This week’s episode of Top Chef: Masters Season 2 sees the return of six chefs who competed during the show’s inaugural season to varying degrees of success. Despite the fact that we supposedly “know” these chefs already, the opening sequence is burdened (as always) with too many chefs who we don’t have a chance to get to know before they start cooking. For a third week, I’m reduced to having to write things like “fat, old chef” in my notes because I don’t have a chance to look up their name.
Top Chef Masters Recap
By Jason Lee
April 26, 2010
For the record, the six returning chefs are Rick Moonen from Vegas, Wylie Dufresne from NYC, Graham Elliot Bowles from Chicago, Jonathan Waxman from NYC, Mark Peel from LA, and our loud-mouthed, annoying, antagonistic Frenchman, Ludo Lefebvre (affectionately known as Pepe le Pew).
The Quickfire this week is a repeat of one done in Season 3, where the chefs had to create a dish to pair with a classic cocktail (for those interested, Kasey won that one). The chefs sample five or six different cocktails (what a way to start the day at 8:00 am in the morning), trying to decide which cocktail they’d like to tackle.
Throwing another wrench into things, Kelly lets the diners know that they won’t be cooking for “foodies,” per se. Instead, they’ll get a group of judges who are extremely well-versed in the world of cocktails: the Real Housewives of Orange County. And Gael Greene, for some reason.
I’ll say right now that I have never, ever watched an episode of any Real Housewives show on Bravo, and I hope that by the time I die, I can still say that in all truthfulness. I’ll admit, however, that the cynical, stereotypical part of my personality assumes that these women, based on their moniker, have a pretty good idea of what goes well with cocktails - unless they’ve had so many that they only know what food tastes like coming back up after a number of cocktails. If that were the case, it’d explain why these Orange County women look so thin.
But I digress. There are a number of intriguing subplots going on during the Quickfire. Jonathan Waxman, the “fat, old chef” I’d mentioned before, is theorizing that these Housewives would probably like a dish that’s simpler and less complicated than what his fellow chefs are trying to create. Thus, he finishes his pork tenderloin 20 minutes early and lounges around for the rest of the time.
Rick is making something that looks very dessert-y, Wylie is intent on beating his friend Graham, and Ludo is busy making snide, French remarks about everyone else. Finally, it’s time to eat. The Housewives look hungry and Gael is wearing an enormous pink hat.
Wylie has paired a Russian Tea Room with a dish of arctic char, lentils and lemon yogurt. The Housewives love the pairing, though Gael finds the alcohol and fish a strange pairing.
Jonathan has a lemongrass mojito plus a pork tenderloin and avocado butter. According to Gael, the pork is perfectly cooked, though one of the Housewives admits that she doesn’t like pork very much at all.
Mark has a ginger dingle paired with a mussel custard and kaffir lime. Gael loves the texture of the custard but one of the Housewives doesn’t like the ginger in the kish. “Isn’t there ginger in the cocktail?” asks Kelly, trying to guide the Housewife into understanding the point of the ginger in the dish. The Housewife expresses surprise when she concludes that there IS ginger in the drink.
Rick has a beautiful dish of cream biscuit and berry shortcake to pair with a frozen fruit cocktail (whose color is described by a chef as “puréed birthday cake”). All the girls think it’s fabulous.
Much to the disappointment of Graham, his dish is served next, taking the girls from dessert to raw fish. He presents a crudo of black cod with edamame with a Corriander Mule cocktail. One of the girls doesn’t even know how to pronounce edamame. The onion is strong but the pairing is nice.
Finally, we have the Frenchie Ludo, who has a nutmeg apple mojito to go with his roasted pork chop with rosemary. Gael says that the almonds and ginger is too much. The girls don’t like the pairing of the sweet pork and the mojito. Ludo complains that the girls don’t know what they’re talking about.
In a total surprise, five of the chefs tied with four stars each, while one chef got a perfect score of five stars. I thought that Rick would be the winner, but it turns out to be Jonathan. Smart man. He decided to go simple and it worked out well for him.
The Elimination Challenge is similarly straightforward: take a traditional pub dish and make it into an upscale dish that they’d be proud to serve in their own restaurants. There’s a bunch of dishes to choose from (fish and chips, toad in a hole, etc.) and as the winner, Jonathan gets to choose first. He picks Shepherd’s Pie. The rest of the chefs argue about which one they want, leading to bickering between Ludo and Rick over who gets fish and chips.
Ludo is adamant that Rick should not get fish and chips, as he’s known as being a great seafood chef. “He needs to cook something that is uncomfortable to him!” he explodes in his interview. In the end, he decides not to put up a huge fuss and lets Rick take fish and chips.
The chefs head to Whole Foods to shop for ingredients. Ludo is still pissed off. When Wylie thinks that he’s having trouble reading the English labels, he tells Ludo that a bag of carrots says “carrots.” Ludo retorts “yeah, why don’t you take some carrots home tonight and enjoy yourself?” Wow, this show is all of a sudden Homo-Erotic Chef Masters.
All suggestions of sodomy aside, the chefs head to the kitchen to prep for two hours. The next day, they head over to a great Irish pub in LA to finish off their dishes. It’s a pretty small space (“a cage,” says Ludo) and tempers flare. In the final minutes of cooking, Ludo asks to use part of Graham’s station and the latter man blows up. My, my.
Meanwhile, the Yorkshire pudding part of Mark Peel’s dish has not set, due to a faulty oven. “If my dish were a car in a NASCAR race,” he laments, “it would have crashed, flipped over onto the roof, and burst into flames. It’s a disaster.” I feel really bad for the guy.
Ludo serves first and calls his plate “a work of art.” Unfortunately, his Irish stew with beef tenderloin, potatoes confit and roasted peanuts with miso is not well received. Gael questions why some of the vegetables are uncooked, and Jay says that the dish would only be okay in a pub (not an upscale restaurant, like the challenge stipulated).
Rick presents his fish and chips, with chicken-fried sable fish, lemon confit tartar sauce, twice friend potatoes and fennel slaw. Jay calls it a great piece of fried fish, though Gail thinks that the cooled potatoes are too hard.
Wylie feels good about his dish, saying that his transformed bangers and mash is actually recognizable as bangers and mash. His new dish has smoked mashed potatoes, onion jus, snow peas and banger sausage. Gael loves the spiciness of the sausage and Jay agrees that it’s recognizable as the original dish.
Graham’s steak and kidney pie is beautiful. He used roasted beef tenderloin, chanterelle purée, plus a bacon and kidney vinaigrette. Graham is not a fan of the flavor of kidney and so he did his best to minimize it. Gael compliments the doneness of the beef but says she “doesn’t know why he had to kill the flavor of kidney, it’s a wonderful flavor.”
Mark Peel’s toad in a hole disaster is up next. He made his own seafood sausage with an onion sauce and lobster broth with mustard greens, but the Yorkshire pudding at the bottom is horrible. There are some things to like (the sauce, the greens, etc.) but no one can get over the pudding.
Lastly, we have Jonathan. He’s worried about coming out on the bottom because he lacks the flair of the other chefs. He has a shepherd’s pie with lamb, mashed potatoes and parmesan cheese. That’s it. It’s plated like a Salisbury steak you’d see at Denny’s. Gael says that the lamb could not be juicer and Jay says that he’s captured the essence of Shepherd’s pie.
We head back to the Top Chef: Masters kitchen to watch the Masters talk things over with the critics, but we have to endure one more spat with Ludo, who is still pissed about having to do Irish Stew instead of fish and chips. He bitches at Rick, who tries to suggest ways he could have revamped Irish stew but cannot be heard over Ludo’s complaints. Finally, Rick bangs his hand loudly on the table and roars, “I’M TALKING HERE.” It’s a pretty distasteful part of the episode.
Finally, the Masters are brought back in front of the critics. Ludo’s Irish stew was unrecognizable as Irish stew, Mark’s Yorkshire pudding was a disaster, Jonathan’s Shepherd’s pie was flavorful and robust, Wylie’s banger sausage was dry, Graham destroyed the flavor of the kidneys, Rick’s potato slices were too thick.
In the end, experience triumphed. According to Gail, Jonathan’s shepherd’s pie was a joy to eat and will be the standard by which she judges all future shepherd’s pie. She gives him 4 ½ stars, Gael gives him 5 stars and Jay gives him 4 ½. The diners give him 4 ½ stars, for a total of 18 ½ stars. WOW. Easily the highest score of the season and Jonathan wins this thing.
But we have one more spot to give out. It won’t be Mark Peel, with his disastrous toad in a hole. He gets 3 stars from Jay, 2 ½ from Gail and 3 stars from Gael. He gets a slap-in-the-face 1 star from the diners for a total of 9 ½. Poor guy. He’s pretty devastated by the 1 star rating from the diners.
Gail says that Ludo’s dish was beautiful but had no context, giving him 3 stars. Gael gives him 3, Jay gives him 3 but the diners give him 2 stars. He has a total of 11.
Graham had some lovely beef but Gael chides him for fearing the taste of kidney. She gives him 3 ½ stars, Jay gives him 2 ½ stars, and Gail gives him 3 stars. The diners gave him 4 ½ stars (they must hate the flavor of kidney, too) for a total of 13 ½ stars.
Gael calls Wylie’s dish “gently gentrified” and gives him 4 stars. Jay gives him 3 ½ stars and Gail gives him 3 ½ stars. With 3 ½ stars from the diners, he has 14 ½ total, one better than his friend/rival Graham.
It’s up to Rick. He’s the only one who can beat Wylie. Jay says that his fish and chips brought some much needed glamour to Britain’s national dish, giving him 4 stars. Gail gave him 4 stars and Gael gave him 4 stars. Last season, he didn’t put out a Quickfire dish, sinking him in the overall standings, but there’s no such slip-up this time around. He gets 4 stars from the diners for a total of 16. He’s moving onto the Finale.
As the Masters pack up their things and profess their enjoyment of the day, I brace myself for an ending rant from Ludo. He’s actually not bad – he says that he doesn’t regret coming back for Top Chef: Masters 2, though he won’t give up. “Even if it takes until Top Chef: Masters 10, I won’t give up,” he promises.
The question is how many chefs will he have to piss off along the way.