We’re down to five finalists (yet again!) in the mostly-sausage fest that is Top Chef Masters. This week: A talented chef headed home following a hot fish/cold fish Elimination Challenge in which some big egos struggled to work in pairs. But first up: A “re-interpret a plate of nachos” Quickfire judged by Heroes star, whipped-cream bikini girl, and now cookbook author – who knew? – Ali Larter (pictured with host Curtis Stone). SPOILERS AHEAD.
JENNIFER JASINSKI IS BACK
She ended up being Sue Zemanick in that ambiguous Battle of the Sous Chefs round that we couldn’t watch on TV and never learned the outcome of online. The challenge involved “bottom feeders.” Interestingly, Top Chef used negative footage re: Jennifer from eliminated contestant Neal Fraser to accompany her triumphant return. “If Jenn made it to the end, I would be very surprised. She’s outclassed by some of these guys.” And, as Jenn lamented, being a lady and all, she had to choose a culinary career over having kids. “It’s a tough career choice for a woman,” Douglas Keane said matter-of-factly. The only thing sadder than this was an array of photos of Douglas’ brain tumor surgery scars and his admission that he cannot run because parts of his body “just don’t work that way” anymore.
Nachos! Everyone loves these. They can surely lighten the mood. Except wait – fiesta buzzkill Sang Yoon will not tolerate nachos. “I don’t think any country would claim nachos as their own. I’m not gonna make nachos.” Well then! Sang did a masa corn griddle cake with cheddar cheese “snow” that ended up reminding Ali Larter and Curtis Stone of the powdered mix in a box of mac and cheese. Ouch. David Burke also landed in the bottom, which made sense as he’d sliced off his fingernail in an effort to paint with squid ink midway through the 30 minutes.
Winner: Doug, who served up shrimp with a powdered nacho chip along with a salsa consommé – those pink shots you see up above. I wonder if Ali Larter knew he’d strained that concoction through his apron? Doug has been so clever in these Quickfires, catering to the guest judges. Bryan, too, appealed to Ali’s desire to basically enjoy four bite-sized low-fat green items along with a glass of white wine, with his avocado-wrapped crab salad nuggets. Nuggets is too generous, actually. There were like two ounces of grub on that plate. Gorgeous! But nachos?
Good God, I could use some real, not-at-all-reinterpreted nachos.
ACT LIKE AN ADULT IN WHOLE FOODS CHALLENGE
Sang lost this one! God help anyone in the service industry who has to encounter and/or deal with Sang Yoon when he’s in competition mode. Sang wanted wood chips to properly smoke his cold fish, but the Whole Foods employee apparently only heard the word “chips”. Maybe that guy just wanted to eat some chips. He would not be alone in this. I’d head for the Kettle section myself. Anything but Kale, really. Those are definitely not chips.
The chefs had to pair up – Jenn and Doug (who had immunity), Sang and Bryan, and David and Neal – to serve both a hot and cold seafood preparation for 60 guests at Duke’s Malibu. A sense of gloom had already settled in as it appeared they’d decided to film on a rare non-sunny day in Southern California.
Winners: Doug and Jenn. Despite his immune status, this challenge was tough for Doug as Jenn’s nervous energy produced a steady stream of what he considered unnecessary commentary of every little task they were doing. Without that immunity, I’m not sure he would’ve been so patient. But his taking a backseat to her direction contributed to an excellent partnership – the only real success of the night as their crispy John Dory over broth (directly atop kimchi curried John Dory) stood out for its cohesion.
Meanwhile, Bryan and Sang struggled to deal with their gross, bony sablefish. Bryan’s barbecue fish with cornbread, pine nuts, and foamy soy bubbles (cool-looking!) went over well, but Curits Stone had to remove Sang’s lukewarm non-smoked dashi-cured sablefish with charred cucumber from his mouth. Everything but the fish worked, the judges said.
In a series of more doom-filled voiceovers, Neal Fraser basically spelled out his own demise over the course of the episode. Having worked under his partner David Burke, he still felt like “I sort of bow down to him.” It made for a poor dynamic that was probably a lot more awkward than we got the chance to see on-screen. Their sea bass dishes underwhelmed most tasters – but again, Curtis went for high drama by picking out a long, stringy piece of Neal’s sea bass crudo (ewwwww) while complaining that it was “chewy.” How awful!
Eliminated: Neal Fraser. I’ll miss his quips (and random announcements that he’s holding marijuana should anyone be in need, ahem, Mindy Kaling), but he seemed at peace with it. He’s so low-key that he could be really upset. I’d have no idea.
Your thoughts? Are you craving nachos now? Should we all take a shot?