June 2nd, 2011
12:35 PM ET
After taking a week off, “Top Chef: Masters” was back last night and feeling a little formulaic. Of course, that formula was Chefs + Science x Cooking Difficulty = Intensity. Or at least, that’s the hypothesis the episode was hoping to prove.
For the Quickfire challenge, our five remaining contestants had to prepare a breakfast dish using a culinary tool that’s nowhere near their daily repertoire. Introducing… the microwave! (Dun dun DUN!)
I get that chefs of this caliber don’t use microwaves very often, but the derision they all seemed to show for using one started to get a little annoying. Dear chefs: While a microwave might be beneath you guys, this is how many of us do prepare some of our foods.
To me the real challenges were that the chefs only had 10 minutes to make the dish, and that they all decided to make eggs. (If that was a requirement, it was never stated out loud.) Using a microwave? No biggie. Using a microwave to cook eggs? I can start to understand their frustration.
We do get some interesting culinary tips. From Curtis: never cook bacon while naked. (Heh?) From Floyd: never use a meat grinder while naked. (Easy there, Floyd. This is a family recap.)
Hugh takes the win, which earns him the right of first pick for the Elimination challenge, where the chefs are asked to drop some science on their food. Everyone has to choose from five scientific principles, and then make a dish that demonstrates the principle at the Edible Science Fair for students. Oh, and it should probably taste good too.
Hugh picks emulsion. Traci takes acidity. Floyd gets the Maillard reaction (heat changing the color of meat). Mary Sue takes on viscosity. And Naomi gets elasticity. Acting as sous chefs will be a group of actual scientists. (You know they’re legit from their lab coats). Also, you have to cook using lab tools, so we’re talking Bunsen burners and beakers instead of stove tops and pans.
While shopping for ingredients, Mary Sue offers to buy some extra protein for Floyd. But as he’s at the counter ordering it, the clock is ticking down (the show even provides a little countdown clock on the screen). Will he get the meat to the checkout line in time? Um, yes. They don’t even bother taking a commercial break to try and up the completely manufactured intensity. Half-hearted attempt to produce drama: fail.
Two things of note happen during the actual cooking/presentations. The first is that Hugh and his scientist, Augustin, really don’t seem to get along. The scientist eventually pulls out all the stops, questioning Hugh’s presentation plan and following it up with, “You’re not a scientist. You have to be curious to be a scientist.”
The other thing is that this week’s guest critic is Padma Lakshmi. I’m THRILLED to have Padma liven up this show. You know who shouldn’t be thrilled? Curtis Stone. Because when you see what a good host can bring to the table, even in a guest appearance, it provides a stark contrast to just how wooden he is.
The science fair itself seems to go better for some folks than others. Floyd, Traci and Mary Sue’s presentations seem like real science demonstrations. Naomi’s comes off more like show and tell. And Hugh seems to rely a lot on personality.
As for the actual dishes, Floyd and Mary Sue end up on top, with Mary Sue winning for her demonstration of viscosity using churros and different sauces. Floyd, who it turns out has a Masters in biochemistry, is a little disheartened to come in 2nd to Mary Sue for a third time.
Meanwhile, Hugh and Traci both get dinged for making very obvious choices (Hugh went with a mayonnaise for emulsion; Traci used lemon on protein for acidity), and Naomi is docked for being too complicated, despite making mini pizzas and calzones. In the end, Hugh is sent packing. Not a bad run for someone who was originally eliminated in the first episode of the season, but I agree with the critics that it felt like he might have mailed this one in.
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