Top Chef Masters: “Old School, New School"
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Top Chef Masters: “Old School, New School"

B

Top Chef Masters

“Old School, New School"

Season 4, Episode 9
B

Top Chef Masters

“Old School, New School"

Season 4, Episode 9

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In the episode before the finale, the last chef cut is always a nail-biter. This time, the elimination was even based on the finalists’ actual cooking. Instead, the whole of “Old School, New School” involved the chefs depending on a conduit for their cuisine. Communication counted more here than taste, and a whole new side of the contestants influenced the food.

Quickfire Challenge

Last season’s partition challenge—which had Naomi yelling at her Dad, and various other chefs obviously exasperated with their family members—was enough of a success to inspire another round. As with last season’s partition Quickfire, this one has the chefs on the other side of a wall, trying to instruct a chef with the exact same cooking station to recreate a dish. The twist this year is that instead of family members, the judges’ panel came out to test the contestants’ teaching mettle. Kerry lands Ruth, who speaks in a slipping Russian accent. Chris and James, “The Sweater King” himself, are paired up, while Lorena ends up with Francis. Unlike the family members of the last season, all of the judges know quite a lot about cooking. With such savvy counterparts, the challenge takes on a new dimension. When the judges skip a step, it seems like it isn’t because their mentors across the walls didn’t tell them about it, so much as they’re teaching the chefs a lesson in what to include.

The dishes turn out parallel in every case but Ruth and Kerry’s. In their case, Kerry doesn’t explain that they should halve the chicken portions, which means Ruth had a much bigger plate than Kerry. Lorena and Francis’ dish looks good, but one side is much soupier than the other. The winners are Chris and James, who clinch the prize with a prawns and celery dish.

Elimination Challenge

The Elimination Challenge continued with the “communication is key theme.” But this time, the chef’s amanuenses weren’t quite as skilled. Each of the chefs gets two top-flight students from a culinary arts program in a Las Vegas high school. That means none of the Masters gets to do any actual cooking. It’s a great way to reveal the cooks’ management styles. Chris, who apparently was voted “most likely to go to prison” in high school, is wonderful with the high school seniors. He’s neither too solicitous nor too much of a hard-ass. He treats them like amateur chefs instead of preschoolers with Play-Doh food. Lorena coos and praises a bit too much. The students, already on edge from such a serious test of their budding skills, wilt under the beam of her mega-watt smile. Kerry’s communication with his mini sous chefs is stilted. He comes off like a babysitter who hasn’t interacted with anyone under the age of 18 in a decade.

One of the flaws in this otherwise interesting challenge is that it’s impossible to judge based on the food. The judges eat the dishes with proud parents and barely utter a single critical note. Chris opts for a pork dish with a brown butter sauce and a little salad, a menu that his teenage chefs execute very well. His sous chef, Emilio, has a mother whose emotional response is the stuff Bravo dreams of. “My son is my armor,” she weeps. Lorena goes for an elevated lasagna, which her chefs serve family style, on a huge platter. The judges make quiet complaints about her choice of such a homey meal, but otherwise praise the dish. Ditto Kerry’s Florentine-inspired chicken, which gets high marks al around.

Kerry wins the challenge, though it’s unclear why his chicken is above the other two dishes. Chris’ plating was too early, which makes his salad a bit soggy, and Lorena’s serving was a bit rustic. Ultimately, Lorena gets chopped from the final three, leaving a head-to-head between Kerry and Chris for next week. Let’s hope they get to do some actual cooking next week.  

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