Top Chef Masters Recap: Losin’ It

“The delicacy of the berries really speaks to me.” Photo: Nicole Wilder/Bravo

Before we start, did anyone catch James on this week’s Celebrity Apprentice? (If you didn’t, Tom Scharpling’s recap is right over here.) Anyway, weird, right? But slightly less weird when you realize that Bravo and NBC are really just the same megacompany and that having people pop up all the different shows to covertly cross-promote everything is the name of the game over there. (I’m secretly holding out hope that NBC will at some point invite me to serve as a guest judge coach on The Voice.) Anyway, brand synergy! On with the show.

This episode’s “previously on” segment really plays up last week’s tension between Hugh and Naomi and sort of half-declares Naomi the winner of that scuffle because we critics liked her celery veloute the best.

Behind the Scenes Fact: I can’t believe I forgot to mention this last week. At one point during the taping, James and I were talking about the word veloute. Because it can be a pureed soup, but then it’s also the name for this basic sauce made with roux and stock, and we figured it was some sort of French pun and that the origins of the word velour, which is impossible to say without affecting a fake Jersey accent, must also be involved. Anyway, Curtis overheard us and instantly whipped a recipe for a terrific-sounding veloute sauce off the top of his head. His secret: dry vermouth.

Quickfire time! Curtis is standing next to a platter of cheese. Did you already guess what the challenge is? The chefs have to make a dish with … cheese. But they have to do it in twelve minutes. The producers, because they apparently like giving blog recappers fodder, throw in a talking-head moment with Hugh, who says that it takes him longer than twelve minutes to shave. Unibrow jokes, go!

Behind the Scenes Fact: Later, Curtis would tell us about the cheese challenge. I almost instantly asked if he meant, like, good cheese, or Kraft singles, the mere suggestion of which horrified Curtis. We then had a ten-minute philosophical conversation about American cheese. Turns out James and I are in the “for” camp (seriously, how do you make grits without adding a slice of American cheese?), while Curtis and Danyelle are firmly “against.” To each his own, I suppose, but I still think anyone who believes they’re above American cheese is probably a self-righteous asshole.

The man judging the cheese dishes is the excellently named Norbert Wabnig, the owner of the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. Norbert decides he likes Traci’s the best, a decision that really bugs Floyd, who says that Traci “basically put cheese on a plate,” which is a weird criticism for Floyd to have because he made street-fair corn and basically “steamed some corn and rolled it around in some grated cheese and then put it on a plate.” Oh well. Too bad, Floyd.

The cast from the Biggest Loser (brand synergy) is on hand for the Elimination Challenge. The chefs all have to prepare low-calorie versions of the BL contestants’ favorite foods: It’s junk like meatball subs, deep-dish pizza, and fried chicken with all the fixins. The chefs are to team up and create a full day’s worth of food — breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a dessert — that clocks in under 1,500 calories total.

Behind the Scenes Fact: I was actually pretty psyched when I learned that this would be a low-calorie challenge, because earlier that day I’d gotten lunch with Grub Street L.A.’s Hadley Tomicki, and we’d gone to this fairly terrific sushi restaurant called Sushi Gen and they absolutely rocked it, sending out dish after dish after dish. So I was feeling a little full.

Helping the chefs shop at Whole Foods are the Biggest Loser’s trainers, Cara and Brett. Weirdly, many of the chefs end up with low-fat, processed foods. George grabs low-fat cheese for his pizza, Naomi grabs zero-calorie Stevia instead of maple syrup, and Celina grabs Ezekiel bread, which I believe is made with a combination of pureed cardboard and lawn clippings.

The chefs get back in the kitchen and get cooking, and here come the critics and the BL contestants. Friendly chitchat ensues.

Behind the Scenes Fact: They took out the best part of the chitchat! James and I learned that one of the Biggest Losers, Moses, had lost an amount of weight that basically equated to James’s entire body mass. He lost an entire James!

The chefs all do essentially what you’d expect them to do — Floyd uses lean buffalo meat to make really good meatballs; George loads his pizza up with veggies; Mary Sue makes a vegetable hash — except Suvir, who starts yammering on about “changing the paradigm” of a bacon cheeseburger. Let’s not overthink this, Suvir. The only paradigm involved in bacon cheeseburgers is that people like them because of their unyielding deliciousness, and then maybe also something about how well they go with French fries and beer.

But when it’s time for the chefs to present their dishes to everyone, Suvir just keeps going on and on about how we’ve all been “fooled into eating red meat,” and that it’s “the direct enemy of our hearts” and whatever else. (I can’t even imagine what he’d say about American cheese.) So here are some veggie burgers, you fat bastards, he seems to say.

Hugh’s not having any of Suvir’s shit — his dish is a big plate of flank steak. Of course, everyone loves it because it’s a big plate of delicious steak and not some gray bean patty stuffed into cold pita bread. Seriously, veggie burgers. Why?

On to desserts! Wait. What happened to the desserts?

Behind the Scenes Fact: The desserts were the best part of the meal! All the other food we had to eat for this was sort of underwhelming. It was okay for low-cal food, but you were never going to mistake any of it for the real deal. But the brownies were all really satisfying and fudgy and interesting! Alex made the one that was the best — it was a standard-looking brownie that was super moist, really dense, excellent. He explained to everyone that it was the recipe he used when he was trying to lose weight. So: For anyone who’s out in Las Vegas right now, my suggestion would be to track down Alex Stratta and ask him for his brownie recipe. You won’t be disappointed!

Floyd’s dish wins easily, and then it’s time for the losing team to come out. We start asking them what happened, and then Suvir launches into his whole anti-meat thing again. The producers cut this way down from what it was: Suvir seriously went on and on about it. Like, okay. We get it; you don’t like meat. (P.S., why do the producers cut to a shot of me when Suvir is talking about the country’s obesity epidemic?)

The chefs go back to the stew room and Mary Sue looks defeated: “I can’t take another minute in front of those … judges,” she sighs.

Behind the Scenes Fact: The way she paused there before she said judges? I’m pretty sure I just watched one of the Two Hot Tamales almost call me an asshole on TV.

The chefs come back out and we get that classic Top Chef stare down between the critics and the chefs.

Behind the Scenes Fact: Even though that stare down plays out in like eight seconds on TV, it takes at least fifteen minutes to shoot. It’s just us, sitting at the table, staring at the chefs, who are in turn just staring back at us, while the crew gets the whole scene from a bunch of different angles and swoops one camera in on a crane. It’s a lot of awkward eye contact.

So who’s going home? No red herrings tonight, folks: It’s Suvir and his veggie lecture burger.

Next week! The chefs take over a fast-food drive-through, and I’ll get a chance to tell you where to get one of the best doughnuts in the whole country. Hint: It shares a parking lot with the fast-food restaurant where we taped the challenge.

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