All right, Folks! Buckle up, have your utensils and judgment at hand – it’s time for another season of “Top Chef Masters”! Personally, I prefer this permutation of the Top Chef Franchise. “Just Desserts” doesn’t make me hungry, and tuning into the original fills me with the incredibly distracting urge to stalk Tom Colicchio with a tiny razor and shave off the fallen down nosehair that’s taken up residence on his chin. “Top Chef Masters,” on the other hand, features incredibly delicious food, tolerable judges (even more so now that Curtis Stonecoldfox has joined the crew), and highly professional, award-winning chefs losing their shit all over the damn place. Hilarious! Many thanks to Flipit and J-Mo for gifting me with this positively delectable assignment!
FYI, for those of you who don’t follow reality news as religiously as I do, this season of Masters will follow the traditional Top Chef format, not the semi-finals/finals round whatsits they’ve done the first two seasons. Bunch of chefs getting picked off one by one until one will be named Top Chef MASTER. Goodness, even the title is more titillating. Also, I’m assuming the change in format is one of the reasons that the show is slightly less star-studded this year. I recognize only one chef in the running (sup Mary Sue?!), and while I’m not a Foodie McKnowitall, I do watch enough “Top Chef” to know that many of the contestants on “Top Chef Masters” are former judges. I don’t think anyone in this season’s cast has been a judge, and if they were, they weren’t particularly memorable. Aren’t you excited to meet them now?
I just want to know why this bitch is in a skirt. It’s not baseball…
The show opens with a far more thrilling intro than the past two seasons, most likely because it’s delivered by a shiny, sexy Englishman with frosted tips as opposed to a tiny Asian woman in par for the course cocktail attire. 12 chefs! Reputations on the line! Then it’s time for the chef quotes - John Currence is ”hell-driven,” “here to win this thing,” and “here to prove a point.” Aslo for CHARITY. Traci Des Jardins “was the only woman in most of the kitchens I worked for in France and I had a reputation of actually being mean.” Whoa. How nefarious do you actually have to be for the French to consider you an asshole? And not just any French – French food service. She looks like fun… George Mendes is competitive and pushing himself constantly, then it’s a montage of tension, bugs and a fast food challenge.
Anyone else stupid excited about this?
James Oseland has returned to the Critic’s Table, but alas Ruth Reichl has replaced the fabulous Gael Greene. Aw, damn. I love me some Gael – she’s so inspiring. I can’t think of anything better to do with my latter years than eat food, pass judgment and wear phenomenal hats. Godspeed, Gael Greene. Godspeed. I guess Ruth is also a food critic, but in protest of her lack of festive headgear and old money New England superiority, I didn’t listen to the rest of Curtis’ intro. Time to meet the chefs! Or at least the one’s who’ll be relevant this episode.
First up, Mary Sue Milliken! Mary Sue is an LA-based chef and owner of Border Grill restaurant. She’s also partnered many times with Susan Feniger (they call themselves the Two Hot Tamales, and have appeared on “Iron Chef” together). Why do I already seem kind of obsessed with her? Why that’s because I have catered for Border Grill on many an occasion, which means I’ve basically worked for Mary Sue, and if you follow that logic, it means I’m kind of competing on the show myself. Don’t think too hard about it, or you’ll get lost in my logic, but please understand that I will be rooting for her until she gets eliminated, wins or starts chugging Sapphire out of the bottle and trying to “rap.”
Until then, GO MARY SUE!!!
John Currence of City Grocery restaurant group heads in, and I think he’s from the South, but that’s all I got. Then it’s Suvir Saran, who did not, to my utter disappointment, invent Saran Wrap, but did say in the most delicious of West Indian accents that he doesn’t know why he did Top Chef – perhaps he was bitten by a rabid dog? Everything EVERYTHING is funnier to me when spoken in a West Indian accent. Especially things that are already funny. Then he says that his strengths are going to be his good looks and his eloquence… “Kidding.” What a douche. LOVE!
After that it’s John Rivera Sedlar who looks older and so I think regardless of how well he does or what his reputation is, I’m going to place all the hopes I placed on Jonathan Waxman last year that were so dashed onto John’s broad shoulders. He owns Playa and Rivera in LA, and according to some random food blog I found, has been called the “father of modern Southwest cuisine.” Cool. He’s proud to have been invited. Alex Stratta of… Stratta is up next and he thinks he’ll win because he’s “willed it” and “meditated on it.” Why should you not be humorously self-deprecating on reality competition shows? Because you’ll wind up saying something like that…
The smile just makes you look worse, Dude.
Then la femme tres mechant enters – Traci Des Jardins! She is tiny, inelegant and therefore a formidable opponent. I think her name is incredibly appropriate – in English it translates to Traci of the Gardens, and she kind of looks like a little chef garden gnome. She and Mary Sue are close friends, and she’s worked with a couple of the other chefs in the south of France. Oh! And remember that lady in the skirt who was so happy to stand out in the credits? She’s Naomi Pomeroy and here are the reasons I already hate her:
- Her hair’s all done up and she’s wearing the dangliest of dangly earrings. Which proves what, exactly?
- She has this little simpery smile on her face as she explains that she’s been a boss for 12 years, so one the one hand she’s a “total caretaker,” and on the other hand, she’s very “demanding” and knows how to get what she wants. A.K.A. fucking bossy and patronizing. I hate it when people try to “mom” me into doing stuff.
- Her restaurant is called Beast. Shut up, Naomi.
We’ll be adding to this list throughout the episode and season, don’t you worry. Hugh Acheson comes on and mentions something about being likeable but all I can hear is
HUGH – I mean, HUGE UNIBROW.
Introductions finish with a few chefs left unintroduced, so I guess they’re safe from elimination this week. Curtis reenters and announces that he’ll be their host for the next ten weeks. Or ten weeks compressed into three, because that’s all these “masters” could afford to take off from their establishments. And now it’s time for the very first Quickfire!! Each chef will compete against the chef standing next to him. Stratta’s standing next to Floyd who turns out to be the other Indian guy this season. This is a little intimidating for Stratta as Floyd is apparently quite the Indian chef, but is also quite well-versed in classic French cuisine as well. Thanks for bearing with me for that detail. I just really wanted to write a few sentences using the names “Floyd” and “Stratta.”
The Challenge is Mystery Box! Thank you, Bravo. Thank you. Each chef has a box. Inside their box will be a secret (ingredient). Then they must peek inside their partner’s box to take a look at their secret ingredient. Then the boxes must smush to create two dishes out of both ingredients. Hope they use protection.
The challenge is, of course, that the items themselves are pretty hilarious, but they are also hilariously mismatched. Mary Sue and John Currence get frog legs and cottage cheese – both of them are worried because Jonn hates cottage cheese and Mary Sue knows John’s from the South and will have a working knowledge of frog legs. I think the most working knowledge you can get regarding frog legs is that they taste like chicken.
Suvir is paired with Celina something who owns a restaurant or something, but the most interesting thing about her thus far is that she received canned corned beef and Suvir got marshmallows. Gross. Don’t tell the judges what they’re eating before they eat it. It’ll prejudice them just as it did my stomach just now. In other news Suvir interviews that the “true master inside him is insulted,” but sometimes said master must come off their “pedestal” and make something taste good that shouldn’t. I really want to take a walk inside Suvir’s head. I love superior people who are also effeminate and pedantic.
Other pairings are chicken liver and popcorn, Naomi and Hugh get dragonfruit and sardines. She’s a little intimidated by Hugh who “owns like, four restaurants.”
4. Speaks not unlike a high school student.
But of course, Naomi’s not that worried because she’s worked with sardines before and plans on making a dragonfruit salad topped with sardines. Really, Naomi? In all your years of “working with sardines” your brilliant plan and use of skill is to… put them on stuff.
Stratta’s got cockles (cockles in a box! Thank you, Bravo!!) and Floyd has Marmite (GACK – vegetable extract), Traci of the Gardens has black licorice and her partner has peanut butter. I feel like she could dip the licorice into the peanut butter, put it on the plate and it would still taste better than whatever corned beef and marshmallow madness Suvir and Celina are going to do.
There’s a god in there with many arms using one of them to scratch his head.
Mary Sue and John are pumping it out in their corner, but John’s sweating the time constraints. He looks at Mary Sue and likens her movements to ballet that births food at the end of it. Damn straight she’s impressive. Curtis comes in to remind them of the time, and all the chefs run around in a tizzy. Selina cleans her plate, but doesn’t get her sauce on the plate in time. And again, despite her having “worked with sardines before,” Naomi can’t even get them on the plate. Her sad little dragonfruits stare up from the white wondering where is their day in the sun…? She and Celina refuse to present half-dishes, so they’re automatically disqualified when it comes time to judge.
John Currence has made a frog leg Buffalo wing of some kind, but forgot to put the cottage cheese ranch on top, so he’s pissed. So am I, that shit sounded good. It’s kind of funny, though, given that it looks like he literally just forgot as opposed to ran out of time..
Apparently no one knew that Ruth Reichl was replacing Gael Greene this year, because they’re all surprised and humbled when it comes time for them to watch the judging. That format hasn’t changed – all the chefs watch the judging on a television screen from the kitchen. First up is John and Mary Sue. Mary Sue rocks it out not only because John’s dish is incomplete, but because she made fried cottage cheese cakes topped with frog legs. James gives us a few of his trademark wrist-flicks and comments that he didn’t know you could make cottage cheese tasty, but she’s done it. Please, James, I know you edit Saveur but you’re human like the rest of us. Leave anything in a deep fryer long enough and it’s gonna come out extra tasty. True of potatoes. True of cheese. True of cheese and potatoes combined.
Chili cottage cheese cake wins!
Suvir made a marshmallow and corned beef chaat. What the fuck’s chaat? Well, it appears that even Indians can’t decide. The most definitive explanation Wikipedia had to offer was that chaat is a traditional street or snackfood involving potatoes and bread. But, of course there are a million variations, some involving noodles, some yogurt and now, marshmallow and corned beef. Even though the texture makes Ruth look like she wants to vomit, the judges like the flavor. Suvir wins due to Celina’s lack of dish and onward we march.
Hugh managed to pan sear some sardines and put them on a dragonfruit salad and Naomi pouts as Curtis announces that she has refused to plate anything.
5. She pouts.
She’s probably also pouting due to the fact that she and Hugh basically had the same idea, but he’s obviously faster and more organized than she is. Hugh wins due to forfeit, but the judges do like his dish.
Both Alex and Floyd made cockle soup with Marmite and Floyd wins because the judges can actually taste the Marmite in Floyd’s soup. Traci of the Gardens kicks some serious tail with a duo of salads, one based in peanut butter and one based in licorice. I have to say, I’m pretty impressed that she managed to get candy and peanut butter and make salad out of them. So are the judges, and they give her the win over John Sedlar and his bacon licorice peanut butter hors d’ouvres. Bleck.
When it comes time to decide who gets $5000 for their charity and immunity, Mary Sue and Traci go head to head, and Traci winds up taking it all. Her charity is a food service incubator that assists low-income and immigrant women.
I have no idea what a food service incubator is, but good for them.
And now it’s time for the ELIMINATION CHALLENGE!!! Bum bum BUM! As you read those bum bum bums, make them loud and proud in your head because this week, it’s Restaurant Wars! What a treat! It’s like when Top Model does the makeover episode first thing! The two teams (red and blue) are made up of the winners and losers of the Quickfire i.e. there’s a loser team and a winner team, and I think that’s hilarious. Everybody splits off to plan, and the first voice I hear when Team Loserface sits down is Naomi’s as she announces that she’s NOT a line cook.
6. Assumes that other Top Chefs ARE in fact, line cooks in disguise.
Within thirty seconds she’s lived up to her own assertions that she’s a BOSS and has bossed herself into the safe as pie FOH position, decided that the seating will be done banquet style with everyone sitting down between 6 and 6:15. Apparently, that’s the way they do it at her restaurant in Portland and it’s a very communal atmosphere. Seriously, that’s pretty much her only reason for heaping a banquet style service for 34 people on a team that isn’t used to working with each other. But, I guess it’s not too much of an issue or Naomi’s way more intimidating than I give her credit for because nobody really raises any objections. Celina says is sucks to serve 34 people at once, but she’s a team player so she’s not gonna make a stink about it.
I have seen Celina’s future and it involves some knife-packing. Maybe not now, but sometime soon.
In the Winner’s Circle, Hugh helps everyone come up with a name that reflects their diverse backgrounds (two Indians, two Americans, one Portuguese and one Canadian), and the restaurant will be called Mosaic. They decide on a menu of Diverse American cuisine (when I hear that, I hear cheesesteak, pork rinds and tacos), and start doling out jobs. Since she has the least to lose, Traci takes on the Front of House even though it’s not her comfort zone, and Floyd will stand point in the kitchen. There’s a bit of hurdy gurdy setting up the restaurant, but once that’s done, everyone gets to the shopping and things appear to be a bit more in hand for both teams. The teams themselves split up to hit up Restaurant Depot and Whole Foods.
Sprint’s a sponsor this season because another one of our as yet unnamed chefs, Sue Zemanick from New Orleans, VOs that she and Naomi are keeping up with each other at the separate stores because their phones have an app that allows them to check things off of a grocery list as they go. I’m assuming that is some kind of special phone-to-phone grocery list, because if it’s not, my purse has the same app involving the envelope from my electrical bill and a pen.
While he’s shopping, Hugh details his seared scallop over some leek… grits. Or something. The scallops are too big, apparently, but he gets them anyway. He also never went to culinary school, but learned everything from books and on the job training. Uh-oh. Unwarranted personal knowledge. I smell elimination…
Everyone finishes shopping and heads back to the kitchen to start prepping. Team Loserface finally decides on a name – Leela. It means moment of enlightenment. This translates to elevated and calm for Naomi. I’m not sure how, but she’s taking it as a reminder to relax and remain calm in the face of the adversity she single-handedly created. Alex interviews that he’s a little nervous about the seating arrangement Fearless Leader has planned, but he’s concentrating on his dish. He and John C. are on starters – John C.’s got a sweet potato and peanut soup and Alex is doing a vegetable fricassee that supposedly he’s known for. He certainly does a lot of chopping.
The rest of the team includes John S. who’s doing rack of lamb, Sue with halibut, Naomi’s doing a flourless chocolate cake and Celina is doing a pistachio cake with a honey semifreddo. I don’t know what semifreddo means, but it makes me think of honey, ice cream and “The Godfather” all at once, so I’m pretty sure I like it.
7. Flourless chocolate cake is fudge. And two years ago.
Over at Mosaic, Suvir continue to delight me when he purrs that every Indian man needs a woman to take care of him as he is flanked by Mary Sue and Traci. Traci giggles he obviously doesn’t as she feeds him an apple slice, and he winks that he needs two. If this man served me a dried up orange rind on a banana peel I would eat it just to listen to him talk. He’s like a naughty, Indian teddy bear.
The Mosaic menu looks tastier, but that’s maybe because I have yet to come up with seven reasons to hate their front of house leader. Floyd is making short ribs with steel cut oat risotto, George Mendes is making… salmon. Good to know. Traci is doing a warm bread salad with burrata and artichokes (want that in my FACE), Hughnibrow is doing the giant sea scallop thing and for dessert, Mary Sue is making “her” chocolate cake and Suvir is doing a berry/pear cobbler.
As the prep time nears a close, Naomi opines that it sure looks like Team Winner’s Circle is a helluva lot more organized than Team Loserface. She interviews that she has no idea how in hell Leela is going to come together. Good thing she put herself in charge! Commercial!
The day, she has arrived! Mary Sue’s out there in pink, loud and proud, so I’m assuming she’s got a breast cancer charity. There are three hours to cook, and everyone is stupid excited to get in and get their hands dirty. Everyone except Suvir, though. See, Suvir is a Master – a real one, apparently. Not like all these young masters surrounding him, who, in their quest to deal with mighty egos and points to prove will over garnish and over season their food. According to Suvir, a true Master knows how to make magic from nothing. I don’t think anyone told Suvir that the title of Top Chef Master isn’t, like, a real thing… It’s like they called him to be on the show and he was all, “I’m a master now! The day has finally arrived!”
Still love him, though. Still love him.
Everyone’s rushing, Alex included. I guess his fricassee takes a bunch of time on a good day, and he doesn’t have that here. But he will NOT be the first person to go home. Mary Sue can’t find unsweetened chocolate in the Top Chef kitchen (what the what?), so she has to adjust her cake recipe. She’ll have to add less refined sugar and the texture of the cake will change. She’s freaked, but she interviews that if one can’t make just those kinds of decisions on the fly, one will remain a cook. I’m just still openmouthed at the fact that while the Top Chefians quake at the thought of making even a minor dessert, Mary Sue not only can do a dessert without a recipe, she can ADJUST said recipe on the fly. There’s like math and chemistry involved in that, and I am impressed!
Hughnibrow’s toiling away happy as a cockle, interviewing that he doesn’t like to be stressed, and now it’s time to start service. The servers pile in, the tables get set and Naomi and Traci head out front. Naomi’s strategy for the FOH business is to be welcoming to every guest and connect with each one of them. Well, that’ll serve you well when they all know whose name to shout as they wait for food because you sat 34 people at once.
8. Thinks being nice constitutes a strategy.
Traci’s shocked that Team Loserface sat everyone at once, but she doesn’t waste time worrying about it. The judges sit at Mosaic, and along with Curtis, Rachel, James and Danielle Freedman, an author and online food magazine creator. Traci really likes and respects her, so I will as well, for now. The orders start piling into both kitchens and of course Team Loserface is overwhelmed in 30 seconds flat.
Hughnibrow’s still a little worried about his scallop, but halfway through service Team Winner’s Circle is doing just fine. Floyd’s steering the ship, Mary Sue, Hugh and George are getting the food out, Traci’s kicking ass so much at FOH she actually has time to come in and plate her salad for the judges, and Suvir is “calm as ever and keeping [them] all entertained.” The hard work and organization is appreciated at the Judge’s Table as the dishes are overall positively received, except for the scallop. Drat. It’s too salty and undercooked. The mains and desserts go off without a hitch, though the critics and guests aren’t too impressed with Mary Sue’s cupcake. The guests think it’s dry and the critics think it’s boring. I think it’s fucking delicious because I’ve had it and it’s almost like I’m on the show.
At Leela, the critics arrive and Naomi is nowhere to be found. It doesn’t go unnoticed. When she finally does make her way over to them and seats them, Curtis asks if she did indeed seat everyone all at once. Naomi simpers proudly that yes she did. That’s how they do it in her restaurant and everybody in the kitchen “felt like strong enough line cooks” to pull it off. What an asshole! Curtis sneers that if he had a maitre’d who sat the entire restaurant at once, that maitre’d would have their balls sawed off by the end of the night. Well, really he just said that they’d be out of a job, but I thought mine was funnier.
In the kitchen, there’s no communication between the servers and the chefs, so there’s a bunch of food prepared that nobody can assign to locations. John C. expresses this to Naomi, who nods, then ignores him completely and asks for the judges food immediately. He tells her they’re on it, and then again emphasizes the world of problems that are happening all around her. She tells him that she’s there to get the judges food, and John finally backs off to solve his own problem because his caretaking boss doesn’t give a flying fuck.
9. Gets what she wants by ignoring protests and simply repeating the initial request.
Whatever, the appetizers/salads miraculously arrive at the table in an acceptable amount of time. Alex’s wild mushroom fricassee and John Currence’s sweet potato soup blow the judges away pretty much, not to mention the guests. Rachel complains about the heat in the garnish on John’s soup, but other than that, the reviews are positive.
And then the waiting begins…
Have you worked with 20 minute waits before? Gonna create some magic here like you did with the sardines?
John actually asks Naomi who gushes that it’ll be out very soon, but the chefs are just perfecting everything to get it just right. She abducts some servers on their way to tables, and orders the chefs to grab the critic food right then and there, guests be damned.
First up is Sue Zemanick (of New Orleans) and her pan seared halibut. There’s a sea scallop and some pesto buerre blanc business, and the critics like it, but Rachel says it reminds her of hotel food. What? For me hotel food consists of two elements – Days Inn Continental Breakfast and the Beverly Hills Hotel Polo Lounge. Perhaps she’s referring to hotel paintings? Anywho, John Sedlar presents chili rubbed lamb chops over a jicama salad. Of course, since Naomi waited 20 minutes to grab the judges food, everything was rushed and the lamb is raw in the middle. Holy crap that is restaurant 101. That’s “Top Chef” 101, as a matter of fact. In restaurant wars, you always ALWAYS have the judges food waiting in the wings because that’s the table that, you know, counts. And then there’s a label.
You know those little stickers that come on apples? Guess what wound up on the plate???
So yeah, there was sticker/label not only in Curtis’ dish, but also Danielle’s. Which sucks, because that is not something I can blame on Naomi. The guests seem to love the lamb, which isn’t surprising considering their food wasn’t rushed. Finally, it’s time for dessert. Some really nasty gods smiled on Naomi, because her chocolate torte that she didn’t make is a giant hit. Unfortunately, Celina’s semifreddo doesn’t do so well. Pffft… Curtis describes it as a take on baklava, and Rachel doesn’t think the plating makes for very easy eating. Again, however, the guests love the desserts across the board. And the guests actually have the deciding vote this time, and one of the chefs from the losing team will go home.
Suvir thinks that Team Winner’s Circle has “nothing to fear.” The other team ran their kitchen like a banquet facility as opposed to the Michelin star restaurant that was Team Winner’s Circle. There are no words for how much I love Suvir. I think it has something to do with the fact that however self-deprecating he may sound, the master inside him believes every single word that comes out of his mouth.
I am a golden god.
Before critics table, the chefs relax together and talk about how hard the first challenge was and how little they expected that. Suvir explains that chefs of their caliber are the inspiration, the ideas – they don’t sweat… or do. He doesn’t know about the other chefs, but he doesn’t sweat. Ha! For what it’s worth, he’s happy to come back to Earth. LOVE.
Nobody really knows what to expect from the critics, but Hughnibrow thinks that Team Winner’s Circle will be victorious based on their food. Team Loserface is called in first by Curtis and are told that while the critics preferred the food in the Winner’s Circle, the diners liked Loserface better. Fuck you, Guests. The critics announce that they will determine the winner from the dishes Loserface served and it comes down to Naomi’s torte and Alex’s fricassee. I immediately will the fricassee to win win winnnnnnn and… it does!!!
Alex gets $10,000 for his colon cancer charity and he’s super gracious. Loserface returns to the wine room and sends in their colleagues. Oh… but just two – Mary Sue and Hughnibrow…. Ooooh snap. I’m sorry, Hughnibrow. As excited as I am to run that nickname into the ground, I will send you home in a box to keep Mary Sue on the line. The critics bring up his salty scaullop (Hi, New England!) and beat that horse into the ground until Hughnibrow admits that he used Maldon flake salt (so motherfucking delicious), and it’s easy to oversalt when that’s the product. Agreed. Not much is oversalted for me, but I’ve been there. Hughnibrow doesn’t do that dish in his restaurant and Danielle has a seriously favorable reaction to his taking chances. Like, she hangs onto it like a dog with a bone. She obviously does not watch Top Chef. If she did, she would know that taking chances that don’t work is considered spectacularly stupid.
The complaints about Mary Sue’s cupcakes are that they were a little dry and that it was less than they were expecting from her.
So who wins? Guy who took a chance that didn’t work or AWESOME LADY WHO IS AWESOME who didn’t take chances, but made a slightly dry, yet delicious cupcake. Safe or stupid, Folks? Safe or stupid – who goes home?
Aww… bye bye, Rainman. Hughnibrow’s a little hangdog, but he’s sweet and good-natured about everything and he’s happy to have learned a lot.
Well, as first episodes go, what’d you think, Gasmii? I liked it. I think we’ve got a great new host and Mary Sue, Naomi and Suvir. They are the most entertaining contestants, I think, and here’s hoping none of them get eliminated anytime soon.
Oh, and here’s the complete list so we can all keep track as the season progresses:
Her hair’s all done up and she’s wearing the dangliest of dangly earrings. Which proves what, exactly?
She has this little simpery smile on her face as she explains that she’s been a boss for 12 years, so one the one hand she’s a “total caretaker,” and on the other hand, she’s very “demanding” and knows how to get what she wants. A.K.A. fucking bossy and patronizing. I hate it when people try to “mom” me into doing stuff.
Her restaurant is called Beast. Shut up, Naomi.
Speaks not unlike a high school student.
Assumes that other Top Chefs ARE in fact, line cooks in disguise.
Flourless chocolate cake is fudge. And two years ago.
Thinks being nice constitutes a strategy.
Gets what she wants by ignoring protests and simply repeating the initial request.