Top Chef Masters

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Hubert explains his third dish by saying that he and his wife opened Fleur de Lys in San Francisco. Hubert is one of those dudes that looks better with gray hair than he did with his natural color hair. Anyway, when thinking back to what they served at the time, he decided to make a Colorado lamb chop wrapped in a vegetable mousseline with vanilla-merlot sauce. He explains that he puts a garlic clove in the center, but first he blanches the garlic three times to take the sharpness away. At least that's the plan. We'll see how that goes. I would think roasted garlic might work better, but who am I to question Hubert Keller? Nobody.

The chefs run around and do their final preparations. Michael interviews that they're all chefs at the top of their respective games, so it's going to take someone making a mistake for another to win. As he says this, we see Hubert trotting around the kitchen and sliding and almost falling. Hee! Anyway, on to discussing the fourth course. Michael is making brined short ribs with a five-onion cavalo nero. He plans to present the dish with smoldering grape vines, because right now in the Napa Valley, they would be burning the vines and he wants to give the diners the right ambience. I would think that would just cause an allergy flare, but what do I know? The theatrics kind of bother me; if your food is good enough, you shouldn't need it, in my opinion.

For his fourth course, Rick is making arroz a la tumbada with lobster, crab, squid, mussels, and shrimp, along with chorizo "air." That sounds suspiciously like Marcel's ever-present foam. Rick tasks his sous-chef with cooking the seafood and finds out that the pan is a little hot, and some of the seafood is overcooked. Rick is really discouraged and hopes this isn't the mistake that will sink him.

Hubert plans to make pan-seared sweetbreads and a braised Wagyu beef cheek for his fourth course. His explanation is that it's a recession and people are looking for tasty ways to prepare less expensive cuts of meat. Of course, even a Wagyu beef cheek is probably more expensive than the beef cuts I could get at my local grocery store, but let's just ignore that for now.

There are only five minutes left, and the plating begins. Michael compares the three of them to three prize fighters throwing punches. Rick thinks they all believe that they can win, so it's going to be a close race. The chefs carry out their first dishes as we go to break.

Weird interstitial. Michael thinks that James Oseland was his harshest critic, so he decides to make little decoupages doilies for his food out of pages from Saveur, the magazine that James edits. Dude. You have way too much time on your hands. No one cares and no one is going to think it's cute, least of all James Oseland, who has the ability to help you win or lose this contest.

Kelly, the critics (James, Jay, and Gael), the Top Chef judges (Colicchio, Gail, and Padma), and the Top Chef winners (Harold, Ilan, Hung, Stephanie, and Hosea) all arrive at the table. I'm totally intrigued by what I assume was the assigned seating. I note that Ilan and Hosea are stuck down on the end of the table, probably because no one wants to talk to them. Stephanie and Harold are side-by-side; it seems like kind of a big deal for Harold to be here since he hasn't had much to do with the show since he won the first season. The critics and judges are kind of scattered throughout. The chefs come out and Kelly introduces everyone.

The three dishes for the first course are on the table, and before the chefs can even tell their stories, Colicchio can't resist grabbing a little nibble. Dude! Control yourself! There's enough for everyone! Rick explains about his family's barbecue joint as the reason why he made barbecued quail with "sour" slaw and watermelon salad. Hubert has brought a cast iron pot to the table, which contains his stew. He explains the whole story about laundry day and his father cooking the lunch for the ladies of the village. Michael then tells the story about his mother helping him shape the gnocchi, and introduces his dish: crispy potato gnocchi with fonduta and ricotta gnocchi with tomato sauce.

The diners start with the gnocchi and have praise for the texture. Hung thinks the tomato sauce is a little underseasoned, and Colicchio says that, coming from a similar ethnic background, he likes his own mother's sauce better, but this is still excellent. Next, they try Hubert's stew. James points out that the carrots are cut into flower shapes. They all agree that they just want to eat it forever. They move on to Rick's quail. The sauce earns praise, and Hosea says it was his favorite dish of the three.

The second course is brought out, and the chefs come out to explain it. Rick explains that he first tasted mole at fourteen, and it took him twenty years to learn how to make it. Hubert's salmon soufflé doesn't get much explanation. Michael served his rabbit in a mason jar, which is kind of weird, and of course James asks about the little doily, so Michael has to tell him it's a burned page from Saveur. Everyone laughs but I bet they were secretly thinking, "That's kind of effed up."

Michael's rabbit dish is the first to be tasted, and Gail says that she wants to bathe in it, while Jay says that he could eat it "until the cows came home." They move on to Hubert's salmon. Stephanie loves the sauce, and Harold is impressed by the technical skill that went into creating the dish. No one can talk about the mole at first, because it's so good. When they can talk, they praise it lavishly, and Colicchio says that eating it makes him understand why Rick cooks Mexican food.

The third course comes out. Michael gives the servers specific instructions on how to serve his fried fish, which kind of looks like a giant brown goldfish cracker. Rick's dish, the conchita pibil, doesn't get much explanation. Hubert explains his lamb chop, and he used the potato as a sauce boat to hold his vanilla-merlot sauce. Michael's fried fish is just kind of creepy looking, but I kind of like my protein to look not at all like the original format, so as not to remind me that I'm eating an animal. Hypocritical, I know.

The diners go with Michael's dish first, and have good things to say about the ginger inside. Ilan points out that it's fried well, but that's kind of it. There's nothing extraordinary about it. The diners are impressed with Hubert's presentation, especially how he got the lamb to cook perfectly while the spinach stayed green. Colicchio didn't like the garlic, which tasted raw, and Padma thought the vanilla sauce was too sweet. They move on to Rick's dish, which they all find delicious and sophisticated. Padma points out that they often don't give Mexican cuisine the import that they give French or Italian.

It's time for the final dish. Rick explains that his sauce is like "a saucy soupy paella" and it's got a big dollop of foam on top that just looks gross to me. Michael says that he took his short rib, which is the old him, but he added the smoldering branches to appeal to all of the senses. Hubert explains his sweetbreads and beef cheeks, but doesn't tell much of a story about it, or at least we don't see it.

The diners eat Rick's dish first, and Jay says it's not Rick's best work. He thinks the foam is like your granny putting on hot pants to go to the disco. Unlike with Toby Young, his metaphor works because Jay doesn't force it. Colicchio likes the dish, but thinks it suffered from timing. Someone else points out that the seafood is overcooked. Michael's dish earns praise from Padma and Harold for his flavors, and Jay likes the stories that go with each dish. The diners are amazed by the giant truffles, and Harold says that his sweetbread was undercooked, but James says that his was fine. Colicchio sums it up by saying that they just had a wonderful twelve-course meal from different points of view and backgrounds. The diners write down their scores as the chefs toast each other in the back room.

Critics Table. I've given up t

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Top Chef Masters

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