My first thought was what bride and groom would surrender the details of their wedding dinner to an unspecified whimsically selected cooking crew at the last minute…. And my next thought was, "Why not?" All it takes is faith in our food-obsessed culture. Two teams of America’s master chefs competing by improvising a dinner for 150 guests even at the last minute is full of promise … an adventure. A coup. It would not by just another pretty parade of dishes designed not to offend any finicky wedding guest by caterers anonymous. What the courageous couple could expect was real food, master chefs at work, a unique wedding celebration no one there would ever forget.
We judges at the Critics’ Table knew that part of the challenge was catering to the tastes of the bride and groom. In one case the meat and potatoes loving groom who asks for a carrot cake. In the other, a bride with more exotic tastes who flatly rules out lamb. As if it weren’t enough of a challenge, the surviving competitors would divide into two teams to plan, shop, and cook without their usual staff backup teams to do the scut work.
I’m off on assignment now, surveying cuisine and travel in Tunisia but I had a chance to see this segment on DVD before I left town. For me as one of the critics sequestered from the kitchen prep battle, it was amusing to see each team throwing together a plan based on the market and their own particular favorite dishes: the warriors both cooperative and competitive all at once. And how they struggled without recipes to create their wedding cakes. Indeed, I’m not surprised that Susur has never baked a carrot cake but decided with his restored cockiness to wing it. And if I’d heard him blithely telling Carmen “You are the girl,” i.e. good at backup for everyone else, it might have colored my final vote.
As the guests arrived so did Kelly and the three of us, all dressed up for a wedding celebration. I sensed some last-minute desperation by certain chefs at the serving tables but then the wine was being poured and waiters began passing the fabulous little hors d’oeuvre: the red pepper pancake, curried tuna, a tricky little lobster roll, the Indian fritter, a textbook perfect crab cake.
Certain dishes were standouts — Tony’s simple old-fashioned, fiercely rich scalloped potatoes for one and Jody’s rack of lamb that even the bride had to admit was good.
The judging is ultimately done on the food, and even though Carmen was nothing short of awesome in the kitchen, the simple fact is that she produced only crab cakes and a side dish. (Actually, she remarked somewhere that "[Bravo] completely cut [her] spinach dish", so perhaps two side dishes.) Having her eliminated was the only viable option since no one produced anything that was across-the-board disliked.
I think Bravo should have had this as a longer episode, or else over 2 weeks. The last half-hour just was way too crammed with stuff. Information Overload. The Judges' Table just happened with no warning. "You're the winners!" I'm sitting there going, "Huh?!?!" I didn't even know who was in the room yet!!
Gael, I love reading your insightful commentary every week...especially since you seem to be the only critic blogging on a regular basis this season!
Where did Tom go and why isn't he judging this season. He was so delightful. I always felt like I understood better after reading his blogs.
@Rey - Tom isn't a regular judge on Masters. Gael - I think you are wonderful! Love your blogs each week. I realize Susur is a culinary genius, but his personality has an unlikable quality. Oh well, just my two cents at least.
Ms. Greene, you're fantastic! Love your work (just read your book recently) and your lifestyle! Tunisia sounds awesome.
Thanks for taking the time to offer your critique. It is most enlightening as usual. It was difficult to tell if Marcus' t-loin was tender or a mess. Obviously, the guests viewed it a triumph. It's always strange when the average diners' points dramatically differ from the judges' marks. I was surprised that Rick slid by on overcooked seafood and he's the "fish guy". I guess he was more lucky than smart. I was most shocked that neither team created an actually "wedding cake". They each made cakes for the wedding that seemed like something one would serve to casual guests who dropped by unexpectedly. The regular TC chefs made far better wedding cakes in S-4 (Chicago season). Therefore, because of the many missteps, I find these chefs not so TOP, let alone Masterly.
Hi, Gael, I love your blog posts and critiques! That said, I felt compelled to comment on this one to point out that Susur's comment to Carmen was actually not a chauvinistic insult but rather a compliment; it was a bit difficult to hear due to the volume of noise in the kitchen, but right before that was said, another 'cheftestant' was being discussed in relation to Susur using the phrase 'you're the man'.
This is (I thought) universally recognized as a compliment, as it indicates respect for a person's masterful handling of something. Carmen then asked Susur what he'd say to her, and so he merely changed the noun to reflect her gender. It wasn't anything but a compliment for her abilities; nothing about it was derogatory or even sexist (though it did acknowledge her obviously different gender). All of the chefs (including Susur) commented on how much they appreciated her organizational help and she was clearly a respected teammate. I do wish Carmen had focused a little more on her own dishes rather than quite so much on 'taking one for the team', but I hope this sets the record straight and improves your opinion of Susur's idea of proper gender roles.
Thank you again, Gael, for your excellent critiques and I hope you'll be back for many more seasons of Top Chef Masters!
What fun this show is, and what fun you are! I thoroughly enjoy hearing what you have to say.
I am concerned that the critics were indeed aware that the bride did not want lamb. In your blog you state that the bride admitted that the lamb was good - I just watched the episode - we did not see that. In any event, I worry that in a challenge such as this, where THE most important thing is pleasing the customer - in this instance even more so than in any other - their likes and dislikes, as well as their satisfaction were not weighted more.
I recognize that it is the food that's being judged here, but I wonder if you would (or maybe ought to) take the people for whom food is made a little more into consideration when making your decisions....