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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