In striving to hit that balance between challenging big shot chefs and stirring up a little drama, Top Chef Masters can get downright silly. Yes, cooking on the side of the Grand Canyon is cool. It is, surely, an honor to be invited to whip up lunch for the Hualapai people. But the tone of the whole episode came off as overly reverential, and the breathless praise of the setting and guests meant that there wasn’t much focus on the food, or on interactions between the contestants. It was downright boring. Almost every chef mentioned the word “honor” or respect” at least five times. You know an episode is bad when Takashi joining into a traditional Native American dance doesn’t even bump it up to a B minus.
We’ve only been in Las Vegas with the Masters for three episodes, and this is the second buffet challenge. All right, it’s a salad bar. And there’s a lot of it—52 ingredients, to be exact, and high quality stuff. It’s not like there was a line of lettuce vending machines. But the challenge is to put together an interesting salad in eight minutes, which means a group of high-falutin’ chefs scrambling to throw some croutons and a light vinaigrette together. It wasn’t fun to watch, and it didn’t look very toothsome.
The only chefs who managed to do anything aside from chopping and whisking were Lorena and Art. Lorena ran to the grill and blackened some cauliflower, and Art threw a mixture into the blender to make watermelon soup. As a dude who’s lost over a hundred pounds recently, he assures us, “I know how to make a salad that tastes delicious.”
The lucky judges for this lightning salad round were, bizarrely, Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson, founding members of The B-52s. I love “Rock Lobster” as much as the next person, but it’s unclear why these two pop stars got called in. There wasn’t even a strobe light in the kitchen. Patricia’s best guess was that they’re vegetarians, and therefore must eat at a lot of salad bars. Lorena wins immunity with her cauliflower, which Pierson dubs a “tingling taste sensation,” and Schneider reveals his love for crispy Asian noodles. Everyone leaves confused.
The idea behind the elimination challenge is a solid one. The chefs have to take two Native American ingredients and incorporate them in a dish, to be served family style for 24 Hualapai guests. There are four teams, and a few of them get legitimately unusual materials—prickly pear for Art and Lorena and banana yucca for Thierry and Takashi. They all get flown out to the edge of the Grand Canyon, where the Hualapai tribal land is, to cook in the dust in front of some very spectacular views. Poor Takashi is afraid of heights, so the whole leaning over a big cliff thing doesn’t make him feel so great. Art and Lorena discover their deep, previously unspoken love for each other. Art declares about Lorena, “If I was straight, I would marry her.” Heaven forfend.
Aside from the outdoors kitchen, the most difficult element of the meal was a thunderstorm that put out everyone’s grills and leads to some temperature difficulties. But that was about it, in terms of anything remarkable during the cooking process. (Except Chris’ insane “Sometimes you have to jump off the ship, otherwise you’re going to go down with the ship” comment.) At judges table, no one can say enough how special it is to be there and how much they’re in awe of the great traditions the meals represent, etc, etc.
Thierry and Takashi, who had banana yucca and venison, churned out a delicate and complex dish that won the $10,000 prize. Chris and Patricia also get a pass, though their dish didn’t seem that memorable. Art and Lorena’s quail got overcooked, and the judges clearly wish that Lorena didn’t have her fortunate immunity get-out-of-elimination-free card. But the team that fared the worst had the most normal ingredients of the bunch. Clark and Kerry’s steak and corn lacked texture, and that meant that they both ended up on the chopping block. Clark went home, alas, ridding Top Chef Masters of the cutest chef partnership this side of Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger.
- Big thanks to Caroline Framke and Phil Dyess-Nugent for their excellent work filling in for me the last two weeks.
- Chris Cosentino was just so excited about seeing the Grand Canyon. I blame this giddiness for his insane metaphors.
- Why couldn’t the B-52s have come to lunch at the Grand Canyon? That would have been a serious dance party. Or something.