Top Chef Masters

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Zach Oat: B | Grade It Now!
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Zen Pallid

Previously: Hugh Acheson was a bossy boots, but Naomi Pomeroy impressed the critics with her celery soup. Nine chefs and $100,000 for charity remain.

The chefs enter the kitchen, where Curtis and a platter of cheese await them. Talk about a dream scenario... Their task is to create a masterful cheese dish in 12 minutes for $5,000 and immunity. Naomi grabs a stinky cheese, some French bread, and skirt steak. Traci Des Jardins claims she's making a goat cheese "carpaccio" -- isn't that just raw cheese slices? Celina Tio grabs manchego because she's familiar with it. George Mendes, who opts for grana padano, says he used to play with cheese as a child instead of model cars. Ummm, okay? Floyd Cardoz rocks the Mexican cheese for a corn on the cob riff. Suvir Saran thinks his fried variation on mozzarella cheese is "very Calvin Klein." And it seems that Mary Sue Milliken is the wunderkind for making her own tortillas in 12 minutes.

Judging begins. The guest judge is Norbert Wabnig, owner of The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, who thinks there should be a balance between cheese as garnish and cheese as center of the dish. The first dish is Suvir's cheese pakora two ways, including mozzarella di bufala and gouda, with tamarind chutney. Norbert thinks it's a cop-out because mozzarella goes with "almost anything" and says he doesn't care for the presentation. As for Celina's manchego with crispy carrot, fig, golden raisin and sherry, he thinks it's very good. Norbert deems Hugh's crispy camellia goat cheese with fried egg, pepper salad and hazelnut vinaigrette "stunning," though he isn't crazy about the egg. Next is Naomi's chaumes cheese toast, skirt steak, apples, onions and balsamic vinaigrette, which passes with flying colors. Mary Sue's cotija and gouda cheese empanada with tomatillo salsa also fares well. The onion in George's grana padano gratin with quail egg, grilled egg, and asparagus is too strong. Alex Stratta's rochetta and prosciutto quesadilla with pickled asparagus and fried quail egg isn't cheesy enough. They think Floyd's cotija elote (fresh corn on the cob, crème fraîche, cotija cheese and cayenne pepper) packs too much punch with its cayenne. It seems they've saved one of the best for last with Traci's colombier and prosciutto carpaccio with arugula and croutons. Traci is shocked because she thought she was playing it safe.

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Top Chef Masters

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