Top Chef Masters: Finale Round 2
I’m sorry to report that I will be calling off my pre-pre engagement to Zooey Deschanel. She’s handling the news very well actually, thanks largely to the fact she has no idea who I am. But if she did, and maybe, just maybe one day she will, I’d like to think she would at least be mildly disappointed.
The thing is, we’ve just been struggling with these imaginary problems for a while now and it’s really taken a toll on our long term future. The final straw was the realization that the only source of nutrients Zooey is allowed to consume is grass. I was crushed when I found out. All these years you think you know someone and then a bomb like this drops on your head and shakes your imaginary relationship to the core.
Find out how the remaining Top Chef Masters handle cooking for a group of people that hate choose not to enjoy everything on this planet worth eating, after the jump.
Let me just say, I can appreciate dietary restrictions — I can understand when people choose alternatives to meat products, and I can even see the merit in Top Chef Masters making a challenge out of extremely limited ingredients…but then again.. come the fuck on! Elimination Challange Vegan Fuck-Off Fest is what that episode should have been called. Do vegans even watch Top Chef?! I can’t see how they would since most chefs rarely serve tree bark as an entree. Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled with Wednesday night’s episode. I don’t hate vegans, but Top Chef is nothing if not an orgy of Food Porn, and the dairy/cheese/eggs-free demographic are the Catholic nuns at the party.
It would seem the producers understood how many fans would react to the joyless food episode so Quickfire challenge was a burger cookoff. No real rules, just do your best burger. And who is that fedora rocking, smirk wearing judge sitting at the table? Could it be? DC’s very own burger aficionado and frequent ES subject, Spike Mendelsohn, proprietor of Good Stuff and previous contestant on TC season 4. [insert cheers/annoyance here]
We got a good idea of where the chefs’ heads were in this challenge. Bayless delivers a predictable and very tasty looking Queso Fondito with 3 different types of guac. Personally, I really enjoyed his outrage at how the judges, “can’t even perceive” the subtle and unique guacamole he included. Anito Lo shows a little genius but lacks the execution with her completely outside the box Cheddar Soup with Grilled Burger and Ketchup Crouton. Art puts together a southern style Cornmeal Hoecake Burger. Keller delivers a solid Roquefort burger, but given that he owns Burger Bar in Las Vegas, this shouldn’t be a surprise. And Chiarello does a DIY big ass burger that tied with Bayless at 4 stars for the win.
Then Elimination rolls around [sigh]. It’s fine I guess, but my issue is that it was pretty obvious some chefs were much more in their comfort zone on this one. I was feeling for Lo, who I imagine was thinking, “fuck this.” I must say though that despite her retarded food restrictions, Zooey was quick to give feedback and praise. Basically filling the void Kelly Choi provides merely by sitting at the head of the table.
Bayless easily assembles Corn Tamales with Chile-Braised Beans, making it clear he’s comfortable with the challenge.
Keller decides to take the appetizer route and puts together a beautiful trio of White Gazpacho with Grapes and Vanilla Oil, Timbale of Avocado & Asparagus, and Roasted Beet Salad.
Chiarello’s wisdom shines through by just cooking some Quinoa Pasta with Salsa Verde and Gremolata. He wins this week overall and adds $10,000 to his charity kitty.
Anito Lo struggles to shine with her Spicy Grilled Eggplant with Lentil Salad. I’ve loved everything she’s cooked so far, but I have to say this dish looked like shit. Literally. Not to mention I was ready to throw the remote at the TV if she got the boot for this one.
Thankfully Art Smith made some profoundly dumb choices and serves up rice ice cream to get himself kicked off this week by a narrow 1/2 star margin below Lo. Sucks for Art, but it’s the second time he’s been on the bottom. Time to go home and cook for Obama buddy.
Round 3 promises to be interesting. Looks like Dale comes back and is as much a pissy, little bitch as ever. With any luck, someone is going to punch him in the face.
I really enjoyed this episode.
In the quickfire, I was really distressed that we didn’t get to learn about Rick’s three guacamoles. I wanted to see what went into them, or at least get the NAMES of the guacamoles so I could try to figure out what went into them. (Do they post recipes or more info on the food at Bravo.com? Guacamole is important to me.)
I thought the elimination challenge was great. Of course, I’m biased — I have some bad digestive issues, and I spent several years as a vegan before I figured out that I do fine if I just keep my diet free of dairy and red meat. I love food, I love to cook and eat out, but I’ve always had to work around what will or won’t make me sick.
My personal rule for successful restricted cooking is to avoid most fake foods. Fake cheese, fake bacon, fake chicken — it’s just never going to taste as good as the real thing. (There are a few exceptions to this rule; I do use Silk soymilk in my coffee and I eat Silk yogurt, but I’ve had to try a lot of brands before I found a few good products.) Instead, I chose to cook dishes that by their own nature do not include the ingredients I can’t tolerate.
It didn’t surprise me that Rick’s dish was successful. He followed my rule, and came up with a dish based on beans, veggies and corn. Hubert took a similar path and also made something delicious that LOOKED like a Hubert Keller dish. Anita surprised me, because she seemed so confused by having to make something vegan and gluten free. She specializes in Asian fusion, and any vegan will tell you that an Asian restaurant is always the best bet to feed a hungry vegan. She couldn’t think to make some Szechuan green beans or fancy fried rice?
Michael took a big risk in buying that gluten-free pasta — it could easily have tasted like ass — but it paid off, largely because he was careful about how he cooked it. (Couldn’t believe he didn’t do a test-boil of the pasta during his prep time, though.) And Art, dumb dumb Art, made the same mistake of relying on a packaged fake food. Rice Dream is NASTY. He would have been so much better off if he’d figured out a dessert that naturally was egg, dairy and gluten free… I thought he’d go for some sort of baked fruit dish. He completely deserved to go home!
Oh come on Bliz, vegans don’t hate all food. Just look at our friend and comrade in arms C. Christy Concrete! I appreciate a challenge that makes the chefs think out of the eggs and bacon box. Vegan cooking requires more creativity with fewer tools at hand. Don’t hate, appreciate!
@Summer – I’m totally with you on learning more about the various diff guac Bayless served. Even the TCM site doesn’t tell anything about his burger dish. And yeah, Lo should have def had something up her sleeve for this challenge. I didn’t quite understand the oily vs. non-oily eggplant argument myself.
@ Maids – Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for anyone eating whatever makes them happy, but when I hear things like, “It’s so nice to eat something besides raw veggies (and not cooked veggies?)” as if they have no choice in the matter, I get a little worked up (especially after a bottle of wine). The only toes I want to step on are those that choose vegan because they think it’s some hip, new agey fad or whos name may or may not rhyme with Bwyneth Faltrow
priceless re: zooey. what a disappointment!
I was more than a little surprised by the way these professional chefs reacted to what really amounted to a challenge where they had to make one quality vegan dish. Were there restrictions we didn’t see?
If not, it’s pretty sad that professionals like these don’t have at least one knock-out dish in their repertoire that a gluten-free vegan can enjoy.
I’m about as carnivorous as they come, but I make a hell of a gazpacho that doesn’t use any meat or meat products. I’d like to think that “Master” chefs can do at least that much.
It’s not like they were asked to create a menu that cured cancer. They just had to work with a restricted menu that still allowed them access to the best of what Whole Foods has to offer – fresh fruits and vegetables, both organic and conventional.
Good news – it looks like they’ve posted pretty much EVERY recipe from Top Chef Masters.
Here’s the link to Bayless’s burger and trio of guacs: http://www.bravotv.com/foodies/recipes/queso-fundido-burger-with-trio-of-guacamole
That’s fantastic news, some of these TCM dishes need recreation in the very near future.
I’m still a bit crushed from when Bravo removed the TC database of past recipes though. There’s a few gems that I don’t know made it into the cookbook / I really hate that I have to buy the damn TC cookbook now