Friday, July 31, 2009

Hubert Is Beautifully French; Rick Shows His Innocence; Art Overcooks An Egg; Michael Undercooks Lamb; One Female Chef Triumphs And One Doesn’t

Top Chef Masters

Art is cute. He’s been all over television this week. He was on Nightline and Campbell Brown. This is going to be really, really good.

Here we go, it’s on!!! They introduce the chefs. I have absolutely no memory of Suzanne Tract. I better read my old posts…oh, it can wait.

Rick says he was scared to death the first time he came to Top Chef. Now he feels a bit more comfortable.

Michael Chiarello (hello there, chef!) says it’s like your second day of school when you have your classes, you know who your professors are and you “get a small exhale”. (Funny, I’m panting just seeing you again.)

Kelly explains that the chef with the highest points will win another $10,000 for his or her charity. The one with the lowest score will be eliminated. Art says (to us) “I don’t wanna be eliminated. “

The Quickfire Challenge will be done in teams. Anita doesn’t like that idea, because she’s never worked with any of them before. But I think professional chefs probably play together nicer than us normal folk.

They pull knives and get either salt or pepper. Michael, Suzanne and Art are on the Pepper Team. Michael immediately reaches out and shakes Art’s hand. Rick, Anita and Hubert are on the Salt Team.

Kelly says their Quickfire is the Mis En Place relay race. Michael tells us what the term means – putting everything in it place. They will be given a series of ingredients to prep and whichever team finishes first wins. They show a clip and now I remember this challenge. My precious Dale’s team lost.

Hubert says none of them do prep anymore. Kelly says they need an experienced expert to determine the winner and Tom comes strolling out. They laugh. Art says to the camera, “Here comes Big Daddy himself, Tom Colicchio.”

The challenge is to open up 15 oysters, dice 5 onions, butcher 4 chicken and separate 5 eggs and beat the whites so stiff that they won’t tip out when the bowl is held upside down for 5 seconds. Wowee zowee!

They have one minute to decide who is doing what on their team. Obviously, one chef on each team will have to do 2 tasks. I’m guessing the women will be the workhorses (they’re also the youngest, I think)

Wrong! Art and Hubert are doing the 2 tasks.

Suzanne and Hubert compete head to head opening oysters. Michael is rooting Suzanne on. Michael says she’s like a Jedi. Hubert looks over and sees she’s ahead and he MOVES! They finish about the same time.

Art goes on to chop the onions, including getting plenty on the floor. Hubert is chopping the onions too. Art is crying (from the onions). Rick says he’s never seen anyone chop onions like Art has. Art finishes before Hubert.

Michael starts chopping his chicken into pieces and then Anita goes. Anita is FAST, but MC is close, really close. It’s a TIE.

It’s up to the eggs. Tom is cackling. Art says Rick is his nemesis because they’re both from Chicago. We learn the Rick used to teach pastry and he always separates his eggs by hand. He’s whisking away. Art gets some yolks in the whites. That can’t be good.

They’re whisking away. Art says “Rick Bayless was like Mr. KitchenAid!” Then he makes a whirling noise. The Salt Team wins after Rick holds his eggs over his head while Art is still beating away. Art’s whites probably would never have gotten stiff enough anyway. Art says he’s devastated. He feels like he let the team down.

The winning team gets 5 stars each before moving onto the next challenge. The losing team members get 4 stars.

Kelly says that in order for them to get to know each other better, they will each prepare their signature dish. That’s okay, but who cares if they get to know each other?

Rick, on the other hand, says just cooking for these other chefs will probably be the highlight of the entire experience for him. Art strolls over to Hubert and tells him he’s too serious and he can tell he’s doing something very French, French, French.

These are the dishes they’re making for their fellow chefs.


Lobster & Truffle Cappuccino With Corn Madeleine

We hear about his early French childhood waking up to the smell of croissants…all in his charming Frensssccchhh accent.


Seared Grouper With Hearts Of Palm, Trumpet Mushrooms & Meyer Lemon Zest

He gets a mention of the President and First Lady in there, saying this was their Valentine’s Day dinner.


Seared Scallops With Potato Purée & Bacon, Sea Urchin & Mustard Greens

Anita says she’s nervous cooking for other chefs, even more than food writers.


Fennel Balsamic Quail With Mosto Cotto Mostarda , Sautéed Greens & Roasted Apples

He talks about how the ingredients all come together when he’s on his land and he sees the quail and the grapes and the greens. And he tells us that he wishes he could have gone back to Italy with his mom to see the origin of so much of his (and her) cooking.


Chopped Sirloin With Green Peppercorn Sauce & Fried Egg

I have no doubt that this was delicious and, as I’ve mentioned before, I LOVE fried eggs on just about anything. But I can’t help thinking that the chopped sirloin reminds me of a Swanson TV dinner. The chopped sirloin was NEVER in the same league as the turkey dinner with those awesome mashed potatoes and that lovely sweet apple thing. (Or was it cranberries?)


Rack Of Lamb & Black Pasilla Chile With Mission Figs

We hear about Rick’s well-known travels through Mexico in search of their authentic cuisine and culture.

Ahhh, there IS a reason for all this. In the Elimination Challenge, they have to recreate a competitor’s signature dish. Hubert gets to choose first, because he was on the winning Quickfire team and went twice. He picks Anita (he liked the layers of flavors in her dish) and she has to do his dish. The rest of the chefs are paired up by which number is on the knife they select.

Michael doesn’t want to get Rick, because he feels his cooking is so complex. Of course, he does gets him. Art and Suzanne get each other. This should be fun.

They have 45 minutes and 300 dollars to cook and 2 hours to cook the next day. Kelly says they will be serving their dishes to 6 influential diners. You don’t think they’re serving the dishes to EACH OTHER, do you? That would be interesting. They shop. They cook.

Art is nervous because he’s only been in the restaurant business for a year and a half and he’s competing with VERY experienced chefs. Hubert and Anita seem to be the most intelligent about food. Anita apologizes to the lobster as she sacrifices it to the greater good. (Not according to the lobster, I guess, though). Art is funny, Michael is chatty, Anita and Suzanne keep their heads down and cook cook cook.

Suzanne is worried about the grouper and says that it can’t be undercooked. Art says his lamb has come out slightly undercooked, but he prefers that to the alternative. Suzanne is ready early.

Art goes first and sees that the guest diners are previous Top Chef Masters competitors. (I guess I was wrong about the current competitors judging their own food.) I’m trying to figure out if there’s a chef there from each week of the competition. That would mean that each current chef has someone that he or she beat. That would be fair. These are the diners: Michael Cimarusti, Christopher Lee, Ludo Lefebvre, Rick Moonen, Mark Peel and Elizabeth Falkner. Gael, James and Jay are there as well.

Art is cute. He’s nervous.

Art Reinventing Suzanne’s Dish

Ground Lamb Scotch Egg, Sweet Potato Fries & Tomato Tart

Someone says, “There’s a big old egg in there.” Elizabeth says the egg is overcooked. Michael:” To me, this is Art on a plate.” That’s funny that that doesn’t bother me as much as when Debbie said her dish was “Debbie on a plate". Eww. Gael:” He likes to put a little dessert on a plate. I love both the tomato tart and the biscuit.”

Rick Reinventing Michael’s Dish

Quail With Parsnip & Prosciutto Stuffing Over Wild Greens

Elizabeth and Rick Moonen remark that he stepped outside his “typecasting” by not adding chilies. Jay:” It’s taking the dish and giving you another way to look it.” Ludo: ”Eet’s balanced very well. Eet’s a great dish.”

Suzanne Reinventing Art’s Dish

Roast Grouper With Gnocchi, Peas, Bacon & Parsnips

Elizabeth: “My fish feels like it’s a little bit overcooked. The gnocchi is really cold too.” Uh-oh. I didn’t actually get that excited by that dish OR Suzanne. She says she’s a simple basic chef, but she also seemed a little lacking in energy or verve. Not that this is a personality contest, but her food seemed a little dull.

Kelly: “I’m wondering if it’s been sitting.” Elizabeth says when she cooked with her, she did finish early. James thinks the fish may have “once upon a time” been cooked brilliantly, but in the ensuing ten minutes “lost it”. She is sooo going home.

Hubert Reinventing Anita’s Dish

Seared Scallop With Cream Of Sea Urchin Over Fingerling Mashed Potatoes

Hubert has the cutest smile. RM: “These scallops are cooked perfectly.” Ludo: “In MY dish, I do not taste the sea urchin.”

Cutie Michael (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) Reinventing Rick’s Dish

Rack Of Lamb Stuffed With Fig Mostarda, Chickpeas & Fried Rosemary

He’s really chatty with the judges and diners and wants to go through his whole thought process. Michael Cimarusti:”I would have preferred it a little bit more cooked.” AND he thinks there’s a “seasoning deficit”. Christopher:”I think it’s great.” Ludo: “ Eet’s meeeesing a little BOMBE of flaveur.” RM:”This is to me is the BEGINNING of a great dish. Maybe it’s 70% of the way there.” They can’t possibly grade him lower than Suzanne, can they? No. definitely not.

Anita Reinventing Hubert’s Dish

Corn Chawanmushi, Champagne Gelée & Lobster Biscuit Sandwich

Elizabeth: “I love all her thinking in every single piece.” James nods strenuously in agreement. RM: “This is terrific.” Ludo: “What she did here eeeess totally different.”

We see a short bit with Art scurrying around the kitchen and the other chefs kind of clucking affectionately at how much they love him.

At Critics Table, James says Hubert’s scallop was VERY well cooked. Jay asks him if he though his sauce was sea urchin-y enough. Hubert says Pacific Sea Urchin is “quite a bit milder than the one they have in Europe”. Hmmm, I have to remember that.

Anita says she’s happy with her dish. Jay: You are one clever chef. She said she looked at the challenge as being about putting HER signature on it . James wants to know what her secret is for her light biscuits. She says her mother went to school in Tennessee. Gael: “You are SO full of surprises.” Is she talking about the biscuits or her cooking in general... or her mother?

Art says he felt compelled “to add some southerness” to his dish. He ground his own lamb and added fresh pork fat. James says the meat was a bit rare for him. Gael says she thought the egg was overcooked. Art says “Me and eggs, honey…LOTS of issues”…or words to that effect. They all laugh. “I’ve had so many issues I could LAY an egg!” Art’s smart to leave ‘em laughing, even if they don’t like his food.

Suzanne, not knowing how much they REALLY didn’t like her dish, says she thought she could have put a bit more sauce on it. James: “The dish was a bit cold for me.” It’s so funny how he’s putting all these qualifications on his comments. Instead of saying it was cold!, he says “a bit”, or it was “for me”, as if no one else would be bothered by the fact that it was totally cold. I guess he’s just being nice.

Suzanne admits that she plated her food too soon. Even Jay is gentle as he asks her if she felt the fish was cooked “as it should be”. She says grouper is a tough fish to get right. Finally, Jay comes right out and says,”There were some of us at the table who felt it was overdone.” She is definitely out of there.

Rick says he did his dish as an homage to Michael. How sweet. Gael loves it and she says, “How brave of you to go out of your comfort zone”. James: “It also shows this…fresh innocence, this fresh take on Italian cooking.” Rick is delighted. He says nobody has said fresh innocence in his presence for a really long time. More giggles.

Michael says Rick’s dish was a great dish to start from. Jay says, “You like your lamb rare, don’t you?” At least he didn’t say Baaaaaa.

Michael inquires if the lamb was TOO rare. James volunteers that his was too rare as well and that he didn’t get a sense of Rick in the dish. Michael says without Rick’s genius with chilies, he probably would have crushed the lamb flavor. “If I get voted out of the kitchen and I’m respecting my friend (Rick, he means) , then I go home a winner.” Yeah!

Jay: ”For THIS challenge, you cared more about what Rick thought than we did.” He hesitates only for a second before saying YES! More laughs.

The chefs go back to the kitchen. The critics discuss. They love Hubert’s dish. James doesn’t mind it didn’t taste strongly of sea urchin. Gael did. They LOVED Anita’s dish. Gael: “Every aspect was intellectual.” Jay was in awe of it.

They diss Art’s scotch egg, but love his fries.

About Suzanne, Jay says, “I don’t think it was as good a day at the office as it should have been.” James: “The fact that it was sooo cold really did kind of ruin it for me.” (Interesting. It KIND OF ruined it? Either it did or it didn’t. James is definitely hemming and hawing.)

Jay doesn’t think that Michael was comfortable with his dish. He says he’s one of the “most technically experienced cooks” they’ve come across. James says usually his lamb is wonderful. Jay does say his chickpeas were “spectacular”.

James loves Rick’s dish: It “was confident to the core.” Gael: ”It was beautifully balanced.” James also admires Rick’s “quiet respect of Michael’s original dish.“

The chefs are in the kitchen saying how afraid they all are of the critics’ comments. They come back out. Rick and Anita have the highest scores tonight.


Quickfire – 5 stars

Diners – 4 1/2 stars

Critics – James 5; Gael 4; Jay 4 1/2

Total – 23 stars


Quickfire – 5 stars

Diners – 4 1/2 stars

Critics – James 4 1/2; Gael 5; Jay 5

Total – 24 stars

Anita wins. The other chefs applaud. Art gives her a big hug. Rick and Anita are excused.


Quickfire – 4 stars

Diners – 3 stars

Critics – James 3 1/2; Gael 4; Jay 4

Total – 18½ stars


Quickfire – 5 stars

Diners – 4 stars

Critics – James 4; Gael 4; Jay 4 1/2

Total – 21 ½ stars

Hubert can return to the kitchen and come back next week.


Quickfire – 4 stars

Diners – 3 stars

Critics – James 2 1/2; Gael 3; Jay 2 1/2

Total – 15 stars

Michael’s score is higher than Art’s, so Michael is safe for next week. He leaves the room.


Quickfire – 4 stars

Diners – 3 stars

Critics – James 2 1/2; Gael 2 1/2; Jay 2 1/2

Total – 14 1/2 stars

Art is safe. Suzanne is sent home. Aww. The chefs all hug her. She says she would come back tomorrow and do the same dish…without the grouper.

What a great episode. It was about food and cooking and we got to watch great chefs doing what they do – cook masterfully.


Tracy said...

I am loving this show. I love the respect the chefs show each other. I share your love of Michael (and Hubert's accent), but my money is on Rick Bayless.

Sue said...

Hi Tracy!

I also think this a fabulous version of Top Chef. I love that there are no villains. Rick definitely has game and could take the whole thing, but I'm still rooting for Michael. I don't think we can discount Art or Hubert either. AND Anita did amazingly well this week.

Nandini Vishwanath said...

I love the camaraderie among them. Seems like its not too tough to admire someone considering that they have more at stake if they lose!

Phyllis said...

Hi Sue,
I was really skeptical when Top Chef Masters began but it's really grown on me. This episode was so fabulous I taped it and watched it again with my hubby again the next day. It's lovely watching the cameraderie between respected chefs like Rick Bayless and Hubert Keller. Art is adorable. Also very comforting to hear Michael Chiarello's sexy voice again. And I continue to be impressed with Anita Lo. Really looking forward to next week's episode!

Emily said...

Yes! Good episode and GREAT review!

I thiiink Hubert will win. My favorites are Michael and Rick though. I really like Rick Bayless. I would like to eat at one of his restaurants sometime.

Bridget said...

So am I the only one who thought Art chopped the onions and didn't dice them? I know its silly, but the whole point was prep and Keller diced and Art chopped.