The chefs were back on solid ground this week after the opening episode of Top Chef Masters’ sky diving adventure, and headed for the 626 Asian Night Market. The market is the biggest of its kind in the U.S. and something that’s quickly becoming a Los Angeles institution. Plus Kathie Lee Gifford was there. But first, of course, it was up to the sous chefs to help save their Masters from elimination in the Quickfire round. Caution: Spoilers ahead!
One of the favorite challenges on all the editions of Top Chef is the mis en place challenge, where the chefs are pitted against each other to prep a selection of ingredients. It’s always fun to watch, especially when it’s master chefs who’ve had sous chefs doing all the behind-the-scenes work for years and are forced to prove their knife skills. In tonight’s episode though, it was the sous chefs who were put to the test, having to prep squid, lamb, pomegranates, and celery root before the master chefs could start cooking for their challenge. I love a juicy pomegranate but the massacre scene on some of those cutting boards from the seeds did not look like fun for the clean up crew. The chefs were allowed to start as soon as their sous finished and passed the prep, which left a few of the master chefs with very little time to make their quickfire dishes.
With the bizarre combination (really, squid and pomegranate?), the chefs already had a weird selection of foods to work with and some, like Richard and Neal, were caught with only a fraction of the time left to complete their dishes. Others, like Sang, were singing their sous’ praises – “That’s why he’s my chef!” Sang said about his sous chef, Ted. Ted earned Sang immunity with the fastest prep work of the bunch.
Sang put that extra time to good use, creating a lamb sausage-stuffed squid with mint puree that looked almost impossible to have been put together in such a short time, even with those extra precious minutes. Sue won the challenge with her “technically beautiful” seared lamb and pistachio dish.
Some of the chefs who lost out on time from their slow sous made tartar lamb dishes — kind of a cop out, no? The judges didn’t buy it either and Richard, the last to finish, also became the first person sent home on the episode for his sub-par lamb tartar, which head judge Gail Simmons criticized for being a big slice with inconsistent knife work. The other tartar, Jenn’s dish, got a “well seasoned” nod from Gail, but it wasn’t enough.
With Richard’s knives packed, the chefs moved on to shop for their elimination challenge — bringing an Asian twist on an American classic to the 626 Night Market. The chefs were cooking for 200 guests, including Today show host Kathie Lee Gifford, who showed up as guest judge (shockingly) sans cocktail or Hoda. At the supermarket, Sang jumped up and down the aisles smelling bags of head-on shrimp, Franklin nearly had a meltdown over “losing” his shopping cart (“I feel a little like a dumbass”), and Odette flaunted her James Beard award to make up for being flustered.
The chefs were allowed to have their sous help for this challenge and no one seemed more excited than Sue, introducing her sous chef Nick as “my little show pony.” Is she a brony? Is Nick? BURNING QUESTIONS.
Down at the market, the chefs prepared some pretty tasty looking dishes.
Franklin’s Peking duck burger and eggplant fries (“That burger changed my life!”), Jenn’s pork meatball banh mi sandwich, and Bryan’s play on chicken and dumplings with fried chicken feet on top (“I have to kick it up a little bit. Jesus, Emeril’s going to sue me!”) started things off.
Odette’s play on spaghetti and meatballs — glass vermicelli noodles with fish balls (Gail called the broth “all shitake all the time”), was followed by Neal’s panko-crusted chicken nugget with chicken heart on the side (delivered all while kissing up to Saveur editor and judge James Oseland about his book). Gifford looked sufficiently freaked out about the chicken heart… until she saw Sang’s shrimp head in the next batch of dishes.
Sang’s fried shrimp head was a hit, as was Lynn’s ginger chili barbequed pulled pork on a scallion biscuit — that one Gifford could manage, although Oseland called the slaw “a little food court” (but do they have food courts in Lynn’s native Canada)? David’s barbequed chicken dumpling with watermelon looked fun and Sue’s lobster banh mi (which had a similar issue to Jenn’s pork one — terrible bread) got the best comment of the night from Oseland. And by best we mean this zinger: “I had an unpleasant food moment,” he said, referring to a piece of shell in the dish. “It was like a Lee press-on nail!”
Oseland was dismissive of the final dish of the night, Douglas’s play on cookies & cream, before even tasting it. But Douglas proved him wrong and dessert came out on top — his coconut and green cardamom with black sesame cookie soil got an “Oh my Gosh” out of Oseland but it was really the Rice Krispies treat that won over the judges. And what could be more American than that?
At Judges’ Table, it was guys versus girls this week. The three top chefs were Sang, Douglas, and Bryan and the three on the bottom were Sue, Odette, and Jenn.
Sang won the day with his fried shrimp head (take that, Kathie Lee!) but the judges were also wowed by Bryan’s pressure-cooked broth. Francis just had to know the secret. Jenn ultimately was sent home for her bready pork banh mi, but Gail requested that the lamb tartar from the quickfire get added to her Portland restaurant’s menu.
Next week: Soap stars eat up!
What did you think of tonight’s episode? Did the right chefs have to pack their knives and go?