Top Chef Masters Recap: The Gloves Come Off

Let's get ready to grumble.
Let’s get ready to grumble. Photo: Isabella Vosmikova/Bravo

Well, it took them seven episodes to get to it, but Top Chef Masters finally got around to utilizing Vegas’s boxing culture this week. (Maybe they were just saving it for the best chefs, or maybe they were just working around Sugar Ray Leonard’s busy schedule.) In a no-holds-barred match between the five remaining cheftestants, you’d probably bet on Kerry or Lorena to get booted from the kitchen (I would, if I were a gambling man), but neither one was knocked out of the running this week, unfortunately.

Things start off with an overly complicated Quickfire that’s probably better suited to the newbies and sous-chefs on regular Top Chef than this crew, but it’s fun to watch them try to do the basic stuff. They race to break down a side of beef into individual filets, grate a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano down to the rind, and separate eighteen eggs. Chris is excited and optimistic because he’s all about butchering animals by hand, but he makes his steaks the wrong size and is disqualified. Back to butchering school with you, Chris! Patricia makes her steaks too small and is also disqualified. Lorena, too, doesn’t make the cut, leading to a cook-off between Kerry and Takashi for immunity. (How are they still offering immunity at this late stage? Kick the losers out!) The Culinary Ninja serves sautéed beef with egg and provençal vegetables, while the Awkward Never-Winner plates a cheese-crusted beef filet over arugala. Kerry wins, inexplicably, and Chris is suddenly nervous about him as a competitor. No need for that, Chris; this is a fluke.

It’s time for the Elimination Challenge, and out comes Sugar Ray Leonard, who looks amazing for a 56-year-old man who has been punched in the face a lot. Kerry doesn’t have to compete, but the others will face off in the “Top Chef Masters boxing ring.” Patricia’s not pleased that Kerry gets a free pass and rightfully dismisses him as “that bum.” The lineup is Chris versus Takashi and Lorena versusPatricia; the winners and losers of each match will compete in a second round. It’s like a real tournament! There’s no grocery shopping this week, but there’s time for a little cheftestant lunch at Estatorio Milos, which is mainly filler to air with footage of Patricia explaining that she and Chris are the shit and she’s happy to go up against that no-skills, Taco Bell-endorsing, crazy-in-the-kitchen mamacita called Lorena. (Side note: She’s entirely too hubristic this early on, so she’s clearly doomed for embarrassment or failure later on.)

Oh boy, there’s actually a boxing ring set up in the studio, and a live audience, and Curtis does his silly impression of a boxing announcer. And there’s a live audience, but they won’t get to taste any of the food, so the joke’s on them. Chris and Takashi get twenty minutes to make a dish with the secret ingredient of … bacon! (Shades of Iron Chef.) Takashi works quickly but also spends time showing off for the audience, while Chris is quiet and planning his dish. It’s a fatal approach for the Culinary Ninja, though, because he forgets to cook one of his chunks of bacon. Chris is too gracious and offers up one of his own, but goes on to win this round with his combination of avocado, bacon, and eggs. Takashi’s up for elimination!

Lorena and Patricia compete with the secret ingredient of … bacon (boring!). Lorena’s looking for revenge after Patricia’s attitude problems last week, and Patricia’s busy dissing Lorena’s knife skills. Patricia keeps it simple with a salad of bacon, leeks, and tomatoes, and Lorena’s serving up potato-and-bacon soup. Both look good, but Lorena wins. (Through the magic of Bravo editing, her excitement in the post-challenge confessionals more or less gave this away.) Uh-oh, Patricia’s going “to have to cook for my life.” This means either Patricia or Takashi will be eliminated, and it’s clear the show has taken a wrong turn somewhere.

For the title of winner, Chris and Lorena compete in a sugar challenge. Chris isn’t a big sweets guy, and Lorena’s hedging her bets by making two separate desserts. Chris whisks eggs to death in a double boiler, while Patricia and Takashi make fun of Lorena from the sidelines for trying to bake a chocolate cake in four minutes. Chris’s zabaione with summer fruit looks like the epitome of restraint, while Lorena overcompensates with chocolate cake and caramelized pineapple and dulce de leche sauce. Once again, Lorena wins and it feels very surreal. There’s no telling what I will do if she wins this season.

That just leaves the matter of getting rid of Takashi or Patricia, neither of whom deserves a dismissal yet. The secret ingredient for the final round is chicken liver, which is a nasty thing to work with in such a short amount of time, but neither chef seems fazed. Takashi serves his with prosciutto and pickled red cabbage, and Patricia plates hers over a warm asparagus salad with prosciutto. Similar dishes, so who should win? James Oseland has a problem with the rareness of Patricia’s liver, but Jane Goldman, founder of Chow.com, rightfully points out that it’s a matter of preference. Takashi’s dish is well-received, but he is asked to pack his knives. It’s clear that he should have been among the top three, but sheer talent isn’t everything in this boxing match, apparently.

Odds of Winning

Chris - 3/4. It was an off week for him, but he’s destined to win this, right?
Lorena - 2/3. She’s likely going to be energized by her victories this week and has a good shot at making it to the final challenge.
Patricia - 1/2. Her cockiness is increasingly a setback.
Kerry - 1/50. Maybe by some stroke of luck he’ll breeze into the finale, but he’ll never conquer the others.

Culinary Knock Out