Friday, April 30, 2010

Top Chef Masters - It's Family Time

This episode has FIVE chefs competing for 2 spots. Do you like how the powers-that-be are mixing it up and using different ways of determining the winners each week?

This week, my buddy, Jody Adams, (no favoritism here, but it doesn’t hurt when a chef lets you post some of her recipes) from Rialto

Charity – Partners in Health

Maria Hines, Chef/Owner of Tilth Restaurant in Seattle (SHE didn’t offer me any recipes.)

Charity – PCC Farmland Trust

Rick Tramonto of Chicago’s Tru, Tramonto’s Steak & Seafood.

Charity – Feed The Children

Debbie Gold, Executive Chef of The The American in Kansas City

Charity – Children’s TLC

Susur Lee of Madeline’s in Toronto and Shang in New York

Charity – Andre Agassi Foundation for Education

Kelly asks Rick how he feels being a contestant after having been a judge. He says, “It’s nerve-wracking.” Remember when Spike and group cooked in Rick’s restaurant kitchen and dissed Rick for having frozen seafood in his restaurant fridge. He accepted that and said “BUT…you used them!”

Their Quickfire Challenge is a Fruit Plate Presentation. They have to create the “perfectly styled” plate of fruit. The judges are Gail Simmons (of Food and Wine Magazine…Duh) and food photographer, Stephen Hamilton.

Susur is “excited”, because he says his knife skills are better than the other the chefs’. I don’t like him. He may be an accomplished chef, but he’s coming off as incredibly full of himself.

Kelly adds that there’s ONE MORE THING. Oy, what? Are they using fruit from a dumpster? Or plastic fruit from Walmart?

Oh, this is interesting. It’s a “High Stakes” Quickfire and the winner will go on to the Champion’s round. MY! That’s different. They have 45 minutes.

QUICK! What would you do for this Quickfire? Hurry and decide something. I might do something with bananas, because they wouldn’t have to be cooked. Or not that long. Maybe banana fritters surrounded with a pool of berry purée, maybe with balsamic. Nah, not with the bananas. Maybe rum. No, not with the berries. Ugh, this is hard. What did you come up with?

Rick says presentation and knife skills are central to this challenge. He wants his plate to be as beautiful as a work of art.

Jody says, back in the day, she was a really fast line cook, “but that was many years ago”. Still, that should hold her in good stead. Her son told her to be herself and not take too many risks. We see her sharpening her knife. Remember? She got a new set for Top Chef Masters.

Susur tells us his dish is “East meets West”. He grew up in Hong Kong, but learned French techniques. He has planned a very ambitious fruit plate with an awful lot of stuff going on.

Rick says he thinks Susur is his biggest competition.

Maria is doing 3 things on her plate, almost like an appetizer, entrée and dessert.

Jody is making a fig and walnut tart, with a pomegranate syrup made from pomegranate molasses and clementine juice. (I LOVE clementine juice.) AND Jody is making a zabaglione too! Yum!

There’s a problem, though. Jody rolls out her dough and puts it in the blast freezer, where it freezes rock hard. THEN she puts it in the oven and doesn’t think she’s going to make it. Arrgghh!! Is she going to run out of time?

Debbie is stuffing figs with a bunch of stuff and THEN dipping them in a tempura batter. (I said fritter before, but tempura is kind of the same thing.) I think folks always like freshly fried bites of things.

This is interesting. Rick is a committed Christian after a tough early life. Will that make him a calming influence in the kitchen, I wonder?

With the tarts not quite done, Jody has to start setting up the plates. She manages to finish on time.


Fig & Walnut Tart With Pomegranate Syrup & Zabaglione

Gail: “This is up my alley, for sure.” Stephen: “The tart looks beautiful. You understand what you’re supposed to be eating.” Gail: “I don’t think it’s quite cooked through.” Jody (watching from the kitchen) grimaces in agreement. Stephen: “I don’t…mind. I like the contrast in textures. It’s interesting when you eat the fruit with the tart, it adds another layer.”

I always think it’s good to go first, because the judges aren’t at all jaded. Stephen, in particular, seems very deliberate as he's tasting.


Pecan Tempura Stuffed Fig With Persimmon & Tangerine

THAT sounds really good.

Stephen: “Visually, it has color. I would like to see a little more taste appeal.” Debbie exclaims from the kitchen, “It’s a FRUIT plate.”

I have no idea how it actually tastes, but it SOUNDS sensational. I love it when Stephen says, “The walnuts are beautiful,” and Debbie retorts, “They’re PECANS!” Gail: ”There are a lot of beautiful elements… Everything is prepared very well. The technique was done beautifully here.”


East Meets West Fruit Plate With Blackberry “Ravioli” & Thai Basil

Gail: ”There’s A LOT going on, on this dish.” Stephen: “It kind of goes against my simple philosophy.”

Susur is not happy.

Gail: ”I have no idea what the focus is SUPPOSED to be on this plate.” Stephen: “There’s just so much going on. It’s a three-ring circus.” That’s a funny line, but Susur is about to blow a gasket. He says (to us) “Maybe they do not understand different culture. Those kind of thing really bug my ass.”


Northwest Trio: Apple Soup, Grilled Fig & Berries With Berry Mousse

Stephen: “There’s something just so great about the look of a fig.” Gail: “These figs do look beautiful and CLEARLY, they’ve been bruléed.” “GRILLED”, Maria says from the kitchen. (Funny.)

Gail: “On the whole, I applaud this chef for keeping things simple. But visually, I just have no idea why they’re playing on the same plate.” Maria yells, “Appetizer, entrée, dessert. I want you to get it.” “Over HERE!,” as she waves at the screen showing the judges.


Herb & Fruit Shooters

There are inspirational sayings on the plate, as well as a Versace glass turned on its side with fruit spilling out, for some reason.

I have less than no idea what Versace has to do with Rick’s food.

Gail: “I think there are a lot of really pretty elements on this plate.” Stephen: "There’s something definitely playful about the dish.”

But what does a tragically murdered designer have to do with a fruit plate?!! Seriously!


Maria 3 stars

Debbie 3½ stars

Susur 2½ stars “I got really low score. What the #$%$ is that? I’m very pissed off.”

Susur seems more like a New Jersey Real Housewife than a Top Chef Master.

Jody 4 stars YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Rick 3½ stars

Jody wins!!! Fantastic! She’s won $5000 and she’ll be moving on. Her “whole body was smiling”.

That’s great that Jody won so early and now doesn’t have to worry about it. It’s like getting into college on early decision and having the rest of your senior year to party.

But THIS is slightly confusing - Jody says if her Elimination Challenge dish wins, she’ll get another $10,000 for her charity. But then who will be the second chef to move on? The one in second place? It’s kind of sad when Top Chef is too complicated for me to follow.

Anyway, The Elimination Challenge is to "modernize a family meal for the cast & crew of Modern Family”.

Rick is happy, because he watches it with his kids.

It IS a funny show, but I kind of wish they were feeding the cast of the even funnier show, The Middle. (Patricia Heaton is a genius and those kids…!!!) My own daughter tells me that she thinks when I was young that I was like the daughter “Sue”. Think nerdy, with braces, good girl. (Okay, maybe, BUT I was too busy baking brownies to get into trouble.)

They’re feeding the cast AND the entire crew and producers, directors etc. 125 people in all. They have 45 minutes and $350 to shop and 4 hours to prep. How come nobody ever seems to struggle with the amount of money they have to spend? How in the world do they make it to the register without blowing the budget?

This is interesting. Rick’s ex-wife and business partner is Gale Gand. His current wife is someone he’s known forever and they have 3 boys. Relevance? Not sure, but I like to be up on the goings-on of chefs. Oh, it’s because THEY have a Modern Family.

Jody says she loved her mother’s semolina gnocchi, so she’s going to make that with braised chicken thighs with an herb salad. I like that combo.

Debby remembers Peter on the Brady Bunch wanting pork chops and apple sauce, so she’s going to modernize that by using a pork belly.

When the chefs get back to the kitchen, Susur says he was still mad to get the lowest score. He says, “Coming from an Asian background, that word ‘Master’ is very important to me.” He says he called his wife feeling sorry for himself and she said, “Shut the hell up. I don’t want to listen to that bull$%#. Go out there and fight.” With a wife like that, I think I’m liking Susur more.

Maria mentions that she has a “modern family” with her partner Bahia (that’s a woman) and 2 doggies. She’s using almond milk in her dish.

They all run around cooking and trying to finish in time. Rick is really smart when he says, “Let’s make sure all the fridges are closed tight.” He’s obviously watched Top Chef before.

Debby is concerned because her pork belly isn’t cooked.

Jody says this challenge is like “interrupted sex”. (Are her kids saying, “MOM!”) “We cook for an hour and a half and then we have to stop…By that time, how can you climax?” Whoa, Nelly, I wanna have a girl’s night out with her!

Back in the kitchen with 2½ hours to cook. Maria suggests to Debby that she sauté the pork on top of the stove to finish it. That’s nice that they’re helping each other.

Susur says it’s all about time and he has to RUN to the stove, RUN to the fridge.

They pack everything up and they have an hour to set up at the soundstage. Suddenly, 125 people come in all at once. Kelly comes up to Maria’s station first with the critics - Gail, Jay and Gael, and the cast.


Sockeye Salmon, Paprika Potatoes, Almond Slivers & Almond Milk

Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Mitchell): “Mmm, this is good.” Julie Bowen (Claire): “This salmon is delicious.” Eric Stonestreet (Cameron): “It tastes like salmon.” Jesse: “The sauce is very, very good.”

Susur says he likes film people, that they’re very friendly and down to earth. Luckily, he doesn’t get mad when Julie wants to know exactly what’s in each dish.


Roast Chicken & Farce Curry, Polenta & Grits, Tomato Jam & Chili Mint Chutney

Julie: “Oh god, I love that.” Gael: “The mint sauce is so hot, I’m not sure all families would flip for that.” Julie: “What is this business that’s with it?” SHE should know, she asked all the questions. She’s told it’s polenta.

Those kids are soooooo cute, especially Rico Rodriguez (Manny). Love him. He’s like a forty seven year old lounge singer in a smoking jacket trapped in a kid’s body.


Truffled White Beans With Escarole & Grilled Sausage

Producer Steven Levitan: “Mmm, that’s good, but I’m searching a bit for the truffles.” Eric: “This is comforting, warm and delicious.” Jesse: “It hits the home run for…family meal.” Ty Burrell (Phil): “It doesn’t seem very modern, necessarily.”

Kelly asks Rico if his character, Manny, would have liked the dish. He says “Well, he DOES like a little spice.” Too cute.


Braised Chicken Thighs With Mushrooms, Semolina Gnocchi & Herb Salad

Jesse: “I love the gnocchi.” Julie: ”This reminds me of something that I would make at home…if I could cook, which I can’t.” Ty: “I like the richness and I love the green.” Sonia Vergara (Gloria) says you can only eat a small amount, because it’s very rich. Gail thinks it’s a little salty and a little “muddled”.

Julie has a strange comment. She wonders, “Which was the chicken and which was the mushroom?” Eric sets her straight: “Chickens have legs. Mushrooms don’t.”


Glazed Pork Loin With Apple Butter & Winter Squash Slaw

Julie: “I think it’s good. It’s just one degree too sweet.” Jesse says with the apple butter and the sweetness of the slaw, he’s kind of losing the pork. Sonia thinks it was a lot undercooked.

Susur tastes Maria’s food and says, “Very nice.” THEN he says, “When you’re hungry everything tastes good.” Hmm, where’s his wife when we need her?

Rick says (to us) he’s noticed lots of mistakes in Maria’s dish, so he feels pretty confident.

There’s a bit with Susur taking his shoes off in the kitchen. That’s just gross and dangerous too.

Wait a sec, you won’t believe what Bravo just did! THIS is insane. They showed a quick preview for the Champion’s Round of Top Chef Masters and Susur is in it! Hey! We’re not supposed to know that yet. Why did they do that? Why did they show Susur Lee in the finals at minute 45 of this episode? So dumb!

At Critics Table, they start with Rick. When asked, he says he has no more sympathy for Top Chef contestants after competing.

Jay says, “The truffle had been somewhat left behind” when Rick’s dish got to the table. Rick says he always pulls back on white truffle oil, because it can become very chemical-y. Gail didn’t think the truffle made it modern. Rick said in HIS family it would have.

About Susur’s mix of east with west, Jay says the risk is “you’re going to create a massive cacophony on the plate”. Susur looks wary, very wary. Jay continues, “You didn’t do that.” (Susur lets out a huge smile.) “It was clear. It was distinct. It was delicious.” Gail says she thought it was bit hot, particularly because he was also feeding kids. He said he actually toned it down a bit.

Gail says Debbie took her dish to a new place, but that it was too sweet.

Jay loved Maria’s dish, especially the almond milk in the sauce. Gail agreed that that was very modern.

They move on to Jody’s dish and Jay asks if she thought it was too salty. She says it was a bit.

The chefs leave and drink (lots of) wine.

Debbie says she wonders if the judges understand the challenge of traveling with food, having it sit in hot boxes etc. etc. Rick says, rather patronizingly, “Here’s the thing. NO matter what, at the end of the day, if I’m paying you to cater my lunch…I don’t CARE. FIGURE IT OUT. That’s why it’s called MASTER chef, not just chef, right?”

He’s so pompous and...he’s so very right. No one cares about your problems, just do it. Debbie rolls her eyes at him.

Back with the critics, Gail really likes “the bright splash of greens” that Jody’s herb salad gave the dish. Maria’s sockeye salmon was “bold and bright and an expression of place”, according to Jay, even though the fish was a little overdone. Jay likes Rick’s stew, but “it just didn’t have the advertised truffle and that’s what let me down”. Gail: “It was rich and it had flavor and it had layers.” Gael liked Debbie’s slaw on top of the pork, but didn’t like that she couldn’t even cut into it, it was so underdone.

Gail says Susur’s dish looked simple at first, but that there was nothing simple about it.

The results:


Gail 3½ stars

Gael 3½ stars

Jay 3½ stars

Diners 4 stars

Total 14½ stars


Gail 3 stars

Gael 2½ stars

Jay 2½ stars

Diners 2½ stars

Total 10½ stars


Gail 3½ stars

Gael 3½ stars

Jay 3 stars

Diners 3½ stars

Total 13½ stars

Debbie is out. She goes back to the kitchen, but not before Jody gives her a giant hug. (Women are so nice…mostly.)


Gail 4 stars

Gael 3 stars

Jay 3 stars

Diners 3 stars

Total 13 stars

Rick doesn’t beat Maria, so he’s sent back to the kitchen. I guess if no one beats Jody, the second place person will go on to the Champion’s Round. (And thanks to Bravo’s preview, we know who that is.)


Gail 5 stars

Gael 5 stars

Jay 5 stars

Diners 4½ stars

Total 19½ stars

So Susur does win. Kelly says that score is the highest in Top Chef Masters history. That IS awesome, but this IS only the second season.

They all go back to the kitchen and toast Jody and Susur. Pretty good episode. I’m happy that Jody won early on, but that meant that they concentrated on her less during the Elimination Challenge.

In answer to my first question about the revamped format, I guess I like that we're kept guessing each week about how the eliminations are going to come about. You?

The Champion’s Round is next with Wedding Wars. Here’s to great chefs doing what they do best!


Nandini Vishwanath said...

I'm not a fan of Susur Lee. And I agree about the preview. I was so mad. All the more because I didn't like him.

I hate arrogant chefs. Esp when they know its on TV.

But I'm loving it :) I loved Jody Adams. So put together!

Sue said...

Hi Nandini,
How've you been?

I'm glad I wasn't the only one to notice that they gave it away in the preview. I think we saw a bit more of Susur's quirky side as the episode went on. Let's see how he is next time.

Jody WAS great. I love her haircut, too.

Phyllis said...

Great post :)
Luckily, I wasn't paying attention when Bravo gave away who won during the commercial break. Why would they show a preview of next week's show during the premiere airing of this weeks episode? So annoying. And how strange that they change the number of chefs competing for spots each week. I'm happy that your buddy Jody won the quickfire, but I didn't think it was fair she got to go straight through to the champions round for making a fruit plate. But she did come in a solid 2nd in the elimination challenge so I guess she would have moved on anyways.
I did however thoroughly enjoy watching Susur Lee kick major butt in the elimination challenge. Something about his demeanor and matter-of-fact comments reminds me of my dad. I also found his ninja cooking style quite amusing to watch. A friend of mine from Canada told me about Susur Lee opening Shang in NYC a while ago but due to mixed reviews I never bothered to go. I'm sure that after this episode it'll probably be mobbed by scores of Top Chef fans.

Sue said...

Thanks Phyllis,
The preview thing was weird!

They have been changing things around a lot. It does make it kind of interesting, though.

That is hilarious that Susur reminds you of your father. He must be quite a character.