Top Chef Masters Season 4, Episode 3: ‘What Would Brian Boitano Eat?’
To punish me for rooting for Chris Cosentino last week, the gods sent the gentle citizens of Yorba Linda 30 earthquakes over the course of 24 hours. I’m sorry, Yorba Linda. I did that. So let me begin by saying that Chris Cosentino was really tacky this week and I am considering shifting my allegiance to Takashi Yagihashi. He seems like a nice guy. WILL THIS SUFFICE, GODS? I have a nice glass teapot on a narrow shelf and my dog hates aftershocks.
We begin with a quickfire. The “finest and most delicate proteins available,” arranged on ice (cut to an octopus draped over a cube like it’s starring in its own wake, legs akimbo, dreams of hoarding jewelry and learning aquarium tricks extinguished), must be prepared without the aid of heat. With $5,000 on the line, everybody looks at sushi-savvy Takashi and laments the loss of 20 minutes when they already know he’s going to take the prize. Takashi scrunches up his nose and whiffs at victory, then everyone gets to work slicing these fine and delicate sea creatures and dousing them with assorted oils or plopping them on top of chunky soups. Brian Boitano, Olympic gold medalist (in case you weren’t sure, Curtis Stone asks him, “Hey, Brian, how does it feel to be an Olympic gold medalist?” Prettay sweet, Curtis. Prettay, prettay sweet), finds Kerry Heffernan’s hamachi with eucalyptus oil lacking in acid and Thierry Rautureau’s geoduck just so-so. Though Chris’s use of charcoal (a “swipe,” shudder) was innovative, Takashi wins, and the Red Cross disaster relief fund goes ka-ching.
The elimination challenge this week involves cooking on a teppanyaki griddle in teams for Top Chef Masters alumni Rick Moonen, Jonathan Waxman (the vegetable whisperer, looking dashing in an eggplant sweater and sending all of the contestants into fits of admiration, cooing Barbuuuuto, Barbuuuuuto and slowly dissolving like butter melting on a hot filet), Susan Feniger, and Mary Sue Milliken (plus the usual suspects, and food writer Francis Lam). Knives are drawn to decide teams, and Chris and Art Smith wind up in a threesome with Thierry, because Andy Cohen sneaked in and rigged the knife drawing for ultimate drama. A brief and foreboding montage of Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier’s enduring romance with no ties at all to the plot makes me think that one of them might be going sayonara, but sometimes these things are red herrings. While shopping, Thierry gets a massage while still wearing his hat. Isn’t that odd, right, the Whole Foods massage station? It’s a nice idea, but who can relax around $8 bunches of grapes and all of the kombuchas waiting to explode? With all of this seismic activity?
The judges look very relaxed, sipping white wine and dressed like they’re meeting your parents for brunch in the Hamptons. Jonathan Waxman mentions his claustrophobia and how he hated being blindfolded during his stint on TCM. Drink up, Jonathan. What else chills you to the bone? The green team (Mark, Kerry, and Lorena Garcia) are up first: Mark’s scallop and bok choy dish suffers from the exclusion of a duo of butters (obviously); Kerry’s “sadly overcooked” shrimp with eggplant and bean paste and Lorena’s fried rice are under-seasoned, though they manage to flip the food with their metal spatulas in the spirit of things. Wheee! Nobody tastes anything, which of course sends the judges into suspicious mode. The chefs’ defense is that it would be weird to snack in front of diners, which is true when you’re dealing with spatulas and guava sauce that’s “calamalizing” too rapidly (in Lorena’s case).
Clark, Patricia Yeo, and Takashi are up next. They’re going with an Asian theme, though none of them (nor anyone else) has ever taken a spin on the teppanyaki ride before. Takashi uses the wrong flour in his savory pancakes, leaving them kind of grainy, but he has immunity from winning the quickfire and his calamari seems pretty baller. Clark does a study in orange with some lobster tails, and Patricia whips up some kalbi (there’s always one lettuce-wrap fanatic in the crowd — in this case it’s Rick “I LOVE LETTUCE WRAPS!” Moonen). Nobody’s food gets airborne, which disappoints the judges, but the trio fares pretty well. One of the judges joins the clean-plate club, which means he just got a bump in his allowance. Art, Thierry, and Chris bring up the rear, with Art snarking that Chris is like a bull that hangs out behind you and pokes you in the ass with his horns. Bulls don’t do that unless you steal their ovens and mandolins, Art. For some reason, there is a flashback to Jonathan Waxman and Art flirting many Top Chef Masters ago (Barbuuuuto, Barbuuuuto). Art whips up some grit cakes, swamp greens, and shrimp, igniting the grill with a splash of Jack Daniel’s because he’s fly like that. People love to be afraid before they eat; everyone claps because they’re still alive. Chris storms the grill before the smoke has cleared on Art’s shrimp, then — mid-deconstructed clam chowder — realizes that Art never replaced his mandolin on his station and calls Art a son of a bitch like a mean and somewhat abusive boyfriend in the middle of a crowded Ikea. To do this is not cool, and everyone cringes as they try to figure out how they will explain this sensation to their therapists: “You have to understand. This was in front of Jonathan Waxman. In a very close, hot room with cameras, and two out of the three chefs were wearing fedoras. It was horrible.” Moonen is psyched, though, because this chowder is ultra-expressionist, and though Curtis feels as though Art was harassed, Moonen reality-checks us all with the fact that it was not “Keystone Cops craziness.” We can only hope for a Fatty Arbuckle challenge in Episode 6. Thierry’s ambitious crepe dish, accompanied by some jaunty bistro music, comes off with a little char but at least appears to be (my least favorite descriptor) “tasty.”
A bizarre interstitial introduces (via Kerry) the idea of a pre-service “speed ball,” which is apparently a shot of espresso and a PBR. I call that a “toilet.” This man is a masochist, and there’s no two ways about it. Then it’s judgment time, and Thierry, Chris, and Art are called in first. They are the winners, though scarred emotionally and morally devalued. Art wins, and so he cries, because he’s “just a big Southern belle.”
Nobody berates Chris for being a douche; in fact, he’s praised for workin’ the teppan and being bossy like a Michelin chef. Apparently, everyone is now too afraid of Chris to repeat what they said after they’d eaten his nitro clams in cranky broth. Now, send in the hacks! Lorena, Mark, and Kerry are herded to slaughter for their unforgivable blandness. Lorena’s clearly safe (fried rice, like the simple yet noble lettuce wrap, has its fans) — but it could go either way between Mark and Kerry. If only I had put salt on the cart, muses Mark, which is confusing because there was literally no salt? Isn’t that against the law unless you arm yourself with Mrs. Dash? Turns out it’s Mark’s time to gather his knives and head back to his supremely romantic restaurant in Maine to wait at a candlelit table for his life partner Clark to be eliminated so they can eat lobster and talk about how much they hate the Bravo voice-over voice, the one that always sounds like it’s coming from an angry man in an empty unisex bathroom at an expensive hotel. Next week: The B-52’s and helicopters, plus grilling in the rain while perched on a tall mesa. Pour yourself a toilet, foodies, it sounds like we’re suiting up for a jazzy one.