'Top Chef Masters,' Ep. 6: Trick in a Box

"An episode of brotherly love."

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Top Chef Masters soldiers on. Tonight's competition marked the last of six four-way faceoffs, each qualifying a chef for the Champions Round. Next week, we'll see these six chefs go head-to-head—but this Wednesday, there was still one more slot to fill.

The Contestants (above, from left)

Roy Yamaguchi: Roy’s; Imua Family Services
Jonathan Waxman: Barbuto; Meals on Wheels
Art Smith: Table Fifty-Two, Art and Soul; Common Threads
Michael Cimarusti: Providence; Grameen Foundation

Quickfire Challenge:

Another blast from Top Chef past—the Aisle Trial. Chefs were each assigned a single aisle at Whole Foods, and could use only ingredients found in that aisle (and purchased with just $20) in their Quickfire dish. The judges? Whole Foods employees.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.

“I don’t open jars. I don’t open cans. I don’t deal with that kind of thing," Jonathan Waxman ventured nervously. His mint, roasted pepper and lentil salad won three and a half stars. Roy Yamaguchi felt out of sorts in the Italian aisle, but pulled together a pasta with fried egg and "Asian flavors," for four stars. "This is so weird," said one judge. "I've never had eggs on pasta before!"

Art Smith's multi-grain risotto earned four stars for its texture and crunch, but the five-star prize went to Michael Cimarusti, for a whipped chocolate parfait with ginger-Sauternes syrup and sesame crackers. "My wife is a pastry chef," he said proudly. "I don't mess with that in the kitchen at home." It must have rubbed off.

Elimination Challenge:

Each chef was sent to Whole Foods to pick out a set of ingredients—for another chef. In a regular episode of Top Chef, this would be a recipe for disaster. ("Soy sauce, blue cheese, and Cool Whip! Suck it, Ilan!") But for the most part, these chefs doled out goods they'd grab for themselves: high-quality proteins, interesting veggies, nothing too bizarre. "For professional chefs," Waxman said, "the word ‘sabotage’ does not exist.” He's clearly never met Hosea and Stefan.

  • Roy Yamaguchi tuned out a surf-and-turf: short rib with garlic chili paste, and a lemongrass-crusted mahi mahi. The judges appreciated his flavors but noted that he seemed frazzled and totally off his game, with some meats overcooked, others underdone. "You could taste the tension," Oseland said. Fifteen stars, and he's out.
  • Michael Cimarusti served tender lamb medallions over a sunchoke puree, which Oseland didn't mind, but noted that "nothing tasted incredibly delicious." And he didn't finish saucing the plates. Seventeen and a half—also gone.
  • Jonathan Waxman went for an admittedly "retro" grilled pork chop, paired with sausage and served with a truffle-topped cauliflower and celery root puree. He suffered from mild plating issues—the red wine reduction ran all over the place—but got points for flavor and execution. Twenty stars.

The Verdict:

But the prize went to Smith, whose fried chicken two ways and tiny mango pie delighted the diners and charmed the judges. "This oozes Art Smith," Gail Simmons gushed. He teared up in delight—and the chefs applauded.

We ended up with another episode of brotherly love. “You all took care of each other!” said Gael One. “I’ve never seen this before!” gasped Gail Two. No evil ingredients, no death wishes, no trash-talking. These were chefs who clearly respected each other. (As well they should.)

So we're left with the All-Star Six: Art Smith, Michael Chiarello, Rick Bayless, Anita Lo, Hubert Keller, and Suzanne Tracht. Expect this competition to get a lot more heated.

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