James Oseland

James Oseland explains why he was so excited to get the call for Season 4.

on Jul 24, 2012

That level of overall competence made Missy's slip-up with the mandoline — and her subsequent need to bow out of the show in order to let her really very serious wound heal properly — all the sadder. Missy is a hugely talented chef; having eaten many meals at A Voce, her New York restaurant with a location quite close to the Saveur office, I'm very aware of the culinary feats of which she is capable. It was a sad moment for all of us, saying goodbye to her.

Even in her absence, Missy's marinated zucchini salad was one of the nicest dishes on the Red Team's roster — in fact, all their dishes were wonderful -- Chris's winning pork-and-beans stew particularly so. It was a really, really splendid bowl, warm and multilayered and very much in tune with the soulful DNA of Mexican cookery. Which reminds me: I was expecting the Red Team to have a much harder time with their last-minute instruction to make the buffet Mexican than the Blue Team would have with their theme of Indian. 

Having lived in India for a year and a half, and having visited Mexico dozens of times, I have a deep understanding of both country's cuisines, including the fact that they're both very internally diverse. But Indian food, for all its complexity, relies on a certain basic palette of flavors—cumin, coriander, lime, turmeric, chiles, cardamom—which I would have thought would be simple to apply to whatever dishes the Blue Team had planned, to give them at least a veneer of the flavors of the subcontinent. Instead, they wound up with a mishmash of flavors, coconut and ginger and preserved lemon veering the palate around from Indonesia to China to North Africa. Debbie, with her lemon meringue pie, didn't even try. But it was a disappointingly dry chicken dish that wound up sending Sue home: she'd taken mediocre chicken breast and cooked it in such a way that emphasized its dry flavorlessness, a decision that couldn't be redeemed even by its vibrant cracked coriander crust. As has happened before on Top Chef Masters — and will probably happen again — it was a sad case of subpar ingredients bringing a great chef down with them.