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Top Chef: Masters Thoughts for May 5

Hey, folks. It’s time for another week’s review of Top Chef: Masters. We’re taking a quick break from Dew Reviews, but I promise that Whiteout’s already written and will be up on Friday. I’m hoping to try to make this week’s post less “whole episode reviewy” than the past few. This is probably due to my laziness, but it’s also been because of the show’s rushing through, well, everything. This week starts the Champions Round, so hopefully there’ll be less expository garbage and more concentration on food.

The Quickfire is Tag Team cookoff. I hate team matches, but the Tag Team event was one of my favorite bits of Season 6. It’s fairly interesting to see if the receiver gets the vision of the hand-offer and decides to go in a different direction on purpose or by accident.

The quickfire is, for my taste, far too quick. Ther’s about 30 seconds to just short of a minute for each tag of the team. I found the most insightful bit to be about Waxman’s “Obi-Wan” style, as Rick calls it. I got quite the chuckle out of the moment it clicks for Waxman. I’d really like to eat at his place some day – he’s got a clear vision and great chops to execute it.

Overall, there’s actually very little panic in this compared to the first tag team. This surprises me a bit, and I can’t read much from Rayner’s minute worth of thoughts. I can agree with the Blue Team’s victory – Waxman seems to be the guy to join. It’s interesting how both of the quickfire dishes were so similar; these chefs are probably more alike than they are different.

And, oh boy, it’s ANOTHER team event and this time it’s Wedding Wars. I hope it has some amount of comedy. It’s very tough for people to excel in either Restaurant Wars or Wedding Wars because it’s such a giant challenge. The Blue Team goes with the Bride, and she just doesn’t seem to like anything… at least, the editors show us that. We barely get anything on the Red Team and the groom, except that he just HAS to have a carrot cake.

Susur Lee’s knife skills continue to amaze me. This guy’s like a woodchipper, except with hands and knives. Watching him destroy these vegetables is like art. Much like his knife action, the prep time is over in the blink of an eye. The editors continue to show us things only going well; I haven’t seen much panic or problems. Sure, there’s plenty of grumbling about time, but something that is a bit refreshing is that these guys grin, bear it, and kick ass. There’s a reason they’re on Masters.

The grumbling grows as they get closer to serving time. The Blue Team’s appetizers come out, and James Oseland is back. Bleh. Still, the blue team’s got some good stuff. Plenty of positive comments all around, except for Rick’s dish. I dunno. Once again, there just isn’t much there for me to pull out. Doing all of the challenge work for the main course in probably 15 minutes of screen time is just not enough.

Lastly, it’s dessert time. Blue team has the bizarro cake and banana’s foster. Red Team has Susur’s huge array of desserts. I’ve got a lot of respect for the quantity that he put out, and the reaction (that’s it, reaction) seems positive. Susan’s cake, with the potporri of berries… not so much.

Critic’s table is not drawn out at all as far as the winning team is concerned. Blue team wins, four people are not going to be eliminated. Thankfully, Waxman is going forward. I think he’s got a great chance of taking the whole thing. Jody wins the top prize, and it reminds me that I still need to drive to Cambridge and go to her restaurant. Got that over with quickly, with ten whole minutes left in the hour for the losers. That seems awfully long. Very few positive comments and not getting a feel at all for who’s going home. Jay Rayner has similar thoughts as Kevin does on “simple” dishes, which seem to escape Oseland. Man, that guy is such a downer; I wonder how many more weeks we have of him.

Carmen is totally getting destroyed here, unfortunately. 11 stars. Tony and Susur are safe, so it’s Marcus vs. Carmen, and the judges already gave him 9 stars. Guests gave him 4, so unfortunately, Carmen goes home. I’m not sure if she’d want to hug Marcus after what he said a few weeks ago. Also, why was everybody clapping when Carmen came in as a loser? Seemed a bit strange to me. Anyway, her corn salad, while probably tasty, looked to be very minimal, even though she seemed to execute it well according to comments. Yet Marcus, who seemed to make a crime against beef, gets more stars? I don’t understand these guys.

We leave another episode of Masters a little confused but entertained by neat food, as we usually do. Come back next week for more fun… and food.

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Top Chef Masters Reactions for April 21

This episode of Top Chef is the “retreads” episode. Chefs from the previous season of TC:M are back to kick some ass and take names. Rick Moonen, Wylie Dufrense, Graham Elliot Bowles, Jonathan Waxman, Mark Peel, and Ludo Lefebve rejoin the TC:M cast to be greeted to a classic Quickfire. Their task is to pair their dish with an exotic cocktail. The chefs first taste all of the available cocktails and then pick up their preferred ones.

Bravo decides some cross promotion is in order and the diners are the Real Housewives of Orange County. Blech. Who finds that Housewives stuff compelling? I mean, really? Must be the voyeur in all of us. Damn you and your compulsive cross advertising, Bravo.

Wylie’s char looks delicious and is quite peeved that the airheads change their minds to agree with the expert. Glad that they do kinda call the wives out on that bullshit.

The kitchen is full of stress and wacky races all around. Nothing really wrong happens.

Wylie’s char looks delicious and is quite peeved that the airheads change their minds to agree with the expert. Glad that they do kinda call them out on that bullshit.

Jonathan goes for pork tenderloin, and hits it out of the park with Gael, whose opinion is the one that counts.

Mark’s ginger figgle gets mixed reactions. It does look tasty, and I like ginger, so I’d be happy to try it. The wives don’t, much to his chagrin.

Rick’s Strawberry Shortcake gets lots of high comments. Even though Rick isn’t a pastry chef, it can’t be that hard to screw up Strawberry Shortcake. I’m surprised he didn’t get the super sweet comments with regards to the cocktail and dessert pair.

Graham Elliot’s edamame follows a tough act in the shortcake, and probably is not appreciated very well. It’s a high palette food, which I don’t think these girls have, unfortunately.

Ludo’s pork chop again gets mixed reactions and is very displeased about being judged by people “less” than him. This guy’s got a serious attitude problem.

In the end, Waxman’s shrimp and pork comes out as the winner. It looked like a great surf and turf. Definitely a recipe I’ll need to check out.

On to the elimination challenge, which is to “upscale” a pub dish. The options are bangers and mash, fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, irish stew, steak and kidney pie, and Toad in the Hole. All classic Irish and pub dishes, though a bit surprised that there were no burgers or chicken wings.

There’s actually some drama in this episode, given what happened last year. Unusual for TC:M. Ludo is coming out swinging.

I like to believe I’m a connoisseur of fish and chips. Rick has got the right idea here – the sauce and breading are what make your fish and chips unique. I’m interested to see if he’ll fuck it up with his hubris or not. His overconfidence could be his doom.

The standard pre-serving tour goes on in Tom Bergen’s, and much to the chef’s dismay the kitchen is very small and cramped. Of course, Ludo is being a little bitch.

Waxman finishes up early (as usual). Mark Peel makes a great NASCAR analogy about cartwheeling cars, Ludo continues being a bitch, and we don’t hear anything from Wylie at all. Hmm.

Ludo serves first. Does not go over well at all. Methinks his whine act may come back around and bite him.

Rick uses chicken fried sable, twice fried potatoes, and slaw. It’s not perfect, though, as the potatoes are a bit off. Still, that fish looked absolutely delectable.

We finally hear from Wylie and his bangers and mash. It doesn’t LOOK like your usual bangers and mash, but the soul is there. Definitely higher class and the crowd loves it.

Graham Elliot thinks his dish, the steak and kidney pie, is perfect. It certainly looks good. He and Gael Greene disagree on the specifics of cooking kidney, apparently.

Mark crosses his fingers on the pudding. This is going to be a disaster, methinks. The judges catch on immediately that the pudding failed, but the rest of the dish seems to get marks. We know he’s not winning tonight. No point in dragging him through the mud.

Waxman’s shepherd’s pie definitely doesn’t look like what I’m used to. He pulled a page out of Kevin’s playbook by distilling it to its core and reinterpreting that core splendidly. I like that idea.

On to critic’s table. Ludo gets taken to the cleaners, while everyone generally gets the praise or criticisms they knew were coming. Graham seems to have overcompensated on the kidneys, but overall gets lots of good praise. The great thing about the TC:M critic’s table is that the chefs are very quick to recognize what they thought they could improve in their dishes. I like that sort of humility. Critic’s table hits the highs and lows, but the short amount of time dedicated to each dish in the on-screen version leaves a bit to be desired. Fortunately, I can catch the extras on the Bravo website later on.

In the end, 18.5 stars for Waxman’s Shepherd’s pie crowns him as the winner of the night. Not surprising. It really reminded me of Kevin’s stuff, and to think that Waxman reminds me of Kevin is a big thing. It’s really more that Kevin takes after Waxman, given their ages. But still – the distilled core concept doesn’t get enough lip service in cooking, IMO.

The rest of the field plays out like we expect it. Mark gets 9.5 stars. Only one star from the crowd. Ouch. Ludo gets 11 stars. Graham gets 13.5 stars to kick Ludo’s ass to the curb. Wylie beats Graham by just one star. It comes down to Rick vs. Wylie, and with 16 stars, Rick edges him out. Given what happened to Rick last year, I’d say it’s well deserved.

A decent episode all around, but Ludo just had to drag things down. Bummer.

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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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Top Chef: Masters Wrapup, 4/7/10

OK, so, what’s going on here? It’s Top Chef, that’s what.

This show is a rolling Lexus ad. Something tells me there’s going to be tons of Toyota placement here, even moreso than usual.

They pull the old quickfire switch-a-roo on the team, dumping them off at a gas station and playing the “You’ve got 45 minutes to make something from gas station food” trick. The Masters have used their imaginations here, which surprises me a bit. Cheet-Os macaroni and cheese? Interesting.

I’ve never heard of The Bravery, so I’m not sure how much I should count their opinions.

Susan and Tony chose to go with a bread pudding. It doesn’t look very attractive, but I do like bread pudding, so it

Govino and Jimmy did the flamin’ hot Cheetos macaroni with the slim jims. It looks… well, flamin’ hot red.

Ana and Jerry do the rice cake with clamato. Again, not very attractive, but I bet it was probably OK.

The verdict is in, with the bread pudding winning. Not surprising that a sweet dish won, given that these guys probably like sweet or “heavy” foods. Kudos for something that doesn’t look all that great but still tastes good. I would probably like to try that Mac n Cheese for something geared towards an entree.

Something that seems common across these guys is that they don’t take people that they see as below them having valid opinions, or would probably argue with them a lot. The chefs are surprisingly candid; the honesty seems a bit odd compared to the pointed cattiness in usual Top Chef. Govino’s certainly got some jaws on him, though, he’ll take hits on anyone apparently.

The elimination challenge is another team event. I don’t like team events in general since it means less food to look at, but the dynamics can be interesting. The theme was harmonies as if the dish was a date of two people.

Govino and Jimmy served a lamb carpaccio and a lamb chop. Visually, from the TV, they looked like they went together well and the judge’s banter seemed positive. I’ve never had a lamb carpaccio; it sounds like it would need to be executed perfectly to avoid the raw lamb falling on its face.

Ana and Jerry had the duck breast with soup. People liked the taste, but the soup’s presentation left a lot to be desired. This one just needs to be tasted in person; I don’t think the television does it justice and they didn’t really spend much time on it.

Susan and Tony make “the love potion,” with shrimp & scallop combined with pasta and truffles. Susan’s going a little overboard in her description. The truffle pasta gets a “damning with faint praise” from my viewpoint. They liked it but not enough to really get excited about it. The shrimp and scallop dish was remarked as having too much of a kick.

Critic’s table… seems fairly positive. People with down points got some questions, but they keep the knives at bay, as they usually do. These are some of the best, so they treat them with kid gloves. Jerry and Ana ended up with 15 stars, Govino and Jimmy ran up with 12.5 stars, and Susan and Tony finished with 17 stars. Ultimately, this was another trick of editing; Susan and Tony didn’t seem to knock it out of the park at the tables, but apparently everyone likes it a lot.

What do we think about the start? Well… it’s a start. That’s about all I can say at this point. Masters can be cordial and it can also be pointed. The first episode can seem a bit like doing the motions, but there’ll be plenty of chances for unintended comedy… like Zooey Deschanel’s friends. Ugh.

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Top Chef: Masters

Today’s the premiere of Season two of Top Chef: Masters. Since we won’t get the actual Top Chef 7 for quite some time, TC:M will perform as an adequate fill-in for the time being. If you’re not familiar with the spin-off series, TC:M takes the Top Chef format but brings it up to high level chefs instead of the upstarts normally seen. It’s a different spin on the series and while it might not be as good as the original, it’s still worth a watch.

I’ve decided for that this go-around of Top Chef stuff that Thursdays will be “Top Chef post day,” with commentary and discussion on the previous day’s episode. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up with it. Tomorrow’s post will wrap up tonight’s episode as well as give some insight into the people showing up this season. Onward and upward!

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