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‘Top Chef Masters’ Premiere – ‘Restaurant Wars’

Time for “Top Chef Masters”! I can’t decide if I like this show as much as regular old “Top Chef” because, even though the food always looks insanely good, the chefs tend not to be as insane. I mean, you’re not going to get a Marcel on “Top Chef Masters” simply because a weasel like Marcel is never going to get that far in life. Or at least that’s what I have to hope. Anyway, let’s take a look at our masters:

John Currence, City Grocery Restaurant Group
Suvir Saran, Dévi
John Rivera Sedlar, Playa
Alex Stratta, Stratta
Mary Sue Milliken, Border Grill
Traci des Jardins, Jardinière
Naomi Pomeroy, Beast
Hugh Acheson, Five and Ten
George Mendes, Aldea
Floyd Cardoz, North End Grill
Sue Zemanick, Gautreau’s
[Recap of the “Top Chef Masters” premiere after the break…]
It’s hard to get a feel for who’s fun and who’s a stinker, but I like Hugh because he informs us he’s a white swan, not a black swan. Suvir also seems like a cut-up. Let’s hope being the life of the party isn’t a ticket home, but in the meantime I’m glad someone’s yukking it up because this is not the most exciting group of people I’ve ever seen.
Curtis Stone, also known as the guy who didn’t flush the toilet on “Celebrity Apprentice,” introduces himself as the host. Quickfire! It’s a head-to-head challenge, each chef taking on the person next to them. They must create a dish based on two mystery ingredients – one from their own box and one from their competitor’s box. Oh, and they have 20 minutes.
Celina Tio of Julian squares off against Suvir Saran of Dévi. And, to her horror, their mystery ingredients are marshmallows and canned corned beef. Man, that just makes me want to throw up. I know they’re master chefs, but they’re not magicians, people. Gross. All the chefs are miserable, because they have things like dragonfruit (which, if you haven’t had a fresh one, is like a speckled kiwi), sardines, froglegs, cockles and cottage cheese.
And because they only get 20 minutes, which is hardly enough time to file your nails, much less make a composed dish, not everyone plates something. Embarrassing!
The judges are James Oseland, EIC of Saveur magazine and Ruth Reichl, who was a food critic for The New York Times forever and is super famous. Of course, she wa
Challenge: frog legs and cottage cheese
Mary Sue: chili cottage cheese cake meunière
John C.: Buffalo frog legs
Mary Sue’s cottage cheese cake is a hit, but James feels like the buffalo frog legs lack kick. And, oh yeah, he forgot the cottage cheese ranch. So, win to Mary Sue.
Challenge: marshmallows and canned corned beef
Suvir: corned beef and marshmallow chaat
Celina: whole lotta nothing
Even though Ruth calls the texture of Suvir’s dish “loathsome,” it’s still better than nothing. Literally.
Challenge: sardines and dragonfruit
Hugh: pan-seared sardines and dragonfruit salad
Naomi: whole lotta nothing
They do seem to like Hugh’s dish, though, yes, he wins simply for having served anything at all.
Challenge: cockles and Marmite
Alex: cockles & leek soup with Marmite
Floyd: Marmite soup with cockles
James and Ruth both prefer Floyd’s by far, as James really digs Marmite and wants more than Alex gives him. Ick.
Challenge: licorice and peanut butter
Traci: celery salad with peanut butter vinaigrette
Traci: licorice and orange salad
John S.: bacon licorice peanut butter hors d’oeuvres
Traci totally kicks John’s butt, although James said he’d eat the bacon thing if he were totally wasted at three in the morning.
James reveals the first favorite is Mary Sue’s cottage cheese cake and the second is Traci’s two salads. The winner of five grand for their charity and immunity in the elimination challenge is, of course, Traci. Not surprised here, if only because I’ve never loved Border Grill. Traci’s winning money will go to her charity, La Cucina.
The elimination challenge is restaurant wars. Yikes! On week one? The teams are divided into the winners from the Quickfire on one side, the losers on the other.
Naomi quickly takes charge of the losers, who name themselves team Leela. It doesn’t seem like the group completely gels, and Naomi figures out exactly why during prep: she notes that all of the chefs on the winning team, Mosaic, have worked in Europe and they’ve set up a brigade prep system, which the team Leela has not. And she says flat out, they’re the winning team. Naomi is going to have to take some blame if things go wrong on Leela because she decides to do something insane – seat all of the customers AT ONCE. At Beast, it’s a big happy community kind of experience. Hey, it’s Portland, I’d expect nothing less. But unless she actually does a community table at Leela, it’s going to be a mess.
Alex is sure he won’t be the first one to go. The fact that he’s said this AND he’s told us a bit and his battle with colon cancer (while his wife was pregnant with twins, aack!) hints he might. I hope not, as he actually seems to have some personality.
Guest judge will be Danyelle Freeman, author of “Try This: Traveling the Globe without Leaving the Table.” She will be playing the role of Gail Simmons this evening, I suppose.
Traci: warm bread salad with artichokes & burrata
Hugh: scallops with grits, leeks, scallions, peppers & pancetta
James says Hugh’s scallop is intensely salty, and I think we can assume this is not a good thing. Traci’s salad, however, is a big hit with everyone.
George: salmon confit with saffron-fennel puree & smoked potato puree
Floyd: spice braised short ribs with oat risotto
Curtis loves the salmon and James calls it nice. James also isn’t sold on the oat risotto, but Ruth loves it and wants to learn how to make it.
Mary Sue: signature chocolate cake with lemon puree
Suvir: pear & berry cobbler with a buttermilk biscuit
Ruth love, love, loves Suvir’s dish. James calls Mary Sue’s cake a supermarket cupcake.
Time for team Disaster, I mean Leela!
Curtis asks Naomi if she was the idiot who thought it was a good idea to seat everyone all at once. She says yes, indeedy! Once she leaves the table, Curtis notes he would have fired her ass if she were his maitre’d.
Alex: celery root, potato & spinach fricassee
John C.: sweet potato & peanut soup with spicy chicken liver mousse
Everyone loves Alex’s dish. Ruth says John’s dish is so hot it would be the end of the meal for some people.
And then they wait. And wait. And wait. Bad, bad, bad Naomi!
Sue: halibut & scallop with glazed pearl onions, artichokes & pesto
John S.: lamb rack with jicama, apple & lime salad
Ruth thinks Sue’s dish shouts hotel food. James thinks John’s lamb is so raw it’s like something out of “Rosemary’s Baby.” I love James. Curtis gets a piece of label on his apple. Man, that is NOT good.
Naomi: chocolate torte with Grand Marnier & meringue
Celina: pistachio cake & honey semifreddo
Curtis says Naomi’s torte is special. Well, I guess Naomi is safe after turning the kitchen into a nuthouse. Ruth thinks Celina’s plating is problematic.
Anyway, the diners get to pick the losing team, then the judges single out some lucky chef to pack their knives and go. This could be twisty, as the diners seem to like all the stuff the judges think is utter crap. Hmm.
I like Survir. He can’t believe the chefs had to work so hard because hey, he doesn’t usually, but he loved the challenge anyway.
Judges’ table! Curtis calls back Team Leela. The judges preferred Mosaic, but the diners… preferred Leela. Shockers! And the judges loved Naomi’s dish. Alex also scored. And the winning dish is… Alex’s. Yay! I thought he’d get the boot but just the opposite. Those crafty editors! Faster Cures receives $10,000.
Mary Sue and Hugh are called back. Ouch! But not surprising. A supermarket cupcake and salty scallops aren’t going to get you far. Ruth points out that Mary Sue first made that cake for her restaurant a million years ago, so yeah, not so impressive now that everyone else has done it.
The first chef to be eliminated is… Hugh. Dammit! He was a white swan! With a unibrow, yes, but a swan!
Well, it looks like the gloves come off in the coming weeks as the chefs have to make stuff like worms and cook on tour buses and the like. Bring the crazy!
By Liane Bonin – The chefs are given a challenge so tough more than one can’t complete it



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