Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Top Chef - Masters of Illusion

We begin the second act of our culinary drama with card tricks. Why? Because apparently the theme of their Dim Sum Sunday was MAGIC!!
Or maybe it was Scary Eyes and goofy costumes, I don't know, Bravo was a bit vague in their weekly show memo. Pick a card, any card, it won't matter because each of you is getting a word to construct your dish around.
What? What is that BS? Qualities of magic? I hate this challenge already. It's the agonizing retooling of Top Chef Season 4's Improv episode where the chefs had to create dishes using word phrases like Purple Depressed Bacon and Magenta Drunk Polish Sausage as their inspiration. It was tortured then and adding the "magic" touch is not going to elevate the challenge into mastery. Nonetheless we head off to Whole Foods to watch the "illusion" of shopping.
Cheat sheets? Do Top Chef Masters really need production supplied cheat sheets? Ah the Magic of Reality-like TV.
Holy Daffy Duck, that's a huge chunk of foie gras.

If you haven't already figured it out, Shamu's judging criteria trifecta consists of crab, bacon and risotto. Finally they have spent all their money and it's time and head back to the kitchen to cook.
Gratuitous time lapse night shot.

Gratuitous Top Chef Guest Appearance.
Really, I have no clue why they thought this was necessary. He's not judging, he's not eating, he's certainly not a mentor to these chefs so I guess there's some contractual obligation he's required to fulfill. Or they're just trying to hold on to their Bear demographic.

When part of your prep work involves slathering burnable things with Sterno, you might have a problem. With wand waving and packing of magical kettles (and hopefully fire extinguishers) packed away, the chefs head for the Magic Castle.
After much silliness with moving portrait eyes and magic doors the chefs finally arrive at their kitchen for the night and final prep begins.
Yes Ladies and Gentlemen, we have our winner for the Mark "The Bird" Fidrych Award of the Culinary World. I present Ms. Anita "Speaks to Seafood" Lo.

Hurry up Anita, your diners await.

One of which is the very funny Neil Patrick Harris. If you only think of him as Doogie Howser then you're missing out on his Harold and Kumar work and the very funny Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. He seems to be one of the few child actors who successfully made the transition to adult entertainment work. (We won't hold the magic thing against him.)
Mark is up first with his Mystery Dish. I really like that he made the diners work for their surprise. Who doesn't like lovely little grab bags of food?
Tai Snapper En Papillote with a glaze of Lobster and shellfish stock, Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Leeks, Scallion Oil and Dassai Sake. Mark is a talented showman and his presentation and food of Mystery is very well received.
John is up next and immediately puts Neil to work creating the magic of horseradish and crème fraîche sorbet with liquid nitrogen. Neil, however, seems more concerned that no peas and carrots are frozen or harmed in this experiment.
John presents Salmon Tartare with Cauliflower Blini, Cucumber Salmon Roe salad with the aforementioned sorbet and Tempura Fried Lobster wrapped in Smoked Salmon. The sorbet doesn't hit it off with anyone but the diners feel he hit the "Surprise" element of the challenge. I'm not surprised that my mouth is watering at the thought of Lobster Tempura wrapped with smoked salmon.
Anita goes next and I have a feeling the plating of this dish worked more in person than it did as television because I'm not getting the vibe of the presentation. Although I do have to say it's a fascinating reinterpretation of Surf & Turf and the integration of her word, Illusion. Daikon with Kombu Caviar, Steak Tartare with Seafood broth and oysters, mussels and clams. The diners are mostly positive except for a lone daikon exception.
Back in the kitchen, lighting of the Pink Flaming Spectacle that is Douglas's presentation begins. I know he was dead set on that flame but the smell and appearance of Sterno is not all that appetizing.
Duck 4 ways, from left to right, Oyster Cerviche with Duck Broth, Empanada with Foie Gras and Figs, Duck Breast on Butternut Squash puree, and last, the Duck Confit, Duck broth, young Coconut and cilantro. Everyone gets the "spectacle" of his presentation but were not exactly impressed.

Time to face the Judges.
Have I mentioned how much I love having Gail Simmons on this show? Even if she is just singing the Itsy Bitsy Spider song? I know it's not fair to compare the two Gails (Gael) but more and more I'm getting the feeling that Gael Greene is much more vibrant on paper than the picture we're getting on Top Chef Masters. She's been very polite, gracious and refined. Which is nice if you're at a tea party but it's been my impression that they chose her to judge because she was a no holds barred sort of gal when she was a food critic in NY. Not so much here. Gail Simmons on the other hand will tell you right to your face that your eggs were rubbery and nasty. I always get the feeling that Gail wants chefs to do their best but won't hesitate to tell them they didn't while Gael hasn't tapped into that passion and experience yet. I'm hoping she's taking notes because Gail Simmons is the one to watch, hat or no hat.
Judging runs along much the same lines as the Quickfire except that John actually completed all his dishes this time around. John and Douglas fall a bit short and Mark looks like he's giving Anita a run for the money but in the end she's the one who will move onto the next round.
That is if she can avoid being crushed in this group hug by her former competitors...


moi said...

Neil Patrick Harris is an Albuquerque Homeboy known for his kindness and generosity.

Buzz Kill said...

I finally saw Top Chef Masters for the 1st time this week (this episode in fact) and I really liked it. The level of cooking is so much higher than the regular Top Chef as evidenced by the dishes you posted. Sure the masters are treated better but they deserve it. I think this is a winner.

Boxer said...

one of your best posts.