Top Chef Masters

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Natural Born Leader
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And then there were four -- Anita Lo, Hubert Keller, Rick Bayless, and Michael Chiarello. They walk into the kitchen as Hubert narrates the obvious: that it feels good to still be around, but that as the numbers dwindle, the pressure goes up. Thanks for tournament 101. Maybe they don't have tournaments in France. It seems like competition wouldn't be very French of them. Except for the whole Tour de France thing that disproves that theory. So I unconvinced myself before I even had time to make a clich├ęd "the French always surrender" joke, which is probably a good thing.

Kelly promises them that this will be the last Quickfire, so they've made it a good one. I feel like Kelly really hasn't given me enough to snark on lately with her hair and fashion choices. I mean, once you get past the Little Big Head jokes, what else is there? She's kind of robotic, but she's not ChenBot. She doesn't even have a "But first!" type catch phrase. Kelly is a little too happy as she whips out a mask and says that it's time for "the Blindfold Taste Test." Hubert notes that chefs eat with their eyes (unlike us normal people who eat with our mouths, presumably). Kelly recalls that Andrea won this challenge in the first season by identifying the umeboshi plum, and Michael chuckles that he's never even heard of such a thing. Kelly explains that each chef will be blindfolded and challenged to name twenty ingredients. The chef who gets the most right will get five stars, second place will get four stars, third place will get three-and-a-half stars, and fourth place will get three. [Editor's Note: Does this show make anyone else miss Star Search something fierce? -- Mindy.] I guess they don't want to totally screw someone over by giving them one star or something.

As they wait for their turns, we get to see interview footage. Rick is happy that he doesn't have to run around like a lunatic for this Quickfire, and try to make a dish in thirty minutes. Anita is shocked to still be there, since she came so close to elimination last week. Michael is the first to be called in to identify ingredients, and he interviews that he works with "a very narrow scope of ingredients," and apparently never eats anything else at home or in restaurants.

His first ingredient is Hoisin sauce, and he has no clue what it is. Doesn't even venture a guess. Despite his doubts, he actually gets quite a few right, but honestly, some of them seem really easy. I mean, peanut butter? And corn? I would probably get those wrong just because I would guess a much more esoteric ingredient, thinking that it couldn't possibly be peanut butter. Michael is convinced that he did horribly though, and he's not given his results yet.

Hubert is up next and he jokes that Kelly putting the blindfold on him was the best part of the challenge. You dirty old man! I love it. It cracks me up how Kelly looks at the contestants while they are pondering -- she has this wide-eyed, open-mouthed stare. It's actually both funny and creepy. Wait, some of the other ingredients they need to identify are ketchup and maple syrup? I thought this challenge was supposed to be hard. Okay, fine, they also have poppadom and chervil.

Rick goes third. He misses the first few and interviews that he knows his chefs at his restaurant are going to make fun of him. He's the first one to get poppadom though, which is impressive.

Finally, we have Anita. She explains that she sometimes draws a blank when she's put on the spot. She should never go on Jeopardy then. You'd think the first ingredient, hoisin sauce, would be right up her flavor alley, but she struggles to figure it out and has to pass. She can't get peanut butter, but she does get poppadom and dashi. Interesting.

The chefs return to the kitchen to find out their results. Hubert got five right, Rick and Anita tied with six, and Michael is shocked to learn that he got seven right. Anita is just happy that she tied with Rick, who she considered to have a great palate. The chefs all laugh and shake hands and show their usual camaraderie. Hubert is worried, since he got the lowest amount of stars going into the next Elimination.

Kelly introduces the Elimination Challenge by reminding them that chef means chief, and it's all about hiring the right staff, communicating your vision, and managing your staff's output. So the challenge will be to create a buffet lunch for "200 Hollywood insiders" (what does that even mean?) with the help of a staff comprised of former cheftestants. The chefs will get two-minute interviews with each of the twelve candidates to help them decide which ones will get the nod.

The chefs each head to a different part of the kitchen, and four of the cheftestants are sent out for their "interview." It's sort of weird because the rest of the group can clearly see and somewhat hear what's going on. All of the other chefs greet their candidate with a handshake, while Chiarello greets Jamie by ordering her to go find a knife and a cutting board and some carrots and do all these fancy cuts. In two minutes. Look, I get in a normal chef interview wanting to see some evidence of skills, but these people all made it fairly far in their seasons, even if you didn't watch them, so I think we can assume a basic level of competence for prep. Probably more so than most of these chefs, frankly. And if he's doing it just to see how quickly they will hop to, well, that's kind of a dick move, because it assumes that their teamwork will be non-collaborative and more like slaves. These cheftestants aren't first-year culinary students. Many of them are head chefs or even own their own restaurants. Stop waving your dick around, Chiarello, or Jamie might julienne it by accident. Anyway, since Jamie is kind of taken by surprise, she totally hops to -- given her personality, I think otherwise she'd be one of the first to call bullshit. Instead, she laughs in an interview that he scared the shit out of her and she didn't want to work with him.

Meanwhile, Rick is asking people about their favorite meals to see if they like the flavors he uses. And if they want to work with him, they'd obviously give an answer he'd like; everyone knows he's the God of Mexican food, right? Poor CJ has only been to the touristy parts of Mexico, so he kind of gets eliminated right there. Hubert is looking for someone with pastry experience, and finally finds his gal in Elia. Jamie used to work for Anita, so they dispense with the formalities and Jamie tells her to pick Richard Blais and Dale.

Meanwhile, Chiarello is still bullying his interviewees, berating Betty for not moving quickly enough. He barks some orders at CJ and the observing cheftestants start telling CJ not to do it, probably because it's kind of embarrassing to see him running around like a trained monkey. Michael explains his interviewing theory by saying that he needs "the best culinary hours" he can get from them. Still not sure how this is more than an exercise in Chiarello's ego. I mean, I get that there is a bit of hazing that goes on in the kitchen, and head chefs are often egomaniacs. I've read Bourdain's books. But I would argue that the other three chefs are Chiarello's equals in terms of status, and none of them are pulling this bullshit.

Blais runs right up to Rick and says that while he has no experience with Mexican, he'd love to work with Bayless. Luckily, Bayless judges a Quickfire that Blais won, so he's already impressed. Meanwhile, Spike meets up with Chiarello and tries to kind of call him on his bullshit, but since it's Spike, it comes off as sort of dillweed-ish. Basically, Spike says he knows how to brunoise a carrot and maybe their time is better spent getting to know each other. Ilan and Elia watch and quietly applaud Spike, but then again, I wouldn't expect those two to show good judgment in personal interaction. I just wish it had been someone like CJ or Blais to do this instead of stupid Spike. Bec

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Top Chef Masters

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