When we last left our Master Chefs they had just completed the not so difficult task of making their version of grilled cheese sandwiches. I don't think anyone broke a sweat. Let's hope the Elimination Challenge is a little tougher.
Hmmm, make a Soul Food birthday dinner for Mekhi and 125 of his friends. I'm think Mekhi must have a new gig on NBC. Soul Food is an interesting choice for Master Chefs to try and tackle. Do you go classic soul food, mac and cheese, collards, ham hocks, and fried okra? Or do they upscale soul food? What about adapting their own cooking style to a soul food dish? Could be very interesting. However they will be serving crowds of people at stations so it's not like we're going to see some exciting new take on soul food like we might had we been serving a dinner party of 12.
The chefs go shopping at Whole Foods and frankly after 6 seasons of Top Chef and 1 of Top Chefs Masters, the shopping shtick gets pretty old. Some chefs try to be funny by going up a down escalator.
Not so funny. Others are unintentionally funny when they look like they are pushing around a giant Costco cart.
During the one hour prep time we get a little peek into the souls of our Master Chefs. Marcus, who was born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden seems to be upscaling classic soul food.
Carmen seems to be bringing her style to soul food and my ears immediately perk up at the mention of a yucca bacon mash dish.
Marry me! Yes, yes, I know her heart is filled with George Clooney but damn, look at sweet pile of bacon.
David is definitely putting his spin on soul food.
Now I know what you're thinking, that I should be all over this dish because of the crab but here's the thing, I'm thinking the crab is going to get seriously lost in this dish.
Marry me. C'mon, it's shrimp, it's grits pimped out like mac and cheese, with okra and tomato jam. What's not to love?
Thierry appears to have gone completely off the reservation.
With their prep work done for the night, I give you two screen grabs which are causing me a bit of consternation.
As you can see in the first photo Carmen is packing what looks like the hot stew part of her dish into this aluminum pan. In the second you can see an aluminum pan sitting on the shelf where it was waiting to be packed away to travel. Somewhere in her packing Carmen left this tray behind. She only discovers this the next day during the beginning of her two and a half hour prep. She's faced with a difficult decision. Serve without the stew or go back and get it at the Top Chef Master kitchen. She bites the bullet and gets back into the Pimpmobile.
Now, 16 miles in most places is no big deal. 16 miles in LA traffic is a soul devourer. Carmen's black cloud of abysmal luck continues.
Back at the hotel kitchen the remaining chefs hustle to prepare their dishes. Some even hustle to help Carmen in her absence. Monica kicks in the lion's share of help along with Thierry and David. Marcus, on the other hand, decides that competition above all else shall be served. No knife does he lift in support of his fellow chef. Even worse is Marcus's advice to Monica that she should have spent more time on her own dish. The one thing I really enjoyed about the first season of Top Chef Masters was the camaraderie and fellowship between the competitors. Marcus's egotistical pride? Not so much but we will see if Marcus's actions will eventually bite him further down the line.
Carmen finally catches up to her stew. But here's my question, has this pan been sitting out of the refrigerator all night???? With pork sausage? Did the good production assistants put it in the fridge for the night and then when Carmen got close, took it out and put it back on the shelves? Or do they really want us to believe that Carmen is going to serve stew that's been sitting out all night?
Back at the hotel kitchen, the good intentions of Monica and company burn the dreams of a yucca bacon mash into a smoldering crispy mess. Carmen may get back in time but for what?
Finally after an hour and a half, Carmen makes it back only to face the decision to serve just her stew or pull out of the competition.
She decides to stick with it. Not only does she stick with it but never once during service does she complain or explain why she has so little food even when her station sign describes the yucca mash that's not there.
It all certainly looks good but is it soulful enough for the Mekhi, his guests and the judges? David's dish, like his Quickfire, has a little too much going on. Editing the elements could have helped. Monica's dish claims Gail Simmon's award for most soulful but will her undercooked grits keep her out of the top two? Marcus gets raves for his chicken, his mac and cheese but most of all his collards. Thierry also gets dinged for his crowded flavors. Carmen finally gets to admit to her mistake and explain the simplicity of her dish. She does get a little dinged for using store bought sausage instead of making her own.
The chefs await their fate in the luxurious Stew Room.
Despite all her troubles, her cut finger, her forgotten food, her burned yucca and store bought sausages, Carmen gathers the most stars for her simple stew. Marcus, who comes in second, might keep that in mind as they both advance to the Champions Round. As for Monica?
Don't shed too many tears, you may have lost the competition but you gained much admiration for your big-hearted generosity. There are much more important things in life than the title of Top Chef.