Saturday, June 27, 2009

Top Chef Masters – It’s An Offal-Ly Close Race, Plus Is The French Way Always Better?

Top Chef Masters - Offal Tasty

Still no Michael Chiarello. Gosh, they’re making us wait a long time.

The first chef this week is Wilo Benet. I love him. From his first word, “Hola”, he seems so cute and kind. He’s the Chef/Proprietor of Pikayo in Puerto Rico, as well as a couple of others. Tom says he is Puerto Rico’s first celebrity chef.

Cindy Pawlcyn is the chef of Mustard’s Grill in the Napa Valley. She’s been cooking since she was 13 and she’s playing for Clinica Olé.

Ludovic Lefebvre is the French chef/owner of Ludo Bites in Los Angeles. He’s got that kind of Zac Efron hair that’s plastered on his head and in his face. (I’m a HUGE Zac Efron fan, I just don’t like the hair.) Ludo's charity is C.H.A.S.E. for Life.

Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo is the last chef. Everyone knows Rick Bayless - the master of Mexican cooking. His charity is the Frontera Farmer Foundation, which gives grants to small farmers.

Kelly comes in. Rick is so friendly and open. He says he’s a bit nervous to be cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen and that it’s much easier to be judge. Wilo smiles. Ludo kind of frowns in disagreement. I’m guessing he would never admit to any weakness.

They have to draw knives. They’re all different colors. They have to create a dish using ingredients of that single color. The judges for this Quickfire are Chris Oliver - food stylist, Joann Cianciulli - cookbook author and Christina Peters - food photographer. Obviously, the presentation of the dish will be as important as the taste in this challenge. They have 30 minutes.

Cindy’s worried because she says she’s older than the others and not as fast as she used to be. I think she looks pretty tough and she IS cool. She says she’s stubborn and determined and that’s how she became a chef in the days when there weren’t many women chefs.

Rick is amused because he describes himself as “the king of slow food”.

I can’t but think that Ludo’s Frehhh-nschh accent is un petit exaggerated and he has an ego to match. That should make him an awful lot of fun to watch, especially if he loses. He says the training in France is very, very tough and you’re under a tremendous amount of pressure. He says he used to go home at night and cry after days working with Alain Passard.

Rick is happy he got the color green, which is the color of his favorite foods. He tells us he grew up in Oklahoma City in his parents barbecue restaurant. He says that Mexican cooking is often done in an “intuitive style”, which he tries to emulate.

They rush around to finish before time’s up. Merde! Ludo is mad because he forgot the tomato on the plate. Well, Frenchie, let’s see how well you do now.

(You know that I hold French cuisine at the very top of the pack and I think the French have an inherent sense of taste and style. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be ribbed for their – not completely unjustified - hubris.)

Ludo - Red

Steak Tartare With Watermelon, Red Onions & Red Beet Gazpacho

The waiter forgot to bring out Ludo’s beet gazpacho. Well, THAT’S not fair. The judges say the tartare is amazing. He gets the waiter to bring out the sauce, They pour it over and they actually prefer it the other way. One says it looks like blood.

Cindy - Yellow

Yellow Vegetable Curry Over Sweet Corn Grits & Fried Corn Tortillas

One judge loved the different shades of yellow and different texture throughout the dish.

Rick - Green

Roasted Vegetables, Molé Verde With Tomatillos, Green Chilies & Pumpkin Seeds

One says it’s complex, another says very tasty.


Smoked Salmon Tartare With Coconut Milk & Tomato Paste Sauce

Judge: I love the color and the texture. She does wonder whether the steel ring should have been left on. Of course, it shouldn’t have. Wilo! You messed up. They LOVE the flavor…maybe the most of any dish. Wilo laments that leaving the steel ring on is like wearing a tuxedo with the dry cleaning tag hanging out.

The results:

Ludo - 3 stars

Cindy - 3½ stars

Rick - 4 stars

Wilo - 4½ stars

Ludo is mad. Wilo says he feels lucky to have won. His charity is the San Jorge Children’s Research Foundation. He’s sweet.

The Elimination Challenge is to create a street food dish that will be served to people…on the street, I guess…at Universal Studios. The catch is that they’ll have to convince the public to eat something a little more adventurous than normal.

Uh-oh what is it? It can’t be a domesticated animal, I suppose, but maybe something gross that is found under the sea. Maybe something slimy and jellied. Dunno…

Oh gosh, it IS some kind of protein and they draw knives to see what they get.

Wilo gets beef hearts. The Frenchman should have gotten that. He probably eats them for breakfast. Cindy likes offal. Rick gets tongue and he says he actually loves to eat tongue. (I ate it as a kid. It really does have great flavor and makes a great sandwich.)

Cindy gets tripe. She’s not bothered. Ludo has Pig’s ears. Rick says (to us) better him than me, because he’s never cooked them before.

Ludo is fine. “I like zat. I use ZAT in France.” Actually his accent is a bit less strong than before. Then he adds (in a VERY Frehhh-nschh accent),”If you want to be the master, you need to know about food. I know how to cook a pig ear…I know all these things.” Harrumph to you too, buddy! Oh, this is funny, Bravo thinks we’re so uncultured that they put subtitles in English under Ludo as he speaks.

They have $300 and 45 minutes to shop and 3 hours to prep and one hour the next day.

At Whole Foods, Ludo asks Rick for advice about Mexican cheese. Rick thinks (to himself) that that’s a bad idea for Ludo. It’s nice, they all help each other. Cindy is hilarious. I’m picking her early. She says she started a club back home called “Girls who eat guts”, where she and her friends go out and eat offal, so she should be fine.

Ludo finds out Rick is doing tacos. Merde again.

Cindy is concerned that she’s using a pressure cooker. Rick is amused. He helps her.

Ludo starts a vegetable broth. Wilo has never cooked beef hearts before. He slices them thin. Rick is happy, because he has more time to cook in his style of bringing lots of flavors together. Ludo is freaking out, and the others help him. He wants nothing to do with that.

Wilo is so darling talking about his charity, which is a hospital for children with terminal illnesses.

Cindy is smart to do a soup, so there's no problem getting it all ready. Ludo is behind and has so much to cook and get ready at the last minute.

Rick – Tongue

Chorizo, Bacon & Tongue Tacos With Guacamole & Pickled Onions

It looks great. Rick finds it hard to serve and talk and sell the tongue, but he does a great job. Kelly comes over and introduces the critics. Same old, same old.

James: Wow! This is brilliant. Melt in your mouth tender. Jay agrees. Gael: I definitely would have a second.

Wilo - Heart

Beef, Ham & Chicken “Tripleta” In Pita Bread

I wonder if he’ll get marked down for mixing the heart with other proteins.

The crowd loves it. He has a whole rhythm going. I like him. One person says, “I think I can feel it beating in my mouth.” Eww.

James: Too much topping for me. Gael says you can’t even get into it. Jay: There are lots of textures in here. James says this is really tender compared to other hearts he’s eaten. There has to be something wrong with that sentiment. Jay is impressed that he hasn’t slopped on his shirt.

Ludo – Pig Ear

Pork Quesadilla With Chorizo, Pinto Bean Puree, Lime Aioli & Smoked Paprika

THAT sounds fantastic, but Ludo is having a problem getting the food cooked in time. Usually, he says he has five guys helping him. The judges approach and when his food isn’t ready, he tells them about the Frehhh-nschh way he’s cooked the pig’s ears. Ludo is trying to charm Gael with his accent. The guys are getting fed up at having to wait for their food.

James: “The texture of the pig’s ear itself is very appealing.” Now when was the last time you heard THAT? Jay: It is. It’s a satisfying mouthful.

Cindy – Tripe (Stomach)

Hot & Spicy Menudo

She tells folks that it’s a great hangover cure. They like it. Jay is surprised that it’s a little under-seasoned. James agrees, but says the tripe itself is terrific. Gael: Sweet and tender.

The public rates the dishes. The chefs all feel they did well. Ludo really wants to beat Rick, the King of Mexican food. He says that would be BIG for him. Ludo says (to us), “Let’s go, let’s go. Give me my score and tell me I win.” Rick, meanwhile, says he had a blast.

Back at the Critics Table, Ludo explains how he made his dish. He wanted to serve it in a familiar way that wouldn’t scare people away. Gael says that was a wonderful choice.

James does his thing of HOW did you cook that and then asks for the ingredients in the broth in which the pig’s ears were cooked.. Heaven forbid, he should guess something and be wrong. It is interesting to learn, though, that Ludo put turnips in his court-bouillon. James says he would have expected to get a lot more of those strong flavors on his palate, but he didn’t. That's a bad thing, apparently.

James says Cindy’s tripe was tender, even though she was worried about it not having enough cooking time. Gael liked that it was “a hot stew on a cold day”. Jay asks her if she “stinted” on her seasonings, because she was nervous about the public not liking the tripe in the first place. Cindy says she “was trying to make the world’s most introductory menudo”. Jay says the broth was under-seasoned and under-flavored. Pooh.

Rick was happy to get tongue. Kelly says she loved the Cotija cheese. Jay wonders if the dish couldn’t have used more acidity. Rick says that’s what the tomatillo guacamole was for. James says the tongue was cooked brilliantly and he loved the whole dish.

James asks Wilo how the meat is traditionally prepared for a tripleta. He says it’s not usually as finely julienned as he did it here. James says heating the pita would have been time well-spent. Gael loved the spicy mayonnaise in the bottom of the pita pocket.

The chefs go back to the kitchen with a full bar waiting for them. The critics go at it. James says Cindy’s menudo was “weak in the knees”. He says it’s got to have punch.

Remember how I wondered in the first Top Chef Masters if these published critics would be up to producing appropriate sound bites. They’re doing a good job.

Rick says (in the kitchen) that it was all harder than he thought it would be. He opens some wine.

Gael loved Wilo’s pita, which served as a cup. James says he cut the heart too thin to really taste it.

Gael though Wilo’s dish was perfect. Jay says it was a big, bright, wonderful mouthful. James: Absolutely delicious. Wilo’s winning, that’s my guess.

James thinks Ludo’s dish didn’t work, but Jay says he had the toughest ingredient to work with and he did a pretty good job.

They combine the Diners’ scores (that’s the public) with the Critics scores and the points they got in the Quickfire.


Diners’ – 3½ stars

Critics – 4, 3, 3 stars

Total 16½


Diners’ – 3 stars

Critics – 2½ 3½, 3

Total – 15½

Cindy is excused to go back to the kitchen.


Diners’ – 4 stars

Critics – 5, 5, 4½

Total – 22½ stars

Ludo is told to go back to the kitchen.


Diners’ – 4 stars

Critics – 4, 4, 3

Total – 19½ stars

Rick wins. He’s thrilled that the $10,000 donation to the Frontera Farmer’s Foundation “will change lives for people”. What a good guy. Rick says he played to his strengths, which all his chefs at home had told him to do. Wilo and Rick hug. Ludo wants to come back to Top Chef Masters 2. They’re all quite chummy. It’s nice.

Ummm, I don’t see Michael Chiarello in the next group either when they show the previews. They’re really holding out on us until the last minute.

I think they’re doing a really good job with this show. Even at the beginning of each episode, when I’m bummed that MC isn’t on, they somehow still get me to watch. I love chefs anyway and I'm fascinated by the snapshots we get of their personalities. Are they accurate? I don’t know, but it’s fun to see a chef you admire in a different (and sometimes difficult) situation. And, as we all know, if it's caught on film it must be true.


A_and_N said...

Hey, did you miss out on that other guy - Wylie?

Sue said...

Hey, A and N, get with it!

That was SO last week. ;-)

Shays’ Rebel said...

What a show! One of my earliest memories is riding around with my aunt and uncle and they had what looked like an industrial sized jar of pickled pigs feet, soda crackers, and a fork. They fed me that!

And Ludo: “Don’t tell me how to kook!” I’m convinced that God invented the French so life would be less boring for the rest of us. After Ludo told Rick what he was making, he thought Rick stole his idea; he thought Jay would be harder on him than the other judges because, you know, “he’s Eenglish, I’m Freench.” (I guess eight centuries of war would put a strain on ANY relationship.) Then Jay turned out to give him the highest score he received.

If offal tastes as good as the judges say it does, why don’t more people eat it? I won’t. I don’t care who kooks it. But it DID make a good show.

Nandini Vishwanath said...

Sue! I'm so sorry I'm late! :)

I love your blog though I've not commented before :D

Nandini Vishwanath said...

Err.. that was me, A&N (gosh, delete this comment, will ya?)

Sue said...

Wow! That is amazing. Do you still talk to them?

Ludo is a character. I left out that exchange...I just had so much else to say. But if you read about his restaurant "concept", which I did after I wrote about the show, it's really interesting.

And his KOOKING did look fantastique.

Oh, NO, Nandini, your comment is there for posterity. Just kidding, I thought it was cute. If you REALLY want me to delete it, I will, but I'm glad it gave you (and me) an excuse to say hi. Hi!