti, who's referred to as a "young little chicken" by Smith (dudelove sesh starting right about ... now), gets the baking aisle; he ends up with a chocolate parfait with ginger and rum. Yamaguchi, vexed by the dearth of Asian ingredients in his area (no, there's no soy sauce in the pasta section, Roy), whips up noodles topped with a fried egg that two-thirds of the Whole-Foods-worker judges find "strange." Waxman, with the international aisle, comes up with a lentil salad, while the grains section leads Smith to a risotto. Cimarusti edges his buddies out with a perfect QF score from the judges.
Elimination: The cheftestants head back to Whole Foods to pick out 11 ingredients apiece. The twist is that their basket is then handed to a competitor, who must use seven of the 11 mystery items in a dish. So this is where it got real cute: While the chefs could've filled their baskets with a bunch of disparate crap, each gives the next guy a fighting chance, selecting versatile veggies and proteins. "I want Art to show the world his love and passion for food," says Yamaguchi, who blesses the Southern chef with some chicken. Awww. When are y'all going to go on a group camping/whitewater rafting trip together, and I can please come?
Yamaguchi admits he's not the best at thinking on the fly (who is?), and it shows in his mahi/short rib dish, as he ends up with a mediocre 15 stars. Waxman ends up with a total of 20 for his "retro '80s" (see, American Psycho!) pork chop dish, edging out young buck Cimarusti's 17.5. Smith, however, ends up on top, earning 22 stars for a delicious-looking fried/ smothered chicken dish served with a teeny mango pie. Everyone hugs and snuggles. "I love the way you all took care of each other," Gael Greene tells the foursome. Daw.
So here's the Final Six:
- Anita Lo
- and this dude!
I'm rooting for Art.
I'm looking at last night's Top Chef Masters episode ï¿½ and next week's ï¿½ like I look at the last two tortuous days of work before you bolt for a long-overdue vacation. Conventional wisdom suggests these days are dull, but rat racers know that the exact opposite is often true ï¿½ the final 48 hours before escaping via train/plane/automobile somehow always end up bogged down with more stupid tasks and useless information and vexing revelations than an entire month's worth of ass-busting. It makes me furious just thinking about it. Thank God no one will really care if I direct my hostility at a benign target like TCM.
Yes, Episode 5 had every cylinder of my ambivalence engine firing, but it also featured perhaps the most gracious star cheftestants yet ï¿½ Michael Chiarello (former Food Network host and chef at Napa's Bottega; described by one friend ï¿½ not me ï¿½ as "rapey"), the charmingly ADHD Rick Moonen (Vegas' RM Seafood), coolcalmcollected Swede Nils Noren (formerly of Aquavit, now a bigwig at the French Culinary Institute ... and apparently Earth's only Scandanavian reggae fan) and the slightly wild-eyed Lachlan M. Patterson (Boulder's Frasca Food and Wine). These guys displayed loads of class in the heat of competition, helping and congratulating each other the whole way through. It was lovely. Almost ... too lovely.
Quickfire: In a rehash from Season 1, the foursome is tasked with creating an upscale plate based on a well-loved junk food. Though Top Chef popped off just three years ago (doesn't it seem longer than that?), it's funny how dated this challenge seems already ï¿½ plenty of chefs are fond of the whole spin-on-empty-calories idea these days ("curly Fries ... three ways"), mainly because it's fertile ground to do really fun stuff. Chiarello selects fish sticks as his inspiration. Patterson goes for hot dogs, which prompts Moonen to select corn dogs (smart man!). Since Noren's Swedish, he decides to play his plate off fried shrimp.
The judges are the crew from Bravo's Flipping Out, which I believe is about how hard and/or awesome it is to flip real estate while being irresistibly sassy and suffering from immense OCD. I've never watched this show, but I'm fond of that in-The Soup-perpetuity clip of star Jeff Lewis ordering a drink that's 70 percent lemonade, 20 percent punch and 10 percent Sprite, so I looked forward to him tearing the competitors' dishes apart for no substantive reason.
Rick, in a heartbreaking oversight, fails to plate his dish in time, DQing him. Though Noren and Patterson both crank out lovely-looking offerings (poached shrimp with creamed corn, pickled tomatoes and a lobster sauce; a prosciutto stufado with pork sausage), Chiarello wins the QF with a 4.5-star-earning swordfish meatball dish. No hyper-specific beverage requests from Jeff, which is bullshit.
Elimination: Each chef has to prepare three bite-size mini courses ï¿½ starter, entrï¿½e, dessert ï¿½ for a 100-person cocktail party that's attended by both real-life Top Chef fans and random-ass cast-offs from Project Runway. Noren does a seafood-centric menu featuring a diced scallop starter, slow-cooked salmon and a ganache topped with smoked tea whipped cream that freaks everyone out. Noonen kills it with an exotic fish ceviche, a well-received scallop/shrimp brandade and a simple lemon panna cotta. Patterson, the northern Italian chef, fries pineapple wrapped in speck, serves grilled short ribs with an anchovy/parmesan vin and a frangine with strawberries in lieu of the traditional pear.
Chiarello, meanwhile, is shown working the females in the crowd like a perverted carnival barker. "If I had a smile like yours, I wouldn't have to cook for a living"? Perhaps "rapey" is too strong of a fake adjective, but I see where my friend is going with this. His menu: shaved brussels sprout salad with roasted marcona almonds, "pissed-off" prawns cooked in chili and garlic oil and a marinated strawberry dessert with basil gelato that Green likens to the taste of "lawn clippings."
Next week: The last of the six finalist slots will be finally, finally be filled. Then ... vacation!
The question that ate at me throughout last night's Masters episode was not culinary in nature: Am I gonna have to like Neil Patrick Harris less now that I know he's a hardcore MAGIC ENTHUSIAST? I'm leaning toward yes, and that breaks my damn heart. I love Doogie. I love Harold & Kumar. I love How I Met Your Mother. I even kinda like that Dr. Horrible singing jawn even though I usually mark most Joss Whedon-tainted things with my red rubber douche stamp. Why, why, why must you possess such a sincere and dedicated interest in the lame-ass art of illusion, NPH?! You've liked it ever since you were 10 or 11, foreal? You're really BFF with Ed Alonzo? Can't you just be into perverted cinema or awards hosting like so many of the other famous gay men I admire?
I am filled with NPH-brand ennui, and the only thing that can get me out of my funk is a screening of Undercover Brother.
The actual cooking part of last night's episode was OK.
The latest foursome (two more eps to go till the six finalist slots are filled): Douglas Rodriguez, exec chef of Alma de Cuba here in Phily as well as many other Nuevo Latino spots in the states; Anita Lo, the no-nonsense woman behind NY's Annisa and Rickshaw Dumpling Bar; NOLA's John Besh, who may actually rival Rick Bayless in Ilovetohearmyselftalkitude; and Mark Peel, of L.A.'s opulent Campanile.
Quickfire: Cook eggs with one hand behind your back, monkeys! (How did the albumen-crazed Wylie Dufresne not draw this one?) Rodriguez rightly calls the task a "circus act," and rocks out with one paw to the tune of an open-faced arepa with scrambled eggs and ham. Peel, whose father was actually born with one arm (I feel like this QF should've offended him, knowing that), somehow pulls off a fresh duck egg pasta with a single hand, which was truly impressive. Lo uses one of those cutty tools to pop the top off her eggs, refilling them with a shiitake scramble flavored with truffle oil and oyster sauce. Besh underestimates how long it'll take for his eggs to cook inside teeny casserole dishes and ends up earning what I believe is the lowest Masters dish score to date ï¿½ half a star. Oof! Anita's dish impresses the judges' panel ï¿½ which includes Gail S, eyyy girl ï¿½ so much that she takes the first challenge with a perfect 5.
Elimination: A magician named Max Maven (right) comes in wearing an outfit from the Ra's Al Ghul Pajama Collection (now @ Sears) and instructs the cheftestants to draw cards. Using some sort of trick that didn't really seem that impressive in the context of TV, he assigns each chef an adjective pertaining to magic ï¿½ mystery! surprise! spectacle! illusion! wackness! ï¿½ and tells them they must create a dish conveying this concept for NPH, a dude who I assume is his boyfriend (they didn't ID him as much though ... weak Bravo!) and Alonzo, the magician you know best as Max, owner of The Max, from Saved by the Bell. This got me thinking about all all the small furry animals ï¿½ birds, rabbits, etc. ï¿½ Max would produce out of thin air on the reg when talking to Zach and them. I bet the entire kitchen of that place was teeming with filthy free-roaming critters. You can't have a damn magic bunnies behind the line! Health code violation! Shut The Max down!
Tom C. checks in with the chefs in the kitchen of the Magic Castle ("It feels like Hogwarts," says Lo), where they're serving the guests and judges. He leaves too soon. See you in August, Tom C. Peel, who draws "Mystery," puts Tai snapper, and shrimp/garlic mash and stewed leeks into a parchment paper bag tied with a string. "So delicate," coos NPH. Aw c'mon, Barney's not supposed to talk like that. SUIT UP. Besh, working with "Surprise," asks NPH to hold a vat of liquid nitrogen to prepare a creme fraiche and horseradish sorbet tableside. He uses it to top a cucumber and salmon roe salad, while the rest of his plate features salmon tartare and tempura-fried lobster wrapped in smoked salmon. Lo, who has to convey "Illusion," creates a nifty preparation meant to mimic a scallop, using braised daikon stuffed with steak tartare. NPH LOVES IT. Rodriguez, who's assigned "Spectacle" (the perfect thing for dude since his cooking is ballsy/unexpected), does duck in four separate preparations, including one that involves a duck soup served in a flaming coconut. Problem is that he doesn't have any 151 to get the fiery effect going, so he smears the 'nuts up with Sterno gel with lackluster results.
At the judges' table, they stick it to Besh because his liquid nitrogen sorbet was too cold. (It was prepared with liquid nitrogen, guys.) Gael Greene likens Lo's faux scallop "a surrealistic painting," and the rest of the panel is also very complimentary about it. Rodriguez is docked for poor execution, and Besh can't recover from the brutal .5 Quickfire, so it comes down to Peel and Lo, whose dishes were both admired by the panel. Lo ends up with an impressive 22.5, beating out Peel's 18.5 for a spot in the final challenge.
I still can't come to terms with the fact that NPH loves magic so much.
Next week: Hey famous chefs, make a three-course dinner for 100 people with absolutely no help.
Episode 3, on paper, sounded offal swell, with chefs Wilo Benet (Puerto Rico's Piyako and Paya), Cindy Pawlcyn (Napa's Mustards Grill), Rick Bayless (Chitown's Frontera, dumb goatee!) and awesomely French Ludo Lefebrve (L.A.'s Ludo Bites) being assigned the dubious task of feeding the Universal Studios crowd animal odds and ends. In execution, however, 'twas a touch duller than the Nerd Valhalla glory of Episode 2, due both to the humorless Quickfire guest judges and the fact that no tourists from the Midwest were shown barfing up tripe on the Waterworld ride.
Quickfire: The chefs were tasked with recreating the color challenge from Top Chef Season 2 ï¿½ composing a dish based around a randomly selected hue. Benet drew orange and whipped up a tartare-style deal with smoked salmon, tomato paste and coconut milk. The betatted Lefebrve got red and created a visually shocking steak tartare coupled with watermelon, red onions and a poured-on beet gazpacho that was likened to blood by one member of the frowning all-lady judges' panel, which consisted of a food stylist, a cookbook author and a food photog. (Not even close to a fair criticism ï¿½ you asked this guy to make everything red! If he'd drawn blue this chick probably would've whined about the shit looking like Smurf semen.) Pawlcyn pieced together an all-yellow veggie curry with sweet corn grits and crispy fried tortillas. Ricky B. did some roasted mole verde vegetable thing on a banana leaf, talking the whole while about how "intuitive" his cooking was. Though the stupid judges whined about the ring mold around Benet's tartare, they gave him the QF win with 4.5 stars.
Elimination: Host Kelly Choi (who, apparently, isn't allowed to drop a "hands up, utensils down!" call, so she just yells "hands up!" in her impish little voice) tells the foursome that they're going to cook up offal ï¿½ you know, those "non-traditional" animal parts/organs ï¿½ in a street food setting for a bunch of people touring through Universal Studios. Benet gets beef hearts, which he's never messed with before. Lefebrve is assigned tough and unruly pig's ears, and promptly explains that he knows exactly how to cook them, in addition to knowing exactly how to cook all the other contestants' items. Pawlcyn receives tripe, a Meal Ticket favorite. And Rick ï¿½ RICK! ï¿½ Rick gets tongue, which, OF COURSE, Rick LOVES.
Perhaps I should expand on my slight disdain for Rick Bayless. I've never really dug him, ultra-manicured beard notwithstanding ï¿½ he's just smarmy, and the worst part about it is that he seems to believe that his self-congratulatory prattling about how much he knows about Mexican cuisine is serving some sort of lofty didactic purpose. I understand that he's an extremely accomplished and eloquent chef ï¿½ perfect for TV ï¿½ but everything he says is tainted by an off-putting self-satisfaction. Please understand that I've never eaten at his restaurants ï¿½ I base these grumbles solely on the many hours of Bayless-based programming I've taken in over the years. Also I just realized that Rick is Skip Bayless' brother, and I'm not sure whether or not this makes me like him less or more.
Watch the Rick video above and form your own opinion.
Back to organs: After dropping $300 on Whole Foods ingredients, the chefs return to prep their dishes for street service. Lefebrve decides to make a pig's ear quesadilla ï¿½ "Everybody love quesadilla," he states matter-of-factly ï¿½ prompting Bayless to hate him for being French and trying to do something Mexican. The pleasant Pawlcyn decides to do a hangover-erasing menudo (a Mexi stew) with her stomach. Benet stuffs his heart into a pita sandwich with ham and chicken ï¿½ a slick and meaty move.
Quickfire winner Benet comes very close to punching a ticket to the finals with a 19.5, but in the end, Rick edges him with 22.5. BAYLESSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!
Next week tonight: Neil Patrick Harris.
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