Top Chef Masters Season 4, Episode 3: What Would Brian Boitano Eat?

c. 2009

c. 2009

First, a word about Brian Boitano: if you haven’t seen the 12 episodes of “What Would Brian Boitano Make?” – you should. I didn’t expect much when this aired back in 2009; I was never a huge fan of him as a skater beyond the obvious (which is: he’s damn good). I always thought he took himself way too seriously and was kind of stodgy when he moved over to the pro side. His show blasted that out of the water; he’s hilarious at points (especially when making fun of Food Network types; why it took them twelve episodes to catch on I’ll never know), campy at others. And he can cook; he even surprises Patricia Yeo by speaking thoughtfully about the food he tastes as a Quickfire judge. His food looked a bit dubious at times, I’ll admit, but I didn’t watch it for the cooking tips. You can find clips here if you want to sit through the ads, or you can watch the less instructive but more entertaining blooper reel. Come on, the guy cooked a suckling pig in his oven. He deserves better than The Food Network.

Which brings us to the Quickfire and the totally unimaginative and boring use of talent. The most Curtis can think of is to ask how it feels to win a gold medal. Really, really good, in case you were wondering. I understand they’re going for an Olympics tie-in, but seriously, folks, Bravo is an NBC network, you could do a lot better and save Brian for something where he can actually shine. Oh, wait…is that the problem? Wouldn’t want a guest to outshine the host, now would we?

The clever production staff has created an ice table (get it? Ice skater? Ice blocks?) stocked with fency-shmency seafood: sea urchin roe, hamachi, yellowtail, oysters, live baby abalone, and such. The challenge is to make a dish, in 20 minutes… they know it’s coming… without heat. Am I wrong, or is that about a sixteenth of a twist given the proteins are mostly served raw anyway?

Everyone looks at Takashi. “Whaaaaaat?” he says. Who, me? Sushi master? You mean I’m supposed to ace this? With my eyes closed? Still, he’s worried about time; speed isn’t his thing. Meanwhile, he has another advantage, unknown to the rest of the cast: his daughter used to skate, so he knew Brian a long time ago. Except Brian doesn’t know who cooked what when he tastes; they all off to the Whinery and the food is presented incognito.

Still, it’s no surprise when Takashi‘s Aji Sashimi with Sea Urchin, Heirloom Tomatoes and Daikon Apple Salad does indeed “win the gold medal.” And it seems Brian thought this cheesy medal crap up himself, surprising Curtis, who think unless his cue cards tell him to. Brian thinks the plate looks a little messy, but he loves the crunch, the flavors are profound, and he likes discovering a fish he’s never tried before. Takashi wins $5,000 (I think… I wasn’t paying attention to the amount) for American Red Cross Disaster Relief.

Chris comes in second with his Mackerel Fra Diavolo; he brushes the plate with charcoal to give the sense of the dish having been cooked, which is pretty clever, and apparently effective. Brian notices a lot of different flavors, and persistent heat; a nice starter, and a great combination into a single bite.

And Team Maine finally gets a mention: Mark‘s Mediterranean lobster with heirloom tomato salad (recipe not listed) might turn up at Brian’s next dinner party. He gives a nice shout-out to Equality Maine, though there’s no donation for a mention.

Clark gets credit for a perfect combo of acid and sweet, plus crunch, and a beautiful dish, with his Oysters with Watermelon and Lemon Relish. Murky middle, nonetheless. In my mind, he came in fourth.

Seems Patricia‘s Scallop Crudo with Uni and Cilantro Sauce or the Spicy Yellowtail Tiraditos with Avocado and Jalapenos from Lorena both end up on the cutting room floor. Sorry, ladies.

Art‘s eager to prove he can cook. Um, Art? No cooking? See? He makes, Yellow Tomato and Avocado Soup with Chopped Clam and Prawn Salad. Brian thinks it’s got a nice crunch but Curtis points out there’s no presentation at all; “Shut up, Curtis” Art growls from the Whinery. Back at ya, Art. He’s in the obscure middle, the last place I suspect Art ever ever wants to be. I’m putting him next to ties-for-last.

Kerry‘s Hamachi with Lemon Eucalyptus Oil ties for last; Brian didn’t get much of the lemon-eucalyptus action, and it needed brightness. I’ve been watching these things so long, I think I actually know what that means now.

Thierry rounds out the bottom with his Geoduck, Cucumber and Seaweed with Sea Urchin Dressing. Seems the seaweed and cucumber have the same texture (I guess that’s a bad thing?) and Curtis points out the odd pairing of caviar and peppers. Brian doesn’t like the salty sea aftertaste. Insert your own joke here.

Exit Brian Boitano.

Next, a word about Teppanyaki: you won’t see any on this show tonight. You want teppanyaki, go to Youtube (you can probably find something without the obnoxious tourist, but I got tired of looking; searching for “hibachi” rather than “teppanyaki” seems to be more successful if less accurate). Food Network had a fair Teppanyaki competition at one point. It’s a combination of juggling, knife skills, and patter. The patter is just for tourists.

The chefs will cook a Teppanyaki dinner in groups of three (random knife draw). Each group has thirty minutes, meaning ten minutes each to cook on the teppanyaki (which Lorena keeps calling a plancha, which is a lot closer than a hibachi). They’ll be serving the usual critics, Ruth Reichl and James Oselund, plus Francis Lam, and as guests, a bunch of former TCM contestants: Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken (two of my favorite people, I think), Rick Moonen, and Jonathan Waxman. Plus Pretty Boy, of course.

Art, Chris, Theirry are the winning team: Funny how these random team things always end up with Art and Chris together. While they’re shopping, Chris remembers an ingredient and asks Thierry to keep track of time while he’s running to get it so they can do a toss if needed. However, the Chef in the Hat has a different idea: he gets a massage. Right there in the middle of Whole Foods. Yes, a masseuse has a station set up (the chair and the round padded ring you put your face in) and just gives him a little shoulder work. Chris is perplexed. Hey, some people are Type A, and some are Type M.

Their team strategy is to not cook Japanese, to do what they do, just use the teppanyaki as a griddle. Art leads off the team. He complains Chris is rushing him. Come on, Chris, all you want to do is cook, Art has grandstanding to do. He starts talking about how they were all raised by wonderful women, and in the South it’s dressing not vinaigrette, and that kind of thing. He makes grit cakes on the griddle, but they fall apart, so he just scrapes them up and crumbles them into a little pile of gritcake on the plates. As a finale, he uses a little Jack Daniels to flambe something. The second he finishes, Chris is on top of the teppanyaki, yelling “Fire in the hole” and “clear out, everybody off” – he’s scary, I’ll admit, yelling out what he’s doing like a drill sergeant ordering himself to do pushups. I wouldn’t want to be a guest at that table. Art’s taken the mandoline, and Chris is not happy; one of the problems with teppanyaki is that your customers are right in front of you, so the kind of screaming that goes on in the kitchen when someone screws up is really not nice. I think he went way over the top on this, but that’s what happens. You want drama, you get drama. Even Thierry’s telling him to calm down. Rick Moonen finds it all exciting.

Art is the winning chef on the winning team for his Griddled Shrimp, Cheese Grits Cakes and Swamp Greens Salad. He marinated the shrimp in Old Bay, keeping faithful to the “do what you do, not Japanese food” theme. Francis thinks his shrimp is overly salty, but Susan thinks it’s the best dish of the day, and she loved the story; Jonathan calls it wonderful. Curtis feels sorry for him; he felt harassed. Susan points out he kept at it until the food was ready, he didn’t break under the pressure. Common Threads gets $10,000. It’s all for the children, you see.

Chris: Grandma Easton’s Rhode Island Clam Chowder. An odd thing to make on a teppanyaki, for sure; for the record, RI chowder what Manhattan chowder used to be before someone decided it belonged in New York. Ruth loved his ambition and flavors, and how he worked the teppan like an actor on a stage; it’s what that kind of performance cooking is all about. Rick thought it was a little thin; I’m not sure if he means the performance or the chowder. Curtis felt he was in a Michelin 4-star kitchen listening to Chris order people around, but somehow it came together. I think they let him off easy. I’m a fan of Chris, and I understand the need to keep Art moving, but I think he was over the top here.

Thierry: he talks about his mom making crepes in their small French town, so he makes Pear Crepe Flambe with Almond Cream and Pear Butter. I want one, just typing that. His crepes keep burning. Rick finds they have a waffle cone taste (I think he means that in a bad way, but it sounds fine to me), but Jonathan loves his style and how he goes for it at his own speed no matter what happens.

Takashi, Clark, Patricia: They all have lots of Asian food experience, so they go for it. They appreciate that teppanyaki takes more than a half hour training, so they just stick with flattop cooking. Jonathan likes the collaborative effort. James wishes there were more food up in the air; hmm, maybe he’d like a pancake upside the head? I used to like James Oselund, but for the past couple of seasons he’s come off as a shrivelled up old fussbudget. To create something of a “show,” Patricia does a little dance holding her yellow apron up; Jonathan thinks it’s more of a striptease, which, I don’t know, I guess Jonathan hasn’t been to a strip club lately. Takashi is worried, but they’re the middle team, so no one wins, but everybody’s safe.

Takashi: Sauteed Calamari with Savory Okonomiyaki Pancakes. And what, you may ask, is okonomiyaki? I never heard of it; apparently it’s considered “junk food” though I suppose that depends on the application. Anything that has its own flour (wheat flour plus yam or potato starch will do in a pinch) can’t really be that downmarket, can it? Alas, he got the wrong flour. Or didn’t add the starch. His pancakes are grainy. Patricia helps him on the teppan, saying, “I’m not really here.”

Clark: Lobster Tails with Miso and Seared Orange Butter.

Patricia: Beef Kalbi Lettuce Wrap with Gochujang Sauce. Rick loves the wraps; Mary Sue wants more marinade.

Kerry, Lorena, Mark: They have issues with seasoning. A couple of times the critics/judges ask why they didn’t taste the food. Lorena thinks it’s rude to taste in front of diners. I don’t think anyone from any team tasted anything, but they’re the only ones who seemed to lack seasoning. It’d be tricky to taste – you’d have to use new utensils for each try – but I wouldn’t object. It’s better than unsalted food.

Kerry: Shrimp with Eggplant Herb Salad and Gochujang Sauce. He does some tossing to keep up the drama. Yeah. Deal with it. They love the tarragon but it’s a little undersalted. Ruth thinks the shrimp is overcooked.

Lorena: Chicken Fried Rice with Spicy Chili Oil, Cilantro and Orange Guava Sauce. Susan thinks it’d be her favorite if only it were seasoned. Jonathan thinks she cooked it too quickly. I’m not sure if that’s a taste or texture issue.

Mark is out by way of Scallops with Bok Choy
Pickled Mushrooms and Soy-Ginger Dipping Sauce. This seems much too simple, without the punch simplicity requires, and the seasoning isn’t there. Equality Maine gets an unspecified donation. There goes half of Team Maine. Clark, it’s all up to you now. At least I’ll know which one he is from now on. As long as Thierry doesn’t take of his hat and glasses, I think I can recognize everyone by this point.

In a cute interstitial, Kerry talks about the “speedball” – no, not that kind of speedball, or that one, either. This one is rated PG: a shot of espresso and a Pabst Blue Ribbon. PG for Pretty Gross?

The poll-of-the-day asks about the Chris-Art conflict; 72% are on Art’s side, which is telling, since it really should be 100% but at least 28% just can’t bring themselves to align with him, no matter how obnoxious Chris was.

See? I can spin polls, too. I’ve been following politics too closely for too long.

Next week: it looks like the Grand Canyon. In helicopters. I don’t suppose anyone throws Art off the cliff?

One response to “Top Chef Masters Season 4, Episode 3: What Would Brian Boitano Eat?

  1. Pingback: Next Iron Chef: Redemption (2012) – Episode 6, Fusion | A Just Recompense

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