The start of the champions round last night gives us a regular cast of characters to scrutinize for the next six weeks, as well as our first insights into the season's outcome. (Despite contradictory spoilers about who this season’s winner is, we still think Top Chef Master is anyone’s title to lose.) If this episode is any indication, it's going to be a fight.
The group of eight chefs split into two teams for the Quickfire, a tag-team relay cook-off that involved blindfolds and no communication between teammates. Wedding Wars returned for the elimination challenge. Teams were tasked with catering a wedding with 150 guests while adhering to the frankly boring food guidelines of the bride and groom. So how did they fare? Grab your dessert plate and let’s sample the best and worst from the buffet table.
Cheftestants: Jody Adams, Susan Feniger, Carmen Gonzalez, Susur Lee, Tony Mantuano, Rick Moonen, Marcus Samuelsson, Jonathan Waxman
Personal Stories: Marcus recently got married in an Ethiopian village, Jody cooked all the food for her wedding a few hours before the ceremony (“not recommended”), guests of Jonathan’s wedding received a margarita upon arriving, and Susur has two children with his girlfriend, but she won’t marry him.
Most Overused Ingredient: Scallops! Do all chefs share an unhealthy obsession with this shellfish? We've wondered this for season after season of Top Chef, but last night seemed to confirm it when both teams made a sort of seafood stew during the Quickfire. With access to so many ingredients, why do they keep it so limited? If it’s because scallops are easy to cook, that means they’re lazy. And if that was the best protein on hand that day in the kitchen, it would have been nice to have that explained so the chefs don’t look so repetitive.
Biggest Outrage: If you’re going to have this group of chefs cater your wedding, please let them cook the most amazing food they can think of. Instead, Wedding Wars producers go out of their way to find picky, delicious-averse wedding parties. The groom described himself as a “steak and potatoes man,” quickly shooting down suggestions of truffles, foie gras, or pork as we whimpered thinking of the menu that could have been. The bride initially showed more promise, conveying her interest in Asian and French cuisine, but showed an aversion to lamb, oysters, and all other shellfish (no scallops!). See the video below to witness these atrocities.
Biggest Braggart: According to Marcus, “I’m the best, so for me, it’s simple: I go last.” This is how he explained why he went last in the Quickfire, and it’s okay if everyone agreed on this point, but our man Susur shouldn’t let Marcus’s superiority complex go unchecked. Later, proving that he isn’t the best, he went on to cook “mushy” beef, which started to make us feel ill every time a judge described it as such.
Worst Metaphor: Marcus might be taking this whole thing too seriously, since he claimed, “To be on Top Chef Masters, it’s kind of like the World Cup. People come from different backgrounds, but nobody remembers who won the quarterfinal, so I have to win this.”
Best Putdown: Jonathan, who was not on Marcus’s team, criticized his opponent’s choice of meat: “I don’t think filet’s a good choice. It can be undercooked; it can be overcooked. I mean, I would never serve filet at a wedding.” And when Chef Obi-Wan issues such a statement, we readily believe him.
Inappropriate Kitchen Talk: “I’m in the poop!” Rick shouted. “Deep, I’m deep!” Please, not while you’re about to feed 150 people, Rick.
Awkward Moment: We’ve touched on this before, but it’s downright bizarre that host Kelly Choi doesn’t get to eat the Quickfire dishes. Instead, in this episode, she sat alongside judge Jay Rayner looking hungry and asking him questions every time he took a bite, as if each new adjective would bring her closer to a real taste of food. But as she mentioned on Twitter, “Don't ask why I'm not eating: I'm not allowed to.” Well, no one ever said TV is an easy line of work.
Most Hideous Dish: To our eyes, Susan’s Egyptian semolina cake looked like a confection sprung to life from the Candyland board games of our youth, in a bad way. Rick’s take was better: “Susan’s cake is the Charlie Brown Christmas tree of wedding cakes. So at this point I’m thinking the best thing for Rick Mooney to do is just stay away. It just stressed me out.”
Winner: Jody earned the most stars for her very risky decision to serve rack of lamb to the lamb-averse bride. Lucky for her she nailed the dish and the bride and the judges happened to love it. Reflecting on the experience, Jody said, “When we were with Elizabeth, she had said that lamb is not her favorite. However, I want to give her a lamb that she’s gonna really love, but it is a risky thing to do.” It’s a risk that paid off here, but the kind of attitude that could set her back in the future.
Loser: Poor Carmen, who seemed to lose her mojo once she heard from the groom that she couldn’t work her pork magic, was dismissed for not doing very much cooking. She served up a scrumptious miniature crab cake and a nice roasted-corn salad, but the judges weren’t impressed by these small feats. Sensing the groom’s simple taste preferences, she also shied away from Puerto Rican instincts and feared making anything spicy. Her teammates tried to defend her by pointing out her support in overseeing the team’s efforts, but the judges weren’t impressed. Later she reflected, “The reason I’m really disappointed is I should have taken a chance and done something a little more intense, something a little more complex.” If there was any silver lining, it was that the diners seemed to like her food a lot more than the judges.
Bad Judgment: Granting members of the winning team a pass unfairly protected two chefs who really should have been on the chopping block: Rick and Susan. His seafood mixed grill was selected as the most forgettable dish of the evening, and her cake was unattractive and dry, which is a crime. Carmen may not have cooked much, but what she served was liked by all.
MVP: His carrot cake may have been green (!), but it was Susur’s cranking out of four desserts this week, including a simply gorgeous French wedding cake, that salvaged the reputation of his team, even if they didn’t win. In the process of wowing us and the judges, he chipped away at the myth that normal chefs can’t handle pastry work with aplomb.
Next Week: Hank Azaria and the rest of the Simpsons cast drop by, there’s tension between Susur and Jonathan, and the cheftestants take on nasty-looking ingredients for a cooking challenge judged by Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods.