Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Top Chef Masters - Where Oh Where has my Little Stew Gone?

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.

mekhi

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

Not so funny. Others are unintentionally funny when they look like they are pushing around a giant Costco cart.

Picture 4

Very funny.

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.

Picture 12

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.

yuccabaconmash

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.

Picture 10

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.

Picture 9

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?

Picture 11

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.

Picture 13


Picture 14

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.

Picture 16

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.

Picture 17

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?

burned yucca

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?

screwed

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.

Picture 20

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.

epi2 dishes

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.

Picture 26

The chefs await their fate in the luxurious Stew Room.

winners

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?

Picture 33

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.

8 comments:

intuitive eggplant said...

Despite the "little engine that could" editing, I think there was much to be admired in this epi, especially from chefs Carmen and Monica. But I rue the loss of bacon yucca mash.

There's also a part of me that thinks this episode validates oft-repeated claims that flavor rules at judge's table. If a dish as simple as Carmen's offering won, it must have seriously trumped on taste, right? Or else others went overboard (or, alas, noticeably undercooked their shrimp).

But, dang, I still rue the loss of that bacon yucca mash.

Making Space said...

Wow! A rollercoaster as usual. Not bad for you since you get two wives out of the deal, but WOW that Monica photo got me there at the end.

I like Carmen's don't complain, don't explain strategy. Clearly it worked on every level.

The Stew Room looked like a great place, actually.

Disappointed in Marcus' attitude. I just saw him on a PBS show and LOVED him there. Sigh...

You could try some plantain/bacon mash...

Big Shamu said...

Eggy I think flavor rules much more on Masters. I'm not willing to concede other silliness doesn't comes into play on regular Top Chef.

Sigh. Wonder if Chef Carmen would share her Yucca Bacon mash recipe?

MS, do you know something that I don't? Did Carmen or Monica return my proclamations of love????? Both?? Uh oh, now what?

Plantains and Bacon? Hmmmmm.

Making Space said...

Well, how could they not?

Making Space said...

Yeah. Plantains and bacon. There are all kinds of crack...

Dani said...

You and MS keep the girls busy while I steal that cool knife. I too want crinkle cut bacon.

Buzz Kill said...

If I recall, this same situation happened on TC where someone forgot to close a refrigerator. The Bravo crew filmed it but did not step in to help. That chef (I forget who it was) decided not to serve the dish and scrambled to do something else.

In this case Bravo must have stepped in and refrigerated the food. Otherwise, I think we would have read about the mass poisoning in the newspaper, I guess it's good to be a TC Master. And I still think it's just a bowl of stew.

LaDivaCucina said...

When I got my first job in L.A. and worked in the furthest corner north of the Valley, commuting 22 miles away from my home in West Hollywood seemed like no big deal. Two hours of stop and go "driving" on the freeway later...I quit the job, it was too far. Eek. I wonder where the TC studios are? Burbank?

I was surprised Carmen's stew won but then Chef Waxman's simple but flavorful dish won this past week too. As I was pondering what fancy schmancy dish to make for Miss Moi, lack of time and a fridge full of stuff I already had dictated simple pot. salad, cole slaw, churrasco steak with chimichurri sauce, tostones with jalapeno cilantro sauce. I think she liked it. Homey and tasty but not all gourmet-Diva-like, it reminds me that simple, fresh and flavorful is always good.

Ok, off to work...