Top Chef Masters: Finale Round 1


Leave it to Bravo to extend the Top Chef Masters franchise and add at least one more episode to the series finale. But hey, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. The final six has been whittled down to the final five and so for the first time all season, we have the same gang making a reappearance. I don’t know that I’ve ever appreciated how important a returning cast is until now. I know it’s cheesy, but I’m happy to see that we’re finally starting to become more familiar with these chefs.

The final champions round consists of the winners of the last six episodes: Rick Bayless, Anito Lo, Susanne Tracht, Hubert Keller, Michael Chiarello and Art Smith.

So this week no Wu-Tang lyrics, no letters to chefs, no rants about the host.. ah fuck it, Kelly Choi still sucks. But seriously, this week let’s just talk food, because last night TCM put front and center what we all tune in for every week: food porn.

Six Top Chef Masters given a blank check to create their signature dish sans competition, sans restrictions. If it wasn’t enough having Michael Chiarello tell one of the judges point blank that he valued their opinion less than the opinion of his fellow chefs, the elimination challenge itself is more than enough of a reason to watch this week’s episode.

Quickfire was a classic: miseen place relay. Tommy Boy makes a quick appearance and I was happy to see that he acted somewhat embarrassed to be a reffing his peers. I can appreciate Colicchio’s bashfulness, because unlike a normal Top Chef round, now he’s judging chefs who are arguably more successful than he is.

Tract knocks out her oysters like a pro, putting Keller on the ropes for a minute. Art shreds through his onions, creating the first lead as Keller fatigues. Anita goes batshit on her chickens to bring her group back to even standing, and Bayless closes for the win by whisking away his egg whites while Art struggles to pull his egg yolks out of the mix. Keller, Bayless, Lo claim victory. Hooray.

But before they announce the Elimination Challenge each chef had to put together their “signature” dish. As in their best dish. As in putting god knows how many years worth of experience and soul into a plate. Let me repeat this: what follows are the dishes these chefs hold nearest and dearest, the ones they stand behind before all others, the dishes they chose to serve to their fellow chefs. Game. On.

Keller – Lobster and truffle cappuccino with corn madeleine

Bayless – Rack of lamb with black pasilla chile and mission figs

Lo – Seared sea scallops over potato puree and bacon, sea urchin and mustard greens

Tracht – Sirloin with green peppercorn sauce and fried egg

Chiarello – Fennel blasamic quail with mostrocotto mostrada, sauteed greens, and roasted apples

Smith – Seared grouper with hearts of palm, trumpet mushrooms, and meyer lemon

So after enjoying what could arguably be one of the best meals ever consumed on national television, there was something else the chefs had to do…what was it? Oh right…there’s still that elimination challenge thing.  It turns out they’ll be recreating each other’s masterpieces. A brutal revelation, but then again, it’s an evil-y clever and interesting challenge. For the most part everyone rose to the task.

The switched dishes go: Keller and Lo. Smith and Tracht. Bayless and Chiarello. Lo and Bayless are at the top of the pack with their interpretations. Bayless really showed some skill and humility in his Quail with parsnip and proscuitto stuffing over wild greens. No big spices, just subtle, delectable flavors.

Lo’s Corn chawanmushi(?), champagne gelee and lobster biscuit sandwich was a huge hit, earning her, for the 2nd time in TCM history, the “we’re not worthy bow” and a few little complements like “genius” and “revelation.” Surprise, surprise, she claims the overall win with 24 out of 25 stars. The highest score yet on the show.

Keller and Chiarello aren’t too far behind in points and walk off clean, leaving Smith and Tracht. My money was on Smith’s god-awful-looking egg inside a burger concept, but Tracht plated way too early and her grouper overcooked from the residual heat while her gnocchi became cold. I would imagine that dish was probably brilliant when it was ready to be served, but unfortunately we will never know.

Art barely sneaks by and Tracht gets the boot. Her reaction to her loss is identical to her reaction when declared the winner of her first show. The remaining five are back and this TCM feature will continue to bring you the porn. Till next week.


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One comment

  • John Barrie July 31, 2009  

    I wish I had cable. I love watching Rick Bayless cook.

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