Saturday, April 24, 2010

Top Chef Masters – One Chef Strikes Me As Extraordinary, There's Redemption For Another And Do You Know Who Founded Citymeals-On Wheels?

Top Chef Masters Pub Food

I'm watching the last 3 minutes from last week’s show. One of the best things about Top Chef Masters is the music. It’s dramatic and lilting. It builds with suspense just at the right moments. That will come in handy this week, because it looks like there’s a lot of drama brewing.

Six chefs from Season One return.

Rick Moonen of RM Seafood, Las Vegas

Charity - Three Square

Do you remember in Top Chef Masters 1 when Rick was serving Flipped Out’s Jeff and he didn’t finish his Quickfire dish? He sent NOTHING out. He says that’s the most important thing he has to remember – that SOMETHING has to go on the plate.

Carmen knew that and look what happened to her… PS I have a note on the Carmen situation at the end of this post.

Wylie Dufresne of WD50

Charity - Autism Speaks

Graham Eliot Bowles of Graham Elliot

Charity - American Heart Association

Graham’s darling 5 year old nephew is waiting for a heart transplant.

Graham says he “really wants to humiliate Wylie Dufresne”. He says he's more confident this season.

Jonathan Waxman - Barbuto

Charity - Citymeals On Wheels

By the way, I had no idea that James Beard and GAEL GREENE founded Citymeals-on-Wheels in 1981.

Jonathan says he learned last season to keep his head clear. He says he’s his own competition and that’s who he has to beat.

May I give a little rant here? I want Chef Waxman to win. I really do. Why? Because when he was starting out, when HE was the young kid on the block, HIS cooking was revolutionary. Nowadays, everyone’s a foodie; there isn’t much shock value to anything; and we all have come to expect better, bigger and bolder, in part because of his exceptional coooking.

Chef Waxman went to cooking school, La Varenne, the same year that Julia was publishing Volume Two of Mastering, 1970. James Beard had published plenty of cookbooks. But the country had not yet taken that quantum leap to great home cooking wherever one looked.

Chef Waxman went to work for Alice Waters at Chez Panisse, which had just opened in 1971. He went on to open the wildly successful Michael’s in Santa Monica and other California restaurants too. Then he came East with his "California cuisine" and opened Jams in New York. Bobby Flay was just one of his protégés.

Here is one example of why he was so trailblazing. This was the house appetizer at Jams. He created this recipe for Alice Waters. NOW even your 8 year old nephew adds roasted red peppers to his little pancakes, but, THEN, no one did.

I want Chef Waxman to win because I want to know that experienced masters can be appreciated along with young titans.

The next chef is Mark Peel of the LA’s Tar Pit and Campanile. Mark says he got blindsided by the clock last season and that no one likes to lose.

This is going to be a problem this week. There are far too many good chefs to root for.

Charity - Doctors Without Borders

Ludo Lefebvre of Ludo Bites.

Charity - C.H.A.S.E. for Life

Ludo says people called him Pepe le Pew last season.

I never did. I reserved that name for that bandana-wearing, Top Chef contestant, Mattin, who was a ringer for the French cartoon skunk. Ludo says nothing is going to stop him.

Kelly says their Quickfire competition involves a twist. Since when DIDN’T they? They walk into a room with LOTS of vodka. Jonathan says, “Now THIS is my comfort zone.”

The Stolichnaya (let’s be sure to get that name in there) Quickfire Challenge is to create a dish to pair with a Stolichnaya cocktail. “Award winning mixologist Charlotte Voisey” comes in to mix a few cocktails. Oh, I thought the chefs had to invent the cocktail AND the dish.

The cocktails she mixes up are Applik Aperitif; Lemongrass Mojito; Nutmeg Applik Mojito…The chefs don’t seem to have ANY problem drinking that much alcohol first thing in the morning. More drinks: Russian Tea Room and The Coriander Mule. AND the Ginger Figgle and Forest Fruits are next.

Gosh, those are a lot of cocktails. Shall we get on with it? They finally get to choose. Kelly asks Graham which one he would like? How is the order being decided? He says, because he’s the biggest jackass, he’s going with the Coriander Mule. The others pick their poison.

This is funny, the judges are Gael Greene (yay, she’s fun) and some of The Real Housewives of Orange County. Are they going to taste the food or throw it at each other?

Oh wait, this isn’t Jill and Bethenny that we’re talking about. The OC gals are actually kind of refined, compared to what’s going down with the Big Apple ladies this season. DON’T ask how I’m such an expert. I “read” a lot.

Wylie is funny. He says he imagines that The Real Housewives are okay with cocktails.

The chefs run around cooking and, boy, is it great to watch them. The ingredients that they come up with are sheer genius. Mark is making a mussel custard with FIGS! To me, watching a great chef wield his knife in the kitchen is like watching a scaffolded Michelangelo on his back, painting away. I’m in awe.

Jonathan is clever, I think, by saying that the other guys are going too big and that The Real Housewives will want to eat just little tidbits. If they all just make sure their drinks are topped up, they’ll be fine. Even Ludo says Jonathan is the master. See? I told you.

We hear a funny riff by Rick who says he just wants to beat Ludo with all his “bitching and moaning and complaining.”

Gael is wearing a GORGEOUS pink hat.

Wylie - Russian Tea Room

Arctic Char With Lentils, Bacon, Crispy Potatoes & Lemon Yogurt

Tamra: “Oh my god, to die for.” Face-lift babe (I can’t remember her name): “I think the pairing is to die for.”

Alexis loves it, but Gael doesn’t love eating a cider-y, mulled type of wine with fish. Tamra says, “I agree.” Wylie yells from the kitchen, “You can’t change your mind!”

Wylie, these are The REAL Housewives we’re talking about. You’re lucky they made it from the OC to the Top Chef kitchen without pulling out each other’s extensions.

Jonathan - Lemongrass Mojito (That drink DOES sound good.)

Pork Tenderloin & Poblano Stuffed Shrimp With Avocado Butter

Gael: “The pork is so perfectly cooked”. Alexis: “Pork isn’t something I really eat much of. Not my favorite.” Shut it. KIDDING. (not).

Mark - The Ginger Figgle

Mussel Custard With Kaffir Lime & Figs

Gael: “I love the texture of the custard and the mussel taste.” Tamra: “I think it’s good.” Then Kelly asks her if she likes ginger and she says NO. Oy, I hope they deep-six the housewives scores and just keep Gael’s.

Kelly asks her if the ginger in the cocktail brought out the ginger flavor of the dish. Tamra says in her best dumb blond way, “WAS there ginger in the cocktail?” (Y’know, the GINGER figgle.) Mark buries his head in his hands.

Rick - Forest Fruits

Cream Biscuit Berry Shortcake

WHY can’t they serve that last?

Face-lifted one: “The dessert is fabulous.” (Rick smiles.) She continues, “This is frozen yogurt, right? This is on my weight watcher’s.” (Rick grimaces.)

Tamra: “It’s like having two desserts.” Alexis: “It’s so delicious.”

Graham - Coriander Mule

Crudo Of Black Cod With An Edamame & Red Onion Salad

Graham is worried that the judges will be going from dessert to raw fish. HE SHOULD BE!!! That is NOT fair!! WHY do it that way? Really, that should not be allowed.

Face-lift gal: “Entamamee??” Kelly: “Edamame,” she explains. Face: “The red onion is pretty strong.” Tamra: “You have to have a strong stomach. “ Graham looks vaguely appalled. Alexis: “I think the fish works well with the cocktail.”

Ludo - Nutmeg Applik Mojito

Roasted Pork Chop With Rosemary, Thyme & Garlic

Tamra: “The ginger is not overpowering, so it’s really good.” Gael: “Between the almonds and the ginger, it’s maybe too much.” Ludo looks disgusted.

Alexis says the cocktail is kind of sweet and not really something she’d pair with pork. Didn’t she say before that she doesn’t really eat pork?

Ludo screams (in the kitchen) that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. He says later, “I was scared to be judged against these people. They have no idea what the *%$# they’re talking about.”

Having The Real Housewives judge a Quickfire is a real exercise in futility. Face: “I don’t really eat RED meat, so I don’t know if I’m a good judge.” YaTHINK?? Oh, I just remembered face-lift person is LYNN. And let’s not even get into whether pork is a red meat or a white meat. (There are plenty of believers on both sides.)

The gals fill out the cards. I hope someone explained that basics of one through four and that four is higher than three and so on.

Ludo says, “That’s sad that people like that judge us.”

The results:

Five of the chefs received FOUR stars. (I wonder if the Housewives thought 4 was the best…or the worst. )

One of them received FIVE stars. Oh, that’s easy...dessert guy Rick got the top honors. Let’s see.

Oh, for goodness sake. There’s a commercial and we’re already 15 minutes into this episode. That is sooo long for a Quickfire. Stolichnaya must have stocked the Top Chef Kitchen with rivers of vodka to take over the first quarter of the show AND we STILL don’t know who won.

Finally, They’re back. The winner is Jonathan!!! YAY, YAY, YAY! Jonathan is elated. So am I. He’s won five thousand dollars for Meals On Wheels. I LOVE him. YAY!

The Elimination Challenge is to create an upscale version of a traditional pub food.

Wylie is happy because it’s “cozy and comfortable” food and usually low on vegetables, which is fine with him.

They have six pub classic dishes to choose from. Jonathan gets first choice – he goes with Shepherd’s Pie.

Rick wants Fish and Chips and Ludo says HE wants that, because he doesn’t want Rick playing to his strength. Rick fights back and gets his Fish and Chips. The rest of them are quite civilized in their choosing.

On to Whole ffoods - $250 and 45 minutes to shop. Back in the kitchen, they have two hours to prep.

Graham isn’t that happy with his choice of Steak and Kidney Pie. He doesn’t like kidneys and he reminds us that their function is to filter urine. EECH!!! Was THAT really necessary?!! He’s going to try to get the kidney taste out of them as much as he can.

Jonathan says his strategy will remain the same, he’s not going “to try to razzle dazzle anybody…It’s not in (his) lexicon.”

They’re all working hard. Ludo is running around and Rick says (to us) he doesn’t think Ludo is really “getting the concept” of the challenge. The rest seem pretty happy with what they’ve cooked. Mark says he’s pretty happy to have finished 80% of what he has to do.

They arrive at Tom Bergin’s Tavern, which they love the look of, but the kitchen is a bit cramped for all of them. Ludo says, “It’s like a cage with live animals inside.” He’s still mad that Rick, the fish master, is doing fish and he resents that he doesn’t get to do French food. So put a French spin on your Irish Stew. It’s really not that big a deal!!!

The only problem seems to be with poor Mark. He puts his smoking hot pans of Yorkshire pudding in the oven, only to discover (with only 10 minutes to go) that the OVEN IS COLD. Oh my!!! He turns it up to 475ºF. That is SUCH a shame. And he had made a wonderful seafood sausage. And now his Yorkshire puddings are “solidified dough” and there’s nothing he can do about it. Sad…

Ludo says (to us) that his plates look like a piece of art. He brings them out to the judges and Kelly introduces him to the critics - Jay, Gael and Gail.

WHY are the four of them (with Kelly) sharing two plates? Did anyone telling them that appearing on Top Chef Masters meant sharing spit? Gross.

Ludo – Irish Stew

Beef Tenderloin, Potatoes Confit Roasted Peanuts With Miso & Guinness Caramel

It looks nice and sounds good, but WHY did he have to add that Asian stuff? Weird.

Ludo tells them he wanted to make the dish “more light and more colorful”. He is sooo charming to them. Take his attitude to his fellow chefs, especially Rick, and go 180º and that’s how he is to the critics.

Gael: “I think it’s really bizarre that there are uncooked vegetables in this stew.” Gail: “The Guinness and honey glaze is really good.” Jay: “There would be a riot in a pub, if they were served Ludo’s dish.” Some diner in the pub exclaims, “THIS is not Irish Stew!” It sounds like HE’D like to have Ludo arrested.

Rick – Fish And Chips

Chicken Fried Sable, Lemon Confit Tartar Sauce, Twice Fried Potatoes & Fennel Slaw

Rick says (to us) that the hardest part of the whole thing was putting up with Ludo. Har har.

Gail: “Looks good. The man knows how to fry a fish.” Jay: “We’ve got a really good piece of fried fish here and I’m thinking good things about this salad.” But Gail adds when the potatoes cool, they are a little hard…and hard to eat.

Wylie – Bangers And Mash

Bangers, Smoked Mashed Potatoes, Onion Jus & Snow Peas

Wylie is happy with his dish. He says he’s “updated it and made it recognizable to the regulars”.

Gael: “I think the spiciness of the sausage is wonderful.” Kelly: “The merguez is really nice.” Jay: ”He has delivered a nice jus here.” And Jay is happy that the dish is recognizable as bangers and mash.

HMMM, has Wylie triumphed over Rick’s fish? Maybe…

Graham – Steak and Kidney Pie

Roasted Beef Tenderloin, Chanterelle Purée & Bacon-Kidney Vinaigrette

Graham says he did everything he set out to do.

Back in the kitchen as the chefs are tasting different things, Wylie says he admires Graham’s ”professional grazing”. Graham says, "I didn’t get this body by being judicious with my grazing.”

Gael: “Graham’s meat is perfectly rare just the way I love it.” She adds, though, “I don’t know why we need to kill the taste of the kidneys. Kidneys are wonderful.” Jay: ”I DID like Graham’s chanterelle cream. It was silky. It was smooth.” One of the diners, some Brit with a tie, says it was really delicious, really good.

Mark – Toad In The Hole

Seafood Sausage, Onion Sauce With Lobster Broth & Mustard Greens

Mark is praying that everything else in his dish is sooo good that maybe they’ll overlook that mess in the bottom of the bowl.

Jay: “It’s NOT a Yorkshire pudding.” Gail: “I actually don’t think it’s cooked through. Totally doughy and mushy”. Kelly: “The greens are nice.” Gael: “The onion sauce was great too.” The smart Brit with a tie says whoever cooked this ran out of time.

Jonathan - Shepherd’s Pie

Lamb, Mashed Potatoes & Parmesan

Jonathan is concerned because he says critics seem to like people “with a lot of flair and imagination”. I don’t know why he’s so worried. The thing people like the most, more than anything, is something that’s GOOD.

On each of Jonathan’s plates is a gorgeous looking lamb chop and slightly-runnier-than-usual mashed potatoes that look so good you could bathe in them. I don’t think my front runner has anything to worry about.

Gael: “This lamb…could not have been juicier. Delicious.” Jay: ”What’s under here is the essence of Shepherd’s Pie. It’s lamb, It’s rich. Everything’s here.”

Beautiful young thing says about the dish: “I’m a fan.” I think Jonathan may have done it.

Jay wraps it all up by saying all of the dishes (mostly) were well done and happily could have been on the menu of many modern day gastro-pubs.

Little segment during the commercial break…it’s kind of an homage to Jonathan by Wylie and Rick. THAT’S what I’m talking about. Giving respect to their forebears, those who went before them and forged the path of great eating in this country.

Rick says he’s like a ninja. Wylie says he has a bit of Gandalf in him.

Jonathan says when he gets in the zone, ingredients talk to him. “It’s like a kaleidoscope of beautiful things.” He says he has no idea what dish he’s going to make and that the ingredients talk to him after he’s chosen them.

Back in the stew room, the chefs are sitting around and Ludo and Rick are yelling at each other. Mark is covering his ears. Jonathan is looking perplexed.

At Critics Table (WHY do they always leave off the apostrophe? It bothers me), Jay tells them he was impressed by their efforts “to play fast and loose with those noble dishes”.

Toad in the Hole, noble? I guess it would take an Englishman to say that. Remember they still love their nursery puddings well into their dotage.

Ludo tells the critics that he wanted to bring the Irish Stew back to life. Why didn’t he just make a Carbonnade de Boeuf with Guinness?!!

Gael asks him where the idea for the lemongrass came from. He snaps, “WHY NOT?” Graham turns his head sharply in disbelief. Gail is brave and says, “There’s NO way that dish was Irish Stew.” Ludo softens a bit and says, "Maybe I went too far, because zat’s whoo I em.“

Gael tells Mark the main element of his dish was a “beautiful, well brought up sausage…in an unpleasant environment”. Ouch!

Mark admits the Yorkshire pudding was an unmitigated disaster. DO you think someone turned down his oven or even turned it off?!! Kelly says she loved his greens. Bless her.

Jonathan explains that he wanted to create a Shepherd’s Pie that was all his. Nobody has anything at all negative to say. Yup, that’s my man!

Wylie says he mixed traditional bangers with some merguez to give the dish a twist and not upset the traditionalists. Jay throws in at the end that he found the sausage a little dry. Why is he saying that? It seems as if Wylie has really learned the lessons of Top Chef well. Will he be rewarded with a win? Or will the dry sausage be his undoing?

Graham explains how he did all these things to dekidney-fy the kidneys. Jay exclaims “You HATE kidneys, don’t you?" Gail says they still had their kidney flavor and IT WAS GOOD. And she loves all the other elements of the dish, too.

Rick says he brought a lot of citrus into his dish and created an electrified tartar sauce. Jay: “What you created was a 21st century version of fish and chips.” Gael loves the orange and fennel, “It just was beautiful plate.” Gail says the chips were too thick.

Kelly asks how they felt about their second time on Top Chef. Jonathan says he tells his young chefs, “It’s always good to reinvent yourself.”

He says he really wanted to be challenged. I don’t know that he reinvented himself as much as showed his incredible strengths behind the stove.

Graham gives a beautiful little speech about the culinary icons he was surrounded by and how just being alongside them was a thrill for him.

Graham says Chef Waxman is like Chef Kenobi, like a Jedi. I LOVE THIS!!! As they walk out, Gail says, “May the force be with you.”

Waiting for the results, Ludo goes off on a hysterical (in both senses of the word) rant about how disgusting English food is. He really is funny, whether one agrees with him or not. AND I don't think he's kidding. The pride the French have in every aspect of their culture – cooking, language, art, style – is so fascinating.

This is what he says…in part:

"English people have no taste. The English people, they are jealous of us. Rayner, he’s English. I’m French. He’s jealous of me. French people have culture. English have nothing."

Too funny. The other chefs are hysterically laughing.


They start with Jonathan.

Gail: ”Chef, that Shepherd’s Pie was a joy to eat and will become the standard by which I now measure all others.”


Gail 4½ stars

Gael 5 stars

Jay 4½ stars

Diners 4½ stars

Total 18½ stars

HE WINS!!! YAY!!! Kudos to the master! I am sooo happy.

He goes back to the kitchen.

I don’t really mind who else wins. Rick was great, but he went SO safe. I’d kind of like to see Wylie get the other win. But I’m SO happy that Jonathan is continuing on that even if the REAL Pepe le Pew won, I’d be fine with that.


Gail 3 stars

Gael 2½ stars

Jay 3 stars

Diners 1 star OUCH!!!

Total 9½ stars


Gail 3 stars

Gael 3 stars

Jay 3 stars

Diners 2 stars

Total 11 stars

Mark loses and is sent packing. That is such a shame. I’m so sorry and I’d love to know what REALLY happened to that oven.


Gail 3 stars

Gael 3½ stars

Jay 2½ stars

Diners 4½ stars

Total 13½ stars

Ludo leaves. He says goodbye charmingly to the critics.


Gail 3½ stars

Gael 4 stars

Jay 3½ stars

Diners 3½ stars

Total 14½ stars

Graham goes back to the kitchen. He says Wylie only beat him by one point.


Gail 4 stars

Gael 4 stars

Jay 4 stars

Diners 4 stars

Total 16 stars

Rick wins and is going to the champions’ round with Jonathan. He says, “It’s priceless.” He whoops it up in the back. They all congratulate each other. Wylie is happy he beat Graham. Ludo says never to give up.

Pretty good episode. The best part was the chefs (mostly) giving accolades to each other and showing us some great flavor combinations.

Note on last week’s winner, Carmen Rodriguez: Lookie here at the comments. Some viewers seem to think that the stew wasn’t actually left out OVERNIGHT. They say that she had been working with it the same day as the challenge and forgot it as they were leaving.

I seem to remember the close-up of the pan on the shelf when they went away the night before. But I wish Bravo or Carmen would address the situation. And if they haven’t, does that mean that she really DID leave it out?

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