Top Chef Masters Season 4: Episode 5 – Holly Madison’s Pool Party

I feel like Bo Derek… The Grand Canyon was amazing, and I’ll never forget it, but sporting my little Speedo in the pool for all the world to see? Priceless.”
Art Smith

After a lifetime of being told “You get used to high heels (or thongs or makeup or sleeping in curlers)” and the gradual realization that with so many unpleasant yet unavoidable things in life one must get used to (canker sores, traffic jams, man’s inhumanity to man, woman’s inhumanity to woman), my clothes are not something I wish to struggle with, I have adopted a pro-choice platform: people have the right to wear whatever the hell they want, for whatever reason, be it a question of comfort, function, or aesthetic, without fear of harassment or ridicule. So I will just note that Art, proud of his weight loss, appeared in a Speedo in this episode. You can avert your eyes. Or you can stare. Staring is more fun.

Can we do food now?

Oh, wait – first we do Indigo Girls. Their 1989 album helped me through a rough time. “Prince of Darkness” still makes me tear up. I’m kind of sad to see them in Las Vegas. Hey, whatever pays the rent, but they’re pretty much the antithesis of the place, aren’t they? In his blog, Hugh Acheson speculates Art has picked the talent, seeing as both the B-52s and Indigo Girls are from Georgia. I’m speculating a bit myself: is this a consolation prize, or the designated winner’s prerogative? I’m announcing right now, if Art Smith wins this thing, Top Chef Masters will official join Project Runway as Joke TV.

Now, food.


Amy Ray is a vegetarian (milk is ok, just “nothing with a face”); Emily Saliers is not (though she does own a few Atlanta restaurants). This sets up an interesting challenge: in 45 minutes, create a “dynamic duo” – a classic and vegetarian version of the same dish. Great idea; more challenges like this, please.

Takashi decides on Agedashi Tofu and Eggplant with Pork, Ginger and Japanese Mushrooms for Emily, and the same agedashi with a Veggie Somen Noodle Roll for Amy. For the record, agedashi is a Japanese style of serving tofu, lightly floured and fried. Taking the “Padma’s Toe” principle into account, I might actually be able to eat tofu this way. Especially if Takashi cooked it for me: he comes up with the idea of adding grated pork to Amy’s dish and congratulates himself: “Not bad for Takashi.” When he was a kid, his family didn’t have a refrigerator, so they didn’t have a lot of meat. Takashi is turning into My Guy. Sorry, Chris. He’s just more my type of person. Emily loves the vegetarian version: so many things going on, and the eggplant is perfectly cooked; she also appreciates the inclusion of a protein. Amy thinks her side is great, too. Winner, Takashi! He gets $5,000 for American Red Cross Disaster Relief. And immunity.

Art knows everything about biscuit, so he makes Chicken Pot Pie with a Cheddar Biscuit Crust, plus a Mushroom and Wilted Arugula version with a Parmesan Savory Crust as the vegetarian option. He goofs and uses chicken broth on the veg side, and presumably fixes it. Amy loves the balance of veggies and the parmesan crust; Emily’s glad the potatoes aren’t mushy, and found it soul-warming. Top three finish.

Lorena loves the challenge, and bring her Arepa Dumpling Soup with Queso Fresco to the vegetarian side, with Chicken Salad Arepa with Avocado and Queso Fresco for the meateaters. For those who’ve forgotten Yvan from Food Network Star, arepas are Venezuelan corn cakes. Amy scrapes her plate, it’s so good. Emily applauds the creativity. Top three finish.

Chris thinks the trick is picking the right dish – duh. He makes Beef Bordelaise with Mashed Potatoes and Spinach that goes over well with Amy for its richness, then teams it up with a Portobello version, which Emily digs. Thing is… didn’t he just substitute a mushroom for the beef? Seems like the others, at least the winners, changed up more of the elements to match the different versions.

Kerry is very quiet; he makes Herb Flan with Olives that’s well received, and Chicken with Olives that turns out nice and moist.

Thierry does Poulet Basquaise (Basque chicken, a French-Spanish concoction of chix, ham, and peppers) that strikes Emily as wedding banquet food, and a Fricassee of Vegetable Basquaise that doesn’t go over either. Oopsie.

Patricia really steps in it. She’s making pho, and holds off on adding the broth until the last minute so the noodles won’t get mushy. Great idea, but she misses the last minute and is poised with her ladle over the bowl when Curtis calls time. So her Faux Pho Noodles with Rib Eye is really a bowl of uncooked pho noodles and a slice of raw beef, or, on the veg side, Mushroom. Since the chefs are in the Whine room, Curtis guesses that this is an incomplete dish. Obviously, it can’t be tasted, and just as obviously, it’s the worst dish. She’s horribly embarrassed; when they’re all together at judging, she explains, and offers them the broth to taste, and they love it.

Time for a commercial break (to a country-western beat):

You spit on your hand
to clean off his face.
Just to recap,
you put spit on his face.
He needs [brandname]
‘Cause growing up’s tough
He needs [brandname]
He’s been through enough.

That’s gonna stick with me a while. Almost as good as You Can’t Overlove Your Underwear. I don’t have the energy to see if Wojahn Brothers wrote it, too. If you know, tell me.

Back to our scheduled program.

Elimination Challenge:

Holly Madison shows up. Everyone’s supposed to know who she is. Seems she’s some former Playboy playmate who is starring in a PEEPSHOW. How nice for her. See, here’s the thing: there’s 40 pics of her and her friends – from the strip show, not from Top Chef Masters – on the Bravo TCM website. And not one of Indigo Girls. ‘Cause it’s a Holly Madison world. Even Art’s worked up: “I’m a gay man and she’s hot.” Hell, even Takashi’s carried away (though I suspect someone wrote copy for him to read).

She’s having a pool party and the chefs must create brunch canapés for 150 of her closest friends, all of whom are young and hot, because those are the only people she’s interested in. They’ll be hung over, so they’ll want junk food. Oh, and no garlic or onions.

They prep for a couple of hours, then go out for a nice companionable dinner; the chef brings them goodies. Thierry tells the story of the time he dropped a knife on his leg and watched the blood spurt. Did I mention this was over dinner? Takashi toasts, “I wish you much success” but Patricia thinks he said “I wish you much sex.” It is the Playboy challenge, after all. They talk about their first food jobs: Chris was a dishwasher at IHOP, Kerry a busboy at Bonanza, and Art, what else, KFC.

The critics are James Oselund, Francis Lam, and Krista Simmons.

Art uses garlic and onions against the specific request of the host (but at least he feels bad about it), but hey, what the hell, he feels bad about it. For the record, his recipe does include onion but not garlic. He claims when you cook them, you can’t really tell. I have to agree there. I don’t care for onions, but I use a small amount of chopped shallot in my mock chicken tagine because it doesn’t work otherwise. Why am I Art’s apologist all of a sudden? He wants to make something easy to eat for the poolside. And because he knows biscuits, it’s Mabel’s Angel Biscuit Turkey Burger with Garlic Chutney: “I don’t care if it’s on my tombstone that I make biscuits, at least I make something god save the queen, and a southern queen at that.” I think words just fall out of his mouth anytime there’s a microphone around. By the way, there’s no garlic listed in the ingredients for that garlic chutney; in fact, in the text, it turns into “tomato-ginger chutney” so who knows what he made. Curtis likes the strong flavors; Francis appreciates the celery seed, and James thinks it’s vibrant and clean. Someone mentions the garlic, and
Holly freaks. She likes the flavor, though. She’s probably more worried about her breath than taste. Honey, you have seven world-class chefs cooking for you. Brush up, get a bottle of mouthwash, and let them cook for you.

Lorena loves brunch; she makes it every weekend around her pool in Miami. For some reason, I hear everything she says as a lie. Maybe I’ve just seen too many of her Taco Bell commercials. She talks about her fat days. She doesn’t like to fry, but for this crowd it seems right. Why, because they’re so thin and healthy? Or just general decadence? Or maybe because it’ll go over well. She serves Bunuelos with Fresh Berry Compote, White Chocolate and Condensed Vanilla Sauce. Francis scares me by doing an “ooooooh” thing – is he trying to show how cool he is? I wish he’d stop it. James loves the warmth in the center of the fritter, it’s all custardy and nice, a small masterpiece. Holly loves that she can cut it in half since there’s a fork and she doesn’t have to mess up her lipstick. Or look like a pig stuffing something so big in her mouth. Honey… oh, never mind, you know where I was going with that one.

Kerry also goes the fritter route, since fried works with hangovers. He’s nervous because he’s made some silly mistakes, but hopes he has it together now. So he switches on a half-full blender without a lid and watches something slosh out. His Crab and Corn Fritter with Chilled Red Pepper Coulis isn’t perfect. Francis likes the crab taste, but Krista thinks it’s overdone and wishes it were more seasoned.

Patricia worries about bite-sized brunch, because an egg is a certain size and you can’t make it smaller, and there aren’t enough quail eggs in all of Las Vegas for this. I’m not sure why eggs are essential to her idea of brunch, but ok. She goes with Pulled Pork on Toast. She uses a pressure-cooker for the braise, then chops it rather than pulling it. But she’s happy with it. No one else is, however. Francis wonders about her choice of bread; it’s too toasted. James finds the sauce boring. Holly doesn’t like the bun on the bottom, but likes the pork. Curtis thinks the bun was toasted too far in advance; it tastes stale.

Chris takes an analytical approach: what do Playboy bunnies eat? Cigarettes and coffee for breakfast, a slice of cucumber for lunch, right? So he goes for Watermelon and Tuna “Bacon” with Golden Tomatoes and Pistachios to keep it light. The watermelon is “compressed” by cryovac sealing, and the strips of tuna are smoked to simulate bacon, if you’re wondering. Cool idea, but didn’t quite work. It’s too spicy for this crowd. Holly likes the way it looks, and appreciates the healthy aspect, but something peppery took over and ruined it. Krista likes the tuna bacon and finds it refreshing. Curtis thinks it’s the most complex and clever dish, but “as a chef you hate to take second fiddle to something like today, the sun and the bikinis.” I agree with the first part (which is scary), but the fiddle lost me. Are you saying they should be cooking boring food?

Thierry saunters over to the stove: “Let’s make some béchamel.” Oh, yes, let’s. For our Croque Madame with Béchamel Sauce and Tomato Vodka Shooter. Here’s the problem: he doesn’t make a Croque Madame, he makes a Croque Monsieur, because there’s really no way to put an egg on top of a canapé. It’s bizarre to me that he keeps calling it the wrong thing. It’s a word. That’s all, one word. He also finds the griddle a little erratic and keeps burning the bread, which ruins it no matter what it’s called. The béchamel is also much too thick.

Takashi makes Sheep’s Milk Yogurt Panna Cotta with Citrus Gelee, Fresh Berry Compote and Almonds. It’s gorgeous so Holly’s happy. It’s delicious, with the contrast between the sweet panna cotta and the tart fruit and crunchy almonds. A party-goer wanders over and someone asks how she likes the panna cotta. “Is that what it’s called?” she says. I’m not being fair, I know. I don’t really know the difference between the different types of custard, and there are plenty of perfectly nice, normal people who never heard of panna cotta. But somehow a young woman poolside in a bikini in Las Vegas just seems stupid when she asks a reasonable question. It’s probably the universe’s way of evening things out. Besides, Here’s Hugh: “If you have ever been to a Vegas pool party you are in for the intellectual equivalent of open-mike night at Hooters.”

Accessory entertainment:

There’s some eye candy with James flirting with the boys and trading pushups with them; The Hunk does 40, James does three. Without question the cutest shot of the day: Takashi is following a server wearing a bikini (yes, the servers are wearing bikinis) and suddenly stops and turns around with an embarrassed look on his face. Now, I can’t say he was staring at her ass and following her hypnotically until he realized what he was doing, but that’s how it seemed. Takashi’s a hound dog? Who knew?

Critic’s Table:

Curtis calls back Lorena, Art, Takashi, and Kerry. They’re obviously the favorites, but now they’ve got this thing going where he says “You had our…” and goes out for lunch, then comes back to surprise us with “favorite dishes.” You can stop that now, Curtis. They do it on TC too, but not so obviously.

Kerry gets props for his corn-crab fritter as a nice bite; I’m not sure why – Krista thought it was overdone and underseasoned – except maybe he’s depressed and needs to be in the top. I’m calling him for fourth place.
Takashi is told flat out his panna cotta wasn’t perfect. I don’t understand. Nobody seemed like they were complaining about anything, and there’s no explanation other than it was delicious and creamy.
I’m not sure what they say to Art. I’ve blocked it out. Or maybe, like those episodes of Charlie’s Angels where they were legally required to divide screen time and lines and jeopardies evenly, the meter just ran out on him.
Francis felt sexy and loved when he ate Lorena’s bunuelo. Which is sad news for the obesity epidemic she’s so worried about. Krista gives props for cooking them perfectly.

Lorena wins. She’s so happy she’s finally getting the recognition she’s dreamed of. Oh, me too. Ten grand to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, bringing her total to $15,000.

Patricia, Thierry, and Chris enter as the worst three.

Curtis quizzes Thierry about the difference between Mesdames and Monsieurs. James scolds him for the béchamel. Thierry knows all this – roux-thickened sauces congeal when not kept warm – but… there is no explanation. Brain fart? Death wish?
Was it Francis who told Patricia “The party was full of warm beautiful buns but your bun wasn’t one of them”? If so, he needs to stop. Now. Put your head down on your desk, Francis, and don’t lift it up until you’re ready to join the class.
Chris gets spanked for excess heat and overthinking.

Thierry is out. Call me surprised, I was sure it was Patricia. Both of them had two big misses today, but they hand the chef his hat and send him home. He gets a donation for Food Lifeline, which may or may not be in addition to the $6,000 he already won.

Next time: Continuing the theme, Dita Von Teese. At last, a stripper I’ve actually heard of.

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