If you want to see what true exhaustion looks like, go have another peek at Jonathan Waxman’s face at the very end of this latest episode. If ever there was a guy disappointed not to have lost, not to be going home, it was him. He was running on empty, and dreaming of New York. Last week, I referred to my own grumpiness as a result of the hours I had been pulling, but it really was as nothing compared to what we were putting our chefs through.
So here was the irony: we were asking them to cook for the gods of heaven, when really we were sending them to hell. Waxman was exhausted, Marcus had put his back out, Susur was becoming increasingly baffled by what was going on around him, and Rick had moved into that phase familiar to any parent of toddlers, the mad, manic yah-boo one before catatonia sets in. Only Susan seemed to sail on regardless with her "why should I give a f---" grin on her face.
And in a way, that’s what it came down to. At this point in the competition it was no longer about winning. Sure the money for charity was always going to be important. And each win that the competitors notched up allowed them to work a bit of the old psychology on their colleagues. But really this was all about who lost and, as Waxman proved, losing at this level was quite a tricky business. Because to be honest, I genuinely don’t think he was trying to impress us. "If you play to the critics," he said, "you’re an idiot." The problem is he’s a very, very good chef and even when he’s not trying, he’s still going to do something good. And his romesco sauce really was very good indeed.
By the same token Marcus’ dish of non-cooked stuff may not necessarily have been the prettiest plateful, but it had punch and heart and drama. I’m a sucker for a good narrative, and the way he looked unself-consciously to his Ethiopian roots enthralled me. It spoke of his extraordinary journey and that I found compelling.
And then there was Susan, dear wonderful den mother Susan. Do I think she had given up? No, not at all, though in the befuddlement of her tiredness, retreating to a star dish from her restaurant’s menu must have made an awful lot of sense. I’m sure, that on a Saturday night out in L.A., eating the coconut butter sandwich feels like a very cool thing to do. But, as I say, we were looking for serious cooks, and forgive the failure of imagination, but I can’t really think of a sandwich that would do it at this point in the competition.
But hey, she was having fun. She enjoyed playing her role. She adored serving her dish. And a competition like this which is all misery and torment, is surely not one worth entering. Losing her was exactly the right result; she hadn’t done enough. Still I was deeply sorry to see her go. Susan, brought a genuine jollity to the proceedings. She trotted off with her usual grin, back to the heaven of her restaurant and real life. She left the boys back in the curious artificial life of television cook offs. She left them in their own personal hell.
Jay Rayner is the author of The Man Who Ate The World: In search of the perfect dinner, published by Henry Holt. Follow him on twitter @jayrayner1
Nice blog! The big disappointment is that at this level, each dish has flaws. The person with the least flaws wins. The person with the more unforgivable flaw leaves. Jonathan has seemed tired from day one. I thought it was nonchalance and a "who cares?" attitude. Susan's dish was pedestrian. It wasn't craveable to me. Rick still can't cook fish to perfection, in spite of his self title, "fish god". Marcus' plate looked warlike to me. The judges proclaimed that Susur's food was perfect. Why didn't he win?
Wow. I was terribly sorry to see Susan go, but after reading this reflection I suspect that you're right and it could've been a blessing for her. Ironically, she seems like the one who would have the best ability to persevere of the bunch. It might well have been Rick Bayless's relentlessly cheerful attitude that carried him through to the win last season.
Great blog, Jay. Last night's episode was really good and I completely agree with your view on the sandwich thing. But I still would love to try one of them!
I find your idea that sandwiches aren't for "serious cooks". Having just purchased & read Tom Coliccio's 'Wichcraft Cookbook, I rather suspect that there are chefs who would disagre with you.
You know I couldn't help but see that Marcus borrowed some wasabi that Rick Moonen purchased with his own budget at Whole Foods.
I feel that is a little unfair because Marcus did not spend part of HIS budget buying wasabi. It's like using all your budget to buy X while you still need Y, but you figure you can just mooch off someone else's budget for Y.
If Marcus forgot the product, he should have suffered a little bit as plenty of Top Chefs have had dents in their dish because they forgot an ingredient. He should have done the same instead of mooching off an item that Rick REMEMBERED to buy and used with HIS OWN BUDGET for the challenge.
Jay, I couldn't agree with you more, about the level of fatigue in this episode, and the impact that fatigue is having on creativity for some chefs, and the ability to execute for others. Jonathan was my favorite in the first Masters season, and I was so happy to see him back. Here's to hoping he finds his joie de vivre and cooking by next week.
WHATEVER GETS YOU THRUGH THE NIGHT JAY! "SERVING RAW FOOD AT THIS STAGE OF THE GAME IS JUST UNACCEPTABLE WITH THE LEVEL THAT THESE CHEFS ARE AT" - TOM COLICHIO
I am upset with tonight's outcome. Burnt Sienna? Depression? What a crock. Why is it he lost for making the BEST roasted chicken IN THE WORLD; when Rick and Marcus' plates both had elements that the judges shuttered over (I.E. Rick's RAW PORK & MARCUS' SHRIMP)?
I just adore Jonathan Waxman. He brings that therapeutic calm element to cooking that I feel everybody should have when they cook.
I feel strongly that the deck was stacked tonight.
I will miss watching Chef Waxman cook; and now do not really care who wins. Of the 3 left; I guess Rick would be my next choice.
Jonathan: Your loss is all our loss as well. Happy belated Birthday.
In this wide world, 330 million Americans, and over 4 BILLION people world wide, there is not one WOMAN who is qualified to be a Top Chef? Bravo seems to run all of their so called "top" anything shows this way. Is this because only GAY MALES are qualified to be anything in this nation?
Perhaps the format of the show should change. Isn't this a cooking show but why should it be a test of physical enurance. Yes the last 5 contestants seemed confused and exhausted. Fewer episodes would help and more relaistic challanges. All the judges (some more so that others) seem to expect these chefs to conjure some miracle outside their expertise in 60. In addition some of the challanges add a randomness that defies the idea of finding a top chef.
@ jean bennett... wtf is wrong with you? and what does being gay have to do with Top Chef Masters? The 3 men who are left aren't gay and neither is the chef who just left the show. why is it that people like you have always got to find something to complain about? you're giving the rest of us women a bad name. now be quiet.
Jay: I am just going to get to the point. This is Top Chef Masters, not Top Fish Chef. Rick Moonen always cooks fish, and even when he overcooks it, you don't count it against him. Further, he has ill-prepared every meat dish that he has attempted. How can this be a Top Chef? You all lambasted Jody for her lamb but Rick ALWAYS gets a pass - RAW PORK?!?! I liked him last season, but the obvious bias towards him this season has completely turned me off. I am sure the show is a wrap by now, but the inequity should really be addressed. As an aside, I'd rather have one of Waxman's roasted chickens or other wide variety of fare, than fish every meal - and I love seafood! Otherwise, I appreciate your dry wit.