This week kicked off with one of my favorite quickfire challenges: the taste test. The masters had 15 seconds to sample a sauce, and then sparred off against one another to see who could name the most ingredients. I'm not sure why they play the first round as they do, with the contestants placing bets against each other; the following rounds are fairer, I think, with chefs chalking up ingredients one by one until someone gets one wrong. It's a fun challenge to watch because it taps not only into the tastes of these sauces but how they're made—something we can at least start to guess about, too. Sometimes Top Chef Masters goes by without the show seriously hitting on technique and how things should taste vs. how they do taste as prepared by the chefs. That's one of things I'm missing this season—any sort of real connection to the food. I'm thinking this will pick up in the coming rounds as they've more time to focus on the plates.
Ultimately in this first round, self-descibed "sauce-tasting master" Susur falls to Rick in guessing that the lobster sauce contained garlic. When in doubt, guess salt; that's what I say. Susur's indignation here is great—he was clearly guessing garlic based on how he thought the lobster sauce should be made instead of how it tasted. His two-taste method fails him, and Rick takes the title. Related: I'm really coming around on Susur. These past few episodes have him pulling out in front of Waxman for who I'd like to see win. He's so good he does weird hopscotch moves in the kitchen while picking up fallen objects. His inability to pronounce anything written on a knife is also helping.
On to the elimination challenge: Cook something inspired by Greek gods. It occurs to me here that perhaps it's not always the challenge's fault that these can be so boring. The chefs choose to take very slight inspiration from the topic, and use it as an excuse to make whatever they want. Nothing we're seeing is really innovative or clever. Rick's the only one who manages to fully tie things in thematically this time, by cooking root (underground) vegetables for Hades. Of course, he drove it into the ground (it's contagious) with his constant villain-laugh and hellish commentary. I could use about 20 percent less Rick in this show, though I'm glad he's at least trying. When he won with his spice-crusted swordfish and crimson potatoes with daikon, radishes, and parsnips—easily the prettiest of the bunch—and teared up, well, I was moved.
I'm sorry to see Susan go, but as much as I love sandwiches and would love for Susan to make me a sandwich, I have to side with the judges here: In this type of competition, you probably shouldn't be making fried egg sandwiches, no matter how good the accompanying jam.
-- My brother had a great idea for how to raise the stakes here. If the chef loses, the charity also loses money. Presto: more anxiety, anger, and fear.
-- How about bringing Aphrodite into the mix to make everyone uncomfortable? Way to be awkward, critics.