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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