Top Chef Masters S3Ep2

There’s no way for me to do these recaps without taking notes, so I’m watching the shows with my laptop. With Idol and RuPaul, this is relatively easy, but Top Chef Masters is HARD – there’s just so much information – which chef, which charity, which dish and there are just so many components even to a quickfire that I can’t keep up, so I’m pausing and rewinding all the time.

I think it shows that TCM is a much more interesting show.

So, we’re down to eleven chefs because Hugh went home. Except that only ten show up (this is making me think that they’re not housing the masters dormitory fashion in a house, but in their own hotel rooms. Otherwise, there being only ten wouldn’t be a surprise.) Anyway, John S had an emergency and had to leave, which means that John C is now just “John.” This messes with the number of episodes, so they bring Hugh back. He promises to cut back on the salt and everyone seems thrilled to see him.

The Quickfire is meatballs, to be judged by singer and professionally trained cook Kelis – she of Milkshake fame. The chefs have to grind their own meat using handgrinders, something which is both very time consuming and unfamiliar to most of them, and they only have thirty minutes.

I make meatballs all the time at work because a significant portion of the individuals for whom I cook cannot chew or chew well. Soft foods work best – such as ground meats combined with onions and cooked in sauce. As it’s basically home cooking, I use meat ground at the supermarket. Most time consuming thing for me? Mincing the onions.

The food made on this episode is, of course, orders of magnitude better. Mine is just more kosher.

So there is a selection of meats available, including a dish of sausage. The chefs choose their cuts plus whatever they’re going to be using and get started grinding. If they can clamp the grinders or not get stuck. Floyd is making a meatball sub in honor of his son, who volunteered for his charity, “The Young Scientist Research Fund”, which is seeking out a cure for cancer.

And the grinding is taking so long, there’s barely time to cook, and one does not finish. Again. At least, I don’t think she does because she never gets judged. Once again, it’s a blind judging with the chefs watching on a monitor.

Sue makes a spicy pork belly meatball with cheese inside, served over pasta. Kelis likes it. George makes a chicken and short rib meatball. He’s thickened and frothed his sauce, which Kelis does not like although she does appreciate the moist chicken.

I want Alex’s dish – lamb meatball with toasted fruit and almond couscous. He includes inedible lentils as garnish, which Kelis does not like, but she does enjoy the spice and bite. Alex jokes that he doesn’t like her songs.

Kelis thinks Floyd’s beef loin fried meatball sub, which she eats without the bread, to be salty. She does like the Asian slaw.

She doesn’t taste the dill in Traci’s tarragon meatball consomme (which she eats with a fork.) This turns out to be not surprising, since the garnish was fennel.

Mary Sue made a turkey albondigas soup with toasted pumpkin seeds and manchego cheese – right in her comfort zone. She forgot the vinegar but Kelis likes the flavor and both she and Curtis like that it seems healthy.

John’s simple, straight up Vietnamese chicken meatball is deemed “wonderful”, so he’s happy. They also love Suvir’s spicy Indian meatball with tamarind glaze. They aren’t so thrilled with Hugh’s lamb merquez with shiitake slaw and yogurt sauce. Hugh says it’s a classic Mediterranean combination, which it is. Celina isn’t judged and I don’t think she plated anything.

The least favorite dishes are the chicken and short rib because Kelis thought the combination was weird (note, I make chicken and beef meatballs all the time) and she didn’t like the froth, the beef loin because it was too salty – she ignored the bread because all ingredients should stand on their own. But if he made the meatball too bland, it wouldn’t stand up to the bread. It’s not fair to eat the dishes not as intended. Finally, she didn’t like the lamb merguez.

She liked the porkbelly and pasta, the Vietnamese chicken one and the Indian one. John wins! His charity is Share our Strength – No Kid Hungry.

The elimination challenge is, sort of, a Mad Men challenge. They have to take classic sixties dishes, and make a duo of appetizers – both the original and a modern update. The guests are Christina Hendricks from Mad Men, who is sick of sixties food because she has to eat it for her job, and her husband Geoffrey Arend. She wants to enjoy the food. And they shouldn’t use vienna sausages.

The chefs are presented with numbered covered dishes and have to pull fondue forks to find out their assignments. George gets chicken a la king, Sue gets duc a l’orange, Alex gets bread pudding (he’s never made bread pudding), Floyd gets ambrosia (he’s never HEARD of ambrosia), Traci gets beef stroganoff, John gets Oysters Rockefeller, Mary Sue gets deviled eggs, Celina gets coq au vin, Naomi gets grasshopper pie, Suvir (a vegetarian who cooks meat but never tastes those dishes) gets Veal Oscar and Hugh gets beef Wellington.

The Suvir information is interesting. On the one hand, not tasting the food can lead to things like over/under seasoning. On the other hand, well. Most of what I cook is meat but there are times I know I’m going to be eating dairy right after I finish up. I wait an hour between eating meat and eating dairy. Most people wait six hours with a minority waiting three, but one hour is a legitimate custom and as both my husband and myself come from families at least one generation away from keeping kosher, and therefore there was an interruption, we were told we could choose. We chose the one hour. Rather, my husband did long before we met, let alone got married and I took it on afterwards. Still, I don’t want to taste my chicken soup or a meat ball less than an hour before eating pizza. If I have to taste, therefore, I only taste and spit it out. It’s fine so long as I don’t swallow.

But I do eat meat, so I can taste. Suvir doesn’t. This worries me.

John grew up with Oysters Rockefeller. All he needs is to be sure his oysters are cookable and fresh. He tastes them before buying. Sue, also from Louisiana, has made duc a l’orange before. She’s playing for the Lousiana SPCA, which is still dealing with the pets in the aftermath of Katrina.

Mary Sue is taking her deviled eggs to Japan. Floyd is amazed at how bad classic ambrosia is – whipped cream and canned fruits. Hugh is just happy to be back, but doesn’t want to lose twice in a row.

Back in the kitchen, Suvir seems to be clumsy since he has a lot of finger cots (rubber “condoms” worn over bandages). Mary Sue cuts herself on an egg shell. Celina love classic sixties food and has a classic night every week, so she’s psyched. Traci is deconstructing her beef stroganoff, with beef tartare. Floyd is also deconstructing his ambrosia, with a mousse. Naomi does not know what a grasshopper pie is, although she’s familiar with the cocktail. She feels she’s been cursed with desserts. I understand a chef not liking desserts but she CHOSE to do one last week, AND it was a wise choice for her AND it was delicious and put her in the top.

Alex finishes his prep early and wonders if he did something wrong, while John is unable to do more than he has because he won’t open his oysters until the last possible minute.

They arrive in the restaurant kitchen the next morning. It’s tiny and chaotic. John finds out he can’t cook all his oysters so he goes for a plan C he already had. Good planning on his part. He pickles them instead.

Because the kitchen is so chaotic, John and Mary Sue are happy to go first. The critics love both his takes on Oysters Rockefeller with the modern mignonette but they are completely blown away by Mary Sue’s Japanese style eggs. They’re barely deviled but it’s enough and they are delicious.

When I externed, we made wasabi deviled eggs. Really yummy. So, yes. I can see this.

George and Traci are next. George deconstructed chicken a la king – yogurt instead of cream, a roasted chicken breast and seasonal veg, over toast. They like it. Traci served beef tartare with mushroom spume and fried noodles. Not enough mushroom and the noodles were the best part of her “beef stroganoff”.

Suvir and Sue both had problems. Suvir could not access a single burner or oven, so he had to deep fry his veal, and it came out tough and leathery. Sue, on the other hand, spent so much time helping others (in an attempt to get space to work herself) that she didn’t have time to finish plating, even with everyone else helping HER. She left off components and some plates were no more than half done. Neither dish was good – there’s not even any reason to suspect that the additional components would have helped (except the duck cracklin. Cracklin always helps.) Sue does not say she lost time by helping but Suvir defends her.

Hugh and Celina are next. Celina turned coq au vin into a frisee salad, while Hugh deconstructed beef wellington by pan searing the meat, adding foam and a ring of puff pastry. Most love the salad (some think the vinegar was too abrasive) but they don’t love the wellington because the marriage is now a divorce.

The three desserts are served at once – Alex’s bread puddings, Floyd’s ambrosias and Naomi’s grasshopper pies. Floyd served grilled pineapple with mango and cocoanut, plus an orange custard to be eaten as a fondue. This was a brilliant move, since it was supposed to be a flan but never set up. However, the critics love it and Geoffrey Arend is thrilled to find a pecan at the bottom. Alex’s bread puddings are too boozy and the modern one is all sauce with a panetonne crust. Naomi kills dessert again, with a warm minty chocolate souffle cake with a toasted kirsh marshmallow. Christina thinks the mint was off, though.

Critic’s table – and we see Mary Sue, Floyd and John at once – top three. James called the Oysters Rockefeller “exquisite”. Floyd took a home dish and made it a chef’s and they loved the sixties touch of dipping in the fondue. Mary Sue’s eggs were perfect and delicious. Mary Sue wins. Like Floyd, her charity is Share Our Strength, so they’re the big winners this week. As an organization who fight childhood hunger should be.

Bottom three are Sue, Suvir and Alex. I’m seriously worried about Suvir, but Sue didn’t finish her dish. The critics didn’t like Sue’s duck anyway – the modern take didn’t feel modern. Suvir is a fabulous cook but that veal was terrible and too big. Of course, he did finish his plating. James ate all of Sue’s duck, but couldn’t finish Alex’s bread pudding. Danyelle thought was better than the veal.

And in the end, not finishing trumps bad veal and uneatable bread pudding, and Sue goes home.

Next week is bugs.

Next week is also Passover, so expect sparse posts.

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About mamadeb

I'm a devoted fan of Adam Lambert, but also of cooking, knitting, science fiction and pretty anything pop culture. I'm @_mamadeb on Twitter.
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