Hey everybody, my name is Steve and I’m filling in for the lovely and talented Emily Withrow as this week’s Top Chef Masters critic-meister. I feel uniquely qualified to review tonight’s episode “Tailgating” because it involves one of the few areas of cooking where I have a measure of expertise. I’m a life-long Wisconsinite, and if there’s one thing us Wisconsinites do well, it’s consuming mass quantities of food and alcohol in the vicinity of large sports arenas.
Unfortunately, what I saw on Top Chef Masters tonight barely resembles tailgating as I know and love it. First off, what’s with all the tacos? Where I come from, tailgating is built on a rock-solid foundation of sausages, potato salad, and chips. All these wonderful chefs and no one is capable of coming up with a freaking gourmet brat? I know this “tailgating” competition was taking place at USC, a namby-pamby, possibly imaginary place where blonde and bronzed people get chilly when the temperature dips below 80 degrees—maybe overly fancy stuff like Rick’s baba ghanoush pita thing flies there. But for me, only Susan’s predictably delicious-looking tacos appeared to even approach the heart-clogging heartiness that distinguishes true tailgating food as I know it.
Going into the challenge, I figured Tony—a Chicago guy, and someone who clearly has eaten a sausage or 10,000 in his life—would win this in a walk. But his skimpy pizza clearly wasn’t going to cut it, and he was shipped home. Susan ended up winning, but overall the elimination challenge was a disappointment. I like Top Chef Masters more when it places seemingly impossible restrictions on the chefs, and forces them to pull some serious culinary magic out of their highly decorated backsides. Tonight’s challenge just didn’t seem particularly inspired in this regard. The only person at a disadvantage tonight was Susur, who, like last week with The Simpsons, was unfamiliar with this competitive folly you humans call football. But because he’s totally a samurai of the kitchen, he placed among the top scorers anyway.
I might be in the minority on this one, but I’m rooting for Susur. I get a kick out of that loony bastard. To me, Susur is the ideal TCM contestant: incredibly gifted, kind of nuts, and capable of doing mind-bogglingly complex and accomplished work in the same amount of time it takes me to make a grilled cheese sandwich. I think he’s obviously the best chef on the show. Popular opinion seems to be with Waxman, who’s gentler and less abrasive than Susur but seems to have hit a wall in the last two weeks. Susur, on the other hand, is doing dazzling work even when he seems (pardon the pun) completely out to lunch, which is pretty much all the time.
Just as the elimination challenge was ho-hum this week, so was the quickfire, where the chefs had to make dishes with different kinds of animal legs for Olympic swimmer Jason Lezak … because he, like, uses his legs when he swims and stuff. Like most right-thinking Americans, I have no interest in Olympic swimmers when they’re not 1) swimming or 2) competing in the Olympics. I definitely don’t care about Lezak’s opinions on food, especially since he doesn’t have any opinions on food beyond, “Hey, this is pretty good!” Jay Rayner sort of being on the rag and nitpicking the dishes to death ended up being a necessary evil in this segment.
So, tonight we said goodbye Tony and all future possibly discriminatory Sopranos references. Somehow I don’t think this will hurt the show’s momentum too much.
—“For today’s challenge you’ll get to prove who really has a leg up on the competition because you’ll be cooking with … legs!” I bet Kelly Choi wrote that one herself.
—I’m on record as a Susur fan, but if I had to bet on a winner I’d put my money on Waxman, who seems to be the most universally respected and liked chef on the show. That is, unless he continues his recent slide and craps out completely next week.
—I’m really going to miss Susur and Tony’s table wars next week.
—I can totally see Susan as a cheerleader in high school.