Last week’s episode of Top Chef Masters showed that competition can be downright warm and fuzzy. While Graham and Wylie each vowed to undo the other, their tag-teaming antics showed it was all in good fun. And before the judging, all four chefs baked cookies together! So many hugs. So much teamwork.
This week’s episode was a very different story.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Their heated battle, after the jump.
The Quickfire Challenge: Palates and Palettes
Each of the four chefs drew knives that revealed a colored blade, and were told to use only that color in their dish. They were judged by a panel of food writers and photographers—women, we were told, who "spend their lives thinking about how food looks."
Cocksure Ludo Lefebvre worked with a palette of red—steak tartare with tomato, watermelon, and a beet juice to pour over the top. But the tomato never made it out of the fridge, and the waiters forgot the beet juice. When they ran out with it, four minutes later, the judges still weren't impressed. "Would this have been more appealing with the beet juice?" Kelly asked. Their answer was clear. "No."
Better were Cindy Pawlcyn's grits under yellow curry, and Rick Bayless's beautiful bamboo-roasted green veggies with a tomatillo-based mole verde. But the winner was Wilo Benet, with a smoked salmon tartare in a lovely lake of tomato-laced coconut milk—even though he forgot to take off the metal mold. (Hey Wilo—that's silver, not orange.)
The Elimination Challenge: Offal On The Street
The chefs were then prepped for their elimination challenge: making street food for a crowd at Universal Studios, each using a different protein. Not too hard, right? Until the meats were unveiled: tripe, pig's ear, tongue, and beef heart. While the eternally peppy Bayless seemed quite pleased ("I love tongue!"), Lefebvre all but flew into a rage. ("Of course I know how to cook pig's ear! I am French! In France you have to cook everything!")
Pawlcyn got to work on a menudo stew, and Wilo Benet revised a Puerto Rican sandwich, stuffing beef hearts and rich cheese sauce into a pita. With Bayless clearly in his sights, Lefebvre declared that he was making a pig's ear quesadilla. ("I can do Mexican! I am going to beat Bayless at his own game!")
But he consulted Bayless on ingredients, accidentally let his chopped pig's ear form a solid block, and couldn't quite get those quesadillas to cook. "Have you ever made quesadillas before?" the judges asked. Lefebvre snickered but didn't answer.
The final verdict: Bayless's bacon, chorizo, and tongue tacos were a huge hit. "I would have another one right now," declared the often-persnickety Gael Greene. Pawlcyn's tripe stew: tender, but underseasoned. Benet's pita sandwiches: yummy, but with too many ingredients, and a limp pita that should have been toasted. And the quesadillas? Well, they weren't quite quesadillas. "This seems like a grilled cheese... with pig's ear," chuckled James Oseland. That looks about right.
After some (not particularly suspenseful) deliberation, Bayless took the prize. He beamed from ear to ear. "How much did you pay the judges?" grumbled Lefebvre—always the good sportsman.
The real story here was in the clash of character. This episode was crafted as a battle of good and evil: the big-hearted Puerto Rican who teared up when talking about charity; the affable Northern Californian who, even after her loss, said she "couldn't wait to cook tripe again"; the unfailingly lovable Bayless... and the surly, oily, insufferable Frenchman who whined about pig's ears, dismissed the other chefs with a snort, and yelled at Bayless when he tried to help him box up his food.
Bayless stuck to what he knew, and won. Lefebvre let his ego get in the way, and went down in flames. It's pretty certain that the producers, always with a heavy hand in the Top Chef pot, set it up this way. But it's still satisfying to watch the forces of good triumph. At least until the next round.
What did you think? Was justice served?