Top Chef Masters Season 1 Episode 4 Review

Top Chef Masters Season 1 Episode 4 Review
Original Airdate: July 8, 2009

After a one week hiatus for Independence Day week, we are back with the Masters qualifying rounds. Gail is in for this episode and Jay Rayner is out, and Iron Chef Runner-up John Besh is in the house.

Judges Panel
Gael Greene, New York Critic
James Oseland, editor of Saveur magazine
Gail Simmons, Food and Wine Magazine

This Week’s Chefs
Anita Lo (New York) – Annisa
Douglas Rodriguez (Philadelphia) – Alma de Cuba
John Besh (New Orleans) – Restaurant August
Mark Peel (Los Angeles) – Campanile

Each chef enters the kitchen and chats with each other. For those keeping score at home, I’ve been to the Rickshaw Dumpling Bar that Anita Lo owns so I guess I’ll root for her tonight. Although it will be tough because I really thought John Besh beat Michaels Symon for the Iron Chef. Mark Peel sure can talk at length.

Quickfire Challenge
This week’s quickfire is based on the Top Chef Season 3 challenge where the chefs need to cook an egg with one hand tied behind their back. Steven won in Season 3, which I thought was a mistake but it was the all-stars episode so it made sense then. The judges include Gail Simmons and a guy who owns an Egg Warehouse. Reminds me of a Throwdown panel. Of course they have a wide variety of the Glad Family of Products to use as well.

Mark Peel’s dad was born with only one arm (!) so he has experience with one-armed cooking. That was one of the more bizarre reality show tidbits I’ve seen food-related or not. Besh is making a baked egg and WHOOPS he doesn’t finish anything. So he serves everyone raw egg stew! Great scene where Anita Lo tried to use one of those fancy egg-top cutters with only one hand and her mouth and the egg exploded all over.

It ended up as a massacre, with Anita getting the full monte and Besh getting a pity half star. They should almost have just eliminated Besh right here!

Diner Scores
Lo: *****
Rodriguez: ***
Peel: ** 1/2
Besh: 1/2

Elimination Challenge
We jump right into the elimination challenge and it’s based on MAGIC. Some magic guy comes in and hands out some cards and does a trick that lost its way via the magic of Bravo editing – I honestly had no idea where this trick was going and then it kinda ended and everyone clapped.

In the end, each chef had a magic word to base their menu around for a meal at the Magic Castle tomorrow.

John – Surprise
Mark – Mystery
Anita – Illusion
Douglas – Spectacle

One of each week’s highlights is seeing these chefs go to Whole Foods. This batch is a bit less put off by doing their own shopping – it’s almost as if they’ve been to the supermarket before! Each chef discusses their strategy for the magic word and builds a grocery list around it.

Coming back from commercial they should a great shot of John Besh from his army days in the desert. Really powerful stuff with his New Orleans background as well. Douglas is doing duck FOUR ways, which his bold and intended spectacle. Anita is doing an illusion of daikon surrounding Steak Tartar made to look like a scallop.

Tom Collichio makes his Top Chef Masters kitchen debuts, and does a scaled down version of his intimidating kitchen tour with chef interviews. He basically just asks what they are up to but doesn’t make any snarky comments like he does to the normal Top Chef pups.

The next day the chefs head to the Magic Castle and cant get in! Oh you need to say a secret phrase. They try a few before getting it right – it’s Open Sesame. They have an hour to cook. The chefs get to work as the judges arrive with this week’s guests – Neil Patrick Harris and his magician buddies. One of them is Ed Alonzo who we figure out played Max on Saved by the Bell doing magic for the kids at the diner. I think one time he made fries magically appear for Screetch but Lisa didn’t like it. Maybe not that exactly but I bet I’m close.

Mark is up first with his Mystery dish – it’s a poached fish in a pocket with a spoonful of sauce on the size. The guests compare it to Houdini’s bag escape trick. Besh is up next with Surprise, which is highlighted by a super cold blasted Horseradish sorbet, with a salmon wrapped lobster. The diners enjoy the surprise element but question some of the food execution. Anita Lo is up next with her faux scallop. Finally is Douglas with the duck dish, including a Coconut that he wiped with Sterno to light on fire as a flaming soup bowl. Isn’t Sterno poison? The fire scares the diners, but might work for the Spectacle. All four chefs seemed to do a solid job, lets see how the judging treats it. Does Besh have enough to overcome the near goose-egg?

The wacky short clip in the commercials near the end sees a magic guy pull a live rabbit out of his hair and give it to Kelly Choi, who thinks its just adorable. NPH tells her it peed on her and she jumps back! Oh ho ho that NPH.

The judges talk to each chef about their dishes. Mostly praise all around – Besh is criticized a bit for the texture and temperature of the sorbet, and Douglas’ flaming coconut was not everyone’s favorite. The chefs go to the kitchen to decompress as the judges talk over the dishes with Kelly Choi. They go over their notes and apparently have come to a decision. Here are the scores.

Diner’s Scores
Besh: ** 1/2
Peel: ****
Rodriguez: ***
Lo: **** 1/2

Gail: ***
Gael: ***
James: ***

Gail: ****
Gael: **** 1/2
James: *** 1/2

Gail: ** 1/2
Gael: ** 1/2
James: **

Gail: **** 1/2
Gael: **** 1/2
James: ****

Lo: 22 1/2
Peel: 18 1/2
Rodriguez: 13
Besh: 12

Keeping Score
Each week I’ll check to see if the quickfire winner is a good predictor of the final winner, and if each judge and the diners correctly called the winner.

Quickfire Winner – Lo 3-1
Diner’s Winner – Lo 4-0
Gael’s Winner – Lo/Peel 4-0
James’ Winner- Lo 3-1
Jay’s Winner- N/A 2-1
Gail’s Winner – Lo 1-0

Final Thoughts
The finals are starting to come together, and there is already a wide variety of styles and backgrounds. This week had apparently some tough challenges, I believe Douglash Rodriguez and John Besh got two of the lowest scores ever. Next week our first Food Network contestant climbs into the Top Chef Kitchen with NAPA style – Michael Chiarello.

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