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July 22, 2009

Top Chef Masters Episode 6 - Postmortem

Awwww... Christmas for everybody except Michael Cimarusti, and the old battleship is the only one who can't fully embrace the spirit of giving. And bearing in mind that no fish for the seafood specialist is as nefarious as our secret shoppers got this evening, can you imagine the train wreck this challenge would be with the usual field of Top Chef contestants? *shudder*

And thusly, all of Hubert Keller's dashing silhouettes are filled and we move onto the finals, with Chicago representing a third of the finalists, which I'd feel better about if Art Smith didn't rub me the wrong way. The guy could be the sweetest fella in the world. But every time I see him on television, whether by virtue of his words or the edit, I find myself saying, you know, Art, I'd like to hear a lot less about who you've cooked for and a lot more about what you've cooked.

So let's review:

  • Hubert Keller
  • Suzanne Tracht
  • Rick Bayless
  • Anita Lo
  • Michael Chiarello
  • Art Smith

My money's on Keller or Lo. Lo beacuse she totally smoked the opening round. Keller because I can't say no to that radiant silver mane. Plus: ability to use dorm shower for good rather than evil. Dark horse? Tracht. Critics love them some understated brilliance.

Whaddya think?


I thought Art's name dropping was incredibly annoying. He does it over on the Bravo blog as well. He needs some self-confidence or something. It was there in the other three chefs, but Art seemed very young to me, both in how he saw himself and others. That did translate into a childlike enthusiasm about his food though, and that was fun to watch. I think I'd enjoy eating what he cooked. It was a bit like Carla from last season.

It was interesting though how everyone's strengths and weaknesses seemed so clear in this episode. Michael did say at Bravo there was no fish available at Whole Foods that he would have cooked with. The choice may have simply been one of necessity. The meat he got looked beautiful. Still, there was at least some decent mahi mahi.

Next week looks interesting, with the mise en place quickfire and the elimination challenge looks like a great idea. I can't wait to see it. As far as who lasts, etc, I pretty much agree with you. I'm looking forward to Suzanne's dishes.

I am glad I am not the only one who does not like Art Smith. Never liked him since his appearance as a guest judge.

I am just going to sit back and enjoy the competition. Don't care who wins, as long as it is not Art Smith.

Art's whole thing that he needed to have chicken because he didn't know how to butcher any other kinds of meat - on Top Chef Masters? what the hell?

He seems like a nice enough guy, but it seemed to me like the challenges were atypically dumb, and effectively brought all the other chefs down to his level. Smith is almost certainly going to be the first to go in the elimination rounds.

Agreed that Lo and Keller are the favorites - that Lo actually works the line regularly gives her a big leg up, unless those other chefs have realized they need a bit more practice.

Art Smith has always struck me as a person who needs more self-confidence, so he'd be less inclined to spend so much time making sure everyone knows how important he is (which he measures by the importance of the people who eat his food). That said, his food usually strikes me as something I'd be willing to eat.

And *that* said, I don't think he has a chance to win this at all, which is just fine with me.

I think Smith and Chiarello are the first ones out, and after that it's a real contest.

Is the next portion of the competition a single elimination round until we get down to 3?

Do not count out Rick Bayless. He has the chops too, and he works the line as well. If you sit at the bar in Frontera, you can see him right in there. Chiarello and Smith are totally out of their league in this company.

My money's on Keller or Bayless for the win.

Yes, single elimination till 3 then winner. One week break and Season 6 starts. I think.

I got a chance to talk with Tim Love briefly. He had some comments.

-His charity was given $6000 for competing in the challenge

-The entire show was filmed in 36 hours. Due to timing they filmed the QF in the middle of the night so he did not sleep during the entire taping.

-He is a little peeved that his was the only one that did not use a real kitchen for the main work.

-The freezer thing was a surprise. Says all the other coolers were fridge on both sides and he just assumed they all were.

-He was a judge for a show in Season 6.

I had rattlesnake/rabbit sausage for first and braised goat for second. Tuaca cake for dessert. Mrs. Had sunchoke (trendy isn't it) and other root soup and deer chops for second. Outstanding as always.

I am rooting for Bayless. He is a class act. I was pretty skeptical about the whole thing, but have become convinced that this is a brilliant translation of the original. I would like to know if any of the chefs would do it again.

Watching the promos, I could have sworn that Rick Moonen was Rick Bayless. While I liked Moonen, I'm kinda glad that he and Bayless aren't side by side, lol.

Another fun episode. I think Art Smith's food looks very delicious. I kinda counted him out because he's so known as "Oprah's chef" and I was really rooting for Waxman.

Amazing that Waxman nearly came back from all of that. Fun episode.

Champions? I'm gonna go with Hubert Keller, or Rick Bayless. I kind of like Michael Chiarello's chances (I like him and his show, even though his personality and style are normally not the type I like - so I feel weird liking him, lol).

Tracht and Lo were the silent assassins in their opening rounds. I wouldn't put it past them to win, either. The only one I can't see winning is Art Smith.

But then, I felt the same way during last night's episode.

Rooting for Bayless - but I will be happy if either Keller or Bayless win.

Turned out to be a great little series...

This is the first episode to have a tad bit of intrigue what with Ciramusti getting screwed by his former mentor. Seemed petty on Waxman's part, but then again, Ciramusti is a big boy and he should be able to cook a non-seafaring protein.

Let's all imagine what Spike Mendelsohn would have done if he had to fill up a box for another chef, shall we?

I'm hoping the knives will really come out for the finals. Art and Bayless can argue over who has cooked for the president the most times. I'm down with Lo for the winner since she's a bad ass combination of visionary and work-horse and that's a skill set that matches the competition well.

"Do not count out Rick Bayless. He has the chops too, and he works the line as well. If you sit at the bar in Frontera, you can see him right in there."

Absolutely true about him being hands-on, and don't misread my words to mean that I don't think he's every bit the others' equal. I just think that chefs who are very laser-focused in one specialty have trouble getting through multiple rounds of a competition like this. He could very well flex muscles he doesn't usually get to show off at Frontera/Topolobampo, and Mexico's a big place with more culinary diversity than most give it credit for, but I still think it's more likely he encounters something that's a little too far out of his comfort zone and the others get by him. Also, not to take anything away from him, bear in mind that he really couldn't have gotten two more perfect challenges in his opening round. It can only get harder for him.

Agree with absolutely everything you said, Dom. Could be the edit, but Art Smith gets on my last nerve. Fried chicken looked good, though, I have to admit.

Would love to see what curveballs the regular cheftestants would have packed up in this challenge.

Top 3? I'll go with what everone else has said - Keller/Lo/Bayliss.

Interesting thing - I was thinking about the show as I was driving to work today and could only come up with 5 of th efinalists - totally forgot Michael Chiarello!

I totally agree with the Art Smith assessment. I thought he was snobby when he was a judge and a name dropper as a contestant. As a Chicagoan, glad to see it is represented but too bad it's Art Smith as one of the finalists.
Keller or Lo for the win, definitely!

I think that we tend to think of Mexican as ethnic, and thus perhaps sort of narrow in focus. However, if you stop and think about Fleur de Lys, you realize it's an aggressively French restaurant, and I simply don't see French food as being less focused on its local ingredients and characteristic techniques than Mexican. Since French food is more central to our culinary heritage than Mexican, that makes us think of Mexican food in more stereotypical ways, while we tend to think of French food as, well, "food".

Bayless is not a taco king -- he's a master of the varied cuisines of Mexico, which includes a wide climatic variation and lots of cultural diversity. Oaxacan cuisine and Yucatan Mayan food are no more similar than the cuisines of Alsace and Provence.

I'm hoping for a Keller or Lo victory, but I by no means think that Bayless' culinary focus will limit him any more than any of the others wil be limited by theirs.


First off, just to clarify, I don't mean for a moment to slight Bayless, nor to suggest he's simply a "taco king". Like I said above, the diversity of Mexico's cuisine doesn't get nearly enough credit and I wholeheartedly agree with what you say to that effect. If Bayless takes it all, you won't hear me saying he doesn't deserve it. Heck, I'd love to see him win it.

But I guess I'm unconvinced that running a modern French restaurant doesn't better prepare you for a competition that requires a lot of flexibility and adaptation than running a (multi)regional Mexican restaurant. I'd feel differently if Keller were running a bistro or a brasserie and was simply churning out the classics. But the entire point of so much of today's modern French is to embrace the flavors and ingredients of the world, and to use that technique as a launching pad to do all kinds of things. Don't get me wrong, Bayless isn't limited to stuff he's learning from Mexican grandmas. He elevates his favored cuisine as well. But at least as they're practiced these days, one of them strikes me as inherently more flexible than the other. And though I know this is Masters and not the regular Top Chef, I think experience has shown us that the hardcore ethnic specialists, for the most part, have a lot more trouble outside of their comfort zones on these shows than those who are "classically" trained and usually more accustomed to integrating the flavors and techniques of other cuisines. And hey, this is all very broad generalization, here. As it specifically pertains to Bayless, Keller et. al., it's largely speculation. Just a hunch, is all.

And also, to preemptively clarify, my comments about French and Mexican above are by no means meant to be a value judgment. I detest the whole "French, the King of Cuisines" BS. Great chefs are forged in all sorts of ways, not just at Le Cordon Bleu. It's purely about this contrived, goofy little-to-do-with-the-real-world competition format we've come to love, and which style puts you in a better position to hit that curveball when it comes.

Gack -- I didn't mean that taco king comment as directed at you. More at the too-common perception of Mexican cuisine in this country as being monolithic and "ethnic". I'm sorry if I gave you the wrong impression!

I think that the reason classically trained French chefs might have an easier time with challenges is exactly because this country has adopted that cuisine as mainstream in many ways. (I am old enough to recall when a "French restaurant" was an exotic thing indeed. This is no longer the case.) So one thing that might mean is that the challenge designers are thinking in a similar mindset to the French-trained chefs.

As you point out, we tend to use French cuisine as the basis of most of what we consider to be "fine dining". Fusion cuisine generally fuses French with something else. However, if you look at Bayless' summer menus for this year, he's applying Mexican techniques to Alaskan salmon and Hawaiian ahi, among other non-Mexican ingredients.

Now, it may be that the challenges in the next round will be biased towards continental cuisine (which would be only fair since Bayless got the street food challenge in the prelims). But I guess to make my point, the chef who faltered the most badly in the street food challenge was the classically trained and very skilled Ludo.

Whether Bayless' background is a help or a burden will depend on the challenges, and that's going to be true for all of them.

I feel bad that I don't comment on this show more often. I love it, but I stumbled upon a leak of the winner and I'm afraid I'll give something away. I was surprised but not shocked at who it was. I guess I'll just have to save commentary for the finale.

a little late to comment but ... i felt sorry for waxman. his elimination challenge meal looked a bit of a mess. that runny gravy was sloppy. the flavours, though, must have been incredible to put him at 20 points when he started off at 3.5 (or was it 3?). i wasn't as impressed by what i saw of art smith's meal. so high a rating for fried chicken and a mango dessert (and a stewed chicken)? as one of the judges said, his meal was securely in his comfort zone. then again, i wonder how many times gael greene has given 5 stars for a fried chicken and mango tart? there comes a point, when you're watching this series (which i like as much as top chef) and top chef itself, when you feel unable to rate a plate without tasting it. on that score, i was disappointed jay reyner wasn't one of the judges this time out. his descriptions of the taste of the dishes is one of the best things about this series. he's the kind of English critic you want on board. i was kind of hoping he would take over from toby young for top chef 6. no such luck, apparently.

I love this show. Thanks for commenting on it, Dom and hearty congratulations on your newest addition.

Also very much appreciate the high level comments section on this site.

I was in mourning when the series started and there was no blogging (totally understandable). Thanks again to the host and the commentators here. I think Bravo has a winner on its hands.

Dom, Glad you had the same reaction that I did to the mystery box. An older chef denies a co-competitior, and a former underlying, his fish. If this were original top chef, god knows what would have happened. [Insert clip: "Excuse me, do you have any rotten chicken feces in the back?"]

As for the finals, I really, really want Smith to go away. His like a big, blubbering annoyance. I would kind of like to see Chiarello stick around for awhile (ducking). From his show, I got the impression that he was a blow-dried poser, but his food was pretty well received on TCM. And, his flavors are similar to ones I often use.

@Babyarm, Thanks for the quick review of Love's place. I don't have much reason to go to Texas, and from the 10 seconds of bio they gave on the show, it seemed like he was just a steak guy running a roadhouse or something. But, the dishes you describe (Rabbit, rattlesnake, goat) sound worth at effort to get there.

I was equally annoyed by Art Smith, but given the editing chicanery we've seen from the producers, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. It seems plausible that the editors were the ones celebrity-obsessed (perhaps because they thought it would boost ratings), and decided to cut those name-dropping comments in and left the less self-aggrandizing ones out. Ditto for Waxman - I can think of plenty of legitimate reasons he didn't select fish, which might have been left out on the whims of the cutters.

I've got to say that, without eating the food, I agreed with all of the winners. Don't know about Art's personality but who didn't want to lunge at that fried chicken leg and the smothered thigh? (and I'm so glad that he stuck with flavorful dark meat instead of dull old trendy chicken breast).

Three different friends, knowing that I'm a food fanatic and loving my home cooking, have bought me gift certificates to Roy's in my area. Let's just say that I wasn't shocked that he came in last.

The preview edit is horrific for Art. That is usually a mis-direction based on TC editing guidelines.

The previews also show the mis relay being a player tonight.

Bayless+Keller+Lo vs. Art+MC+ST

Elimination looks like it's 1 on 1 for who can make the other chef's signature dish better.

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