June 16th, 2011
09:54 AM ET
One of the appealing things about “Top Chef” is the simplicity of the final challenge: cook the best meal of your life. “Masters” has taken a slight twist on that, challenging the last chefs standing to cook a meal that represents their culinary lives.
But like with so much else this season, the final challenge was changed, too. Luckily, it actually worked to the show’s and the chefs’ benefit.
Mary Sue, Traci and Floyd were tasked with cooking a three-course meal. The first course needed to represent their first food memory; the second course called back to the meal that inspired them to become chefs.
For the third course, the chefs were each assigned a critic, and challenged to cook a dish based on the meal that inspired James Oseland, Ruth Reichl and Gael Greene to become food critics.
Floyd gets to cook rendang, an Indonesian dish, for James. Traci has to work off of a fried duck dish that Gael had in France. Mary Sue has to recreate Ruth’s memories of a lemon soufflé.
Uh oh. For time immemorial, desserts – and soufflés especially – have been bad news for anyone on “Top Chef.” Despite the fact that Mary Sue worked a soufflé station once upon a time, I was wary.
The person I should have been worried about was Floyd. The chefs had eight hours to shop and prep on Day One, and they were allowed to go to any specialty stores they wanted for ingredients. Floyd went to a lot of different stores, and eventually got stuck in traffic. He only had three hours left on the clock when he finally made it back to the kitchen. Not good, since rendang takes quite a while to properly prepare.
The next morning, we get a brief interlude as the finalists are whisked away to a Hollywood home, and the panic starts to set in that they might be cooking in an unfamiliar environment. Nope. Turns out they’re going to Curtis Stone’s place so he can cook for them.
One: I had almost forgotten that Curtis was a chef, since it SHOULD have come up regularly throughout the season but never really did. Two: All I could think about during this segment was whether the delay would impact the prepped food sitting back in the kitchen. (Buzzkill, party of one.)
Back to the challenge. While the chefs go wild trying to get everything ready, the dining room starts filling up. Joining the critics for the meal are Tom Colicchio, along with former “Masters” contestants Susur Lee, Rick Moonen, Jonathan Waxman, Jody Adams and Susan Feniger.
Susan is Mary Sue’s business partner and lifelong friend; not exactly what I’d call an impartial jury, although at least she admits it. Plus, it leads to a great moment before the final course when Susan, who can no longer restrain herself, runs up to give Mary Sue a supportive hug. Floyd and Traci jokingly ask where their hugs are, and Waxman jumps up to play along. (Can someone give him a show already? Tell me you wouldn’t watch 30 minutes a week of Jonathan Waxman.)
The meals from all three finalists get interestingly mixed reviews. Some tables really enjoy a dish, while others find faults with it. What’s crazy is that the dishes that the chefs made to represent the critics’ memories get some of the best reviews. Mary Sue’s soufflé (which everyone jumped in to help plate when she almost ran out of time) was proclaimed by some as the best dish of the night. Floyd’s rendang nearly brings James Oseland to tears. Traci’s duck… well, Gael liked the Béarnaise sauce that was served with it.
When it came time for the winner to be announced, it was fairly clear that Traci was out of the running. I thought for sure Mary Sue, who’s been on a streak lately, would win. But Floyd, who has been beating himself up over constantly coming in second to Mary Sue, came in first when it mattered most.
Floyd Cardoz is the new “Top Chef: Master.” It was a rocky season, and one that, as a whole, wasn’t very satisfying. But the finale cleansed my palate a bit, and I might be willing to try another serving if they bring “Masters” back again.
What did you think about the finale? Did the right person win? Sound off below!
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