Top Chef Masters Recap: Seven Minutes in Heaven

I didn’t even realize it that last week started with the final 8 chef’testants. Or maybe I did and I just didn’t care because it’s taken way too many episodes for me to remember who any of these people are. Well, besides Hugh-ibrow. But thankfully, the streamlined version of Top Chef Masters seems to know that people want to see challenges and food.

It’s got to be tough on the chefs since they never have any idea what is in store for them when they get to the kitchen. One day it could be jars of bugs and another it could be the penny farmer market. But this time, the table of ingredients was heavenly – caviar, truffles, foie gras, etc. So the chefs got to make anything they wanted using these ingredients with one rule: they only have 7 minutes to do it. Inspired by Tom Colicchio’s astounding performance last season when he prepared an excellent fish dish in 8 minutes and 37 seconds.

So everyone struggled to make elaborate dishes where every second really counted. And everyone managed to finish, then Curtis revealed they would be judging each other. So after everyone made the rounds, trying each others’ dishes (and being polite), they were given numbered cards to rate the dishes favorite (1) to least favorite (7). Oh, and everyone’s choice would be public!

Celina fell in last place with her scallop crudo with blood orange, kumquat and lemon agrumato that just didn’t come together in time. Hugh knew he was in trouble when he voted himself the worst dish for his tuna two ways: chopped with caviar and ventresca with celery that managed to be the nicest cat food.

Floyd’s prawn with Serrano chili, wasabi and blood orange juice wasn’t anything exciting, but everyone seemed to enjoy sucking on the head. Mary Sue for once proved she was capable of being neither on top or bottom with her perfectly seasoned and simple scallop with pink salt, lime and cilantro.

Alex’s prawn ceviche with kumquat, chili peppers, celery and blood orange vinaigrette seemed polarizing to some, but it ended up making the top three. Naomi’s continued to flourish under these conditions and made a dish that felt like it took 15 minutes to make with her seared foie gras, chanterelle mushrooms and fried lady apples. But Traci took the win with her tenderloin beef Carpaccio with truffle, maitake mushroom and balsamic netting her not only immunity and $5,000 for her charity, but also a choice.

With the Elimination Challenge being teamed based, Traci got to pick either two or three over chefs to make her team in what seemed like the worst gym class ever. She grabbed Hugh, Naomi and Mary Sue for her four-person while Celina, Floyd and Alex banded together. So the challenge was presented: make a family style dinner for Maroon 5 to give them a taste of home on the road. They wanted everything from Mexican to steak to corn to a Thanksgiving dinner.

But the real challenge was the eclectic menu, it was the fact that each team had to cook their meal on a tour bus – essentially an easy bake oven (how amazing would that be for a challenge of Top Chef Just Desserts by the way?). So suddenly Traci’s four-person team got cramped and I’m left wondering how a camera guy even fit in there too.

The Red Team of Three served up their dinner first. Floyd’s winter salad was disappointing and his soy and rice wine vinegar marinated steak with Asian slaw was okay but not memorable. Celina’s silky corn soup tasted like it was fresh off the farm, but her spanakopita with cous cous salad tasted like it came from a microwave.

Alex stretched himself by making four dishes in all. His breaded turkey cutlets weren’t great but had excellent gravy. His penne with Broccolini, tomato and garlic was little more than overcooked “cafeteria food.” The enchilada with onion and seitan was unremarkable and kind of bland, until you realized it was vegan. His final coconut-almond tapioca with grapes was pushing the boundaries of being al dente.

Once the first meal was cleared away, it got weird because the other Team Black made the exact same dinner. Well, almost the exact same thing. Mary Sue kicked off with some chips with salsa diabla and guacamole while the other chefs served fresh margaritas. She also served up some tostadas with black beans, Mexican chopped salad and crispy friend avocado wedge. The appearance wasn’t great, but the fried avocado was excellent.

Hugh also made a corn soup but with vanilla, pecans and Brussels sprouts that ended up tasted like a cheap candle. But his fennel-parmesan-spinach spanakopita with dill salad and lemon vinaigrette hit it off perfectly.

Traci’s Japanese style steak with miso braised daikon and a cucumber and pea shoot salad was excellent because it was both Japanese and steak. Naomi’s breaded turkey with chanterelle smashed potatoes and sour cherry-cranberry chutney wasn’t the most exciting and the smashed potatoes seemed to be polarizing. Her apple crisp with coconut, almond and oats though was flaccid and uninspiring.

With the meal done, the chefs return to the tour buses and waited their fate. Team Black was summoned to the elated news that their meal was the better of the two. The highest praise given was that it didn’t taste like it was made on a tour bus. I guess that’s good. Traci was awarded a double victory bring her total bounty so far to $25,000 for charity.

With the victors known, Team Red reluctantly went to the critics’ table. Between the uneven workload and having two dishes that seemed phoned in, the critics were unimpressed with the team as a whole. In a surprise verdict, Alex was sent packing. While he may have been a great team player, all the food he put out was mediocre this time around.

Next week, the lovely and luscious Gail Simmons stays as a guest critic while the chef’testants have to take part in the meanest taste test where taste is the only sense. Then Mary Sue lops off part of her finger from the looks of it.