And we have finally arrived at the Champions Round. Thank God. After four episodes where we had to juggle four to six chefs coming in and out each week, we now have a set group of Masters who we can get to know as their numbers slowly dwindle. Just the way we like it.
Top Chef Masters Recap
By Jason Lee
May 9, 2010
Our final eight Masters (incidentally, eight seems like a lot. We only had six last year) include:
Susan Feniger, the lovable, kooky old lady
Tony Mantuano, Italian master
Marcus Samuelsson, whom I’m starting to detest for his overwhelming ego
Jonathan Waxman, aka Obi-Wan Kenobi
Rick Moonen, high-strung seafood master
Jody Adams, an adorable grandma-type
Susur Lee, the eccentric asian
Carmen Gonzalez, she forgot her stew back at the kitchen
Should be a fun bunch. I’m looking forward to this.
The Masters start off their Quickfire by picking pots (apparently, this is their equivalent to drawing knives) and inside each one is an apron of either red or blue hue. The Masters will be competing in two teams of four, and the challenge is...
THE BLINDFOLDED TAG TEAM COOK-OFF.
Oh my god. I love this challenge. This was debuted in Season 6, with Jen’s team bringing home the bacon (of course, they subsequently crashed and burned in Restaurant Wars, but whatever). Kelly warns the chefs that this will not be easy, noting that cheftestant Kevin last year called this “the most insane one, ever.” Rick judged the actual Quickfire and he’s intimidated. I can’t wait.
The Blue Team is comprised of Susan, Jody, Rick and Jonathan. The Red Team is comprised of Tony, Carmen, Susur and Marcus. Susan looks over at the Red Team and notes that it’s filled with intense chefs. “I’m thinking that they’ll kick our butts,” she admits.
Scared Susan goes first for her team, while Tony starts for the Red. Susan immediately goes for the seafood since Rick is an expert in that cuisine. Tony does a lot of prep work for the next chef.
Jody follows Susan, while Carmen follows Tony. Jody tries to interpret Susan’s “clues,” and preps some prosciutto to go with the fish. She also remembers watching the Tag Team QF on TV and follows in Jen’s footsteps by prepping a sauce. She also starts the mussels cooking, which makes Susan antsy because they might get overcooked. Meanwhile, Carmen, noting that Tony is an Italian master, tries to take their fish in an Italian direction.
Rick follows Susan, and Susur follows Carmen. Rick is intimidated by the mess on his station, but concludes that the dish in progress is a bouillabaisse (fish soup). Very smart. Susur finds that all the prepped ingredients are limited in flavor and starts throwing things into the dish.
Meanwhile, Jonathan (the final chef for the Blue Team) is sweating, literally, in his blindfold. He admits that he suffers from claustrophobia and is having a hard time with not being able to see. In fact, he looks like he’s about to faint.
Finally, it’s his turn and he shucks the blindfold, while next to him, Marcus A-Hole Samuelsson starts up. Jonathan figures out the dish after some pensive pacing and adds some butter for flavor and to mellow the acid. Marcus starts plating his dish, commenting that he believes that his “artistic flair” his really brought the dish alive on the plate. Before you know it, time is up.
Wow, that was intense.
The dishes will be judged by Top Chef Masters critic, Jay Rayner. He tries the Red Team’s dish of pan seared sea bass with truffle scented shellfish broth and prosciutto. The bass is well-cooked, through the prosciutto is a little grey. He also doesn’t understand how the two components of the dish are supposed to work together, though they taste good.
The Blue Team presents a mussel and scallop stew with fennel. Jay notes that this team’s scallop is cooked better than the other team’s, and that the mussels are perfectly cooked (whew, Susan is relieved). He notes that there’s a bitterness to the flavor – not that the bitterness is BAD per se, it’s just “pronounced.” Jonathan, watching backstage with his team, takes credit for that, saying that he added some fennel at the last minute.
I love this challenge, it’s so much fun.
The verdict is in: the Red Team gets 4 stars and the Blue Team gets 4 ½ stars. Victory blue! Susan is excited to win money for her charity, Susur is pissed off that he lost yet another Quickfire.
And things only get better for us viewers. The Elimination Challenge will keep the Masters in their teams because we’re doing WEDDING WARS. Oh my god, I love this challenge. It’s so tough but so much fun. I remember how utterly exhausted the chefs from Season 1 looked after cooking all night, and I remember the chaos of Season 4 where Stephanie made a beautiful looking cake. And of course, there were the dueling bachelor and bachelorette parties from last season (which Bryan won).
Of course, the Masters are NOT HAPPY at all. They think this will be tough, and they say this will be grueling. The producers of Top Chef Masters don’t help, as they air a montage of different chefs from different wedding-related challenges complaining about how tired they are. F*.
But these Masters have no choice. They’ll be catering a wedding for 150 guests, one team cooking for the groom and the other for the bride. Oh yeah, and they BOTH have to make a wedding cake. Double F***.
The happy (?) couple enters and announces that they’re getting married tomorrow. Silence. The happy (?) couple notes that they’re not sure who’s more scared: the Masters or them.
Aaron, the groom, goes ahead and tells the Masters that he’s a “steak and potatoes” kind of guy - specifically, potatoes au gratin or fillets. Elizabeth, the bride, loves French and Asian food. Since the Blue Team won, they get to choose who they’ll be cooking for. I hope that the Blue Team chooses Elizabeth so that Susur can’t just take over and cook Asian. They DO choose Elizabeth, and Marcus is the one who’s pissed. Because she gave them two different types of cuisine, he argues, they have more flexibility in coming up with their menu.
The teams collaborate further with their diner. Aaron is Jewish, which means no pork (to the detriment of Carmen). Elizabeth doesn’t like shellfish. “What if I made a fish dish that didn’t taste fishy?” he asks.
“SHUT UP, RICK!” I yell at the TV. “SHE DOESN’T LIKE SHELLFISH.”
Aaron wants his wedding cake to be made of carrot cake (what a weirdo) and Elizabeth likes bananas foster (“but we need a cake, too,” notes Jody). This is gonna be tough for all involved.
A frenetic montage of shopping (Restaurant Depot and grocery stores) take place next. It’s so jumbled and frantic and fast-paced and full of edits that I actually thought that it was a promo for what would happen “after this commercial break.” But no, that’s actually how they edited the sequence. Weird.
The Masters return to the kitchen for six hours of cooking. That certainly seems like a long time to me (it’s too long to do ANYTHING continuously, except maybe play Final Fantasy XIII) but the Masters argue that it’s not enough time to really get their dishes ready.
There’s a good amount of drama going on. Many Masters are second-guessing the choices of their fellow team members (Jonathan doesn’t like the cut of beef that Marcus chose, Carmen is concerned that the beef is going to be too spicy for the groom) while others are struggling with dishes that they’ve never made before (Susur has never baked carrot cake but he’s giving it a go, and Jody has never made bananas foster but she’ll do her darndest).
Finally, we’re at the wedding, though the Masters look absolutely beat. Jonathan is “pretty-ing” up Susan’s cake, but it looks absolutely disgusting. Seriously. It looks like one of the most horrific dishes that I’ve ever seen on Top Chef. It’s revolting. It looks like a cake in the shape of a Mayan temple ate a lot of berries and frosting, and then threw up on itself.
Meanwhile, Susur’s desserts look amazing.
The Critics arrive just in time for hors d'oeuvres, and luckily, they’re fantastic all around. The Red Team has a lobster roll (“delicious,” says Jay) and some seared tuna (“sophisticated,” says James) from Marcus, and a crab cake (“nice,” says Jay) from Carmen. The Blue Team has a potato fritter from Susan (“perfection,” says James), a savory pancake from Jonathan (“very, very good,” says Jay) and some pancetta (“I like it a lot,” says Gael) from Jody.
Onto the entrees. The Blue Team brings out roasted chicken from Jonathan, a seafood mixed grill from Rick, and lamb with a medley of vegetables from Jody. Jody’s dish, in particular, is risky because the bridge said that she doesn’t like lamb. Luckily for her, it pays off. The bride LOVES the lamb, and James calls it “shockingly good.” The roast chicken also draws compliments “[Jonathan] is the master of chicken,” says Gael, though Rick’s seafood is too sweet.
The Red Team has flaming ouzo shrimp and au gratin potatoes from Jonathan, plus pasta with fire roasted potatoes (three dishes in all). That gets paired with Carmen’s corn salsa. Marcus has a roasted beef tenderloin. The potatoes and shrimp from Jonathan get rave reviews, though his rigatoni pasta is overcooked. The corn from Carmen is good, but James isn’t sure what it’s designed to be paired with. Finally, Marcus’ beef is mushy.
Since the entrees and hors d’oeuvres were so good, I think it might come down to the dessert course for the win. The Blue Team brings out their barfy Mayan temple cake, which is roundly criticized as being too dry, and Jody’s bananas foster, which are “something special,” according to James. Meanwhile, Susur has created not one, not two, but FOUR dishes including two cakes. There’s a French wedding cake, an upside down raisin pudding, chocolate cream for the kids, plus carrot cake. It’s amazing.
The Critics start discussing who should win, and Gael is torn because the entrees from the Blue Team were so good, but their desserts were a mess, while the Red Team had great desserts.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Blue Team won anyways.
The Blue Team gets called before Critics Table and indeed, they have won. I whoop and thrust my fist into the air before predicting that Jody, with her risky lamb and delicious bananas foster, will win the challenge. AND SHE DOES! W00t!
The Blue Team heads back and sends the Red Team in so that they can enjoy a rich round of criticism. I’m personally worried for Carmen because she spent most of the challenge helping out her other Masters instead of cooking her own dishes. She was the organizer, the runner, and the spare hand. While this might have made things easier for her teammates, it meant that she didn’t put out very much. And that’s almost always a disastrous mistake on Top Chef.
And yes, she gets called out on that. While her crab cake was a “perfect example” of the dish and her corn was great, they knock her for not putting out more in 12 hours. Marcus and Tony stand up for her, saying that she was a team player and had an important role, but Gael points out that she didn’t put out a dish that showed “Carmen” the Master.
As for the other chefs, Marcus gets slammed for his overly-sweet, mushy beef tenderloin, Tony gets compliments for his shrimp and potatoes but hammered for his overcooked pasta, and Susur...well, the Critics mostly stand in awe of how many desserts he was able to put out.
So we know that Tony and Susur are safe, and it sounds like it’ll come down to Carmen and Marcus. And I’m praying that Marcus is the one who goes home.
Tony gets 3 ½ stars from Gael, 4 ½ from Jay and 4 from James. The diners gave him 3 stars for a total of 15. He’s totally safe.
Susur gets 4 ½ stars from Gael, 4 from Jay and 3 ½ from James. The diners gave him 4, so he tops Tony with 16. Safe again.
Carmen gets 2 stars from Jay, 2 ½ from James and 2 ½ from Gael. The diners gave her 4 stars, which totals 11. Sigh. There is no way Marcus gets less than that.
Marcus gets 3 stars from all three judges, plus 4 ½ from the diners. He has 13 ½ and is going onto the next round. Carmen is going home.
Carmen kind of anticipated this result, I think, and as a result, she’s not overly depressed. She confides in her interview that her main regret is that she’s going home for something she didn’t cook, instead of something she cooked. She wishes that she had taken more of a risk.
I feel the same way. She admitted to the Critics earlier in the episode that she didn’t take a prominent role in cooking because she thought that her Puerto Rican style of cooking might have been too spicy or too strong for Mr. Meat and Potatoes Groom. While she might have been right, I wish she had taken a page from Jody’s book and just cooked something that she knew would taste good.
Oh well, Carmen goes home and the show goes on.