Top Chef Masters Recap: Leathery Porcini and Hot French Kisses

It's like a class photo.
It’s like a class photo. Photo: Bravo

Dave Hill is in Europe this week, so he can’t recap last night’s Top Chef Masters (the continent has been spared this particular cooking competition, apparently). As always, these claims seem dubious, and I think it’s secretly just a ploy to take a break from watching yet another Top Chef episode. After all, you don’t see Vulture’s Breaking Bad recapper taking any weeks off, and I suspect the same would be true of Top Chef Masters recapping if Badger and Skinny Pete were on the show.

Let’s get this out of the way: I’ve actually been on a few episodes of Top Chef Masters as a judge, but I’m not on it this season (true story: There was a big blizzard in New York the weekend I would have had to fly out), so I’m just another viewer with no vested interest in how this thing shakes out. I won’t shy away from telling it like it is, even if it means revealing Curtis Stone’s secret Oxycontin habit.

Speaking of Curtis (who doesn’t really have an Oxycontin habit; he’s more of a ‘shrooms guy), he arrives wearing a checked blazer that makes me think he’s either just won a golf tournament or come from a Mad Men audition. He tells the chefs there’s no Quickfire this week. Instead, it’s Restaurant Wars, wherein the chefs have 24 hours to open pretend restaurants inside the Top Chef soundstage, just like real life.

There’s a quick recap of that Internet sous-chef show. Sang, Doug, Sue, and David Burke all have sous-chefs that lost, so the four of them will work together on the blue team. The other four chefs make up the red team. Their advantage, it’s later revealed, is that they’ll get access to their sous-chefs while they prep for Restaurant Wars. The “losing” chefs are predictably annoyed over this development and are no doubt thinking about all the terrible kitchen jobs they’ll make their sous-chefs do as punishment when everyone’s finally released from the grasp of the Top Chef Masters shooting schedule.

Here comes this season’s Restaurant Wars twist: The chefs will partner with “celebrity restaurateur” Busy Philipps. Curtis reminds us that Busy has appeared on shows such as Freaks and Geeks and Dawson’s Creek. I guess Soleil Moon Fry wasn’t available.

Busy wants a restaurant that brings together all of L.A.’s various culinary contributions, such as Cobb salad and “the best taco in a strip mall.” Sang is excited for this because he lives in L.A. and his restaurants specialize in “casual, ethnic fun,” which is also the kind of phrase lonely men probably type into Google late at night.

Cut to: all of the chefs figuring out how to delegate the various jobs. They go shopping, they start prepping, etc.

During a commercial break, Sue pops up in an ad for Chase, which practically guarantees she’ll be on this show until the end.

Back to the action: The blue team’s restaurant will be called 72 and Sunny, while the red team focuses on “local, sustainable California ingredients” at a restaurant called Artisan.

About halfway through the extended cooking and prepping segment we get our first glimpse of things to come: Sang is difficult to work with.

Eventually diners start to arrive, and here come the critics. There’s Curtis, who has thankfully ditched the golf blazer; Francis Lam; Gail, lovely as always; Food & Wine’s Dana Cowin, and Ruth Reichl. It seems James gets the day off.

Here’s some behind-the-scenes dirt: During taping, the producers really push for the critics to say both a positive thing and a negative thing about each dish so they can twist your words however they want play up various story lines during editing. But, positive or negative, producers really like zippy sound bites. Here are the three best from the critics this week, made more fun when they’re presented free of context:

“It’s cat-tongue-y instead of smooth.”

“It’s got, like, a cool jiggly thing going on.”

“This is like a hot French kiss.” (Okay, a little context: That last one is Francis, on David’s dessert, inadvertently conjuring up a mental image nobody wants.)

Throughout it all, Sang gets the bad-guy treatment, and culinary students around the country reconsider their desire to stage at his restaurants.

Oh, look, another commercial break, and Bryan is in one of the ads, too. Congrats on probably making it to the finale, Bryan!

All right, let’s get this over with. The blue team wins, and the red team loses. The winning chef is Sang, despite acting like an aggro lunatic all episode.

As the critics tell the red team why they lost, Ruth knocks the mushrooms on Jennifer’s dish and utters a phrase that’s probably also been said by a few Italian trophy wives: “The porcini got a little leathery.”

Someone’s gotta go, and this week it’s Lynn. See ya later, Lynn. We also learn that Doug’s sous-chef has had enough of this shit can’t do that Internet show any longer, so Doug will be at a real disadvantage for the rest of the season. Tough break, Doug!

Next week: Mindy Kaling! Yo Gabba Gabba! And Dave Hill returns, probably.

Top Chef Masters Recap: Leathery Porcini and Hot French Kisses