Thursday, July 30, 2009

Top Chef: Masters 7/29/09--"Champions Round Begins" summary

Last time on “Top Chef: Masters”: We had the aisle challenge, and the only exciting part of that was that they named it “Aisle Trial“ which is pretty good, and then they made everyone pick out ingredients for a mystery box for someone else, but that wasn’t exciting either because everyone was respectful and no one put in like, fish and grape jelly to screw with their competitors. In the end Art Smith won and we are finally to the semi-finals where it will be the same people all the time. ALSO I was at the outlet mall today with Kmanpat, and we walked by the Marble Slab ice cream shop (I haven’t seen a Marble Slab in ages and the logo on this one looked…well, like an outlet store). Out in front was a sign that said “Celebrity Sundaes--try all three!” so I looked to see what kind of d-list celebrities were shilling for an ice cream shop in an outlet mall. And I thought, hey, that girl looks familiar. It was Carla. To her left is Fabio, and to her right is Jeff. No mention of “Top Chef”, no mention of the fact that they’re chefs, just a label of “celebrity” and first names only. I physically grabbed Kmanpat to make him look at it and it took him a minute to figure out why he should know these people. I don’t remember what all is in the sundaes (you can check out the photo here) but Fabio’s looks healthy, Carla’s looks like it has candy, and Jeff’s is chocolate. (click for more)

If you have forgotten the first round winners, they are as follows: Anita Lo, Art Smith, Hubert Keller, Suzanne Tract, Michael Chiarello, and Rick Bayless. Everyone comes in and seems to be more comfortable in the kitchen, now that they know what is going on. There will be three rounds, highest score wins some extra money. Lowest score is eliminated. I guess that’s highest score today. That means we’ll have several more episodes.

Today’s Quickfire involves two teams, labeled “Pepper” and “Salt”. It’s relay race time! Which should be good because these chefs may have pawned off prep work on underlings for a good long time. And then Tom comes in to judge! Yay! Here are the tasks: open 15 oysters, dice 5 onions, butcher 4 chickens, and separate 5 eggs and beat the whites until you can hold the bowl upside down. So someone will have to double up. Hubert, Anita, and Rick are one team, and Art, Suzanne, and Michael are the other. Hubert and Art are going to be doubling up but not on the same tasks.

Hubert vs. Suzanne with the oysters. Suzanne gets into the zone and she’s schooling Hubert pretty badly at first. He catches up though so Art and Hubert are even with the onions. Although Art somehow flings half an onion over near Hubert. Art wins by a whole onion. I’m not really sure how, although Rick says that Hubert is using a more classic technique while Art is doing some weird thing which was faster apparently. So Michael has a good lead going into the chicken, over Anita. I remember someone got schooled in this challenge and it ended up being blamed on her knives being dull. I think it was Casey. Anita catches up so of course it comes down to the last task, Art vs. Rick on eggs. Except that Art doesn’t separate his eggs right, and has whole yolks to get rid of. Rick, Anita, and Hubert win! They all start with 5 stars, while Art, Michael, and Suzanne have 4 stars.

Kelly wants everyone to make a dish that will show the other chefs what they can do, and who they are. So they must make a signature dish. What are we, “Hell’s Kitchen”? Anita says she gets more nervous cooking for chefs than for her customers.

Rick talks for a while about how awesome everyone is. And then everyone sits down to eat. Hubert makes a lobster and truffle cappuccino with a corn madeline. It looks cool. Art makes seared grouper with hearts of palm, trumpet mushrooms, and Meyer lemon zest. He says it’s the dish he made for Obama. Anita shares her seared scallops with potato puree, bacon, sea urchin, and mustard greens. Michael serves fennel balsamic quail with mosto cotto mustarda, sautéed greens, and roasted apple. I think that is mustard greens. It looks really good. Suzanne has chopped sirloin with green peppercorn sauce and a fried egg on top. Rick has rack of lamb and black pasilla chile sauce with mission figs.

Kelly shows up as they’re finishing up to give them the Elimination challenge: take someone else’s dish and put your own spin on it. Interesting. Winners from the Quickfire get to pick whose dish they want, but it means that they’ll swap. Hubert picks Anita, so he will remake her dish and vice versa. Actually he’s the only one who picks; everyone else has to draw knives. Michael says he doesn’t want to get paired with Rick, so of course that’s what happens. That leaves Art and Suzanne swapping dishes. They will have 45 minutes and $300 to shop, and 2 hours tomorrow to cook.

So I guess when Kelly said 3 challenges she counted “cook your signature dish for everyone” as a challenge. Michael asks Rick what kind of chilies to get. Interesting. Suzanne doesn’t like fish a ton. Rick doesn’t want to put a Mexican spin on Michael’s dish, because he thinks everyone will be expecting that.

Art says he only got into restaurants about a year ago, since he was a personal chef. So he’s kind of feeling behind. Hubert talks about potato and sea urchin, and we know my feelings on sea urchin. One of Anita’s lobsters almost escapes. She’s not hesitated to make this dish Asian. Art was glad to get Suzanne because they both do comfort-food type dishes. We’re not seeing as much cooking as I would like, but we are seeing a lot of interviews about how awesome all the other contestants are. Suzanne is done before anyone else. Everyone finishes though.

There’s a giant round table with the critics and also 6 eliminated contestants. Probably one from each round. Also Jay Ray, Gael, and James. Art is up first. He took Suzanne’s chopped sirloin and fried egg, and made ground lamb Scottish egg, with sweet potato fries and tomato tart. A Scottish egg is where you take a whole hard boiled egg and put it inside the burger. The egg is a little overcooked. They do like the dessert on the plate. Second is Rick, who redid Michael’s quail with greens. He serves quail with parsnip and prosciutto stuffing over wild greens. They like the dish and that he didn’t make it Mexican. Suzanne remade Art’s grouper, by making roast grouper with gnocchi, peas, bacon, and parsnips. It might be too close. Elizabeth Falkner says that her fish might be a little overcooked and her gnocchi are cold. They establish that Suzanne probably finished early and ruined the dish. Hubert comes to charm everyone. He had Anita’s scallop, and made his own seared scallop with cream of sea urchin over fingerling mashed potatoes. No one tastes any sea urchin. Michael brings out his interpretation of Rick’s lamb with chile sauce: rack of lamb stuffed with fig mostarda, chickpeas, and fried rosemary. It’s not going over that well. I think it’s not seasoned. Anita is last, with Hubert’s lobster and truffles. She’s made corn chawanmushi, champagne gelee, and a lobster biscuit sandwich. Chawanmushi is a Japanese savory egg custard. It looks very pretty and very good.

Commercial interlude: Um…Art talks a lot and everyone loves him. The end.

The critics actually criticize and ask Hubert if he thinks he had enough sea urchin flavor. Well, then he says he does and they leave him alone. Jay Ray calls Anita clever and they all talk about how they loved her biscuit and they loved her reinterpretation. Art’s egg was overcooked and he’s like, yeah, I have egg issues. Then they ding Suzanne for serving cold food and overcooking the grouper. Rick gets praised for not making Mexican food, and they talk for a while about how good his Italian food is, until James uses the phrase “fresh innocence” which Rick says hasn’t been used in his presence for a really long time. Hee. Michael made his dish his own too much? James says he didn’t see Rick anymore. I don’t know why that matters. Michael says something about wanting to respect Rick and Jay Ray says, so, you cared more about what Rick would think than about what we would think. OK then.

Hubert had a perfectly cooked scallop but no one tasted the sea urchin which I guess is a big thing. Everyone wants to worship Anita and her lobster biscuit. I think they are offended by Art’s dish, calling it “grotesque” and whatnot. Suzanne didn’t time anything properly so it was cold. Michael wasn’t comfortable, but all of a sudden the chickpeas were perfect. Rick’s ingredients all matched up and he had a “quiet respect for Michael’s dish” according to James.

Rick = 23 stars, and Anita = 24 stars, so she is the winner this week. Now for the loser. Michael = 18.5 stars, Hubert = 21.5 stars, Art = 15 stars, and Suzanne = 14.5 stars. Suzanne says she would take her time next time, and be more careful.

Next week: catering for picky celebrities. Woo.
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Top Chef: Masters 7/22/09--"Trick in a Box" summary

Last time on “Top Chef: Masters”: I didn’t think it was possible to do worse than John Besh’s Quickfire dish of one half-cooked egg, but that was before Rick Moonen served nothing. Absolutely nothing. Then everyone had to cater a party, and basically make three appetizers but the “twist” was that one had to be an “appetizer“, one a “main course” and the last one a “dessert”. It wasn’t terribly exciting. In the end Michael Chiarello won, proving that he’s been away from the television studio long enough to remember how to cook. I must say, though, Bravo, that’s a terribly clever and risqué name you picked for the episode tonight. Reluctantly I award points. (click for more)

First we have Jonathan Waxman from New York. He trained Bobby Flay and his restaurant was a hangout for many famous chefs, which means he knows what he’s doing. His charity is Meals on Wheels. Next is Roy Yamaguchi, from Honolulu. Gail says he’s the first James Beard winner ever? Wow. I think she means “from Hawaii”. Whatever, Japanese FTW! He says he fuses Japanese ingredients and French sauces which is now labeled “Hawaiian fusion”. Never heard of it. He was a judge, too, for the second season so I’m kind of miffed he didn’t get rid of some people I wished to never see again. He is playing for Imua Family Services which gives special needs education and support. Third we have Art Smith, from Chicago. The website says he’s Oprah’s personal chef, or he was anyway. He was a judge before also, and his charity is Common Threads which I know the contestants worked with before. Last is Michael Cimarusti from L.A. He focuses on fish and his restaurant has two Michelin stars which is pretty cool. His charity is the Grameen Foundation which works with women to help get them out of poverty. He also says that he’s the youngest today by about 10 years--when he was learning he actually worked for Jonathan.

For the Quickfire, everyone draws knives for numbers. This Quickfire is the supermarket aisle challenge. Hee. Malarkey won when they did this. Remember Malarkey? Sadly instead of going to the discount store they’re going to Whole Foods and they get $20. However they still have to shop in only one aisle and only use limited pantry ingredients. Art namedrops all the famous people he’s cooked for and rolls his eyes at the cash.

Jonathan is stuck in the canned foods/salad dressing/condiments aisle. He complains that he doesn’t open cans or bottles. Literally, he says “I don’t open cans.” He also can’t see well for some reason. Michael is in the baking aisle. He thinks about running away but the aisle is too crowded. His wife does the baking at home so he‘s pretty lost. Roy lucked out with the pasta aisle, but he can’t find soy sauce or Asian stuff. So he’s just going to have to make Italian. Art has beans/crackers/soup. Nice. Jonathan ends up being over budget.

Today’s guest judges are Whole Foods employees. Ha! Awesome. Kelly labels this the “Aisle Trial” challenge, which is a pretty good name. Roy doesn’t have any Asian ingredients so he’s going to have to wing it. His restaurant chain has 37 restaurants. 37. Wow. Art and Jonathan flail with the pressure cookers. Michael takes a minute to help them out. Jonathan says if you’re not clear about what your dish should be, the dish won’t end up clear. Well said. Art says he makes what he loves and everyone else enjoys it. Roy is putting a fried egg on top of his dish in a desperate attempt to get something Asian into it. He usually works for a long time on his menu items.

Roy: pasta with fried egg and “Asian flavors”. I don’t know what they are, they don’t say. One guy says the fried egg is weird. Jonathan: mint, lentil, and roasted pepper salad. That sounds pretty good. Everyone likes it but there’s a lot of onion. Art: multi grain risotto with crispy rice salad. Good texture and crunch. Michael: chocolate parfait with ginger sauterne syrup and sesame crackers. Isn’t a parfait like a trifle? It looks like chocolate mousse. Not that chocolate mousse is bad, just that when someone says “parfait” that’s not what I expect. Everyone loves it.
Jonathan = 3.5, Roy = 4, Art = 4.5, and Michael = 5 stars. Those are very high scores for the first round.

Today’s elimination challenge also involves drawing knives. On each knife is someone else’s name. Kelly says that they’ll be making a “mystery box” for that chef, that has to have at least 7 ingredients in it. Then you have to use at least 7 ingredients in your box to make a dish for the critics and also some culinary students. LAME. I’ve seen this show before. It’s called “Chopped” and is one of the reasons Ted Allen isn’t a judge anymore, but before that it was called “Doorknock Dinners” hosted by Gordon Elliot. And then before that it was called “Iron Chef”. Psshh. “Make a meal with surprise/random ingredients”. At least the last time it was improv people shouting things that gave them ingredients.

The budget today is $300. I guess the twist of being able to screw your competition is interesting, but Jonathan says the word “sabotage” doesn’t exist among chefs, because they have respect for each other. In fact, everyone seems to be super nice about it, because they don’t want to screw over anyone else. This challenge is wasted on this season. Some old woman asks Jonathan if he’s really a master chef and he says he is. Roy is lost; Jonathan thinks he hasn’t been in a supermarket in 30 years.

Commercial interlude: supposedly they’re in Kelly’s house? And everyone is cooking dinner, all different courses. Everyone is friends and they all love everyone’s food, and this is why no one watches this show. There’s no drama and the average reality television viewer is bored.
So the boxes have 11 ingredients, and they only have to use 7. Stupid. Art (who is getting presents from Roy) is afraid he’ll have to butcher/kill something. He loves his box. It’s like Christmas. They should have to use all 11 ingredients. Roy really wanted Art to have the chance to showcase his talent. I guess this is along the lines of “I want to beat the best”. Art gives Roy his box, which is filled with plenty of good stuff. Michael and Jonathan trade boxes. Jonathan, finally, thank God, does something interesting by not putting any fish or shellfish into Michael’s box. So Michael is denied his specialty. Whatever. They have 2 hours to cook everything.

Roy is figuring out what a time constraint does to your cooking. Michael has a plan, even though he’s making lamb and not fish. Jonathan complains about his eyesight, and he’s got glasses, so maybe he needs a new prescription? He says it might be the tequila, and Michael jokes that it might be “that other thing”. Jonathan says they’re not that friendly so don’t get “brash”. Hee hee hee. Uh…I mean…I don’t know what he’s talking about. He says normally he wouldn’t use 7 ingredients; he’d use maybe 3. Michael doesn’t like peeling sunchokes, and Jonathan says he doesn’t peel them. Art says something about pie. Roy’s fish pieces are different sizes and are cooking at different speeds. Jonathan’s cleaned up his presentation. There is a ton of frantic plating. Michael doesn’t get to sauce all his plates.

Gail is here today, along with James and Gael. Art is up first: fried chicken two ways, plus mango pie. Gail is eating with her hands, yay! She says it “oozes” Art Smith. James thinks it’s very much in his comfort zone. Roy: short rib kalbi and mahi mahi with lemongrass and ginger crust. Garlic chili paste on the short ribs. The fish is delicious. Why don’t we get a list of ingredients? Michael: loin of lamb with sunchoke puree, broccoli and purple cauliflower. He says there should be orange sauce but he didn’t get everyone’s on the plate. James says nothing tasted bad but nothing tasted super great. The sauce was great but not everyone had it. Jonathan is last, and he says it’s “retro 80’s”: pork sausage and chop with cauliflower celery root puree and black truffle. Yum. James and Gael call it “home cooking” but I can’t tell if that’s supposed to be an insult or not. Backstage the chefs have ignored the wine in favor of vodka. Art thinks the judges might not be nice. Pff.

Gael thinks Michael’s dish was better without the sauce. Oh, burn. He didn’t really mix anything, but he cooked everything separately so they’d keep their flavors. Then he talks about not wanting to screw anyone. Everyone loved Art’s mango pie. For some reason they tease Jonathan for calling Art “honey”. I don’t know. James was worried that the two chicken dishes would compete with each other, but Art says those are both southern classics. Kelly got a slightly overcooked piece of mahi mahi from Roy. Gael, however, loved it. The mix of short ribs and mahi mahi, didn’t work so well together as one dish. Jonathan’s plate was huge and the sauce spilled everywhere, and he would have picked another plate, but in general he doesn’t really care about plating anyway. He says to get the most flavor out of truffles he grates them. I think this group had the most fun out of all the groups. As shown by the fact they go back to the Stew Room and rejoice over the booze.

Nothing but praise for Art, but suddenly Roy’s short ribs were chewy and the fish was over sauced. Why didn’t they tell him that? That really bugs me about this show. Roy obviously doesn’t improvise well, and he admitted that. Michael’s individual components were good, but they didn’t immediately blend together. For a minute the critics argue about Jonathan’s truffles but it’s really only about 15 seconds. You know what? They don’t even need to be doing this since every critic scores each contestant. They’re individual scores, it’s not like they have to agree on a loser.

Jonathan = 20; Roy = 15; Michael = 17.5; Art = 22. So Art will be moving on. Finally we are done with the prelims and are moving on to the semi-finals. We’ll have some continuity. Art is very moved by winning. Everyone is going to be friends forever!

Next week: the final 6 return. That’s about all I got out of the preview.
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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Top Chef: Masters 7/15/09--"Miniaturize Me" summary

Last time on “Top Chef: Masters”: Everyone had to cook eggs one handed. John Besh, a person who thought he could be an Iron Chef, failed so spectacularly he could only turn in one pottery crock with one half cooked egg. Anita Lo did very well, and also succeeded in making a dish showcasing “illusion” so she went on to the semifinals. The previews promised us Neil Patrick Harris but he was on-screen for like 3 minutes, which is ridiculous because I know he is funnier than that. False advertising. (click for more)

First into the kitchen is Rick Moonen, from Vegas. He started cooking when his mom would make him cook in order to give him something to do. His charity is the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fisherman’s Association, which supports sustainable fishing. Next we have Nils Noren, who is Vice President of Culinary Arts for the French Culinary Institute. He’s Swedish, and yet Bravo doesn’t feel the need to subtitle him. Not that I can’t understand him. Jay Ray says he is very much the Swedish Chef, and I think he means the Muppet, but then he says he’s cool and precise, so that doesn’t make any sense. He’s playing for the Friends of the French Culinary Institute. Third is Lachlan Mackinnon Patterson, from Boulder. Rick hassles him about being younger. He is younger (and cute). While he’s from Boulder he started his career in St. Louis, so I’m surprised I haven’t heard anyone claiming him yet. He has excellent experience. His charity is the Denver Children’s Hospital. Finally is Michael Chiarello. You may know him from his cooking show on Food Network, but he also owns a restaurant in Napa. Jay Ray says he’s left the TV world and is back at the restaurant. I was wondering about that. His charity is Clinic Ole, which provides healthcare to Latino immigrants.

Kelly comes in, here are the rules, blah dee blah. The Quickfire is the junk food challenge. Heh. They have to make fine dining dishes. Michael claims to not recognize some of the junk food, and listen. I know you are a big famous chef. Don’t pretend like you’ve never seen a Twinkie in your life. He picks out fish sticks and tarter sauce. Lachlan takes a hot dog. Rick says those were his top two choices, and he knows he’s making a hot dog anyways, so might as well take corndogs. Nils takes fried shrimp, which I would argue is not really junk food, but whatever. The guest judges are THAT BASTARD JEFF LEWIS!!!! I hate him. He’s a jerk for no reason, and I know that I was wanting people to be critical but he is critical just to try and make people cry. Plus he’s a famewhore and tries to say stuff that will get him on camera but it’s not funny. God, Bravo, fire his ass already. The other three are other people on his staff, I forget their names because I don’t watch the show, and you know Jeff won’t let them speak anyway. Michael says this is hard because Jeff and the crew eat a lot of junk food, and it’s hard to be judged by people who don’t know food. Notice no one said that about the Girl Scouts.

The chefs have 45 minutes. Lachlan is making sausage, to put into stew. Rick is making a seafood hot dog, which I’ve seen before but it was good. He’s so hyper he’s practically twitching. Nils is poaching his shrimp, with sauce that’s like tartar sauce…but shouldn’t it be crunchy? Lachlan thinks that Michael has traveled to the same places he has, so their styles are similar, but Michael hasn’t been in a restaurant for a while. True, life is different when you don’t have an army of prep chefs and swap outs. Michael is making fish meatballs. Break for Kelly to encourage Jeff to talk and get more screen time. UNNECESSARY. Lachlan can’t get his sausage done enough (dirty!). Nils compares the timer to a train that will leave on time without you. Rick starts to freak out and when time is called his corndogs are still in the deep fryer basket. Oops. He has nothing. Not even one solitary half-cooked egg.

Lachlan serves a prosciutto stufado with homemade pork sausage. Stufado is Italian vegetable stew with a tomato base. The broth is great but the sausage is kind of rare. Michael has swordfish meatballs with fisherman’s sauce and green chili mayonnaise. Swordfish is one of those things I do not like. When you cook it, it’s got the texture of cooked tuna. Imagine eating tuna straight out of the can with nothing in it. Bleh. Everyone seems to enjoy this one, though. Nils serves shrimp with creamed corn and pickled cherry tomatoes, in a lobster sauce. The diners ask about the “fried” part of the shrimp. Jeff complains that the dish is plain without the tomato. Kelly informs the judges that the last chef didn’t finish, and then Jeff complains that he would have had seconds of the meatballs because he’s hungry and didn’t they have 45 minutes? I’d like to see you make things in 45 minutes, OCD boy. Rick basically says exactly what I just did, which makes him my favorite. Michael kind of shrugs that this just means his chances of winning have gone up.

Scores: Lachlan, 3; Nils, 3; Rick, 0; Michael, 4.5. Kelly claims anyone could still win.

For the Elimination challenge, the chefs will have to cook a 3 course meal, for 100, by themselves. Kelly explains that tomorrow is a big party for 100 of the show’s biggest fans, and each of them will have to make up 3 hors d’oeuvres. Kelly, you liar. There is a huge difference between “3 courses” and “3 hors d’oeuvres”. The twist is that they’re supposed to be an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert, only in hors d’oeuvres size. So miniature. That’s not a bad challenge, but I don’t think we needed to give everyone heart attacks about it. Now everyone is relieved. They’ll have 3 hours today, and 1 hour tomorrow. I wish I lived in L.A. so I could have gone. And they get $1000 as a budget.

Shopping is fun, although Rick is still freaking out. His menu is as follows: opakapaka ceviche, a brandade of scallop and shrimp (brandade is pounded seafood with garlic and cream), and a preserved lemon custard. Lachlan is making pineapple and speck “fritta esotica”, grilled beef short ribs, and strawberry frangipane tart. Speck is fatty bacon. And why does my spell-check recognize “frangipane” but not “prosciutto”? Frangipane is a tart filling that is almond flavored. Michael is browsing ingredients to see what’s in season before he makes up his menu, which we don’t see now but it seems to include basil strawberry gelato.

Nils wants to do all his cooking now so he doesn’t have to cook anything on site tomorrow. Not a bad idea. His menu is diced scallop, slow cooked salmon, and a chocolate and goat cheese ganache. Mmm, chocolate and goat cheese ganache with smoked tea whipped cream. Lachlan is going for it. Michael hopes his menu sets him apart: shaved Brussels sprouts salad, spicy prawns, and balsamic marinated strawberries with goat milk and basil gelato. Rick respects the contestants more after failing. Michael’s gelato isn’t freezing, but instead is separating, so he has to pour it into a container and stick the whole thing in the freezer. He says he’s just hoping he doesn’t screw up as badly as someone else. Well, that sounds ominous.

In the morning everyone collects their food. Michael takes his melty gelato and puts it in the blast freezer. He has no idea how it works but Lachlan does, so he says he’ll let Lachlan teach the old man. Rick is confident with his food but he’s used to having people help him prep. They’re setting up in the critics’ room. Nils is decorating his table. Rick makes the servers help him bring his food out, as is Michael. Nils is ready early, which makes him nervous. But he gets over it by helping Rick prep avocados.

So it looks like each course will be served separately, with the appetizers being on display right now, and then I guess they’ll clear down and put out main courses, and then desserts. Thankfully, Jeff Lewis has gone away. Michael’s salad has asparagus as well as Brussels sprouts, with a citrus vinaigrette and Marcona almonds. It seems well received. OH I knew that girl looked familiar! It’s Sweet P! She’s there with her husband (I think) who is in a suit with a fedora. Hee. The critics kind of frown about eating salad standing up. Lachlan is next with his “fritta esotica” which is pineapple wrapped in spick and then fried. He’s got a line because he’s frying things right before serving. Some random girls talk about being fans. The sweetness of the pineapple kind of got lost among the grease and meat. Rick’s ceviche also has barramundi, yuzu, avocado, and grapefruit. Jerell! You guys, why can’t “Project Runway” alums be guest judges? Oh, I know, you are having a big fight now, but old seasons? Please? Everyone loves the ceviche. Rick thinks all “Top Chef” fans are foodies. Nils’s scallop has smoked potato cream, apple, and curry oil. James loves the presentation and thinks it’s the best match to the theme. The theme of “miniature dinner”, or something.

Main courses are up next. Michael serves prawns with rice flour, chili and garlic oil, that he is calling “pissed off prawns”. Some girl asks why they’re pissed off (duh) and Michael, with a straight face, says “They’re dead.” Everyone goes “Ooohhhhh!“ like they just got it. Sigh. I thought only fans could get in here. They should be able to figure out that angry = spicy. Gael complains that one would never have a knife at a cocktail party, while James claims that you might. What parties are YOU going to, James? And why are we cutting shrimp with a knife anyway? As far as I can tell they like the flavor. Rick serves his brandade of scallop and shrimp with a fennel and frisee salad that has truffle vinaigrette. Michael thinks Rick is on it tonight, due to his motivator of zero stars. Everyone loves it. Lachlan has his short ribs with an anchovy parmesan vinaigrette and horseradish. It looks like there’s one leaf of romaine lettuce on each plate. They love it and wish the lettuce was his appetizer. Nils has salmon with Napa cabbage, chorizo, broccoli puree and Madeira sauce. The puree is like this bright green button. The critics love this one too.

Dessert is last. Lachlan serves his strawberry tart with yogurt semifreddo (gelato, basically). It looks pretty good. Jerell likes it. James claims the strawberries taste like meat. Michael’s gelato froze up well, but it’s taking him a long time to plate up everything. Balsamic marinated strawberries with basil gelato and chocolate crème fraiche. I want some. Some girl helps him plate, and then another one. Nice work. Gael doesn’t like “lawn cuttings” in her desserts. Rick doesn’t do desserts. So why did you make panna cotta? It has lemon, macadamia nuts, coconut, ginger, and pineapple. It just kind of looks like pudding. The critics seem to like it, but for some reason Jay Ray feels the need to share that proper panna cotta should wobble like a woman’s breast. Thanks for sharing. Nils is last, with chocolate goat cheese ganache (I guess he’s serving it like fudge), Cara Cara orange glaze and smoked tea whipped cream. Some girl takes one bite and is done. Sweet P says it’s too smart. The critics seem to be OK with it. Everyone seems glad to be done.

Michael is up first at Critics’ Table. They liked the salad, and the prawns, but Gael is still hung up on needing a knife to eat them. Michael points out that he left the tails on so you could eat it without a knife. So there. Ray Jay says there was too much oil. Despite complaining, Gael liked his dessert. Nils says he didn’t cook his salmon sous vide, and James says it was too fishy, but Gael and Jay Ray are like, I tasted nothing, you’re too picky. Nils stands behind his dessert even though the critics think it was weak. Then he makes a joke about smoking things in Sweden. Hee. They like the challenge. Lachlan (who is still cute) talks about the show. James thinks it was too salty. Usually frangipane has pears, but they’re not in season, which Jay Ray takes as a good excuse for switching to strawberries. The judges ask about Rick’s dishes, but they are especially curious about his panna cotta. Apparently they thought he made one big container and then scooped it out into serving dishes, but he tells them he made 100 individual cups of panna cotta and found room for them in the fridge. Everyone is impressed.

No one has anything bad to say about Michael’s flavors. Nils had the most elegant dishes but the smoked tea was too heavy of a flavor. Jay Ray for some reason is offended at fried pineapple from Lachlan, and James is still freaking out about the meat flavor. Jay Ray makes fun of him. Rick’s brandade seems to be the favorite dish overall, and they enjoyed his other dishes too.

Commercial interlude: Rick has ADD and is a clown.

Rick = 17 stars (let’s note that’s more than both John Besh and Douglas Rodriguez last week), Lachlan = 15.5 (aww, bye cute boy), Nils = 17, and Michael = 19.5. Interesting. I guess he has been back in the restaurant enough.

Next week: some trash talking, but other than that I have no idea what’s going on.

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Top Chef: Masters 7/8/09--"Magic Chefs" summary

Last time on “Top Chef: Masters”: Wow, it was so long ago. First everyone had to make a dish that was inspired by a color. It still is an odd Quickfire. Not their best idea. For an Elimination challenge the chefs made street food out of offal for tourists at Universal Studios. Everyone was surprised and proud that they made offal accessible to the average person, but since the tourists had to line up ahead of time and could clearly see the sandwich boards with “STOMACH” and “TONGUE” written on them, I’m thinking they had some inkling and could avoid the line. The best part of that challenge is some random guy asked Rick Bayless to slip him some tongue, and Rick said something to the effect of “my tongue is the best” or something. Rick ended up winning. Every week I think I realize another reason I like this show less than regular “Top Chef”. This week’s reason? By now we’d have had several episodes with the same people, I’d have an irrational hatred of someone, we’d get a feel for who everyone is. We have new chefs each week, and I’m not invested in anyone. (click for more)

First up this week is Douglas Rodriguez from Philadelphia. Actually he has multiple restaurants in multiple cities. He makes “Nuevo Latino cuisine”, according to Tom. His charity is Ayuda for the Arts. “Ayuda” means “help” in Spanish but it also stands for “Alliance for Young Urban Design and the Arts”. No offense, but that charity name is “Alliance for Young Urban Design and the Arts for the Arts”. Next is Anita Lo, from New York. She works a lot on the line, so she knows how to cook still. She is playing for SHARE, which is a breast cancer survivor support group. Third is John Besh, from New Orleans. You may remember him from “Next Iron Chef“. He’s honored to represent Cajun cooking. His charity is Make It Right, which is rehabilitating New Orleans. Last is Mark Peel, from L.A. He’s cooked for Wolfgang Puck. He’s playing for Doctors Without Borders.

Kelly tells them what they’re doing first: cooking eggs. With one hand behind their backs. Judges will be Gail Simmons! OH! Girl is PICKY about her eggs. This should be good. Terry Reish, who is a poultry farmer, is another judge, and then also Monica May, chef of a diner. Monica has dark hair with blond on top, which reminds me of Rogue from X-Men. The new movies, not the cartoons. They’ll have 25 minutes. And they have to wear an oven mitt but it’s not actually tied behind their backs. Douglas is making crepes. Mark’s dad was born with one arm so this is not a strange thing for him. Oo. Advantage. He’s making pasta, I think. John has casseroles and toppings. You know, one of my roommates introduced me to eating eggs that way. She would make frozen tater tots in the oven, then put them in a bowl and crack an egg over the top. Then you put it back in the oven to cook the egg, and then you eat it with sriracha (which she called Chinese ketchup for some reason). John says Anita was trying to slice egg tops off and John is helping her. John begins freaking out because the eggs aren’t cooking. Anita is making Asian flavors. Mark doesn’t even have time to wipe his plates. John, however, completely failed and didn’t even finish cooking his eggs. All he has are casseroles with mostly raw eggs.

First up is Douglas with an open faced corn cake, with ham and scrambled eggs. Everyone loves the eggs. Second is Mark: fresh duck egg pasta, with an egg and olive oil sauce. They are impressed that he made pasta one-handed. A couple of judges say it’s bland, and then he realizes he forgot the olive oil. For the pasta with egg and olive oil sauce. Anita: soft scrambled eggs and shiitake mushrooms with truffle oil and oyster sauce. They’re served in the egg shells. John has failed so badly only one is even partially done, the one he put on the stove. They are bored, except for Gail, who tastes burnt grease. Poor John.

Mark=2.5; John=.5; Douglas=3; Anita=5.

Elimination challenge: they must make dinner for Neil Patrick Harris. Oh, I love him. Oh, and some of his friends. At The Magic Castle. Kelly references how NPH loves magic, and she has someone to introduce their challenge. In walks some guy in black, with a very severe widow’s peak. He looks very much like a magician. He then proceeds to talk about how magic is like a recipe, etc., and then they have to pick cards which are blank, but of course then when they all look at them they have words. Mystery, Surprise, Spectacle, Illusion. These are supposedly the “ingredients” for magic. So now everyone has inspiration. That’s it? I thought they’d have to make food that looked like other food. Like when NPH was on “Dinner: Impossible” and they made ice cream hot dogs and meatloaf cake. Mmmm, meatloaf cake with mashed potato frosting and tomato syrup. I guess “illusion” counts for that. But I kind of wanted everyone to have to do it. They’ll have $250 and 2 hours here, and another hour at the location.

Mark has “mystery”, and he’s thinking about en papillote, which is where you cook things inside a parchment paper envelope so you can’t see it. John needs to get some crazy stuff for “surprise”, and he has been tempted by the liquid nitrogen in the Top Chef kitchen. Douglas has “spectacle”, and refuses to even elaborate on that in confessional. So that leaves Anita with “illusion”, and she’s thinking of using some seafood to make scallops. That’s it? No fake shapes? Man. Mark says Anita is the one to beat. Well, yes, since she got double the number of stars than you.

Holy crap, John in the Marines. That picture is crazy. He put that experience into good use after Katrina, cooking vats of food for people. Douglas still won’t say what he’s doing, except that it involves duck. Tom! Oh, you guys, Tom is here! He promises not to be a judge, but he’s just seeing what’s up. Oh, Tom, I missed you. Tom knows these guys, or at least John, so when he goes to talk to John he busts his balls for a while about his tableside horseradish sorbet. John claims to have done it before and Tom outright laughs at him. But I must say, horseradish sorbet is a total Iron Chef dish. They’re always making ice cream out of everything. Anita is using rice krispies. Mark admits to having watched the show and thought it was easy. Tom interviews that these four chefs have figured out something that regular “Top Chef” contestants sometimes never do: they don’t get bogged down in the challenge. They just cook and trust in the fact that their food will explain things. He’s sad that he can’t try anything tomorrow. Mark relates the clock to a Bond movie and talks about lasers and crotches. Finally Douglas lets us in on part of what he’s doing: flaming coconuts. No I am not kidding. He wants to smear sterno around the sides of the coconuts and light it on fire during service.

On the day of the challenge they get inside the Magic Castle, which looks like a Haunted Mansion rip off. I’m sorry but it does. It’s like, that level of “creepy”. John promises not to be boring. Anita likes her flavors but not her plating. Mark wants to serve early, because he’s done early, but he has to wait for another several minutes.

Gail is back for dinner! Yay! Mark serves first: tai snapper in parchment with garlic mashed potatoes and leeks. The “mystery” is that you don’t know what’s inside until you open it. Except that he just told you. Also there is scallion oil and dassai sake. It takes a minute to get inside but it’s very tasty. NPH loves sake. Second is John. He makes his crème fraiche and horseradish sorbet tableside, and he makes NPH help him by holding the bowl. Really it consists of pouring liquid nitrogen into the bowl so it’s not terribly exciting. The rest of the dishes are as follows: salmon tartare with a cauliflower blini, cucumber and salmon roe salad with the sorbet, and tempura fried lobster wrapped in smoked salmon. There are some surprises, with random flavors popping up. NPH is under impressed with the demo. Anita is third: braised daikon with kombu (seaweed) caviar and steak tartare inside the daikon. It really does look like a scallop. Underneath it looks like sand and shells but is cereal. Plus there is some shellfish broth. In terms of “illusion” it’s perfect, but some people are not impressed by daikon. NPH says it’s his favorite. Last is Douglas. Back in the kitchen he’s trying to light the coconuts and the other contestants kind of are afraid. He does warn everyone about the flaming coconuts. There are four dishes: oyster ceviche with duck broth, empanada with foie gras and figs, sliced duck breast with butternut squash, and inside the coconut is duck soup with duck confit and young coconut. Oo, duck confit. The presentation is impressive even without the fire, which didn’t work so well.

Commercial interlude: the dinner guests got a private magic show from some guy that for some reason was “Japanese” but just involved some Japanese sounding word. And a rabbit.

Oh, please let the presence of Gail improve the nonsense that is Critics’ Table. John is up first. Gael didn’t like the blini, because he made it ice cold and she said it was too cold. The sorbet wasn’t set enough but he liked the flavors. They rave about Anita’s fake scallop and we find out apparently only James poured her broth over the dish, which made it better. Douglas liked his dishes except for the coconut. James for some reason points out to Mark that he considers Mark’s food to be Mediterranean but this wasn’t, but in a good way? Man, that wasn’t any better than usual.

Gail thinks John did the best with the theme but maybe not the best with flavors. Anita’s dish was wonderful. Douglas’s dish didn’t come together. Backstage Douglas and Mark say that they’d do it again. Mark’s dish seemed simple but was really complex. James claims that Mark actually fit his theme word better than anyone. See, here’s the problem. After the chefs leave, that’s where the critics actually critique. Why can’t they do that to the chefs’ faces?

John ends up with 12 stars (ouch), Mark with 18.5, Douglas with 13 (damn), and Anita gets 22.5 so she’s the winner. Everyone had a good time. You know what? I hope that the first semi-final round, with all 6 of them, they bring in the other chefs from that episode to be like, sous chefs.

Next week: cook a 3 course meal for 100. By yourself.
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