Top Chef Masters Season 4 Episode 7: Culinary Knock-Out

I’m not happy.

It isn’t totally the show’s fault. I’d had a bad day already, and I was flipping back and forth between TCM and the DNC, so I was distracted to begin with. The continued bitchiness between Lorena and Patricia, plus the whole boxing trope (I hate boxing; I’m perfectly fine with people enjoying it, and I understand that there is more to it than just beating up on the other guy, but I hate it) made me miserable. By the time the final cut was announced, I thought there was no place to go but up. I was wrong.

Quickfire:

It’s the mise en place challenge, usually one of my favorites; I like checking out the chef’s basic skills. But even this couldn’t cheer me up. So I watched them separate eighteen eggs (which takes little skill but would slow down the inexperienced), portion five beef tenderloin filets between 7.5 and 8.5 oz. (without a scale), and grate cheese (which takes no skill and not that much time but it’s always fun to watch the knuckles get grated into the mix), and watched Patricia’s continued bitchiness towards Lorena, with less attention than usual. Want a refund?

Chris and Patricia are eliminated quickly for undersized steaks. Takashi and Kerry are the first to finish, so they move onto the next phase: cook something using the three ingredients in 15 minutes.

Kerry: “I have no idea what Takashi’s doing, but chances are he has five more components than I do.” He makes Beef Filet with Parmesan crust and wilted arugula. He worries that it’s overcooked, but the judges love it; Patricia thinks the peppery arugula punched everything up, Chris calls it “round in the mouth,” and Lorena thinks the meat is perfectly cooked. Winner! He gets $5000 for City Harvest (at least I assume he does; I don’t think Curtis specified the charity, and since this is the first time he’s won anything, I’m going by what I found when I blogged the first episode) and immunity.

Takashi: He goes for a simple execution that lets the ingredients shine. Kerry’s impressed that he made potatoes, but wonders if he got enough flavor into it. The judges love the presentation of his Sautéed Beef Tenderloin with egg and Provençal vegetables, but they all want a runnier yolk. Sorry, Takashi.

Elimination Challenge

Since Vegas is the Boxing Capital of the world, Curtis trots out Sugar Ray Leonard and everyone is thrilled. Or pretends to be thrilled. Sugar Ray, of course, sees a correlation between a great fighter and a great chef, because what else is he going to say, “Hey, I’m the only one who was willing to show up for what they’re paying, and sure, I like to eat, so why not.”

The challenge takes the form of a head-to-head boxing match, with Kerry at the Critic’s Table since he has immunity. For the first-round, it’ll be Chris vs. Takashi and Lorena vs. Patricia. Totally random pairing by knife draw, of course (wink-wink). They won’t know the ingredients until they walk into the ring; they’ll have 20 minutes to cook, so it’s really more of a Quickfire with an elimination on the line.

But all that will happen until the next day, so there’s still time to go out to lunch and get in one more plug for a local restaurant. I’m not sure what the restaurant is, but I’m betting Boccalone didn’t pay Chris to wear their “Tasty Salted Pig Parts” T-shirt. Don’t shatter my illusions if they did.

Back to the challenge: The critics are James Oseland, Krista Simmons, and Jane Goldman from chow.com. Chris is particularly excited to see Jane, a San Francisco food critic. They vote by secret ballot, allowing further opportunity for producer manipulation. Curtis plays the ring announcer, which further depresses my mood. Don’t quit your day job, Curtis. Does Curtis even have a day job? The secret ingredient (oh wait, wrong game show) is bacon. Maybe I’m wrong, but this entire segment felt very staged. It went beyond editing; to me it looked more like retakes. Then again, I was in a bad mood.

Round One:

Chris knows he can beat Takashi, but he’ll have to think it through. He’s psyched about the bacon. Kerry is impressed at how quickly he shucks and ear of corn. No wonder Kerry hasn’t done much airtime, if that’s the best he can do. He makes a Mexican breakfast of Cal-Mex bacon and eggs, making extra pieces of everything in case something burns or looks funny. Runs out of eggs, and Takashi gives him one of his. It takes a village to cook. Takashi jokes: “I changed my mind, can I have it back?” The critics love his egg; Sugar likes the guacamole. Chris wins, putting him safely in the final four; he’ll battle the other winner of Round one for the title.

Takashi boxes his way into the ring. He’s so cute. Not so happy about the bacon, though. But he is happy about a bottle of yuzu he finds; he even does a little happy dance. He’s going for a bacon steak. Oh no! Takashi, did you not see season six of Food Network Star? Tom’s bacon steak, proclaimed the worst dish ever made on FNS? Takashi’s Bacon, Mushrooms, and Figs with fennel salad loses; he’ll face the loser of the next round one pairing to see who will go home. But it was really nice that Chris let him use one of his spare pieces of bacon.

Lorena: “I was offended by how she spoke to me last time, so bring it on.… I think Patricia is very confident, and the only one who can put her in her place is me.” Stop being such a brat, and cook. And cook she does: Potato and Bacon Soup with corn and bacon sofrito, because “We’re not on a diet here.” Great message, Lorena. All that healthy food nonsense is only for when it doesn’t have to taste good. Otherwise, load up on the Fat and starch and sodium, and let your cardiologist fix it in the mix. Sugar loves it; Jane thinks the bacon taste got lost (how is it possible the taste of bacon to get lost?) but the creaminess was heartwarming. She wins. I throw a shoe across the room.

Patricia doesn’t like the way Lorena chops, as though she needs to emphasize her petty bitchery. She flashes on BLT’s, and doesn’t let the lack of lettuce get in her way, because there are leeks, and they start with L, too. So she proceeds with her Bacon, Leek, and Tomato Salad . Kerry is reminded of a BLT; Jane loves the balance of flavors; James thinks the leek reduction is “a little too piercingly sour.”Loser. She’ll face Takashi and round two to see who will go home.

Round Two:

Lorena vs. Chris for the win; Sugar is the ingredient as well as the guest judge.

Chris wears out his arm beating his Zabaione with summer fruit. Krista finds it smooth, but too salty; Sugar, forced to say something since he is the guest judge but having no idea why he’s got goo on his berries, gives him credit for not giving up on the whipping thing. But, like boxing, cooking is sometimes a rigged game, and Chris comes in second.

Lorena makes every dessert she knows how to make: Flourless Chocolate Cake, Caramelized Pineapple and Dulce de Leche Sauce. And there are walnuts somewhere in there. In the pineapple, I think. James wishes she had incorporated the cake and the pineapple. Jane loves the pineapple, and thinks it could’ve stood on its own. Taco Bell is a sponsor, so Lorena wins. I wasn’t paying enough attention to find out how much money went to Alliance for a Healthier Generation where they teach kids that carrots and broiled fish are just as yummy as potato-bacon-cheese soup and chocolate cake with pineapples, walnuts, and dulce de leche sauce. Don’t you just love irony.

Takashi vs. Patricia for the lose; they get chicken livers, a really loser ingredient.

Patricia has no problem with guts. She makes Warm Asparagus Salad with chicken liver and prosciutto. Sugar, still unable to discuss food, especially chicken livers which he’s probably never voluntarily eaten in his life (come on, who has?), tells her: “You’re so small and pack such a punch.” Yeah, just ask Lorena about that punch she packs. James thinks the liver is overwhelming because it’s undercooked, but Jane thinks it’s cooked perfectly. James has been a little out of step this season, complaining about things no one else has a problem with. Krista likes the clean and pure flavors and the al dente asparagus.

Takashi isn’t all that happy about chicken livers, but gives it a go with his Chicken Liver with Prosciutto and pickled red cabbage. James likes the doneness; Jane thinks the prosciutto is a nice treat, and it’s beautifully done. But – not beautifully enough. Takashi is out. He’s shocked. And this is a perfect end to a perfect day. Not.

At least the convention is going well. So far.

Next Week : Diner en blanc. That’s a real thing. Except we’ll get the TCM facsimile.

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