Gael Greene puts the smackdown on the 'Top Chef Masters'

Anitalo_topchefmasters_290We've got the crème de la crème of the "Top Chef Masters" competitors -- so you'd think everyone there would know how to cook food properly. Apparently not.

The competitors:

Hubert Keller, French chef, mad genius, won his spot by cooking fab pasta in a dorm shower. Hopefully the diners ran through their entire course of antibiotics by now.
Suzanne Tracht, soft-spoken inventor of the modern steakhouse. She wowed the judges with her Lost supper/holiday dinner.
Rick Bayless, Chicago-based master of Mexican fine dining. He made beef tongue tacos that had the punters lining up for more.
Anita Lo, who melds Asian ingredients with French techniques. Her faux scallop stuffed with steak tartare was magically delicious
Michael Chiarello, the cookbook author and TV chef who went back to the restaurant to show the young guys how it's done. The judges flipped for his appetizers.
Art Smith, another Chicagoan (whoo-hoo!) who serves as Oprah's personal chef for years before opening his own place. He's the official court jester of the group - but a court jester who can cook.


Quickfire:
The mise en place relay, which is always fun because most of these chefs haven't done prep work for years. Suzanne and Hubert tied on the oyster shucking, but Art pulled ahead of Hubert with his innovative onion-chopping technique. Anita butchered chicken with a vengeance, but Michael was close behind. It came down to our Chicago chefs going mano a mano as they separated and whipped eggs -- and Rick emerged victorious.

The elimination
The chefs got to prepare a signature dish to share with their compatriots. Surely this is completely innocent and has not bearing on the competition, right? Hah! After dining, they discover that the challenge is to take another chefs' signature dish and put their own spin on it. "That's just mean!" Rick says, aghast.

Well, suck it up, Rick, because that's what we've got. Hubert chooses to swap dishes with Anita, while Art is paired with Suzanne and Michael is paired with Rick. Let the games begin!

Hubert originally prepared a very fancy, very French, lobster and truffle cappuccino with a corn Madeleine. Anita had made a seared sea scallop with potato puree, bacon and sea urchin. Hubert Frenchified Anita's dish, making a sea urchin cream and using fingerling rather than mashed potatoes. Anita Asians up Hubert's dish. The cappuccino is replaced by a corn chawanmusi (a Japanese custard), and the lobster is presented in a fluffy biscuit (which is not particularly Asian, but highly yummy.)

Suzanne had made what amounted to a really high-end burger -- chopped sirloin with green peppercorn sauce and a friend egg -- so Art decides to make it ... well, moderately terrifying. He creates what looks like a baseball-size hunk of chopped lamb around a cooked egg. However, he makes spicy sweet potato fries, and that absolves a multitude of sins. Suzanne apparently thought Art's original dish -- seared grouper with hearts of palm -- wasn't refined enough, and she wants to fancy it up b adding gnocchi, peas, bacon and parsnips. Hey Suzanne -- Art's version is good enough for the Obamas, so maybe you should dial it back a bit?

Michael is moderately freaked about being paired with Rick, and he decides to make the dish -- rack of lamb with chili and figs -- completely his own. There's lamb and figs, but no Mexican influence at all. Rick goes the other direction -- he keeps the Italian bent, but does it his way. "I decided to take the flavors Michael had an do them the way I might do them for friends if I was cooking in my backyard." Not to self: Must crash Bayless barbecues, because that quail with parsnips, pirouette and greens looked phenomenal.

The judges loved everything about Anita and Rick's dishes, but Anita comes out one star ahead. She wins this round. Hubert is close behind them, and Michael is not far behind. Suzanne and Art face off in the bottom, and Suzanne's overcook fish proves to be her downfall. She goes home.

Highlights, thoughts and odds and ends

  • Art drops things a LOT. He seems to be a strong proponent of the five-second rule. I want to visit his restaurant, but I'm a bit leery now.
  • Art calls Rick his nemesis. They do seem to be polar opposites in personality.
  • Gael is horrified by Art's dish -- "he grotesque, huge ball of undercooked lamb with the egg in the middle was just terrifying." And yet he stayed and Suzanne went. Huh. I think it's his fries that saved him.
  • The judges praise Anita's biscuits and ask if there's a secret Southern background they don't know about. Well, my mom when to school in Tennessee, she tells them. I guess that's enough,
  • When Michael discusses his dish with the judges, he talks a lot about Rick's original inspiration. "SO in this challenge, you cared more about what Rick thought than we did?" Jay asks. Michael thinks for a moment. "Yes!" he says. All righty then!
  • Art bemoans his scotch egg. "I've had issues with eggs, ok? I've had so many issues I could LAY an egg!"

What's your take? Did the right chef leave? Talk about it in the comments!

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