Top Chef Masters

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Is it me, or is this Champions Round about ten times more interesting than the rounds that came before? I don't know if the chefs have bigger personalities, or if we've just had more time to get to know them, but I'm really enjoying it. Anyway, there are five chefs left: Anita Lo, Rick Bayless, Hubert Keller, Art Smith, and Michael Chiarello.

The chefs enter the kitchen to find a table piled high with fast food burgers and French fries. Art thinks that they'll have to make gourmet food out of fast food, which they kind of already did, so I doubt it. Kelly announces the Quickfire, which is all about burgers. Rick says that he's tried to cook burgers for his family, but he always makes the patties too thick or gets the fire too hot. It's nice to know that even professional chefs have some foods that mystify them every time. I could cook lots of things but still had trouble with grilled cheese for the longest time. I've perfected it now, though. Kelly points out that Hubert has a gourmet burger restaurant, and Hubert adds that they serve the world's most expensive burger there: it's five thousand dollars. I'm sorry, but if you have five thousand dollars to spend on any kind of food, much less a hamburger, you officially have too much money and need to donate more to charity. I will send you a prepaid self-addressed envelope, and I'll just take care of that for you. In an interview, Hubert explains "the Fleur Burger 5000" which kind of sounds like something from The Jetsons. Anyway, Hubert thinks the pressure is on him since he has a gourmet burger restaurant, but I think he has kind of an unfair advantage. It would be like if the next Quickfire is about making the best upscale Mexican and Rick Bayless was like, "I hope I can do it!"

Kelly announces the terms of the challenge; they will have to make both a gourmet burger and a side dish. The judges for this challenge will be Spike, cheftestant from Season 4 and owner of a DC burger joint, Sang Yoon, who won an America's Best Burger competition, and Morgan Spurlock, famous McDonald's eater and documentarian. Rick Bayless recalls that he was a judge during Spike's season, and though Spike was quite "audacious." Not sure if that's a good thing or not for him.

Kelly tells them to get started. Anita admits that she didn't sleep well and she's feeling a little fatigued. Michael is feeling the pressure of someone going home each week, and his plan is to make one gigantic burger. Rick plans to make a burger with queso and three different guacamoles on the side. Rick has problems with his meat grinder, and Art offers up his to help. Art's plan is to make a hoecake and fried green tomato chips, as part of his mantra to make simple delicious food. Hubert feels more pressure than in other challenges, and plans to make a beef and Roquefort cheese burger with Yukon gold potatoes. Anita wants to go "outside of the burger box," and decides to make cheese soup with little burgers in it. Could be good, could be weird. We shall see. As time winds down, Anita isn't happy with her cheddar soup, so she keeps adding more cheese, realizing that she can't change tactics now. Michael is determined to beat Hubert. The rest of the chefs finish plating their food, and Kelly walks in and calls time. Looks like everyone finished, though.

The judges are served Rick's dish first: a queso fundido burger with a trio of guacamole. Sang Yoon thinks you don't need all three guacamoles, and back in the kitchen, Bayless is appalled that the judges can't taste the difference between the three. Well, he didn't say they all tasted the same; he just said that three might be overkill. I kind of agree, because guacamole isn't really a side dish, is it? They're just eating the guacamole with a spoon, which seems weird.

Next up is Art's cornmeal hoecake burger with fried green tomatillos and coleslaw. They all like the burger, and Morgan Spurlock, being from West Virginia, really likes the fried green tomatillos. Spike concludes that he wouldn't change a thing, because this dish really represents the chef. Not sure how he can say that since he doesn't know who the chef is, but whatever, Spike.

Michael's "hamburgese enorme" with truffle manchego potato chips is up next. He basically made one giant burger and served it on four rolls, so they have to cut it up with a knife to each get a portion. They all agree that it's delicious and cooked well, and Morgan Spurlock in particular can't get enough. Interesting how they make him out to be a rube who eats fast food, when I believe his wife is a vegan or vegetarian chef, so I'm sure he's got an educated palate.

Anita made cheddar soup with grilled burger, ketchup crouton, and bacon fried onion rings. The soup looks... interesting, but the bits of burger seem problematic. It would just be way too easy to overcook them, and then they become hard rubbery meatballs. The judges joke that it's a burger shake, and it tastes like boiled meat. They don't find it as satisfying as a burger should be.

Hubert's much-anticipated burger is next: beef and Roquefort cheeseburger with caramelized onions and rustic potatoes. It looks effing delicious. The potatoes look perfectly crispy and the burger looks juicy. I want to go to Hubert's restaurant and eat this right now. The judges agree that it's visually appetizing. Morgan thinks the cheese overpowers the taste of the burger, and Spike thinks it doesn't have a "wow factor." Backstage, the chefs joke that they're going to toss Spike off a roof. I see where he's coming from though; compared to the other chefs, it's not that creative, and it's not perfectly executed. You can do typical burger if it's perfectly executed, but it sounds like this wasn't.

Kelly returns to the kitchen to reveal the scores. Hubert got three stars, Art got three and a half stars, and Anita got one and a half stars (OUCH). Hubert interviews that they all felt Anita's pain. Michael got four stars (so he beat Hubert!) and Rick also got four stars. Michael jokes that they need to have a burger-off now. Anita interviews that she has a huge disadvantage going into the Elimination Challenge, but she's going to work for the other twenty stars.

With the results of the Quickfire out there, Kelly announces that the Elimination Challenge will be catering a lunch party for Zooey Deschanel. Art interviews that he knew there would be a twist. The chefs watch a video message from Zooey, wherein she reveals that she's a vegetarian and doesn't eat any meat, fish, eggs, or dairy. And I know there are different types of vegetarian, but that sounds pretty vegan to me. She doesn't mention honey, so who knows? The chefs also murmur that she's vegan. And then on top of that, she's gluten intolerant and she doesn't eat soy. Damn. What does she eat on a daily basis? Nuts and berries? And plain vegetables? That's no way to live. Kelly further explains that each chef will be responsible for one course. The chefs confab to figure out who's going to make what. Art volunteers to do dessert, and Michael wonders if he's trying to go home, since dessert is such a trap on this show. Art says that's the only thing he knows how to make, given the restrictions. They then agree on an order for the other courses and head out to go shopping.

At the store, Michael interviews that Zooey's diet consists of thinking of the things you love to cook and then just saying no to them: beef, seafood, dairy, eggs, pasta, all no. Rick wanders around the produce section and then interviews that he can do a lot of things with vegetables and beans and grains. As long as they don't contain wheat or wheat flour, right? Art was planning on making something with rice milk, but he doesn't know how to make rice milk ice cream, so he bought some premade rice milk ice cream. Ooh. Buying the main component of your dish premade seems like a terrible idea, especially when he could just serve something like strawberry sorbet or strawberries with balsamic vinegar (but obviously more creative than that) and call it a day. And no one would blame h

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Top Chef Masters

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