Last night’s episode of Top Chef Masters found homegirl Anita Lo somewhat out of her element. First, there was the gourmet-burger challenge. Hubert Keller clearly had the advantage here, since he serves a $5,000 burger with “the best wine pairing” at Fleur de Lys in Vegas (for this challenge he prepared a Roquefort cheeseburger), but Michael Chiarello, who is increasingly playing the Hosea to Hubert’s Stefan, in terms of harping on his rival chef’s Europeanism, bested him with a two-and-a-half-pound “hamburguese enorme.” Next to that, Lo’s hamburger pellets sunk in cheese soup looked sad indeed, and the diners’ panel of Morgan “Super Size Me” Spurlock (a New York Diet alum), Father’s Office owner Sang Yoon, and funny-hat wearer Spike Mendelsohn (who clearly rubbed Bayless the wrong way by failing to see the genius in his queso fundido burger’s guac trio) awarded her a measly one and a half stars. The truth is, Lo’s dish didn’t look all that appetizing — but they did ask for gourmet. And consider that the judges were drinking while they tasted (Sang Yoon polished off an entire pint), which probably made them more inclined to vote for Chiarello’s “hamburguese enorme.”
There was no way Lo was coming back, given the elimination challenge: making a vegan, soy-and-gluten-free meal for leaf-eating elf Zooey Deschanel (whose movie, of course, was advertised between segments). Bayless and Chiarello had the advantage here, since they had both cooked for gluten-averse family members and their respective cuisines were relatively vegetarian-friendly (Chiarello also suavely mentioned that he had once cooked a vegan meal for Hillary Clinton). Then again, Chinese food is vegan-friendly, too — in fact, Lo’s dish (spicy grilled eggplant with a lentil salad and cashew sauce) was off of Annisa’s menu, though without the yogurt that would’ve made it less boringly brown. She had started prepping her eggplant the night before (apparently that’s allowed, as is bringing in your own preserved Meyer lemons!), and the judges found it too oily, her lentils unsatisfactory (something Bayless warned her of when she was shopping), and the dish “a little sad” in the words of Gael Greene.
Of course, there was no way she was going to beat eventual winner Michael Chiarello savagely biting into a lemon in order to add some zest to his quinoa pasta with salsa verde, oven-roasted cherry tomatoes, and a pine-nut gremolata, but she was able to eke out half a star more than Art Smith. You knew the eye-shadow-wearing Southern boy was doomed first when Chiarello asked him, “are you trying to go home?” (when he volunteered to make dessert), and then when, channeling Carla Hall, he mentioned “giving some love” to a “beautiful organic-rice ice cream.” Er, yeah. That didn’t work out, and Lo was visibly relieved when she lived to cook another day.