Top Chef Masters 7/22 Recap: Art-istry
Last week we watched Michael Chiarello easily ease his way into the CHAMPIONíS ROUND with a combo of charm and fish balls. This is our last stop in Preliminaryville before the real chef showdown begins. Here are the competitors for that final spot:
Jonathan Waxman: one of the first real celebrity chefs; came to prominence in the 80s, trained Bobby Flay at some point (perhaps this the man who introduced him to blue corn?), and now runs Barbuto in NYC. Playing for Meals on Wheels.
Roy Yamaguchi: who has dozens of restaurants everywhere. If there isnít a Royís within 100 miles of you, then I submit to you that you do not live in the United States. He practically created Asian Fusion cooking, and is playing for Imua Family services, a Maui-area org that provides developmental support for children with special needs.
Art Smith: Oprahís chef. Game over. Also owner of Table 52 in Chicago and Art and Soul in DC. Heís won Beard award for humanitarian work and for a cookbook, but never for his restaurants. And if he doesnít win, Oprah kills us all with maple scones. Heís playing for a charity called Common Threads, a charity heís actually involved with that teaches children about cooking and nutrition.
And finally Michael Cimarusti: chef/owner of Providence, right there in LA. Heís a preeminent seafood chef with the two Michelin stars to prove it. Michael also worked under Jonathan Waxman and an abundance of French dudes with French names. Heís playing for Grameen, which does awesome microfinancing work particularly for women in impoverished places.
Cooking now. Kelly Choi bops in and actually talks with the chefs this week; I donít know what thatís about. Waxman kids Art about his weight advantage and says he knows Roy, so he isnít worried about beating him at all.
Then they draw knives 1 - 4. Weíre going back to a season three Quickfire classic, the grocery store aisle challenge. You might remember that as the challenge that produced Hungís cereal Smurf Village. Also MALARKEYís winning Spam dish.
Theyíre off to Whole Foods with $20, so really they might as well stay in the parking lot and see what they can bum off of shoppers coming out of the store. But, in they go. Art meanwhile talks about cooking for Julia Child and President Obama; he may want to pick out an extra cart for all those names heís dropping.
Art ends up in the canned beans/grains aisle. Waxman is in the canned meats/bottled salad dressing aisle and moans a bit about his unfamiliarity with such things. Michael Cimarusti drew the baking aisle. DOOOOM? Perhaps; heís married to a pastry cook who does all the pastry cooking for his family. But, perhaps not; he went to culinary school and learned at least a little bit about whipping up desserts. Roy Yamaguchiís in the Italian aisle; heís comfortable with it but wants to find a way to incorporate his signature fusion style.
Once back in the kitchen, the chefs find out that their judges will be WF employees. They have 30 minutes to impress them. Royís working on making an Asian style pasta, but thereís no soy sauce or oyster sauce available in the pantry. What to do? I donít know yet! Waxmanís having significant trouble working the pressure cooker for his roasted pepper and lentil salad; Michael Cimarusti helps him get it straight while pulling a chocolate mousse out of his small bag of dessert tricks. Art drops Oprahís name while talking about cooking with love (Caaaaaaaaaaaarla! I will drop your name here because I love you.), but Iím not sure what heís cooking.
And so, this is what appears before the WF employees on the table. A pasta dish topped with a fried egg from Roy. In confessional, Art gives it a raspberry and calls it boring. One of the Whole Foods guys thinks itís ďweird,Ē but another woman loves it. Pasta and egg together seems like a winner to me. Carbonara, baby. Waxmanís lentil, mint, roasted pepper salad goes down very well; Artís multigrain risotto with crispy rice salad also ends up a crowd pleaser due to the combo of textures. But no one can stop raving about Cimarustiís chocolate mousse with ginger syrup and sesame crackers. I also canít stop raving about how much I wish I could eat it.
Scores: Waxman rated a 3.5, Roy a 4; Artís risotto earned a 4.5. But Michael Cimarusti pulled out the full 5 stars. People sure love that chocolate. Wise move, sir. The scores are all bunched up though, so no guarantees.
Little Boxes Made of Mahi Mahi
Time for the Elimination Challenge. More knife drawings, but the chefs have to keep the results a secret, because theyíll be shopping for the chef whose name they pull. Each chef will build a box of 11 ingredients, and the chefs must use at least 7 of the given ingredients. Each of the chefs point out the opportunity for sabotage, but disclaim any temptation to go that route, because they are much too awesome. Roy gives Art chicken, sweet corn, cheddar, and mangoes. Art reciprocated by giving Roy mahi mahi which is right up his alley. Jonathan Waxman gets pork chops from his former pupil Michael, and Michael is a tiny bit flummoxed to see a box of lamb from Waxman instead of any kind of seafood for the Seafood King, but he rolls with it because itís not like heís never worked with lamb before. Waxman confesses he denied Michael the fish on purpose. Wax on, wax off, young grasshopper.
They get two hours to cook for a bunch of culinary students. Roy is a bit outdone by the time limit; he confesses that he wonít be so keen on rushing his own line anymore. Aw. Thatís all it takes, is walking that mile in their shoes. Michael Cimarusti is planning to serve seared lamb medallions with a marrow jus. Waxman is kind of befuddled by so many ingredients when his plates are normally more refined. Art is saying some more about food and love, and prepping good old fried chicken. Roy went surf and turf with his mahi mahi with lemongrass ginger crust and garlic braised short ribs.
Judging now. Gail Simmons is sitting in again for Jay Rayner, so thereís Gail, Gael, James, and the students. Art is out first with his plate of smothered and fried chicken, some skillet greens, and a mango cobbler, which turns me off because Iím a cobbler traditionalist. Everything else looks delicious. The table seems to love the dish outright, but James and Gail both note that this is very much Art in his comfortable niche. Hey, if you can do it well, then do it.
Roy presents his surf and turf to mixed reviews. Gael usually hates mahi mahi but loves Royís while a culinary student complains that the lemongrass was overpowering. Michaelís plate of lamb on sunchoke puree with mushrooms, broccoli rabe, and purple cauliflower looks really pretty, but he didnít get to sauce all of the plates before they hit the table. Luckily, the sauced share with the unsauced, and they all teach the world to sing in their own way. No one is really bowled over by the dish, but Gael loves the sunchoke puree. Waxman brings up the rear with his messy plate of pork chops, sausage, and cauliflower celery root puree. And some kind of sauce that is spilling around everywhere on the plate. The table is unanimous in loving the flavors mingling in all the protein and produce, and Gail enjoys his bringing back an 80s aesthetic.
Once at the judging table though, things get more specific. James didnít think Michaelís plate was cohesive, and Gael thinks the lamb and sunchokes were better without his sauce. Gail draws out the secret to his delicious roasted mushroom Ė a bit of mandarin orange juice squeezed over top.
Art gets a big love fest and he says a lot of sweet things about camaraderie among them all. James thought chicken two ways was too much chicken; he is obviously insane. Everyone else was knocked out by how delicious and simple his chicken and greens and cobbler were. Soul food wins, every time.
Roy faces a bit of criticism for his mahi mahi being overcooked, although Gael still asserts that hers was perfect. She didnít like the ribs with the fish however. Gail compliments his sense of flavoring, and Roy confesses that he has trouble improvising dishes really quickly, so he just tried his best to think of what would work together well. Gael dings Waxman for his bulky, ugly plate, and Waxman says if heíd had a choice he wouldíve chosen a smaller plate, but heís most concerned about the flavor. Gail loved the earthiness of truffle among his pork chops and sausage, and Gael thinks his exuberant attitude turned into an exuberant plate.
The chefs depart and toast each other in the stew room while the judges reiterate all their previous opinions and say more about how sweet it was to see everybody being so sweet with each other. We regroup for final scores.
Waxman was dead last coming out of the Quickfire with 3.5, but he earned 4.5 from the diners, and 4s from all three critics, nicely beefing up his final score to 20 points.
Roy Yamaguchi earned a 3 from the diners, a disappointing 2.5 from Gael, 3 from Gail and another 2.5 from James bringing his composite score to only 15 points.
Michael Cimarusti came into this at full Quickfire power. He earned 3.5 from the culinary students and Gail, a stinging 2.5 from James, and 3 from Gael, leaving him with 17.5 stars total.
So now it all comes down to Art. The diners gave him the full 5 stars, which contrasts nicely with Jamesí 3 star hateration. Gail gives him a 4.5, and just when you think thereís no way that can be topped, here comes Gael Greene with a 5 star jump shot, giving Art a total of 22 stars and sending him into the CHAMPIONíS ROUND. You canít go wrong with fried chicken. So, Common Threads gets 10,000 clams, the other guysí orgs get publicity donations, and Art fills the final CHAMPION slot. Next week weíre off to the races as our 6 CHAMPIONS begin competing in a game thatís much more like Original Recipe. I herald this news with a cheer: Go Suzanne, go! Also Hubert.
Anybody else think there shouldíve been a wild card up in here somewhere? I wouldíve loved to see Rick Moonen and Cindy Pawlcyn get another shot at the big time. Cimarusti and his LiveStrong bracelet too.
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