It’s the finals of “Top Chef Masters”! Someone ring the bell, it’s time for the death match to begin! Okay, it’s not a death match, but everyone’s so polite and friendly on this show that we need to spice things up a little. In one corner, we have Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill of Los Angeles and Las Vegas. She’s playing for Share Our Strength. In the other corner, we have Traci des Jardins of Jardiniere in San Francisco. She’s playing for La Cucina. And… in a third corner, I guess it’s more a triangle-shaped ring, Floyd Cardoz of North End Grill in New York City. He’s playing for the Young Scientist Cancer Research Fund, although they kind of leave it to you to remember that.
, James Oseland, Gael Greene and Ruth Riechl are waiting for the finalists. Their elimination challenge is to create a three course meal of a lifetime. The first course should be inspired by their first food memory. The second course should be the dish that inspired them to become a chef. The third course. For the third, they have to do a knife pull. Each critic is assigned to one of the chefs: James tells Floyd he wants an Indonesian dish called rendang. Ruth tells Mary Sue she wants lemon soufflé. Gael wants fried duck. Fried duck? That does not sound good to me, but she had it on her honeymoon in 1961, so maybe they fried ducks back then.
Each chef gets one of their trusted employees to help them. Oh, and six hours to shop and prep. They don’t have to just shop at Whole Foods. But in L.A. traffic, you can spend six hours just getting across town on a rainy day, and it is raining. Mary Sue knows this and just goes to Whole Foods. The other chefs are too optimistic and jet around town. Big mistake!
Floyd has screwed the pooch, as he’s stuck in traffic and his meat needs at least four hours to prep. And he has three hours left when he sets foot in the kitchen and obviously he still needs to prep. And the fish guy messed up the filleting of his fish. Floyd decides he’s going to finish his meat the next day, which, as he says, is a dangerous thing to do. Is it me or are we setting Floyd up for a come from behind win?
The next day the chefs go to the Hollywood Hills but don’t know why they’re going there. They can’t take another challenge or a new place to cook! And they don’t have one. Curtis is going to cook for them. Well, that’s a nice change of pace, as surprises are almost never fun on “Top Chef.”
It’s time for the final dinner! Hey, there’s Tom Colicchio of “Top Chef”! And more names crowd around the table. Jody Adams, chef/owner of Rialto. Jonathan Waxman, chef/owner of Barbuto. Susan Feniger, chef/owner of Border Grill. Mary Sue’s got one guaranteed vote! Rick Moonen, chef/owner RM Seafood. Susur Lee, chef/owner, Lee. Danyelle Freeman and Alan Sytsma also show up.
The chefs sweat and panic and finally get their food ready to go.
First Course: their first taste memories
Floyd: Wild mushroom upma polenta with kokum & coconut milk
Mary Sue: Asian steak tartare
Traci: Shrimp creole
They don’t think Traci’s food has enough heat. Gael thinks Floyd’s food is too simple. Tom agrees. Tom thinks Mary Sue’s tartare doesn’t go far enough. So, we’re not starting out strong here.
Second Course: The dishes that inspired them to become chefs
Floyd: rice flaked snapper & tomato-fennel broth with carrots
The dish is inspired by eating lunch at a fancy restaurant in Bombay with his dad.
Mary Sue: shrimp & chervil mousse stuffed rigatoni, crap & shrimp salpicon
This was inspired by her mentor Greg Duda
Traci: roasted quail salad with sweetbreads, mushrooms & pancetta
This was inspired by eating French food in California during the ‘70s.
Danyelle and Curtis love Floyd’s dish. Gael thinks it’s overcooked. A few people think the rice is overcooked. James thinks Mary Sue’s dish is true to the ‘60s aesthetic. Danyelle thinks it’s too heavy. Gael thinks Traci’s sweetbreads are almost right. Susan likes it because it’s down to earth. Hmm, no clear winner here.
Oops! Backstage, Mary Sue overwhips her egg whites and she may not have enough time to get her soufflés cooked. Aack! Everyone helps her plate at the last minute.
Third Course: the critics’ requests
Floyd: Rendang two ways: oxtail & short ribs, tapiaco pilaf with diced potato & peanuts
Mary Sue: Lemon soufflé with rhubarb compote, lemon hazelnut meringue & ice cream
Traci: duo of duck: crisp duck béarnaise & braised duck leg salad
Curtis likes how Traci’s is cooked. Gael thinks the béarnaise takes her back, but the other one is dry. James loves his rendang. Tom loves Mary Sue’s dessert. Alan thinks it’s exactly what Ruth is. Ruth thinks it would have given her an even greater love affair with lemon had she had it way back when. Mary Sue is looking good for a win, but all the gushing is for a dessert – judges don’t always give a lot of credit for dessert.
The chefs are exhausted. Mary Sue thinks it will be difficult for the judges to pick a winner. Oh, Mary Sue, don’t worry about the judges. They’ll figure something out.
It’s time for judges table. Ruth tells Mary Sue the texture of her beef was excellent. James thought her second dish was an odd pairing. Ruth tells her she loved the lemon meringue. Ruth thought Floyd took a chance with his first dish. James thought the snapper crust was too hard, but he loved the rendang. He tasted the soul. Gael thinks Traci’s creole didn’t taste long cooked. Curtis thought her quail was wonderful. James didn’t like her food memory, though.
It’s between Mary Sue and Floyd, I think. I suspect James will fight for Floyd. I suppose he’ll feel better if he finally clobbers Mary Sue when it counts.
Backstage, Traci doesn’t know who will win. Floyd thinks Mary Sue will win. Mary Sue isn’t so sure. Everyone’s so nice and so encouraging! Really, I don’t think anyone cares so much about winning. It falls into the category of “that would be nice.” But hey, it’s for charity and pride and that’s about it.
The judges tell the chefs how great they are. Come on, who’s the winner???
The winner is… Floyd. Really? He’s won, what, one challenge all season then takes the whole thing? Although it does seem that his rendang was a big hit with James and that Traci and Mary Sue both blew it with their food combinations. I guess that rendang really was kickass or James just bullied everyone else into picking Floyd by going on and on about tasting his soul or whatever the hell was in there with the oxtail.
Although Traci admits to being a little disappointed, it’s all for charity and you can’t fault the Young Scientist Cancer Research Fund, which will receive Floyd’s $110,000. Floyd gets his special Top Chef Master coat and wonders at how he came to the U.S. 22 years ago with $100 in his pocket and now he’s the king of a reality TV show food competition. It’s a dream come true! He thinks his family will be proud, as they’ve sacrificed time with him so he could pursue his dream. And this doesn’t change anything about that, but I’m sure they’ll be very proud. All I can think is one of these days I’ve got to try me some rendang.
Do you think Floyd deserved to win? Which dish would you have liked to have eaten? And what challenge would you cook up for the next “Top Chef Masters” competitors?