Friday, May 7, 2010

Top Chef Masters - For Better Or Worse

Top Chef Masters – Wedding Wars

We’re reminded that 14 chefs have already been sent home and 8 are continuing on. The chefs in the Champion’s round are Tony Mantuano, Rick Moonen, Susan Feniger, Jonathan Waxman, Marcus Samuelsson, Carmen Gonzalez, Jody Adams and Susur Lee.

I wonder if we’re going to see them ALL this week? I guess so, since they’re all in the Top Chef kitchen.

Kelly says this is how it will work - Each week, the chef with the lowest score will go home, until 3 chefs remain to compete in the finale. Does this mean we’ll still be watching Top Chef Master on Labor Day…of 2011? Fine with me.

For the Quickfire Challenge, the chefs have to pick a pot from the stove. They open them to reveal blue and red aprons, which will divide them into teams.

Susan is on the blue team. She’s worried about the red team of Marcus, Susur, Tony and Carmen, who she says will kill them.

I’m getting so confused about who’s on which team that I’m color-coding their names in this post.

The Quickfire Challenge is the tag team cook-off. Oh, this is fun. Each team will make one dish with each chef cooking for 10 minutes, before handing the dish over to the next chef. AND they cannot speak to each other AT ALL.

Oy, the challenge just got worse. While they wait for their turn, the chefs must wear blindfolds. We learn that Rick judged this challenge in a past Top Chef.

Marcus is full of himself. He says he’s the best chef, so he should go last.

Rick picks Jonathan to go LAST on his team. Good choice, but Jonathan isn’t happy about the blindfold, because he gets claustrophobic.

Susan goes first. She thinks of a fish stew and grabs stuff. Jody tries to figure out Susan’s clues.

Rick, going third, finds everything disorganized, but he gets a bouillabaisse thing going.

Tony wants to set his team up right, so he grabs seafood AND some prosciutto as well as pantry basics. Then Carmen goes Italian. Susur gets more ingredients from the pantry and makes a sauce(?) or a salad (?)

The last chefs are going – Jonathan is so relieved to take off his blindfold. He strolls over to the stove to see what’s going on.

Rick says it’s time for Obi Wan. I LOVE chefs showing respect to other chefs, especially to Jonathan, who is absolutely my top pick. I have 3 or 4 others I want to come in second, but I want HIM to win!

Rick is watching closely, waiting for the smile to appear on Jonathan’s face when the right thing occurs to him. There it is. He knows just what to do to bring everyone else’s work together. (Jonathan should run the UN.) He puts in a good amount of butter to add “unctuousness to the sauce”. “It will mellow those acidic qualities.” I’m taking notes.

Marcus makes a stronger aesthetic statement, he says, by separating the fish from the stew and serving it separately. The other reason to do that is because all that stuff just doesn’t fit into one bowl.

Luckily, there’s a real judge, Jay Raynor, and not (exactly) a reality star.

Red Team

Pan Seared Sea Bass & Prosciutto

Jay: “That’s a very, very well-cooked scallop.” Susur is looking on with eagle eyes.

Rick is concerned that both teams’ dishes are so similar. (No, Rick, the red team added no butter, like his did!)

Jay: “We’ve got a piece of bass. It’s well cooked. Underneath is prosciutto which is slightly grey.” (Oy, Tony thinks.) “I like the bright herbiness of both of them (the stew and the fish).” Jay is not convinced one needs BOTH of the elements, but he says the scallops, in particular, were well cooked.

Blue Team (I think they’re going to win, I can just feel it!)

Mussel & Scallop Stew With Orange & Fennel

Jay: “The scallop in HERE is actually a little better cooked, because it’s been seared in a way that really brings through the natural sweetness.” (I KNEW IT!! Keep talking, Jay.) He says the mussels are perfect, too. Yes!

Uh oh! I hope I didn’t speak too fast. “There’s also a bitterness in here.” He continues, “It’s not necessarily a bad thing.” BUT he says the bitterness is pronounced.

“The verdict is in,” says Kelly.

Jay gives the Red Team 4 stars. My prediction: The Blue Team will get 4½ stars.

Let’s see. OMG. I am good, really good. The Blue Team gets...4½ stars. I’m awesome! (I mean THEY are.)

They get $10,000 to split between their charities. Susur says he’s “Pissed”, and that he has to kick stuff up a few notches.

I really think that Jonathan is the one to beat.

They’re staying in teams for the Elimination Challenge, which is Wedding Wars. Kelly says it’s one the most grueling of all the challenges.

They’ll have 12 hours over 2 days “to pull together a full wedding”. There will 150 guests. AND (there’s always an “and”) each team must make a wedding cake. THAT is completely not fair. That will probably mean that one member of each team will be doing mostly that and the others will have to do all the other stuff.

Susan says they’re all “disappointed” that they have to think of a wedding cake and that the idea of it is “miserable”. I agree!

They meet the couple, Elizabeth and Aaron, who are getting married tomorrow. Seriously, would you EVER do that, have your wedding be organized at the last minute?!! Except as a prank?!!

Wouldn’t your mother be disappointed not to spend months (and thousands of dollars) deciding between the salmon and the escalope? On second thought, it’s a brilliant idea. Who WOULDN’T want to do it?

Aaron likes filet and potatoes gratin. Elizabeth loves French and Asian food. (Susur’s face lights up, well, kind of,) Um, I don’t see this MARRIAGE (forget the wedding) being a slam dunk when they don’t agree on food choices. Yes, I know there are exceptions.

Oh, this is interesting. One team will cater to Elizabeth’s tastes and the unfortunate other team will have to cater to granny Aaron.

I’m guessing the Blue Team gets to choose first. (Go me!) Of course, they choose the bride. OH! That means Susur’s talents may go to waste. I can’t wait to hear his reaction. Hmm, we don’t.

The couple gets to speak with the chefs. The groom doesn’t want to do barbecue, because he doesn’t want it to be messy. Oh and no pork, because he’s Jewish.

Elizabeth doesn’t want shellfish. No oysters either. Lamb? “Well, not so much.”

The groom wants Carrot Cake. HER favorite dessert is Bananas Foster. I would say both teams have problems.

They have $5000 to shop. Jonathan and Jody go to Restaurant Depot. On the Red Team, Carmen is the one that makes the master list, so she basically becomes the team leader. It's interesting that neither Marcus nor Rick wanted to take over. I guess they wanted more time to worry about their own dishes.

Jody says she knows the bride doesn’t like lamb, but she wants to give her a lamb that she knows she will love. That’s a huge risk. I truly hope it’s not her undoing.

Jody says she had a small wedding and she and her husband did all the food themselves and she definitely wouldn’t recommend that.

Susan hates the wedding cake part and Tony says it’s nearly impossible to throw together a wedding on 24 hours notice.

Jonathan is making his Red Pepper Pancakes. OH! Remember, I told you about those pancakes? They’re so lucky to be having them. Susan's Spicy Potato Fritters and Jody's Raclette Tarts sound like they will be good too.

I’m worried about Jody making lamb, really worried. And I think Jody is doing too much. I hope she doesn’t get overwhelmed.

Susur is too funny. He says his girlfriend and he have two kids. After the first kid, she said maybe we should get married. He said oh, we can wait. After the second, he asked HER and she said, “!@#$ You! I’m not getting married NOW.” He did refer to SOMEONE as his wife…

He says he’s never made a @#$# Carrot Cake before. Is he really the best choice for that?

Carmen's Crab Cakes With Avocado Relish sound yummy. Tony's Ouzo Shrimp could be a real pain to peel. And he's making Pasta With Feta Cheese, which I have a feeling the groom won't like.

Actually, I think the groom’s team may have come up with the better menu in terms of what the couple wanted with their Roast Beef Tenderloin and Potatoes Au Gratin.

I’m terrifically concerned that the bride said she didn't like lamb. Maybe it will be a revelation to her and maybe Jody will be rewarded for her bravery…or maybe not.

Marcus tells a charming story about how he recently got married in her wife’s Ethiopian village and the entire village helped out making food. I love that.

We see Marcus ladling some wonderful saffron colored sauce into the middle of the long split beef tenderloins. WHAT is that? It looks awesome.

Oh, Tony is really worried that Marcus's tenderloin will be too spicy for the groom’s “simple” tastes. Tony says (to us) that they’re there to serve the guests. Hmmm.

Rick says he’s responsible for all of the seafood, but that you can’t cook fish early.

The next day they arrive at the venue.

Jonathan and Marcus are next to each other grilling. Jonathan says (to us) that he would never serve filet at a wedding, because it’s so easy to under or overcook. (Marcus should listen to the master, but now it’s too late anyway.)

Tony says this is like war and it’s the most difficult thing he’s done in a long time.

Carmen is great as a facilitator and keeping everyone on time. Even Rick says the Red Team has an edge with Carmen’s organization.

Jonathan is cutting up Susan’s cake and stacking it. It looks a bit “rustic”. He says, in their mind, Jody’s Bananas Foster is their wedding cake and too bad if the judges don’t like it.

Jody’s nervous because Susur is making some specialty dessert things.

We see a glimpse of the bride. A LOT of cleavage. Jonathan says for HIS wedding they gave everyone a margarita as they walked it and it set the tone for the entire wedding. I LOVE that idea.

Hors d’oeuvres are served.


Potatoes Bhajia With Mint Cilantro Sauce & Tamarind Date Chutney

James Oseland: ”Very good. Perfection in a little Bhajia.”


Red Pepper Pancakes With Smoked Salmon, Caviar And Lemon Zest

WHO wouldn’t love those?

James and Jay say they’re very, very good. The bride and a bridesmaid say they’re too big. Shush, and go back to getting married.


Pancetta & Melted Raclette Tart

Jay: “I like the crispness.” James: “I like it a lot.” Gael: “It’s easy to eat with your fingers.” Jay agrees that’s important. The bride says it’s amazing.


Lobster Rolls With Asian Pear

The bride likes the presentation of the spoon. Jay: ”It’s bright and it’s rich.”

Honey Mustard Cured Tuna

James: “Very sophisticated.” Jay:” Can I marry Marcus, please.” Groom: “It’s a mouthful, but it’s good.”


Jumbo Lump Crab Cake With Avocado Relish

James: "It’s nice, but not much more than that.” But then he says he couldn’t stop eating them. The couple likes them. James says both teams’ appetizers were really strong.

They get the buffet line for the entrées going. Rick says he needs a bonfire to finish all his grilling in time. And that’s exactly what he has going on in his grill. He says he’s so over weddings.

The bride and groom are in the buffet line. Is that normal? Shouldn’t they be served and not getting the food themselves?


Dijon Rack Of Lamb With Rosemary, Farro & Autumn Vegetables


Roast Chicken With Tarragon Velouté & Cauliflower Purée


Seafood Mixed Grill - Opah, Coho Salmon & Swordfish On Sweet And Sour Eggplant

James says, “Boy, that lamb is fabulous!” That’s a good sign.

But let’s hear what the bride says about the lamb.

Listen to this: The bride says it was “SO flavorful,” and cooked perfectly. Thank goodness!

WOW, Jody pulled it off. Good for her. She took a big chance and, hopefully, it’s going to pay off.

About Jonathan’s chicken – Gael: “I think Jonathan is the chicken master.” James: “That’s kind of shockingly good.” YAY!!! As wrong as I was about Jody’s dish, I am soooooooooooo right about JW.

Kelly says the sauce on Rick’s seafood is way too sweet. Uh-oh. Gael says the fish is overcooked. The bride says it doesn’t stand out.

The judges think the bride’s food was all wonderful…except Rick’s dish. The bride says she’s very grateful. Couldn’t she cover-up a bit? The honeymoon hasn’t started yet.


Flaming Ouzo Shrimp

Au Gratin Potatoes

He tells the judges that the groom loves these.

Pasta With Fire-Roasted Tomatoes, Caper And Feta


Roasted Corn Salsa


Roast Beef Tenderloin With Grilled Onion Ragout & Pomegranate Sauce

James: “Tony’s potatoes are exquisite.” The groom agrees. Kelly: “Tony’s shrimp is delicious.” Gael: “I’m amazed. It’s hard to get shrimp perfectly cooked like this. BUT his rigatoni is a little overcooked.” James doesn’t think Carmen’s corn goes particularly well with the other dishes.

Uh-Oh. Gael: “Marcus’s beef is very mushy.” James loves the onions, though. Another diner said the beef melted in his mouth.

The judges don’t seem quite as rapturous about the groom’s buffet, but Gael says they listened to the groom and gave him just what he wants. They LOVED two out of three of Tony’s dishes.


Bananas Foster With Candied Pecans And Rum Caramel Sauce


Egyptian Semolina Cake With Berries And Cream

(Nothing says wedding cake like Egyptian semolina cake. Not! What an awful choice and I love Susan. I want her to get to the finals.)



Susur calls it a French wedding cake, because the French serve it at weddings. It IS beautiful. He should win the whole thing, just for that.

Upside Down Raisin Pudding With Butterscotch Sauce

Goodness! There are more.

Chocolate Profiteroles & Whipping Cream

I guess he had some leftover from the croquembouche. Will they mention that he used the same main element in two desserts?

Carrot Cake

Susur says it was his first time making it and with NO recipe. The guy’s got game.

The semolina cake is really dry. OY! It really wasn’t a good choice. BUT Jay says, “The Bananas Foster really is something special.”

Jay is “in admiration” of what Susur has done. He asks “How many arms does the man have?”

Back at the critics table, James says the bride’s dishes were “Synchronous together.” GOTCHA, he’s said that before. (Control-f synchronous to find it in that link). Gael: “The chicken and the lamb were complementary to each other.“ James remarked about the Semolina Cake: ”That…was a disaster.”

Kelly says the groom’s team was dessert heavy. Jay: “Susur did an amazing job.” They wonder where Carmen was in all of this.

Gael thinks Carmen needed to do an entrée to balance the number of desserts the Red Team had. Gael is torn because the desserts on the groom’s team were so strong, but the bride’s team had such strong entrées.

I think the bride’s team will win, but I don’t know who will go home because the two failing dishes will be on the winning team. Do the critics agree?

I’m soooooooooooooo good at this.

The Blue Team DOES win and they’re all moving on. Even though Rick and Susan had the two worst dishes of the evening, they dodged a bullet.

Let’s see who will be the overall winner. You know who my money is on? Jonathan. NO! It’s Jody! That’s terrific too. She won $10,000 for Partners In Health. She’s thrilled.

Susur: “The Blue Team won and I get angry.”

Kelly tells them it was VERY close. I think Carmen will go home.

“Marcus’s beef was mushy,” says Jay.

They move on to Carmen. Jay likes the crab cake, but says that wasn’t a lot of effort in 12 hours. Fantastically, they all come to her defense. Marcus says it was a TEAM challenge. Tony says there are other roles that have to be filled, besides the cooking.

She didn’t really help herself when she says she didn’t want to put out a dish that was too strongly influenced by her Puerto Rican cooking, because she was supposed to be pleasing the groom on his wedding day.

I’m sure that
Carmen’s going to get the hatchet.

Tony was pleased they liked his potatoes au gratin, because that was his mom’s recipe. He says he thought the pasta was al dente. Gael says hers was overcooked. He sighs.

Susur says he wanted to make 5 desserts and take on the carrot cakes. Gael says the cake was not his finest hour, BUT that (dessert) table was really a triumph. He ain’t going home. It will be Carmen.

Jays say Marcus’s beef was “a textural disaster”. Gael says the guests “read it as tender and they were happy”. James thinks the flavor of the sauce killed that already “not wonderful” piece of beef.

I really don’t think they’ll send Marcus home. I still say Carmen and maybe that points to the fact that she shouldn’t have been chosen to move on in the first place. That sounds mean, but there were so many questions about whether her dish had been sitting out.

Jay was gobsmacked at Susur’s dishes, although James thinks his bread pudding was Eh!

The decision. Oh, I forgot about the star thing. Here are their scores.


James 4 stars

Gael 3 1/2 stars

Jay 4 1/2 stars

Diners 3 stars (WHAT do they know?)

Total 15 stars


James 3 1/2 stars

Gael 4 1/2 stars

Jay 4 stars

Diners 4 stars

Total 16 stars

Susur is safe. He can return to the kitchen.


James 2 1/2 stars

Gael 2 1/2 stars

Jay 2 stars

Diners 4 stars

Total 11 stars

Let’s get this over with and put her out of her misery. Tony may return to the kitchen.


James 3 stars

Gael 3 stars

Jay 3 stars

Diners 4½ stars

Total 13½ stars

Okay, it was kind of obvious. Carmen is going home. But it seems like Carmen completely doesn’t get it. SHE says she should have done something more intense and more complex. NO, she should have done something MORE!

This just shows you have to worry about yourself and let the team take care of itself. By putting the team first and not concentrating on producing her own great dish, she got bumped.

They all say goodbye to her very sweetly.

I’m thinking at this point that Jody is going to win. She’s steady and her cooking seems pretty flawless. I want her and Susan and Jonathan in the finals, but he could be edged out. Remember Citizen Kane didn’t win the Oscar for Best Movie, this movie did.

I also think it’s possible that Jonathan may not care as much as the others. He’s already perfection personified and so beyond skilled that he may just be going along for the ride…until he decides to step off and go back to his own kitchen. No blindfolds there.

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