This week's contestants are Carmen Gonzalez, David Burke, Marcus Samuelsson, Monica Pope and Thierry Rautureau. While Samuelsson has been a judge on Top Chef, none of them were on this show last season, much like last week. Are they going to make all the former contestants compete against each other in one episode? Interesting. (A later commercial confirmed that they are doing exactly that, which seems fair.)
Quickfire Challenge: Kelly is the judge, and each chef has to create an awesome grilled cheese sandwich. I would like to judge that contest. I would automatically eliminate anyone who put bullshit in there like caviar or spinach or something. I want good bread and good cheese with a crispy outside and a gooey inside. I would accept certain additions, such as ham or certain vegetables, but it would need to taste good. Man, I'm really jealous of Kelly right now. Monica Pope wins with her Moroccan twist: feta and farmer cheese with dates on raisin nut bread and herb salad. I would not like that, but I'm not the judge.
Elimination Challenge: Cater a soul food birthday party for Mekhi Phifer. During prep, there's major drama as Carmen leaves her stew, the main component of her dish, in the kitchen. She has to run back and get it, and the other chefs pitch in to help out. Except they burn her yucca while she's gone. She manages to pull a dish together, though it's not her original plan. Here are the dishes each chef makes:
Marcus: BBQ chicken with mac and cheese and collard greens which earns 14 stars
Carmen: yucca and bacon mash, oyster and hot sausage stew with corn, except minus the mash (see previous paragraph) which earns 15.5 stars, the highest score of the night
David: sweet potato custard with crab, hush puppies and pickled watermelon rind which earns 10 stars
Monica: shrimp and grits "mac and cheese" style with okra and tomato jam, which earns 13 stars
Thierry: Moroccan pork shoulder, faro, roast cauliflower and Brussels sprouts slaw, which earns 11 stars
Marcus and Carmen move on to the Round of Champions, and Monica cries a whole lot.
Tonight, there are five chefs competing for two spots, so apparently they don't have to team up. That doesn't seem quite fair, to make some contestants compete as a team and not others. Then again, this isn't the Olympics or something. Anyway, the first chef is Marcus Samuelsson, who I remember as a judge from Top Chef. I mostly remember because he has such a Swedish name, but he's Ethiopian, which must make for some interesting food combinations. Next is David Burke, who has seven restaurants, so he must be busy. Monica Pope, from Houston, is next. She claims she doesn't do "high-falutin'" food, and this is reflected in her attire, which kind of looks like pajamas. I guess if you own the restaurant, you can dress how you like. The fourth chef is Carmen Gonzalez, a Puerto Rican chef cooking in Manhattan, and known for her "huge flavors." And finally is Thierry Rautureau, who apparently is known for always wearing a hat, since they call him "chef in a hat." Also, he cooks French food.
Quickfire Challenge: Kelly welcomes the five chefs to the kitchen. Thierry interviews that winning could generate five hundred thousand meals for his charity, and asks, "How much do I want to win? Who do I have to kill?" Maybe he could sell off his hat collection to raise some money. Kelly explains that with all of her food-related hosting duties, she gets to eat a lot of cutting edge cuisine, but her favorite food is the simple grilled cheese sandwich. So the judge for today's challenge will be Kelly! The chefs actually look relieved, maybe because they figure pleasing Kelly won't be as tough as pleasing a rock band, or children, or firefighters, or whatever. I would like to judge that contest. I would automatically eliminate anyone who put bullshit in there like caviar or spinach or something. I want good bread and good cheese with a crispy outside and a gooey inside. I would accept certain additions, such as ham or certain vegetables, but it would need to taste good. Man, I'm really jealous of Kelly right now. Carmen explains that the way to tell a great chef is to order the most simple dish on the menu, so this challenge makes sense. Kelly details it: the chefs must make a grilled cheese in twenty minutes.
Time starts and everyone takes off running. Monica explains that it seems like they have a long time but they are unfamiliar with the kitchen layout so they have to take time just to figure out where things are. David does something with roasted peppers and prosciutto that looks yummy. Monica thinks she is at a disadvantage because she only went to cooking school for three months and hasn't had as long of a career as her competitors, but her advantage in this challenge is that she has a seven-year-old daughter who loves grilled cheese. While chopping, Carmen manages to chop her finger and bleeds all over the place. She mentioned earlier that she hoped she still had her knife skills; presumably, she's at a stage in her career where she doesn't have to do her own prep work anymore. Thierry explains that he became a chef at his mother's suggestion, and he thinks his mother would appreciate his sandwich. Time runs down, and everyone begins plating as Kelly enters the kitchen.
Carmen is up first; she used a soft Italian baguette and Manchego cheese, with garlic, cilantro, and lime. Kelly eats it and compliments Carmen's use of herbs. David used a baguette also, and added three kinds of cream cheese with prosciutto, almonds, tomato and rosemary. He's added a black olive and pickle on top. I was on board but I wouldn't have used cream cheese. It seems like an odd choice. Then again, he's the master. Marcus mixed Gruyere and cheddar cheese, and added gazpacho and a salad. Too much. Thierry made taleggio and goat cheese with olives, harissa, and pear, pine nut, and arugula salad. Again, too much. She didn't ask for soup and salad. Just a sandwich. Focus, people! Monica made feta and farm cheese with dates on raisin nut bread and herb salad. It's a Moroccan touch, which is very trendy. Kelly calls it exotic.
Kelly gives her critique. She liked how Carmen kept it simple, and thought David had too many elements on the plate. Thierry didn't include enough taleggio. Monica created "a grilled cheese Marrakesh," and Marcus's sandwich reflected his world cuisine and had a nice tang to his food. But there can only be one winner, and that winner is...Monica! The other chefs congratulate her. Marcus interviews that he's pissed that he didn't win and he can't believe Monica beat him. It's hard to tell if he is serious or using deadpan humor. I hope it's the latter, or he's coming off as kind of a dick.
Elimination Challenge: Cater a celebrity birthday party for Mekhi Phifer. Mekhi himself shows up! Carmen interviews that Mekhi was her favorite doctor on ER except for her boyfriend George Clooney. Hmm. Who was my favorite ER doc after Clooney? Luka? I didn't love his character but I did love to look at him. My favorite character was probably Romano, until they assassinated him both literally and metaphorically. Anyway, Mekhi wants soul food specifically. Monica interviews that there's a soul food restaurant right next to hers and they tell her that her food is pretty much the same. That kind of sounds like the culinary version of "I have a friend who is African-American!" Mekhi is there for all of two minutes before taking off so Kelly can give the chefs the details. Monica gets an advantage due to winning the Quickfire: she gets to choose her protein first and no one else can use that protein.