All the challenges on Top Chef Masters expose vulnerabilities and strengths in the contestants, and the chefs who shine are often those you wouldn't necessarily expect to. This week's challenge was all about stripping away crutches: there was no hiding behind baked goods and butter sauces. The ones who rose to the top, particularly Chris, Art, Takashi, and Lorena, understood and embraced the form they were given to work in. They used the teppanyaki to make foods that made sense for the cooking surface, and pared the architecture of their dishes down to a place that allowed them to use their time wisely while still interacting with their audience of diners.
Art's winning dish may have lacked beauty -- those poor grits cakes completely disintegrated -- but what it lacked in aesthetic appeal it made up with truly delicious flavor. Add to that Art's own very personality, his warm humor, and his surprising facility with large bursts of controlled flame, and it was the full teppanyaki package.
On the other side we had Mark, whose ambitiously minimal dish of scallops, a piece of bok choy, and a bit of pickled mushroom fell flat. He was also very nervous, working slowly and quietly; what was edited in the show to a few seconds of sizzling scallop was, for us, a good while longer of silently watching him cook. That lack of showmanship could have been redeemed by a strong plate of food, but unfortunately what he produced didn't deliver. The bok choy was raw inside and faintly charred outside, and the scallops were cooked unevenly.
I'm going to miss Mark. He's a smart, hilarious guy, and boy, can he cook. But one things for sure: I'm certainly not going to miss him as much as Clark is!