It's in His Lisp

Hugh attempts to pronounce Barcelona and recap the rest of this episode.

It's all in the lisp. Bar-sthhhhh-ce-lona. Say it loud and say it proud. Whenever I say it, I sound like a lisping lush.

We find ourselves on the bus to Barcelona. Nookie was a professional poker player. Nicole was getting married, but not in North Carolina. Keven is into hermaphrodites. I pause the show for 10 minutes to drink some bourbon. I am in no shape to face this sober.

They have to find the Telefreeka. I don't know what that is either. I am too lazy to Google. My Spain time was spent in Madrid and San Sebastien, where I joined a Basque cell to separate from my eyebrow. You can barely understand our language, but we mean business.

Nookie and his Angels are the Black team: Nookie, Nicole, Jenna, Avery, Liz. This team is entirely based on slow runners, which surprised me because Nookie looks svelte. Nookie also doesn't like heights, unless it's the Big Green Wall at Fenway.Bowl of Sausages is the Red Team: John, Keven, Chaz, and Nick. Chaz and Keven are both the alpha dogs in this team dynamic. I can’t quite pick out who says the immortal second grade line, "Boys rule, girls drool" but this makes me fear for cooties, yearn for recess, and long for the days when our biggest concern was what happened on The A-Team.

They must cut, ink out, and clean a bunch of seafood. Chaz has no experience at cleaning fish. How do you get through working in a kitchen without that experience? Keven mentions that he "is going to take the 'Exceptional Ingredient' to bed tonight." His words. I picture him with a hermaphrodite monkfish. Even Keven would need beer goggles to sleep with a monkfish -- it's the ugliest fish in the sea.

Red Team is way ahead of Nookie's Angels but Nookie shows up and he's a speed freak with the monkfish, like a meth head taking down a case of Mountain Dew. Chaz is literally trying to pull the flesh off the merluza -- butcher. The inking of the sepia is the hardest (but best paying) job on this fish dock.

Nookie is pretty skilled at s--t-talking. Chaz is not. You have to be a confident person to s--t talk like Reggie Miller, but his chatter is not enough and the Black Team wins the EI, the wonderfully large red shrimp. Gambas Rojas will be cooked.Off to the market! Strategy is key, and both teams seem to be pretty messed up but these boys are having a pissing contest within their own team, and their team meeting is a catty experience. If I was on that team I would be rolling my eyes until I got dizzy and passed out in the periwinkle department of the market.

“Look at these peppers right here…” Shut up Keven. Shut up Keven. I am not even there and this guy is driving me up a wall. Chaz is so fed up with Keven’s quest to find “Don” Pedro Jimenez Sherry. How can you not find PX sherry in Spain? PX sherry is made from the Pedro Jimenez white grape and the sherry is a dark, very sweet syrupy thing. Wonderful on ice cream or flans. Chaz is like Honey Badger and just doesn’t give a s--t ,and wants Keven to grab some cava. Oh Chaz, lighten up! Keven is still sore from sleeping with that monkfish.

Chaz is concerned that they are going to be serving a pot luck dinner to Jose Andres. I had one of the most memorable dinners in the last five years at Jose’s hidden restaurant in Jaleo at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Vegas. The eight seat gem of a resto is called e. You should go. It rocks. I would be nervous to feed him too.Drinky time and we learn that Avery has two daughters who she misses immensely. Me too. This industry is hard on family and even worse when we travel a lot.

Jenna is trying to form an alliance with Nicole and Nicole is having none of it. Lone wolf is Nicole. Keven is cheesing around trying to find friends too but not getting very far.

Nicole is crying over spilt milk, or less-than-setup custard.

Keven is front of the house for the Black Team. Keven is probably not the greatest choice because he’s crazy. Jenna has a degree from the internets on Hotel–spitality Supremacy. She likes taking notes and when people don’t understand why she’s writing a culinary sequel to War & Peace.

Keven is the most reticent Maitre D' in history. He really just does not want to be out there. AWOL is very descriptive.

Sergio, Javier, Jose, Cat ,and the Aussie Blond Bombshell. Jose explains the reverence for the Gamba Roja!Here’s the menu with comments:

Red Team:
Merluza Crudo with Gambas Rojas, Lemon Aioli, Squid Ink
Evidently you don’t serve the Merluza raw, but if you do, DO NOT cut it up with a dull axe.

Monkfish with White Beans, Monkfish Liver Mousse, Chorizo
They love it. Looks messy but their monkfish is really cooked well. Monkfish likes to be cooked medium and then rested before serving. It relaxes it. No joke. For once I am being serious. This fish is “yousy,” Catalan for juicy.

Cava Sabayon, Cake Crumbs, Marconas and Fresh Fruit

Black Team:
Tapas Trio- Chorizo Croquettes, Merluza Crudo, Date Wrapped with Serrano Ham
They love it. Looks pretty. Looks good.

Serrano Wrapped Monkfish with Liver, Sauteed Greens, Pan Con Tomate
Love the idea, but the fish is overcooked and the it’s kind of like swearing on the tabernacle to cook Iberico ham.

Bruleed Custard with Macerated Fruit
The custard is soft. Jenna feels kicked in the nuts. This is telling. Liz is crying about failing.

Judging falls and the Black Team wins. Sausages are done. Keven loses and this makes me sad because who will America make light of?

Onwards to Morocco.

Food Reigns

Hugh Acheson is happy to see that it was all about the food in the finale.

Finale time. This worldly traveling circus has come down to the Strategist Nookie, the Relentless Avery, and Bubbly Liz. Obviously when looking at the map in a culinary voyage around the world we can’t overlook… Uruguay? In a coastal wedgie between Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay has never been on the cusp of culinary greatness, but their food has a fondness for beef, chicken cutlets, blood sausage, honeyed booze, and citrus fruits. This should be interesting, but before it all goes down, we have to go through the season's highs and lows. Though I vowed never to look at the Demon Chef ever again, there he is, dreamily hitting on Avery. Creepiest man on the planet. 

They get on the ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento, across the Rio de la Plata. This is a geography lesson to you and me. I went to the handy Google maps. In the sleepy little town of Sacramento the chefs find their challenge. They must purvey at three shops and create a typical Uruguayan dish. They have two hours and a map. There is a produce store, a dry goods shop, and a butcher. No baker or candlestick maker, but you get the idea. 

Avery has some funny things she says; funny like Yogi Berra. She says “conversate”, which is kind of yokel way of sounding all smart (it’s a backformation), and then later in the show she says “time restraint.” It’s constraint. Silly Avery. But she’s a good shopper and a fine chef. 

The cheftestants shop through the sleepy little town that would be an awesome location for a modern western movie, and meet up with their regional experts on the local cuisine, Cat and Curtis. I think something must have fallen through at the last minute because I don’t think that Cat and Curtis know anything about Uruguayan food at all; I certainly didn’t until about 20 minutes ago. Evidently they love arugula down there, cause all three of the chefs make some sort of protein salad thing. And the main drag in town is named after FDR. Facts come in handy. You can use that in a trivia night sometime.They cook in a small kitchen but Liz has not purchased salt. Nookie won’t lend her any. Neither would Avery we later learn. Really? That’s crappy. I don’t roll like that. Liz, you can borrow salt from me anytime, no matter what’s on the line. 

The dishes they make are pretty basic. Nookie has chorizo from the butcher, arugula, and some onion condiment. That’s his dish. He is done way before time expires and the judges pretty much call his simple bluff, and tell him he could have done something with a bit more complexity. At this stage I would recommend pushing the parameters beyond something as simple as a PBJ sandwich. Liz makes a grilled steak with sausage, caramelized onions, and arugula. She actually cooked something and it would be a winner, but the lack of salt is an albatross around her neck. She’s kicking herself. Avery makes up a bunch of new words and cooks chicken with citrus and the ubiquitous arugula. She nails it and wins this thing. 

Now the pressure is on. Avery and Nookie have had a longstanding pact that seems pretty tight, but now she’s put in an interesting position: choose the perceived weaker opponent or follow the code of the dark side. She ditches the Nookie. Cue that Limp Bizkit song (I swore to myself that I would only mention that song in the last blog post.) 

“I can't believe that I could be deceived (but you were) 

By my so-called girl but in reality 

Had a hidden agenda 

She put my tender heart in a blender 

And still I surrendered”

Ah, the immortal words of Fred Durst, more apropos than ever. So that’s out of the way, let me be clear about something vital to our relationship… I hate that band. And off to L.A. we go. Avery and Liz will both be on home turf for this final battle. At least they are less likely to get lost while driving to Wolfgang Puck’s Red 7 restaurant. Two Infinitis and beyond!

So along the way they shop and find some discarded contestants. Avery gets Nick and Jenna. Liz gets Chaz and John. They have three hours to cook and they get surprised by their close family and friends in the kitchen. Liz’s boyfriend is dapper. Small, but dapper. Avery’s kids are cute as can be. Nookie tries to manipulate them for no apparent reason except that’s how he lives. It’s his oxygen. Did he just say that “lepers don’t change their spots”? That sounds like an Avery-ism.

Chefs galore come in to be guest eaters and voters. I know of many of them, but only really know Ben Ford. Ben is awesome. Josiah Citrin is the lauded chef of Melisse and is a badass. Many more chefs looking stylish come forward. Then we have Wolfgang Puck, one of the most iconic figures in food of our era. He’s also got an awesome personality that shines on camera. Good choice, people. 

The cooking goes pretty well and Avery bangs out a Thai salad with shrimp and coconut, then a steak with chimichurri, and then a nice-looking pannacotta thing. The judges seem to be shining to her food, though WP seems to want the salad to have a bit more oomph. Avery’s aunt drops a line from Procol Harum’s Lighter Shade of Pale. I did not see that coming. 

Liz puts up a beef salad with crisp rice, a "braised" chicken, and a puddle of creamy stuff with some fried dough resting in it. Her salad is awesome, but the other two kind of fall flat. 

The votes pour in, and it’s close, but Avery pulls it out and wins a car and the money. Liz is devastated, but she should be very proud. She made it to the final. As for Avery, she was a favorite from the beginning. She had confidence and was smart about things while she cooked great food. The latter is the more important facet for me. So food did reign supreme which was a treat.  The chefs are dizzy and probably need a little down time. I know I do. To the victor the spoils!

Follow me on the Twitter! @hughacheson

I will be blogging Top Chef Masters Season 4, which premieres next Wednesday on Bravo!

Rock on and thanks for reading.

 

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