What Top Chef Masters usually lacks in action, it made up for this week with a generous serving of personality. From a wise elder to a French villain to the cast of The Real Housewives of Orange County, this episode had no shortage of entertaining characters. Thankfully, there was also some genuine tension between the cheftestants for the first time this season, and (another first this season) the food looked pretty great. Dare we say masterful? In both the Quickfire, where the chefs paired dishes with cocktails, and the elimination challenge, where they reinvented classic pub dishes, the presentation and the ideas on the plates were solid. Let’s review the highs and lows of last night’s installment.
This Week’s Competitors: Graham Elliot Bowles, Wylie Dufresne, Ludo Lefebvre, Rick Moonen, Mark Peel, and Jonathan Waxman
Hero: Jonathan came out ahead of the pack for maintaining an almost unnatural calm the whole time. Finishing twenty minutes earlier than anyone else during the Quickfire, he still managed to win with a dish of pork tenderloin and poblano-stuffed shrimp. In the elimination challenge, his straightforward take on shepherd’s pie uniformly pleased the critics and diners. In addition to being the first chef to win both challenges this season, it turns out that Jonathan inspires a weird awe in his colleagues, leading to some great nicknames: Chef Kenobi, the Jedi, Chef Obi-Wan, the Silver Fox. “He’s got a little Gandalf in him,” explained Wylie Dufresne. For all of these things, we salute him.
Villain: In the annals of Top Chef history, it’s hard to find a person as unsavory as Ludo, a villain so traditionally unpleasant that he has to be subtitled. From his pseudo-feud with Rick over selecting a dish to his encroachment of Graham’s prep area to his incessant whining (“I never get to do French food on Top Chef Masters!), Ludo was the pain in everyone’s collective ass this week. To top off his performance, he demonstrated a rarified form of French snobbery: “The English people, they are jealous of us,” he sneered. “French people have culture. English have nothing.” Still, we liked when he dismissed the Real Housewives by hissing, “They really have no idea what the fuck they talking about.”
Unintentionally Hilarious Moment: Apparently preparing a fifth plate for host Kelly Choi during the Quickfire was too much to ask, since she wasn’t served anything. Instead, she listened to the Real Housewives’ inane commentary while staring longingly at Gael Greene’s plate next to her. Looks like someone needs to insert a few clauses into their contract for next season.
Biggest Screwup: Not like we know how to make Yorkshire pudding or anything, but if you claim to have made it so many times, then don’t mess it up. Such was the case for Mark, whose reinvention of Toad in the Hole featured some impressive seafood sausage and greens, but a botched pudding at the bottom of his dish. What should have been a warm, puffy base was instead served as a dense, moist, possibly uncooked mound of dough, which the diners punished him for by awarding only one star. The only thing making it worse is that it appeared to be just a matter of not getting his oven to the right temperature for baking, a fatal flaw in this competition. Mark put it best himself: “If this were a Nascar race, my car would be doing somersaults through the air, landing on its roof, and bursting into flames.”
Worst Ingredient: If you’ve ever wondered how to ruin an Irish stew, Ludo pretty much covered all the bases last night, starting with his indefensible choice to add lemongrass into the mix, which made some old diners cranky. Bonus stupidity points for serving raw vegetables in a stew. And while we’re on the topic of this dish, Ludo’s Guinness glaze that he streaked on either side of the bowl looked like diarrhea, but Gail Simmons loved it!
Most Accurate Stereotype: Courtesy of Wylie: “I don’t know Gael Greene’s take on cocktails. I do imagine the Real Housewives of Orange County are okay with cocktails.”
Best Real Housewives Quotes: It was amazing when Gael Greene appeared to give a death stare following mention of Weight Watchers, but the best part of the Housewives’ appearance was their commentary. “Wine always goes really good with food. That’s why I’m excited to try them. The martinis with the pairing — that’s cool.” “The red onion’s pretty strong. You have to have a strong stomach.” In regards to a pork dish, “I don’t really eat red meat, so I don’t know if I’m a good judge.”
Questionable Charity Choice: To be clear, there’s no such thing as a bad act of charity, and everyone has the right to decide which organizations they deem worthy of assistance. Still, with other chefs supporting Doctors Without Borders and Meals on Wheels, Ludo’s selection of Chase for Life, which educates people on how to perform CPR on children, seemed a little junior league. The contrasting pictures of doctors saving lives in third-world nations with adults holding baby CPR dolls didn’t help any.
Poorly Executed Shill: This week’s Quickfire centered on pairing dishes with “exotic” cocktails. As Kelly told the cheftestants, “This season you’ll be inspired by a premium Russian vodka,” which turned out to be our old friend Stolichnaya. We won’t nitpick about what is and isn’t premium, but we’re still queasy at the thought of ingesting pork chops, raw fish, and dessert with vodka chasers. It was priceless, though, to see the chefs getting boozy at eight in the morning.
Best Smack Talk: Eyeing a bag of carrots, Ludo told Wylie, “Yeah, you can take it and enjoy yourself tonight.” Ooh, that’s dirty.
Snarky Judge Commentary: “It was a United Nations dish,” Gael remarked on Ludo’s “Irish stew.” “It had something from every place he’s ever been.” “But not Ireland!” Gail Simmons chimed in.
Prediction We Hope Turns Out to Be Wrong: Courtesy of Ludo: “I lost, I know that. But I do not regret, because it was Ludo. I will come back. I mean, if I need Top Chef Masters 10, okay fine. Don’t give up.”
Fun Fact: Jonathan is something of a food whisperer. “When I get in the zone, ingredients talk to me,” he explained. “I buy the ingredients first and they start talking to me in the car.” (See the video below to check him out in his zone.)
Lessons Learned: Wylie can cook well even when he’s not doing his typical Wylie food, we wish our Whole Foods had palm trees in front of it, and Graham “didn’t get this body by being judicious with my grazing.”
Winners: Rick Moonen and Jonathan Waxman
Eliminated: Graham Elliot Bowles, Wylie Dufresne, Ludo Lefebvre, and Mark Peel
Next Week: In the final episode determining who will compete in the championship round, the chefs feed the cast of Modern Family.