Among the bits of insight passed on in this week's episode of Top Chef Masters: Moe is the ugliest Simpsons character, and a geoduck, pronounced gooey duck, is a horrifically phallic and sometimes spitting clam. Also, it's really hot in the Top Chef kitchen. So much knowledge crammed into 74 minutes of television, it's hard to know where to begin. The oversized "Scary Surf & Turf" moved quickly through a dud of a quickfire to a fantastic elimination challenge. It also brought back a few Top Chef tropes during judging, adding some well-needed tension and bullying to the show. (At least, a tad. Any negative comment feels like a slam in this warped version of Top Chef.)
The show set its chefs up to stumble over the "exotic" offerings of the elimination challenge and the difficult-to-pronounce Simpsons characters' names. (Please, Internet, come up with a Susur-Bewitched mash-up that includes his botched attempt to pronounce "Marge" at least five times.) And when the greats struggle and sweat all over their plates, Top Chef Masters succeeds.
But first to the failures: The quickfire challenge, in classic TCM fashion, lacked focus and challenge. Instead the producers offered us novelty: guests Matt Groening, Matt Selman, and Hank Azaria sat in for the quickfire, sampling dishes inspired by Simpsons characters. Most of the chefs chose not to be inspired by the characters but to cook for them, a safe choice and a boring one. Tony made Bart a sandwich and spaghetti; Susur put forth a strange, purple-potato Marge-hair platter. In the end, of course, no real judging criteria emerged, and we're left wondering what about Rick's Shrimp Sloppy D'oh made it the winner—it was the only dish, aside from Chief Wiggum's lack-of-pork plate, that was criticized for being inconsistent with the character.
On to the wild ride of the elimination challenge, in which the chefs had to choose two "exotic" proteins--one surf, one turf--to cook with. Aside from the familiar options like goat, kangaroo, and squid, some of these options looked downright disgusting. (Looking at you, sea cucumber and geoduck.) The show could have edited better to help explain the challenge of these items from the beginning—it was a bit of a struggle to put together the ingredients' specific difficulties (texture? taste?) and how the chefs planned to adapt.
They adapted, of course, with much, much fretting, and there's nothing like seeing the masters struggle like lowly Top Chef contestants. Poor Jonathan Waxman never recovered from that initial period of consternation, puttering about Whole Foods frowning and picking up ingredients with no plan, eventually combatting the ingredients by frying the hell out of them. Duck tongue has never tasted so good. Meanwhile Jody set to work removing "the foreskin" from the giant penis-like clam, and Tony set to work frying the "funky" giant squid for giant calamari crustino. These empires were not built on fried ocean-freaks; that much was clear as Jody, Jonathan, and Marcus collected the lowest scores and were sent before the judges as potential losers, regular Top Chef style. You had to feel sorry for them when everyone was called to the winners' table besides those three, left to sit and wonder who was going home. Is anyone producing this show paying any attention to consistency at all?
Rick sought to correct everyone on his self-perpetuated fish-guy reputation by insisting on his classical French training, and landed in the finals alongside Susur, who shared the same ingredients. It seems monkfish liver and black chicken might be the lesser of all the scary proteins. Susur's refined French-meets-Japanese won out in spite of a suspiciously cliché pouch, pulling several five-star ratings from the critics. Jody was sent home because her proteins were the weakest items on the plate. Her goat was too rare and she suffered carefully crafted, prickly criticism from Gael: I didn't know goat could be eaten rare. And it cannot be. Ouch. Good-bye, Jody. May you never have to touch another clam foreskin again.
--Marcus: You think Top Chef is bad? Try getting orphaned at the age of three and having your family die!
-- I wonder, statistically, if you're more likely to score better if your dish is served earlier. With the Simpsons challenge, for example, those guys scarfed down all the food. Wouldn't you get full and therefore be less excited about the final dishes? Neuroscience suggests this might be true.
-- Truffle oil, garlic/deep-fried, baked. These guys are skilled!
-- Rick refers to himself as "typecast" as the "fish guy."
-- Enjoying the fun Rick's having with the confessional cam.
-- What's with the I-love-yous? Haven't you guys heard of "I'm not here to make friends?"
-- This time, Jay and Gay were fighting over salt. I wish these skirmishes would get more air time.
-- Andrew Zimmern was oftentimes more articulate than our regular judges. He also seems like he'd be insufferable at a dinner party, with the constant, "When I was in Mongolia...."
-- Apologies for the late review; cable troubles last night.