Top Chef: Masters reactions for 4/14/10

Marcus Samuelson, David Burke, Carmen Gonzalez, Thierry Rautureau, and Monica Pope square off in this battle of titans.

The Quickfire is making a grilled cheese for Kelly in half an hour. A surprisingly simple, yet complex challenge when you think about it. A sandwich ceases to be a grilled cheese once the main component isn’t cheese, so how these guys tackle it is a good show of how they work the line of creativity.

Carmen’s was a nice complete sandwich but seemed less of a grilled cheese than the rest due to the amount of elements on the sandwich.

Monica has an original sandwich that still says “grilled cheese” when I look at it. It’s no surprise that it won.

David’s grilled cheese was more of a ham sandwich. Nevertheless, a grilled ham and cheese is still a grilled cheese in my book, so long as it’s not too much ham.

Thierry’s sandwich looked pretty good, and we’ll have to take Kelly’s comments at face value… much as I hate doing that. Admittedly Thierry stayed closer to the spirit of “grilled cheese” than, say, Carmen.

Marcus had a nice slice of sandwich, but it wasn’t enough sandwich, IMO. It sure looked pretty, though.

Ultimately, I don’t think Kelly’s palette is refined enough to be a real judge. I would have preferred someone else judging the challenge. It’s also clear that the chefs don’t see her on the same level as the critics.

Since she won the quickfire, Monica got the special advantage of choosing a unique protein. We’ll see how well it works out. Usually these things never end well for the beneficiary. Hubris or “screwing over” others never really works out. The elimination challenge is a soul food themed birthday party for Mekhi Phifer. All of the chefs seem to have decent dishes planned out.

Carmen carelessly leaves her stew behind, which causes much consternation. The other chefs look like they’ll be willing to help her out, but they don’t seem too stressed out when they burn part of the dish they were helping her out with. I’m not sure how much I buy these segments. Nobody really double checks this stuff before they leave? This drama takes up too much time and we don’t get to see how well the other chef’s dishes are coming together. At the halfway point of the show, it’s already 30 minutes before serving. Carmen at least has the sense to not present a bad dish if it comes to that, though.

Really wish that we could have seen more of the other chefs. I’m not getting a good feel for the dish production at all.

Gail Simmons is back! Monica’s shrimp and grits are up first, and the comments are… sparse. This bugs me. Rayner doesn’t seem pleased.

Marcus has barbecue chicken with collard greens and mac and cheese. Again, only a few sentences from critics. Not much insight at all except that the mac and cheese is tasty and the sauce is a bit strong. I don’t know how to judge these.

Carmen’s stew seems to get great reactions even with the lack of mash. It doesn’t look pretty, but I bet it tastes pretty good.

David hits a home run with the inventive egg presentation. Hush puppies, watermelon, the whole nine yards gets positive marks. Notice a trend here yet?

Thierry has pork shoulder with faro, roast cauliflower, and a slaw of brussels sprouts. Judges don’t seem thrilled with the cauliflower but the rest of the dish gets lots of praise.

Based on these short reactions, I’m not sure how they’re going to get the criticism down at Critic’s Table. I couldn’t read the judges at all, and there wasn’t much food prep and discussion going on in this episode. The short segment with Thierry was pretty funny. I like this guy.

These past two episodes have gone by comparatively quickly. There isn’t really enough time to digest the chefs and their dishes.

David gets some pointed talks. Undercooked shrimp seem to do Monica in. Marcus gets praise, but no mention of the sauce. Thierry takes Rayner’s questioning well. Carmen stands tall at critic’s table and gets some recognition for making lemonade out of lemons. James Oseland loses points in my book for criticizing something for being too “bacon-licious.” Really? You can’t have too much bacon, jerk. The chefs seem to have a lot of camaraderie and team spirit. None of the sniping as usual in mainline Top Chef, which is a bit refreshing. Monica seems to have once again fallen victim to the exlcusive protein curse by botching her shrimp. Overall, a good critic’s table session which gave me more insight into the food in five minutes than the rest of the hour episode. That screams structural flaws in the show to me.

Ultimately it’s Carmen who gets the top score. Talk about pulling it out! Quite the reward for all of the tribulations she went through, though I wonder if some sympathy stars played into it. Nevertheless, the guests gave her four stars, so she clearly had great food on her plate. No shame in this winner in my book; that stew looked delicious on screen.

Is there any less useful show than Watch What Happens Live?

So after a completely unnecessary commercial break (I really should time how much ). Thierry puts in a middling 11 stars. David takes a beating with only 9 stars. Monica pulls out 13 stars, and kills Thierry. For someone who had an undercooked protein, that seems a bit high. Only Marcus is left. He beats Monica with 14.5 stars.

I can already see a few things from this – Marcus wins by din of smugness. The other chefs, ultimately, could have done a lot better if they let Carmen fall by the wayside. We’ve seen this happen before in Top Chef history, so it’s not very surprising. However, this is a cordial, not cutthroat, competition, so we’ll see if anyone tells Carmen about Marcus’ lack of assistance. Simply a shame that all of the chefs were not on even footing.

Next week is a rematch of six chefs from last year’s competition. Seems to be a raucous group! We’ll see how well it works out then.

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