April 14th, 2011
10:29 AM ET
This new season of “Top Chef: Masters” may have stumbled out of the gate, but with last night’s episode it seemed to be finding its footing.
It also doesn’t hurt to have some celebrities along to boost the star power.
First things first, though. As the chefs enter the kitchen, we’re told that John Rivera Sedlar has had to withdraw from the competition because of an emergency. To fill the void, welcome back Hugh Acheson, who was eliminated last week.
I’m a firm believer that once you’re gone, you stay gone, but I suppose the producers were more concerned about adhering to the timeframe they had laid out for the season.
On to the Quickfire, in which the chefs are challenged to make a meatball dish in 30 minutes. Of course, it’s not that easy. They have to grind the meat using hand grinders, which eats up a HUGE amount of time.
First, they have to figure out how to affix the grinders to their countertops. This manages to flummox quite a few of the chefs. It’s basically just a vice grip, guys. Did none of you ever take shop class?
The guest judge for the Quickfire is Kelis. Yes, that Kelis, she of the infamous milkshake. How the show missed the opportunity to do a milkshake challenge for her appearance is beyond me. Maybe she’s sick of the song and refuses to have it mentioned. Or it could be that she wanted to judge more impressive fare, since she’s a professionally trained chef, or so we’re told.
John C. (I guess we can just call him John, now that the other John is out of the competition) takes the win for his Vietnamese meatball, earning immunity for the Elimination challenge.
And that challenge is to make appetizers for a party hosted by “Mad Men” star Christina Hendricks and her actor husband Geoffrey Arend. Given the time period her show is set in, the challenge here is to take classic dishes from the 1960s and give them an updated flair. What’s interesting is the chefs have to serve an original version of the dish along with their modern takes. So it becomes a series of “that was then, this is now” presentations.
Space in the kitchen is at a premium. That place looks tiny, and you have 11 chefs trying to cook and plate, mostly on top of each other. The two who seem to get shafted the worst are Sue and Suvir, the latter of whom has to cook his veal in the deep fryer since there’s no space left on the stove.
They both take an interesting approach though, which is to help the chefs who are serving ahead of them plate, so that they’ll get out of the way and start opening up some room.
The only problem for Sue is that she spends so much time helping others that she loses track of time on her own dish, and ends up sending out many of her plates incomplete.
She ends up in the bottom group at Critics’ Table for her duck a l’orange, along with Alex’s bread pudding and Suvir’s veal oscar. All three dishes were problematic in terms of taste, but Sue suffers from the extra knock of not having a finished plate. It’s devastating to watch, because she knew from the minute she started serving her food that she was going home.
The winner was Mary Sue for her deviled eggs, which she presented wrapped in seaweed in a Japanese style. John was also in the top three, and between this and the Quickfire, he seems like a strong contender early in the competition.
As for the show itself, I think I’m getting a sense of what to expect. It’s not the cutthroat competition of a standard “Top Chef.” There’s a collegial atmosphere, with the contestants helping each other out and being supportive during judging. But it’s also not the “Top Chef: Masters” of previous seasons, where you felt like this was an amusing adventure for culinary icons.
What did you think of last night’s episode? Sound off below!
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