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At least Suvir had the excuse that his dish was bizarre to begin with—veal Oscar is an oddball, timepiece recipe that was created more for its symbolic resonance than for its flavor. It was developed in 1905 to honor King Oscar II of Sweden, incorporating his royal colors and various symbols of his monarchy (the white asparagus spears that adorn its top, for instance, were meant to represent the “II” in his title). There are plenty of reasons pretty much no one makes the dish anymore. But Alex Stratta had no excuse for blowing bread pudding. Of all the dishes the cheftestants could have drawn, bread pudding—along with deviled eggs—was one of the softballs. Mary Sue took the opportunity of her easy draw to knock something out of the park (more on that later), but I was surprised by Alex’s lack of both skill and innovation. Even if, as he said, he’d never made bread pudding before, it’s a fundamental dish, and both his original and his updated version lacked the level of execution that I would expect from a Top Chef Master. Had Sue not run out of time with her plating, I suspect Alex might have gone home this week.
But the good food far outweighed the bad. I think this might have been the single most successful challenge I’ve ever judged. Those who were at the top of their game created not just inspired updates of retro recipes, but also pitch-perfect renditions of the original dishes—in a few instances, the best versions I’ve ever eaten. George’s chicken à la king didn’t get much airtime, but it deserves special mention: Both the original and the update (a roast chicken breast daintily wrapped in blanched chard) were clearly the work of a serious contender in this competition. Floyd’s ambrosia was also revelatory. Not just his masterfully deconstructed update—which, perhaps more than any other chef’s dish, was a faithful reinterpretation of its source material—but the original as well. Who knew that ambrosia made with fresh fruit and just-whipped cream could be a masterpiece in itself?
But even against exceptionally strong showings from so many of the chefs, Mary Sue’s deviled eggs and John’s versions of oysters Rockefeller were astronomical culinary achievements. I would have been happy to see either of them win, but Mary Sue did something that really touched me—something that made her win even sweeter. On last week’s episode, when we almost sent her home thanks to a snoozy chocolate cupcake, we asked her to challenge herself, to not just cook dishes that she already had in her professional Rolodex. And this week, she did just that: We could taste her willingness to push herself, as a chef, as an artist, as a competitor on the show. Her mastery was real. It was on the plate in front of us, and it tasted extraordinary.
James Oseland is the editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine.
Note to the producers. Same goes for Top Chef and All-Stars seasons, ridiculous that these chefs aren't even given the proper chance to win. Too small of kitchens, crappy ovens n burners n such. I mean c'mon. I get messing with them on the quickfire but for the elimination challenge, really...it's not their fault you did not equip them properly. I thought it was all about the food. Apparently it's how you politic or bully your way to a station before the other chefs.
I agree. It seems so unfair to put a couple of chefs in a very bad situation. Producers, of course, had to know the number of chef could not fit in the space. Notice the two chefs who had to wait were both called out at the bottom. (Chefs affected by the bad kitchens/equipment are consistently in the bottom on all the Top Chef shows.) And when these chefs explained the situation to the judges last night they were told to stop being nice. Wow. This doesn't seem like the way to treat professionals. In an effort to "make drama" the producers show a lack of trust in the chefs' ability to impress and the audience's ability to be awed by the food. As an audience member I really want to see each chef given a fair chance to cook at his/her best.
James, I don't think I have taken the time to welcome you back. I truly enjoy watching you judge these Masters. You are a delight!
I think this season of Top Chef Masters, for whatever reason, is the first nail in the coffin of celebrity chefdom. Something about the look, pace, and feel of this season is signaling the end of an era. The judging sessions seem oddly rushed--almost pro forma, while the crush of a so many chefs in tight quarters seems casually and humiliatingly dismissive.
Unlike the mature, delightful camaraderie that developed between engaging masters in previous seasons (especially in certain episodes of season one), the current season is a slap in the face--to the chefs and to the viewers. "The Chef" as an icon has been slapped down to (corporately) manageable size, don't you think? I'm embarrassed for them. I'm also embarrassed for the judges, who also seem to be uncomfortable (maybe the lighting, but maybe the result of a cruel editor). I feel just plain sorry for the chefs who agreed to to be in what looks like a remake of They Shoot Horses (sorry, Chefs), Don't They?
This season is the death-knell of chef celebrity. Whether that's good or bad, the difference between this season and the first season is a demoralizing reminder of what most television insists upon. Season One found small groups of accomplished--and almost always engaging--professionals talking, joking, and cooking. Food was in the forefront, but so was style--of personality as well as of performance. This season is a depressing spectacle. I feel as if I'm watching obedient junior high kids being herded into a series of cubicles by insanely repressed nuns. Please tell me these chefs are getting more out of this debasement than a charity donation. And please tell tell me the judges aren't pleased with the brutal look and pace of their scenes.
Something's very off about this season. I feel sorry for the chefs. This is not fun. And I haven't learned a thing about cooking or food since the series began. Bravo has decided to kill food culture.
Thank goodness you did not eliminate Suvir! I really thought you were going to. He's clearly one of the best chefs here, and a real class act!
I need to agree with the other two comments about the lack of time. When you don't provide all the chefs with the time or space they need to cook, the audience interprets it one of two ways: The producers are trying to stir up a fight between contestants (totally inappropriate for the concept of top chef masters) or they're just being cheap. What's next on the list of "challenges": Oh, you gave the waiters a night off. You get to place completely arbitrary restrictions on the chefs AND save a few bucks! I guess you gotta scrimp somewhere if we're ever going to see the real housewives of east fork or whatever.
Sue Zeminick's treatment on this show was depressing. Not just her ridiculous elimination in this episode - she was virtually edited out of the season premiere. She's a really great, really interesting chef and she was treated so poorly. Awful work all around.
I completely agree with the comments above. These chefs are at the top of their game. Why make them struggle with a small kitchen that’s too small or grind their own meat and prep a dish in 30 minutes? It seems a little ridiculous, too, that the previews for next week show cooking with bugs. Seriously? This seems more like hazing chefs who just finished culinary school. This isn't what it takes to be a Top Chef. It's about running a kitchen and all components being done well—creativity, food quality, consistency, service. I certainly hope that the chefs are shown more respect off screen than the producers seem to be showing them on screen.
Totally agree. In All-Stars they forced the chefs to fish, dive, and fight for folding tables at Target. What's next - jumping from a plane and catching and plucking a goose before landing? What self-respecting chef would agree to such a disgrace? Soon enough the entire "Top Chef" line of shows will become a culinary version of "Dancing with the Stars," where desperate cooks are begging for attention.
Unless these chef's get treated considerably better I would support them walking off the show. We, the audience, want to learn about the food not about whether they can produce under ridiculous circumstances and then be told that they blew it.
The show is losing credibility, and I think Top Chef is going to be hard pressed to find Top Chef Masters contestants unless they turn this around.
All right. I've read the previous comments complaining about this season. Yes, they changed the format. It's different. It is going to take some getting used to. But I'm not going to stop watching. You also do realize that while the circumstances are difficult and the chefs have to run and get what they want that it is edited right? They go to the "stew room" and are exlained the rules and wait for them to set up the quickfire and challenges. They have a while to think and prepare so they can figure out what they want to cook and where they are going to run to and what equipment they want to grab and such. Plus, and please remember this fact, they signed up for this. These chefs realize what "Top Chef" is. They realize these challenges aren't going to be easy. They know what they're signing up for, and that's the whole point. Bragging rights are huge in the culinary world, trust me! If these chefs don't want to do any of this, or think they're above it, they can walk away and quit at any time. But they don't because they know they want to prove they can do it. They're adults and make their own decisions and aren't being forced to do anything they don't want to do.
AS A FAITHFUL VIEWER OF "TOP CHEF", AND "TOP CHEF ALL STARS" SINCE IT FIRST BEGAN, I BEG OF YOU BRAVO....PLEASE LISTEN TO YOUR FAN BASE, AND STOP WITH THESE RIDICULOUS EPISODES. YOU HAD A GEM!! AND YOU TRASHED IT! GO BACK TO YOUR ROOTS...INTERESTING CONTESTANTS, CHARMING JUDGES, JOYFUL HOSTS, AND GREAT FOOD. NOTHING ELSE MATTERS!!!!!