Top Chef

Lo Blow: Anita Explains Last Night’s Top Chef Masters

Photo: Courtesy of Top Chef

Last night’s episode of Top Chef Masters started with the “scariest of all of the challenges” (per Rick Bayless) and one of our old favorites — the blind tasting. Chefs Keller, Lo, Bayless, and Chiarello performed pitifully for the most part, but perhaps the most surprising taste-bud malfunction was Anita Lo failing to identify hoisin, and identifying peanut butter as tahini. Today on the Rickshaw Dumpling blog, in an interview with her partner Kenny Lao, she explains what went wrong.

Yeah, I thought it was a mixture of something else. It tasted like something sweet and had Lee & Perrins. The peanut butter texture threw me, it was separated and not totally creamy so I thought it was tahini and as soon as I said that I knew it was too late to change!

Chiarello won the Quickfire after I.D.-ing seven out of twenty ingredients, but he quickly lost it during the elimination challenge, wherein the chefs had to make buffet lunches for 200 “Hollywood insiders.” The chefs had to choose kitchen teams from among a rogues’ gallery comprised of Richard Blais, Spike Mendelsohn, Ilan Hall, Dale Talde, and others, and Chiarello was the job interviewer from hell, grilling everyone on how to address him (Blais: “Anyone who asks you ‘what’s my name’ should never get their name pronounced correctly”). Anita Lo picked former colleague Jamie Lauren (who then tapped Richard and Dale), but eventually had to fire her when each chef was instructed to take someone off the line. She explains why she cut Jamie:

The only reason I decided to cut Jamie was because the others had jobs that really needed to be completed to be able to pull off the meal. It was triage. In reality during service you wouldn’t necessarily have to fire anyone but someone may get sick and have to leave the line. I saw there was no way she would finish the shucking but the other team members had really key things to complete.

I expected Jamie to get started on the oysters and clams and for the boys to finish up their stuff and to give her a hand. I didn’t realize that Dale and Richard were going to go into such detail in cooking their dish. I didn’t know they were going to buy whole chickens and grind the meat themselves. It took too long for such a short period of time. Jamie is super talented and her skills weren’t the issue it was more of the tasks that still had to be completed.

Jamie worried, on Twitter: “I apparently look like an ass”; but it was Chiarello who ended up “acting like a douche” (per Alex), by barking lines like “I will feed you product, I will give you recipes and directions,” finally causing Dale to blow up when he confronted the “young man” over fridge space. Was Mikey Kay-arello really as bad as all that? Per Lo:

When I was watching him I never saw him be as cocky as he was edited to be. So no, I don’t think he got a fair shake. He is a really great guy.

For all that, Chiarello didn’t exactly win the love of the judges with his rustic-Italian buffet, but it was Lo who went home, partly because a last-minute switch from indoor to outdoor didn’t bode well for her raw bar. Explaining the loss on her blog, Lo blames poor ingredients (“it was a bit confusing to have so many of us shopping at the same time”), the switch-up (“I would never do a raw bar in the open sun if I knew and all the condiments got messed up”), the format (“I am not a fan of doing buffets”), and the choice of dishes: “I wouldn’t have done any of it except for the ribs, I think I also should have done things that were a bit faster. Time was a huge issue!” When asked whether she’d do it again, she only laughs.

Hmmm, maybe there’s a reason she’s not listed as a judge on Top Chef: Las Vegas, which premieres next Wednesday after the season finale of Masters.

Masters of Disaster