'Top Chef Masters' Recap: Technical Bacon-Out
A visit from Sugar Ray Leonard pits the final five in a series of heavyweight cooking bouts.
With only five masters left in competition, every split-second decision, every julienne, every flash-fry, yes, even every garnish counts.
The Quickfire this week required our finalists -- cilantro-obsessed underdog Lorena, over-achieving alpha-chef Chris, cucumber-cool Kerry, Lorena-hating clinician Patricia, and lovable "culinary ninja" Takashi -- to prep against the clock. They need to separate 18 eggs, grate a giant block of parmesan, and, most trickily, butcher a beef tenderloin into four filets, weighing between 7.5 and 8.5 ounces each. No scales are allowed. The first two to successfully complete the task are then required to cook a dish with the ingredients. Winner gets immunity.
Chris and Patricia finish quick but their filets are too light, by a smidge. Takashi finishes third and nails it, followed by Kerry, who does, too, eliminating Lorena. Takashi and Kerry then leap to work to make something delicious out of this trio in just 15 minutes. Kerry makes a beef filet with parmesan crust (cue Homer Simpson-esque gurgling) over a bed of wilted arugula, while Takashi miraculously makes a vegetable and potato hash, over which he lays his sauteed beef tenderloin and, to top it off, a sunny side up egg. Kerry wins, earning $5,000 for his charity and immunity from the big challenge.
Turns out it's not just immunity but a complete sideline for Kerry, who will get to sample dishes alongside the judges and guest celebrity judge Sugar Ray Leonard, in a series of head-to-head cooking challenges held inside a boxing ring. A blatant ripoff of Iron Chef? Yes, but it's fun to watch nonetheless.
The chefs then head off to Milos, a Greek fish restaurant, to eat salt-baked fish and discuss ... not much, really. The difficulty of simple cooking.
Then it's do-or-die time. A crowd gathers the next day around a ring, where showgirls hold up cards and the judges have gathered (Jane Goldman of Chow.com sits in for Ruth Reichl, who is again missing this week). Chris and Takashi are first to compete, and the secret ingredient is revealed to be: bacon.
In a strangely serendipitous series of events, Chris says he always makes an extra portion, then finds he needs an egg, which Takashi lends him. Then at the last second, Takashi realizes he was one bacon portion short and Chris gives him his extra portion. It's a sweet moment of mutual respect and generosity.
Referee Curtis then holds up Chris' hand, whose Mexican breakfash with corn, avocado, thick bacon and egg knocks out the judges' tastebuds.
Next up are Lorena and Patricia, and the warm feelings generated by the men are quickly snuffed out as the room turns meatlocker cold. Patricia is determined not to be shown up by Lorena, who you can tell she feels is beneath her, technically. They too must work with bacon, and Lorena jumps to action concocting a creamy chowder with corn and bacon sofrito on top. Patricia goes minimalist, with a Bacon, Leek and Tomato, or BLT, salad. Patricia makes a catty comment about the loud noises coming from Lorena's chopping block, but even so, Lorena triumphs. Patricia seethes.
The finals round pits Chris versus Lorena, and both are required to use: sugar! Definitely not Chris' strongsuit, but he jumps into making a zabaglione, a custard that requires constant whisking for 20 minutes, nearly crippling him. Lorena, sensing victory is near, goes all-in with a flourless chocolate cake. As a backup, she also manages to throw together a pineapple and walnut dish bathed in dulche de leche.
The cake bakes in time and Lorena ends up serving both, and while Chris' dish is well-received, Lorena is the judges' favorite. (Though judge James Oseland, who appears to be having the time of his life at this challenge, does say he wishes both desserts had been incorporated into a single plate. Picky, picky, that James.) Lorena is awarded the championship belt, which is almost as tall as she is.
But there is still more battle to be waged! Takashi and Patricia now cook to see who will be sent home. Secret ingredient: chicken livers! Unlike nearly every person below the age of 16, they are delighted to receive that over processed, white sugar.
Takashi makes sauteed chicken livers with prosciutto and pickled red cabbage. Patricia makes a warm asparagus salad with seared liver and prosciutto. James says he finds Patricia's liver slightly undercooked, then laughs deviously like Hannibal Lecter. (Just kidding.)
Amazingly, Patricia wins and Takashi is sent packing. Takashi, who seemed a lock to win it all.