As soon as we got the morning call sheets for Surprise in a Box, I began to obsess. One of the competing Top Chef Masters would be Jonathan Waxman. I’ve known Jonathan since he came to New York bringing a breath of the West Coast – cool white walls, a collection of bright abstract paintings and his own special style of minimalism on the plate to Jams on West 79th Street. He stood out from so many local chefs, straining to outdo each other with nouvelle cuisine by using French technique but with a Californian passion for ingredients, rarely more than three or four of them on a plate. Grilled or roasted fish in a puddle of beurre blanc, perfect chicken under a haystack of fries. (Indeed, those addictive fries set off a new passion for potatoes in New York that has never ceased)
And it was meeting Jonathan and Chef Larry Forgione (An American Place) at Wolfgang Puck’s first Meals on Wheels benefit in the parking lot at the old Spago that led to the two chefs founding role in our own first Citymeals on Wheels fund-raiser honoring James Beard in the Garden and restaurants of Rockefeller Center – an event that both chefs continue to grace with their presence even now in our 25th year.
Of course I wondered if Jonathan might choose Citymeals as his charity. Nothing was said or even hinted. But as the board chair and co-founder of Citymeals-on-Wheels I had something to gain and much to lose. I worried that my judging might be influenced by my admiration and affection for him. Or the reality of just how much the final $100,000 prize might mean to our goal of bringing weekend, holiday and emergency meals to the city’s 17,500 homebound elderly in a year when we had lost many donors, including a most generous foundation and a major corporate benefactor.
I had recently been to a product launch in Art Smith’s house in Chicago and we’d met before but only for minutes and I knew him as Oprah’s chef. I would not have called him a master, but rather a homey Southern cook, as he styled himself. Of course I was aware of Roy Yamaguchi’s extraordinary success as the owner of 37 restaurants but I had never reviewed his spot in Manhattan. And I knew nothing about Michael Cimarusti.
Speaking of sabbotage, you must have missed it. It was pretty lousy of Jonathan to keep the fish from the other chef. I'm glad he didn't win.
This was one of the best episodes that I've seen. I didnt realize who was going to be on the shown, and unfortunately, I caught it right in the middle of it. To my surprise,the Great Roy Yamaguchi was there. OMG. I love his food. The only bad thing was the critic about his choice of Kalbi & Mahimahi as the first & second course, which is pretty ironic, because thats a Hawaiian islanders dream dish...especially the Kalbi..All-in-all, the chefs seemed to have cooked something that they were really comfortable with, which more than likely, would be one of the best dishes that could ever make. I think Art's dish did trully deserve to win, especially with that mini mango pie...
This was one of the best episodes of TCM I have ever seen! I cried at the end. The level of integrity, respect and comradery was unbelieveable! These are true "Masters". I do not believe Johnathan left fish out intentionally. I think each chef carefully considered the name he had drawn when choosing ingredients. Let us not forget the French chef who thought another chef copied his idea for his mediocre "quesadilla".
I personally think that you should have pushed harder for Jonathan. Watching one of my favorite episodes I felt slighted by the judges tally. Stated simply, there appeared to be a bias towards a chef with famous connections. (I didn't think you appaeared to be swayed as much as the two other judges at your table).
So the moral to the story is simple. Befriend the two big "Os" and you will do well. Or maybe all one needs is a little sweets and a box of KFC.
I totally agree that Johnathan should have put fish in that box. I think all in all the competitors were so experience and comfortable that there is no need for animosity or sabotage. They respect each other and were polite and wonderful.
I didn't think Jonathan sabotaged Michael by not including fish, if anything I think it pushed him to make a better dish.
Oh, come on. These are Master Chefs, are they not? Each should be able to create a first class plate from whatever is handed to him. The question is ... is fried chicken a first class plate?? I'm sorry, but I don't think so. Just my opinion, of course.
I agree that this was, indeed, the best of the series. However, I would have loved to seen the things that the chefs cooked at their "get together" meal at Kelly's home. That looked like such fun and it was so enjoyable to see them all cooking together in the kitchen then sitting around the table enjoying each other's food and presence.
All of these chefs showed that they are truly Master Chefs with class. BRAVO!!!
I'm a little late with this, but I wanted to comment on the poor sportsmanship on Jonathan's part in denying Michael the fish he was expecting and should have had. He is a seafood chef and everyone knew it. For Jonathan to keep it from him was petty. I'm so glad he lost. Note that Art got his chicken and the other chefs got the ingredients they felt most comfortable with. Shame on you, Waxman. You defeated a fine chef but yourself as well.
Art's win doesn't surprise me per se, because he's about as TCM as the definition gets, but I think I was surprised about the simplicity of what he served getting such high marks. That's not to say his win wasn't deserved, but I would have expected some more of something new in this competition.
I don't at all think there was any sabotage going on here. They are all much too respectful of one another for that.
I'm a big fan of Mahi-Mahi, but as you said, Gael, it can be boring. It has to be dressed up. I've been lucky to find some great places that make great mahi-mahi, such as last night at the Renault Winery in New Jersey, which had a spicy and flaky texture that just wowed all of us at the table.
Cannot WAIT for the final rounds!
Art Smith won, in large part, because he got the ingredient he most wanted and was most comfortable with cooking, namely chicken. No doubt Art made a fabulous and delicious dish with the chicken. But Michael should have been given the same advantage, the one ingredient that would have made him shine, namely, fish. It's a shame that Jonathan Waxman did not give him that opportunity. And I thought Michael handled that loss with great class and graciousness. I was very touched and impressed by the respect and affection these 4 chefs obviously have for one another. It was truly wonderful to watch this, and this was my favorite episode so far.
I'm glad to see that most of the posts are leaning toward what I was feeling. I just watched the show and feel that Michael Cimarusti was the clear winner. His dish was the only comprehensive, creative, and different. How does a fried chicken, albeit well done, win a CHEF competition?! There was nothing about Art Smith's didsh that was outside his realm of skills and/or imagination? It would have been better had the chefs sabotaged each other with their ingredients, then we would have really seen who knows how to cook (NOT Art Smith). I am such an avid fan of the whole "Chef" series and always defend it to my husband (a prof'l chef) but after this debacle and obvious snafu, I'm not so sure I can stand by the judges. Was the decision based on the old watch-ability factor so many reality shows bow to? Frankly, I'm disgusted. And so disappointed in Gael Greene...
Ok so I got a question , Art comes out and makes a lamb dish when susanne's dish was beef and wasnt called out by the judges for it ??
Thats a pretty broad interpretation !
I think the favoritism is evident , if she would have chose any other fish then the grouper or say even any other meat , she would have been called out for it.
She got jacked !