Top Chef Masters

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This week's chefs are:

Jody Adams, chef and owner of Rialto in Cambridge, MA. She tells us that she never went to culinary school, and has a degree in Anthropology from Brown. Impressive! And kind of useless! So it's understandable why she went into cooking. Jody kind of looks like your mom or maybe your mom's well-kept friend who can pan sear a mean chicken breast. She's known for combining New England ingredients with Italian cooking.

Maria Hines, an "organic guru" from Seattle. She's young and upcoming in her field, and her restaurant looks like it belongs in Ann Arbor. I lived there for a few years and I've never seen so many restaurants in converted houses. What's that about, hippies?

Rick Tramonto is from Chicago, and apparently well-known, though I've never heard of him. Then again, I'm kind of a cultural wasteland.

Debbie Gold is Executive Chef at the American in Kansas City. Man, they went way outside the usual cities to find chefs for this season, huh? I dig it. It shows that you don't have to move to New York and pay exorbitant prices to open your own restaurant and be recognized in the culinary community.

Susur Lee cooks in Toronto and New York. He's Asian and looks really fierce, like he might be carrying a sword inside his chef's coat.

Kelly gathers the chefs and asks Rick if he's nervous. Rick reminds us that he was a judge back in Season 4 and he was harsh on the cheftestants. He expects to be made uncomfortable in this challenge (like they'll be cooking in the back of a Volkswagen?) and see who comes out on top.

Quickfire Challenge: Present a creative fruit plate. Susur is excited because he knows that he has great knife skills. Maybe he will use the sword in his chef's jacket to chop up some pineapple. The judges for this challenge are Gail Simmons and Stephen Hamilton, a renowned food photographer. Debbie is nervous knowing that Stephen Hamilton will be looking at her plate, since he's such a visual person. Kelly pauses and then announces that this is "a high stakes Quickfire." Wait, wasn't that just a Vegas thing? Because of the casinos and all? It seems kind of weird to transfer it to other seasons. Anyway, the stakes are that the winner of this Quickfire gets an automatic bid in the finals. Wow. Wow! That's huge, right? Seriously, if I had been in the first episode with the bullshit couples challenge, I would be pissed. They had to work with a stranger and try to win, and meanwhile these guys get to compete on their own and potentially go right to the finals? Doesn't quite seem fair. Anyway, the various chefs interview about how the stakes, they are high, and the nerves, they are shot.

They have forty-five minutes to prepare their plates from fruit given to them in a nearby basket. Rick interviews that presentation is going to be a key element in the judges' decision, and he's trying to make a piece of art. Jody (why do I always want to call her Judy?) says that she was always the fastest line cook in the restaurant, but that was many years ago, and she hopes her skills have hung in there. Susur explains that he grew up in Hong Kong, but he has picked things up from all over the world, and he has French technique. He explains that he's making a fruit ravioli that does look pretty awesome. I think it's an extremely thin slice of pineapple? It's hard to tell. And how in the hell did he get it that thin? He must have used a mandolin or a meat slicer. Anyway, he puts a blob of something red, maybe macerated berries with Thai basil, in the middle, covers with another thin slice of pineapple, and then seals the edges to make a ravioli. It's pretty creative. Susur is confident that he's going to win. Since he said that, now I know he won't. He also hollows out a lemon and uses it as a fruit bowl.

Rick calls Susur "an astronaut of this industry" and his "toughest competition." Maria says that she's like a duck, calm on top and paddling like hell underneath. She interviews that her competition was opening their own restaurants while she was "smoking, not inhaling, things" in the high school parking lot. She seems fun. But green. And I don't mean in the organic way. Anyway, she's making a three-course fruit meal.

Jody is making "a fig and walnut tart" as well as zabaglione. She put her tart dough in the freezer to make it firm but when she takes it out, it's frozen solid. So then she has to put it in the oven, and now she's worried that she won't finish on time. With good reason.

Debbie is making stuffed figs, and then decides to tempura the whole fig (meaning she breads and fries it, basically). And hey, let's get some background on Rick. He was a teenaged troublemaker with an AWESOME mullet. His hair was as long as ZZ Top's beards. And then he found Christ and now he has faith and let's be honest, is probably a lot more boring but a lot less likely to die in a car accident, so, you know, choices.

Everyone manages to get their food done on time, even Jody, and they take seats in the kitchen to watch the judges sample their food. Jody made a fig and walnut tart, pomegranate syrup, and zabaglione. Gail and Stephen both like the visual, as Stephen explains that you know what you're getting. That may sound dumb, but it makes sense when you consider that sometimes I look at the glamour shots of these dishes and would have no clue what it is if not for the chyron. Anyway, Gail worries that the tart isn't quite cooked through but Stephen thinks that's a strength. Jody doesn't look worried, so I guess the texture was intentional.

Debbie made a pecan tempura stuffed fig with persimmon and tangerine. Stephen likes the color but it kind of looks like a big lump of fried batter with no clues to what's inside. Stephen says that the walnuts are great and, back in the kitchen, Debbie says, "They're pecans." Heh. Still not as bad as watching the Real Housewives critique your food. Gail thought the technique was top notch.

Susur made an East Meets West fruit plate with blackberry ravioli and Thai basil. The finished ravioli don't look as cool as they seemed when he was assembling them. I think he put some sort of sauce over the top and the pineapple slices didn't hold up like pasta would have, so it just looks like bloody lumps on the plate. It's kind of gross, actually. Stephen likes things simple so he's not into it and Gail doesn't know where the focus is supposed to be. Susur blames the comments on the fact that the critics don't understand his culture. I think the plate was just ugly.

Maria made a Northwest trio: apple soup, grilled fig, and berries with berry mousse. I think this would be my favorite plate, just based on the visual and the descriptions. I would love to try apple soup. Stephen digs the visual, as does Gail, but she doesn't understand how the three things tie together. In the kitchen, Maria is freaking out because it's supposed to be appetizer, entrée, and dessert, but she can't explain it. It would be nice if the chefs could type up a little card or something. Although I guess if you have to explain it, the dish is unsuccessful.

Rick made herb and fruit shooters, and he included inspirational cards. Gail and Stephen find it "playful" but don't say much else. Rick interviews that he thought from the comments that he had it in the bag. Which means that he didn't. I'm getting the hang of this.

Kelly returns to announce the scores. Maria earned three stars. Debbie earned three and a half stars, so she's in the lead. Susur earned two and a half stars. Ouch. Susur interviews, "What the fuck is that? I'm very piss off." Heh. He's kind of awesome. Jody earns four stars, so she's the new leader. Did Rick earn enough to beat her? He earned three and a half stars. So Jody wins and automatically goes on to the Champions Round. She has the most mellow reaction. She seems like someone you'd want around in an emergency. Jody interviews that she's still going to compete in the Elimination Challenge because she could win money for her charity. I was kind of wondering about that.

Elimination Challenge: Modernize the family dinner and serve the

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Top Chef Masters

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