Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Top Chef: Masters 6/10/09 summary

Welcome to “Top Chef: Masters!” I…guess we needed some filler between “Make Me a Supermodel” and regular “Top Chef”. Each week 4 chefs who already own restaurants and are famous will compete for charities. The winner each week makes it to the semifinals. Thank God it’s set up that way, because I did not want to have to keep track of 24 people. Let’s get started, shall we? (click for more)

So Padma…wait, that’s not Padma. I guess she’s busy with her Hardee’s commercials. That’s Carl’s Jr. for those of you in the West. This is Kelly Choi…who is also a model/TV host. And here’s the panel…where is Tom? WTF is this, show? No Padma with the munchies and no Tom with the evil eye? The rest of the judges are: Gael Greene, restaurant critic (who has taken great pains to keep her identity a secret, so she went on a television show, good job); James Oseland, editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine; and Jay Rayner, British journalist. I shall call him Jay Ray. Oh and Gail Simmons is here! I do like Gail. Winner wins $100,000 for their charity and the “chance” to win $250,000 in prizes. Also you get to call yourself “Top Chef Master” which sounds pretty cool. Everyone is serious in the opening, and they have different music, and no one takes off their chef jacket. So that’s no fun.

Michael Schlow, from Boston. You know what? I would suggest you Google these people. You’ll get good results. He has a James Beard award, and is representing the Cam Neely Foundation for Cancer Care. Then he says some tripe about how all the contestants are still students. Hubert Keller. Seriously? Hubert Keller? Has nothing better to do than be on a basic cable spin-off reality show? I know you own a restaurant right here in St. Louis, Keller, but I’m not paying $25 or whatever for a burger so I’ll never go. WE have a Burger Bar here, and a SleeK steakhouse, but not a Fleur de Lys, in the casino for attractive people. You can tell how awesome he is because Gail talks about him in his intro. He was the guest judge in the first episode ever of “Top Chef”. Keller is playing for Make-A-Wish. Christopher Lee, New York. He also has a James Beard award. Gael says he’s cool. He is playing for Autism Speaks. Tim Love, Fort Worth. He is wearing a cowboy hat in the kitchen. Tom!! Oh, Tom, don’t just be in the interview, be on the show. He is competing for March of Dimes. Something cool is, it looks like everyone already knows each other.

Quickfire challenge! Rather than come up with new challenges, they’re going to recycle old challenges from past seasons of “Top Chef”. I think the idea is to make the judges go through the challenges and have a new appreciation for the contestants, or feel bad they were so harsh, or something. Kelly says only one dish has struck fear into the hearts of every contestant, and that is dessert. Various groanings. Good job, show, for not giving this Quickfire to the group with Elizabeth Falkner in it. Kelly references Richard and his banana scallops. They have to make the tastiest dessert they can, and it will be judged by a “group” with a “sweet tooth”. Cut to the dining room, where there are 4 Girl Scouts. Hee. And even though Season 4 got 90 minutes to do this, since they’re Masters they only get 60. Have fun!

Tim wants to have a shot of tequila. He says that he’s never worked for anyone famous, or been famous, so he’s an unknown quantity to the other chefs. He’s a little nervous. Hubert talks about Make-A-Wish and then says he’s making a chocolate swan? With meringue? Michael is making a chocolate brownie with honey almond ice cream and some peanut butter chocolates. Yum. Tim is making chocolate dipped strawberries (OK), chicken fried strawberries (uh…yum?), and strawberry shakes (OK, that sounds good again). Christopher talks about not making super fancy stuff for kids, but still keeping your integrity. He’s making French toast cubes, with bananas, and maple fluff. All on a stick. That sounds good. Michael’s cake isn’t baking and his ice cream is not set. He can’t even get the mixer to work, as he says he has new respect for the contestants. His plate is a hot mess. The candy is technically ready, but they’re falling apart, and he’s got a scoop of chocolate batter on the plate too. Sigh.

God, when I was a Junior Girl Scout, was I that young? I remember Juniors being older. Anyways, Michael is up first. Milk chocolate cake, peanut butter chocolate candies, and honey almond cream. The first girl gets a point for referencing Tagalongs. They don’t like everything but he knows it sucked. Tim is up next with the strawberries three ways: shake, chocolate dipped, and chicken fried. They don’t seem to like the shake. Hubert’s looks very cool. Chocolate mouse swan, whipped cream mouse, and fruit with orange sabayon. The fruit and sabayon is in a sideways glass dish. That’s why he’s Hubert Keller. The kids love it. Christopher is last. French toast with caramelized banana, orange sauce, and maple syrup fluff. There is a toast cube and a slice of banana with a toothpick. One girl complains about the burnt banana. Hee. Another one says the French toast tastes like hash browns.

Michael’s average score is 2.5 stars. He’s glad not to get zero. Tim gets 3.5, Christopher receives 3.5 stars also, but Hubert gets 5 stars. I thought so. These scores get added to the Elimination scores to determine who will move on.

For their Elimination challenge, the chefs are going back to college. Some lackeys wheel in a cart with a hot plate, a toaster oven, and a microwave. Ha! They have to make a 3 course meal for critics and students at Pomona College. Michael brags he doesn’t own a microwave. They have $150 (which no college student would spend on one meal) and a limited pantry.

While shopping Michael explains the scoring. There are 20 stars possible; 5 from the diners and 15 from the judges. Hubert doesn’t shop, usually, he just orders things on the phone. He loses his cart in the store. Christopher is making Asian food. Tim is scrambling because there is no ground pork for his chili. He’s last to the check-out and the other chefs mock him.

The prize you can win by texting your answer to the weekly question is a trip to the winner’s restaurant for a “personal dinner”. That is an awesome prize.

In the morning, Michael’s pretty confident, if slightly nervous about the uncertainty. Tim finds that his food is frozen. As they were storing things last night, he found an empty cooler and just put all his stuff in there, not knowing it was a freezer and not a refrigerator. He says there was no ice or anything. Uh oh. Christopher says that his protein is probably OK but his produce is ruined, and it’s too bad because Tim is a great chef.

They take their stuff to dorm rooms. HA. It’s someone’s actual dorm room, with all their stuff. And it’s a real sized room, not those ridiculous huge things on TV. Christopher says he never made anything this good when he was in college. Hubert never went to college, and if he hadn’t become a chef he’d have become a DJ. There are photos. That was not what I expected. Tim is just worried about how to get his food defrosted. Michael’s student shows up to get a textbook, and also so Michael can tell him his menu (how convenient!): salmon crudo, cabbage soup with bacon, and pork a la apicius. He says that college students have palates that are just emerging so cooking for them is slightly different than cooking for critics. That’s very true. Tim lets his student taste. Hubert’s menu: fresh Scottish salmon, carrot and pea soup with cinnamon, and macaroni & cheese with prawns. I love mac & cheese, but…somehow seafood and cheese makes me slightly nervous. I mean I’m sure it’s good, I just am not really excited by it. Hubert drains the pasta in the bathroom shower stall. That is exactly what we used to do. Not in the shower, but draining pasta in the bathroom. Hee. He uses the shower to shock the pasta and also to warm it back up. Christopher’s menu: red snapper ceviche, creamy risotto, and pan roasted pork chop with fennel salad. Sounds good. Tim is making posole, which normally involves hominy, but somehow he’s trying to make it work. Frantic working. Christopher offers people popcorn. Tim’s menu: scallop carpaccio, squash and corn “pozole”, and skirt steak with braised kale. Since the scallops were frozen, he couldn’t sear them like he wanted. Time’s up!

The chefs come to introduce their food, and get introduced to the judges. Tim’s scallops have lime and chili. There’s not a lot of chili. Michael has salmon crudo with mint, red chilies, kumquat, and cucumber. The students are impressed it was made in a dorm room, but Jay Ray thinks it’s cheating to make a raw appetizer, so you don’t have to cook in the dorm room. Christopher: red snapper ceviche with citrus juices, avocado, and popcorn. They like it. Hubert: Scottish salmon mi cuit over creamy whole grain mustard. They like that too.

Second courses go out. Michael wanted to make something that students could make. Cabbage soup with white bean, fennel, and smoked bacon. Gael’s hat is so big you can’t see her eyes. Christopher’s risotto has procuitto and sage. Gael says it’s soggy but James thinks it tastes good. Hubert serves his carrot and pea soup with cinnamon croutons. It sounds great. Tim’s “pozole” looks like chili and it fits the dorm environment.

Tim says he turned his situation around. The judges like his simple dish but the kale is bitter and it’s salty. Michael’s pork is peppery and kind of sweet. Hubert’s macaroni & cheese looks so good. They love it. Christopher’s pork chop comes with piperade and mashed potatoes. Piperade seems to be sautéed onions and peppers. I think they are cutting him some slack for cooking on a hot plate.

Commercial interlude with chefs not understanding how to work microwaves. I mean…if I’ve never seen that brand before I don’t know what I’m doing either. Well, that was fun.

Instead of “Judges’ Table” we have “Critics’ Table”. I’m not sure how that’s different. Hubert says he took a risk with his pasta and he tells the judges how he used the bathroom to get it done. Jay Ray didn’t get the soup, which had overpowering cinnamon flavor. Gael loved it, though. Michael explains that pork a la apicius is honey, curry, cayenne, and vinegar. He overcooked it, though, because he had to sear it twice on the hot plate. His soup was very comforting. Tim has to explain how he put all his food in the freezer. Everyone liked his pozole, and that he managed to sear his steak, but it was over salty. Kelly asks if he would change anything, and he says he changed plenty today already. Christopher was worried about his risotto, and it was delicious even though it was overcooked. He had problems searing also. Kelly kicks everyone out of the room.

There is no Stew Room, but a nice back storage room somewhere with glassware and a real table. The judges talk about how hard it was to cook in dorm rooms, and how they all pulled it off. Hubert’s first course could have been served in his restaurant, and everyone is talking about the shower. Michael’s soup was great but he could have cooked it longer. But his pork was overcooked. Tim overcame his freezer problems and the judges all seem impressed with his recovery. Backstage Tim isn’t bothered because he says British people don’t season anything so what does Jay Ray know? Christopher’s pork chop had a lot of other things going on, but the meat was good. Well, James liked it, but Jay Ray thought he needed all that other stuff because the pork was dry. All are impressed with the risotto.

Kelly calls everyone back in to give them their scores. Michael’s diner score is 3.5 stars. The critics each give him 2.5 stars so he ends up with 13.5. Tim’s diner score is 3 stars, and he gets 2.5, 2.5, and 3 stars from James, Gael, and Jay Ray, respectively. That gives him 14.5. Michael gets kicked out right away. Christopher: 4 stars from diners, 4 from Gael, 3.5 from James, and 4 from Jay Ray, for a total of 19. Hubert needs 14.5 stars to win. Come on, it’s Hubert Keller. Diner score is 4 stars, Jay Ray is 3.5, Gael is 4, James is 4. So he wins! Yay! Make-A-Wish gets $10,000, and he gets to come back in a few weeks. Everyone had a good time and liked to be challenged, etc.

This season: a lot of cooking and a decided lack of drama. Neil Patrick Harris!! LOVE! Someone saying that the contestants were meaner when they were judges. Hee. So…competent contestants and no drama? I am glad to see it.

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