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Top Chef Masters: With Gilligan, the Skipper too

It’s round two of Top Chef Masters!  Let’s get right into it and meet tonight’s chefs:

First up is Graham Elliot Bowles (do people call him Graham Elliot? Graham? GE? It’s like Evan Rachel Wood or Julia Louis Dreyfus. Or Neil Patrick Harris. Where do their first names end and their surnames begin? I’m sure we’ll find out).  He is the “chef-owner at Graham Elliot in Chicago” which doesn’t clear up my naming issue. He names his culinary style as “Punk Rock” but adds “if you will”, which is about as far from punk as I can imagine. Tom Colicchio – is this a “contractual obligation” appearance?  He’s nowhere to be seen in the rest of the show –  identifies him as the Masters’ youngest competitor.  James Oseland describes him as a “hot shot” who has a “snazzy urbane quality to him”. If you were mugged by him, you’d describe him to the cops as a big man with tattoos wearing tiny glasses.

Elizabeth Falkner enters and starts doing some martial artsy moves, which initially turns me off. Then she mentions that she’s behind “Citizen Cake” and she has my attention. “Avant garde pastry chef”. That’s a good business card.

Suzanne Tracht runs a restaurant called Jar in LA and is about elegant simplicity. Jay and Tom back up her self-assessment.

Wylie Dufresne’s entrance is greeted by “oh, no” from GEB. This is not, as I immediately suspected, because GEB thinks he’s a shoo-in to win, but because they are friends and this is their banter. It seems that he has been spending time in the Tresemme salon.  Wylie seems almost apologetic as he introduces himself as the “chef-owner of WD50” because… surely everybody knows that and it’s just embarrassing (in fact, I recently went shopping for something to ease a squeaky hinge and asked for WD50. The hardware guy corrected me and I said “no, that doesn’t sound right”.) He reveals that he resists the label “molecular gastronomy” as it doesn’t sound sexy. Another small part of Aaron dies.

How will they do?  Find out, after the jump…

Quickfire Challenge

Kelly appears with a roll of quarters that seems about as big as her forearm and announces that our contestants will be tackling the “Vending Machine Amuse Bouche” challenge.  To the rest of us, vending machine amuse bouche means Cheezels.  Their efforts will be judged by season two VMAB veterans Ilan Hall (winner), Betty Fraser and Michael Midgely. Wylie’s concerned that his judging karma will come back to haunt him.

Wylie chooses chips, peanuts and two ham-and-cheese sandwiches.  Suzanne is confused by the vending machine concept but is familiar with “Cheetos, Fritos and Doritos”, thanks to her sons. We don’t see what she chooses.  Elizabeth thinks she can make beef jerky work, particularly if it’s braised in Dr Pepper.  According to Wylie, GEB selects a couple of candy bars, a sandwich and some OJ. Yum? “That’s just lunch, now I’ve gotta get something for the contest!” GEB jokes. I think.

Insights

  • GEB’s excited to be in such celebrated company.
  • Wylie would have rather been an athlete but was “not particularly fast or strong or tall”, so he takes a competitive approach to cooking.
  • Suzanne finds the lack of fresh produce challenging.
  • Elizabeth’s father is an artist and her brothers are also artistic.
  • “Icecream’s a frozen sauce” so there’s no reason it shouldn’t be savoury.

Time’s up. Fuck, fuck, fuck from Wylie.

Judging
Wylie – a grilled cheese sandwich with Dr Pepper reduction. Betty observes that the sauce has solidified. Michael thinks it’s delicious. Ilan thinks it was too big.
Suzanne – fried shallot rings with microgreen salad and soda aioli.  This also makes me think I’ve been dudded on amuses bouches so far – it’s very generous. Yums and Mmms all round, and Betty licks the bowl.
Elizabeth – braised beef jerky with orange juice, lemon and horseradish ice cream. Michael and Ilan like it but it doesn’t work for Betty. In fact, she doesn’t even finish it. Who doesn’t finish an amuse bouche? Elizabeth considers homicide.
GEB (who is captioned as “Graham”) – tuna salad with pickled shallot, ginger orange bubbles and beef jerky miso powder. Betty thinks it’s pretty, so GEB won’t be plotting with Elizabeth to eliminate her. Good comments all round, if you accept that “it’s just like my mum’s” is a compliment from Michael.

Scores are 3.5 for Elizabeth, 4.5 for GEB, 3 for a very disappointed Wylie and 5 for Suzanne.

Elimination Challenge

For the unnecessarily named “Elimination” challenge, our chefs will be cooking for the creators and writers of Lost.  Kelly helpfully describes the premise of Lost for the chefs, which turns out to be necessary for Wylie who has never seen it. There is a selection of meats and fresh produce presented “island style” (i.e. in woven baskets). The chefs can only shop for additional ingredients from a Dharma Initiative list of canned goods. I’m predicting GEB might do well as he has a Hurley vibe (by which I mean wisecracking, people! It’s all about the wisecracking).

Shopping
The chefs head to Whole Foods (of course) and Wylie and GEB seem to have forgotten that they’re competing against each other. Maybe Wylie is the Jin to GEB’s Hurley. Despite this, they both interview that they want to beat the other (Wylie refers to GEB as “Elliot”, so I’m officially confused). Once again, Suzanne is fretting about the lack of fresh produce and Elizabeth thinks that her “spice” strategy is a winner, although it’s not clear why she thinks the others might not be thinking about these flavours.

Menus
Elizabeth: Ancho-beer braised boar loin, Coffee scented poached boar loin, yam papaya pudding (the Locke menu, then).

GEB reveals his peripatetic childhood where, due to his dad’s navy postings, he tried exotic things such as monkey and snake from a young age. He’s cooking a maki roll with tuna and dehydrated pineapple, tuna nicoise, and tuna a la plancha (the Jin menu).

Suzanne: Risotto with uni, clams and prawns; wild boar strip with oyster beer sauce, mango corn salad (I’m predicting that Sawyer would like this).

Wylie likes to incorporate “humor and whimsy” which he uses to justify the age-old mother-and-child-reunion of chicken and egg. The menu? Roasted chicken with poached egg, beets with dried corn, plantain puree (maybe this is for Clare and baby. Or the smoke monster, depending on the corn technique).

Meet the judges
Critics: Jay Rayner, James Oseland and Gael Greene (who is wearing a red hat this week)
Others (see what I did there?): Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse, and “the writers of Lost” who get as much recognition at Top Chef Masters as they do at the Emmys. Nice one. Top Chef is apparently water cooler conversation at Lost HQ and Cuse joshes that the quality of Lost declines when TC is on. Does this explain Season 2?

The waiters are wearing Dharma jumpsuits! They have arrived and whisked away plates before the chefs even knew time was up.

Let’s Eat

Elizabeth’s main: One of the Losties asks “Can you make boar taste good?” What are you people? Boar is delicious!  Jay thinks some more saucing would have helped.

GEB: The Losties love it. So does James Oseland.

Wylie: He describes his dish and Jay interrupts to tell him that his plate has no chicken. Wylie deflates visibly. One of the losties had two chickens so they swap. James and Gael don’t like molecular gastronomy, however Gael loves his poached egg and James loves the chicken. Jay is happy that it’s still “Wylie”, so he’s clearly not anti-MG, and there are mixed comments from the Losties.

Suzanne: It looks like somebody tried to get their money’s worth at the buffet on the Spirit of Tasmania, but there are positive comments from all.

Critics’ table

  • Wylie: Jay and James loved the egg and Gael thought the chicken was perfect.
  • GEB: Jay’s interested in the idea of coffee around the edge of the seared tuna. James loved how the nicoise worked. Gael is impressed that a Chicago’ite could get into “island mode”
  • Elizabeth: Gael describes the yam and papaya mix as too much like baby food and Jay repeats his lack of sauce criticism.
  • Suzanne: Jay loved the sea urchins and James was keen on the boar.

Final scores

GEB: 20.5, Wylie: 20

Wylie – “Pack your knives”.

Elizabeth: 16.5

Elizabeth – “Pack your knives”.

Suzanne: 22.5

Suzanne will go up against Hubert and four others in the final. Nobody goes home empty-handed, though – there are donations for all charities.

Next week, I hope to see a continuation of the TC meets TV theme. Perhaps prison food, for the cast of Oz?

3 comments

1 Anonymous { 08.18.09 at 11:44 am }

Hubert is awesome, the final episode airs in the u.s. this week the final 3 + the judges seem to be all previous top chef champs and padama tom. Can’t wait :D.

2 Injera { 08.19.09 at 8:12 am }

Excellent! I’m going to have to work hard to avoid spoilers, then. Can’t wait to see Padma and Tom…

3 Reality Raver { 08.26.09 at 12:15 am }

Sorry about the late comment, but just watched this episode tonight.
Great recap.

Thank god for the banter between all the chefs tonight as that is what made the episode.

Kelly Choi is dreadful, and I am yet to see her eat anything, something I thought was compulsory for a host of a food show until the commencement of MasterChef Australia.

I thought the right person won. Wylie’s restaurant is very trendy in New York, I am still unsure about molecular gastronomy and what it does to the food.