Saturday, July 25, 2009

Top Chef Masters - Art Is Sassy, Roy’s Egg Is Sooo Not Weird, Jonathan Inspires And Michael’s A Darn Good Chef

Scenes from last week…I love reliving the last few moments of Michael’s triumph. I love him. I wish he could compete every week. Ah well, this next group looks like it has a few spicy numbers.

I like the neckline of Kelly’s dress in the intro. I’ve seen it so many times by now.

The new chefs walk into the Top Chef kitchen. First up is Jonathan Waxman from New York’s Barbuto restaurant. He’s been a chef since 1971. Tom tells us he’s called the Godfather because of all the chefs he’s trained, including Bobby Flay. Gail: “Jonathan changed the culinary landscape by opening Jams in the 1980’s." She says Julia, James and Wolfgang used to hang out there. His charity is Meals on Wheels. He says he’s his own competition.

Ooh, cute Roy Yamaguchi walks out. Roy is fantastic. I love his restaurants and it doesn’t hurt that he’s cute, really cute. Gail says he’s the first ever James Beard award winner. Really? He has tons of restaurants.

(Do yourself a favor, if you are ever in a place where there is one, go to it. They’re wonderful. I’m still nursing my bottle of Lychee Liqueur inspired from one of his cocktails.) A graduate of the CIA, James says Roy is the king of fusion cuisine, my fav. He’s playing for Imua Family Services.

Cutie patootie Art Smith, owner of Table Fifty-Two among others, is next. Gael says everyone thinks of him as Oprah’s chef, but I have feeling from the previews that he’s going to bust out of the nice guy stereotype and be his own man. That soft Southern accent may hide a steely interior. He’s nervous because he’s been a judge. He’s there, because he wants to make money for his charity Common Threads.

The last chef is Michael Cimarusti of Providence restaurant in LA. Gail: "Extraordinary seafood restaurant." He has TWO Michelin stars. His charity is the Grameen Foundation. He’s proud that he’s the youngest of all of them, by at least decade. He thinks of Jonathan as a rock star.

Jonathan says Art has a weight advantage.

The Quickfire challenge begins with drawing knives. They draw numbers one through four. They have to make a dish that corresponds with that aisle in the supermarket…AND with only a 20 dollar budget. Art reminds us that he’s cooked for presidents and kings and NOW? 20 dollars? Is he saying that’s beneath him? Hmm, is he already coming out of the niceness box that Oprah had him wrapped up in?

Jonathan complains that he doesn’t “deal” with canned stuff. He also says his eyes don’t work that well, so it’s hard to read the labels.

Michael is kind of screwed, I think. He has to shop from the baking and protein bar aisle and he’s definitely not a pastry chef, he says. (His wife is.)

Roy is in the pasta aisle. He says he does cook pasta, but with an Asian spin.

Art has beans, crackers and rice. He’s thinking risotto. Art says he can teach Michael a few things.

They’re told that the judges are food experts, but not in the conventional sense. We learn that judges Peter, Becky and Dave all work at Whole Foods. Who did they have to pay off to get on Top Chef?

Roy says he cooks Hawaiian fusion with a lot of Asian ingredients. There is no soy sauce in the pantry. He’s a little flummoxed. He tells us he has 37 Roy’s Restaurants.

Jonathan can’t get the pressure cooker to work. Art can’t either. Funny. Michael shows him. Good line from Jonathan, “If you’re not clear about your vision, the dish is not going to be that clear.” (Interesting…coming from a guy who can’t see.)

This is a great episode, because it’s about the cooking, not so much about personality, although it is hard to contain Art. But it’s clear that these guys all know what they’re doing. Top Chef Masters is sooo much better than regular Top Chef and, needless to say, it’s many classes above TNFNS.

Art says what he’s learned about cooking (while he namedrops all the people he’s for, but in a slightly endearing way) is to cook WHAT he loves and to cook WITH love.

Michael is making a chocolate mousse type thing.

At the last minute, Roy throws a fried egg on top of his pasta dish. (I LOVE fried eggs on pasta.) Roy says he likes to work on a menu for a long time and executing a dish in a short time could be his downfall.

Jonathan says he doesn’t think Roy has been in a supermarket in over 30 years.


Pasta With Fried Egg & Asian Flavors

I like that the judges don’t know whose dish is whose. One judge: “The vegetables are weird.” Another one: “I’m digging it.” Art (to us) belittles it as just a pasta dish and thinks it’s boring. Another judge thinks the combo is weird. Becky likes it because she’s never had eggs on pasta before. Who are these people?

Haven’t they ever stir fried spaghetti with a bunch of vegetables and served it with a yummy crusty runny fried egg on top. It’s fabulous. These folks know nothing. ANOTHER one says, “I’m finding this really strange.”

Sorry, Roy, you’re obviously too good for them. Seriously, an egg on pasta is not weird.


Mint, Lentil & Roasted Pepper Salad

One judge: “I really, really like this – lentils with the peppers. This is really good.” The most thoughtful one, the woman (of course) says, “There’s a spice in there, a real bite to it.” The last judge says: “A lot of good flavors, just too much on the onion.” I can’t help feeling that these folks (except the woman) are employed as shelf stackers, rather than anything having to do with actual food.


Multi-Grain Risotto With A Crispy Rice Salad

I have to say just the name of this dish sounds a bit strange. What’s a CRISPY rice salad and why would you have it with risotto? From Mr. Know-Nothing: “Great combination, even the textures. Nice crunch. This is great.” Other Know-Nothing: “I like that crunch, the rest of the dish is fantastic.” (I’m not saying this dish ISN’T good, I’m just mad that the judges were so prejudiced against the egg on the pasta.) Art seems to be clearly in the lead.


Chocolate Parfait With Ginger Sauterne Syrup & Sesame Crackers

The egg-hating judge: “Oh my god, I absolutely love it.” The woman tastes the liquor. The other guy loves the ginger: “Very well done.”

The results:


3½ stars


4 stars

If they gave him that high a rating, what were they complaining about? Probably the woman gave him 5 stars and that made it come out higher.


4½ stars

Art says (to us), with a little giggle, I’m going to take the show. He IS cute.


5 stars

Jonathan says he’s a great chef and Michael nicely says that using chocolate probably gave him an unfair advantage.

That is sooo true. I try NOT to order chocolate desserts in restaurants usually. (Crazy, I know) But I really feel that that’s no real test of a chef. Chocolate would taste fabulous chopped up in a cereal bowl with milk. I want something more challenging.

Jonathan says he’s dead last, but he’s comfortable with his cooking.

They draw knives, but must not reveal the name on it. They have to put together a mystery box of 11 ingredients. Then each chef must use 7 of those ingredients to create a dish for The Elimination Challenge. The twist is that the chefs know for whom they’re gathering the ingredients, so I suppose that gives them ample opportunity to mess with their fellow chefs.

I don’t really like this, it comes under the category of mean, a bit. Just let them cook, but whatever. Let’s see what they do with this. Why do I think Art may be quite sneaky and tricky and give sweetbreads to a seafood chef, or Russian ingredients to a Hawaiian fusion chef or goodness knows what else?

They will be cooking for the critics and culinary students. They have 300 dollars and 45 minutes to shop. I’m relieved when Jonathan says, ”The word sabotage (with) a professional chef does not exist.” He says he has great respect for the chefs, so he’s not going to screw with them. Good for him. Let’s hope his colleagues feel the same way.

Luckily, Art says, “No chef wants to be in the weeds and hopefully they’re doing the same for me.” Whew! Michael also says you’ll see “more camaraderie” and “less back biting amongst the Top Chef Masters than regular Top Chef. Oy, we haven’t heard from Roy. I hope that doesn’t mean he has something nasty planned.

Jonathan remarks that Roy hasn’t been in a supermarket in over 30 years.

This is interesting. We see a scene where the chefs all dress in civilian clothes and cook for each other with Kelly. They make a fabulous meal and sit down together. Cute.

Roy drew Art. Art’s biggest fear is that there will be some weird thing to butcher. He opens the box and is thrilled with the ingredients. He practically claps his hands with glee. He says “Perfect.” One down. Roy says you have to give people opportunities and set them up for success rather than failure. Roy is too sweet. He wants to give Art ingredients that will showcase his talent.

Art drew Roy’s name. He gave him great ones too, including mahi mahi and short ribs.

Michael and Jonathan drew each other. This is becoming a love fest. Michael proclaims that Jonathan was one of those chefs in the 70’s and 80’s who shaped “the framework of what’s going on today.” So nice, so sweet. Their mothers would be proud. He gave him pork chops.

Jonathan says it’s always better to give than receive, as Michael opens his box. BUT Jonathan gave him no fish. Interesting. What’s THAT about? He did give him interesting ingredients, including kumquats and Jerusalem artichokes, but not one piece of fish. Was he trying to expand his range or handicap him? I’m not sure. They have two hours to cook.

Roy continues to be worried about the time constraints.

Michael says he’s known for fish, but he’s comfortable with meat as well.

Jonathan’s eyes are bad. I feel bad for him, although I still don’t know why he didn’t get fish for Michael. They’re cooking along. They help each other. Art tells us he uses food to bring people together.

Roy is having problems with the thickness of the fish and it cooking at different times. Jonathan says he only likes to use a few ingredients at a time, so using all 7 is challenge. If he sees more than 3 things on a plate usually, he’ll edit it. And he doesn’t usually concentrate on presentation that much, but today he will.

They come down to the wire and Michael doesn’t have enough time to sauce all the plates, which he says was very disappointing.

Art is charming when he comes out in front of the diners. He says there’s no better way to show love to people than to feed them. “Feed people and they will come.” He says he really wants to win for his charity that not only teaches kids how to cook, but how to be good people.


Fried Chicken Two Ways & Mango Pie

Gail: “This just oozes Art Smith. It oozed out of him when he was describing it.” That may not be the most attractive way to put it, but I get what she’s saying. James is bit reserved, because he says it feels as if this is totally in Art’s comfort zone. One of the culinary students is thrilled there’s a little dessert at the end. Another one says everything on the plate complements each other.


Short Ribs Kalbi & Mahi Mahi With A Lemongrass And Ginger Crust

Roy greets them with aloha. I love that. Even the dish sounds it’s on vacation. Gael says she usually never orders mahi mahi in a restaurant, because it’s so boring, but this is delicious. Hey, where’s Jay? I just noticed he’s not there. Oh, that’s why Gale is, I guess. One student didn’t like it and says all she tasted was lemongrass and it was overpowering. Another one enjoyed the sides more than the main proteins.


Loin Of Lamb With Sunchoke Puree, Broccoli Rabe & Purple Cauliflower

Michael mentions that he didn’t have time to sauce everyone’s plate. Should he have said anything? I guess they would have noticed. Gael: “The sunchoke purée was absolutely perfect with the lamb and all those vegetables.” James says nothing was bad, but “nothing tasted incredibly delicious, BEYOND the piece of meat.” Maybe if he had been given fish, it would have. Culinary student (kinda OLD culinary student): “Really excellent dish.”


Pork Sausage & Chop With Cauliflower Celery Root Puree & Black Truffle

Jonathan explains to the table that it was challenging for him to use all those ingredients, because he normally cooks with three. He says (to us) that he was happy to see the culinary students looking so enthusiastic. He was amused at the critics “eyeballing” his food, which is not known for its presentation. He told us he and Gael Greene go way back. Go way back…wink, wink or just go way back?

Gael (with a huge smile on her face) says she loves “the philosophy of doing a homey 80’s dish.” James: “A very, very successful great home cooking kind of dish.” A student thought it was creamy and smooth. Another one enjoyed every second.

Back in the kitchen. Roy says Jonathan is so calm and collected, just the way he was in his restaurant back in the day.

Art says he’s really nervous and he knows that judges can be not so nice.

At Critics table, Michael says he ran out of time at the end. Gael says his dish was better without sauce, so she was happy she didn’t get any. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

OH my, listen to this from James. With his head cocked to one side, he asks Michael,” Do you feel the ingredients were synchronous on the plate?” Does he mean do they go together or does he mean were they made at the same time? Whatever. The word actually means “occurring or existing at the same time, so it makes no sense.

Michael says, not giving away for one second if he knows what James is talking about or not, that he tried to bring out the flavor of everything on the plate. Gail loves the mushrooms and Michael says there was a squeeze of mandarin juice at the end. Gail says that gave it a brightness.

James wants to know if Michael was stymied by the ingredients. He says not at all. James say he doesn’t really feel everything worked together as a whole, but then he says, “Job well done.” Huh?

Art says his goal was to show what he’s about and that he equates food with love. James says his mango cobbler was a knockout. Art says Jonathan told him to just let it be, honey. James is amused that they called each other honey. James says he wasn’t so sure about having 2 kinds of chicken dishes on the plate. Gael says the crispy crackling crust on the chicken was extraordinary.

Roy says it was challenging to make 13 portions by himself. Kelly says her piece was a bit overcooked. Gael says hers was perfect. Gael enjoyed the flavor of the marinade for the beef.

Gael wonders why Jonathan picked such a big plate and that the sauce went running all over the place. He says he would have preferred a smaller plate, but he’s more concerned with the flavor.

James, squinting at Jonathan in a kind of haughty way, asks, “What made you decide to treat the truffles in that finely shredded way, rather than shaved?” Are we supposed to be impressed that he noticed the treatment of that minuscule ingredient? Actually, I am…very.

His answer is very interesting. Jonathan says to get the full value of the very expensive truffle, he uses a microplaner. He says you can spread that truffle to 50 plates instead of 10.

He also no longer uses boutique chickens, for which he was very famous at Jams. He talks about that in this interview and says they’re too expensive and he uses Bell and Evans.

Gale says that when she “dug in… it was all so earthy and it all made so much sense.” Deep in his core he’s still that California chef. Gael says that exuberance was on the plate. Jonathan says what made it all possible was the encouragement of his fellow chefs that made it all possible.

Back in the kitchen, Roy grabs for the vodka instead of the red wine.

Gale appreciates the sense of respect that the chefs all had for each other. She was awed by it and she loves Art’s sentiment.

Kelly says Roy was conflicted the whole two hours. James says you could taste the tension in his food. Oy! Gale says some chefs are great at thinking on their feet and that Roy’s clearly not one of them. She softens her remark (a bit) by saying he was brave for admitting it himself. Should they be dissing him that much? 37 restaurants IS 37 restaurants after all.

Gale liked all the components of Michael’s dish individually, but that they didn’t really have much to do with each other.

Okay, my prediction: I think this is looking like a Jonathan Waxman win from the critics. But he had the lowest score before, so Art will bring it home. YUP, that’s my prediction.

Gale thinks Michael’s sunchoke purée brought his dish all together.

Gael says everyone was wild about Jonathan’s food. James says that HE (James) was not “there with the truffle.” James does say that that plate of food was fundamentally connected, which he can’t say about the others.

Jonathan says to have the critics talk about his food to his face is like judging one’s children. Art sighs hugely and puts his face in his hands.

And the results:


Quickfire – 3 ½ stars

Diners – 4 1/2 stars

Critics – James 4; Gael 4; Jay 4

Total – 20 stars


Quickfire – 4 ½ stars

Diners – 3 stars

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

Total – 15 stars

He’s dismissed. Awww.


Quickfire – 5 stars

Diners – 3 1/2 stars

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

Total – 17½ stars

James is tough!


Quickfire – 4 ½ stars

Diners – 5 stars

Critics – James 3; Gael 5; Gale 41/2

Total – 22 stars

Art pulls it off. Go me. Who knew it??! Although I DID think it was going to be closer and that Jonathan would score higher. Jonathan is happy that he gets a donation and I think he’s actually relived not to have to come back. Art is kinda crying and he wants to call his mom. Art says he’s never won anything before and he did pull out a deserving win. I do wish Jonathan had won, though, because (fish or no fish), he is the grand master of them all.


Nandini Vishwanath said...

I wanted Michael to win :|

Watched Food Inc?

Emily said...

I watched this! I watched this! I thought Jonathan was the life of the show. I liked him very much. Do you think he's a smoker?

Of course, Art was the life of the show, too. How can you not love that man?

I think Roy's pasta sounded delicious.

I never thought about not ordering chocolate in a restaurant for dessert. That's an excellent point.

Cynthia said...

I can't wait to see the final match up!

Sue said...

Yay for Michael!

It was funny about Food, Inc, We went to see it and arrived at the theater and it was all closed up. There was a handwritten sign on the window that said "Power Outage". Do you think it was a conspiracy?

Yay, Em,
Now you know I'm not crazy. Thank you for agreeing about Roy's pasta. I may make some right now and throw an egg on it.

I'm glad you never heard my chocolate rant before. Sometimes I think I repeat myself a bit (A BIT?!!). That's one of my cardinal rules, not to order chocolate desserts, which I do occasionally break (with pleasure).

It's going to be good! Each is strong in his or her own way and it really depends on what they throw at them to figure out who's going to win.