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Top Chef Masters — Episode 2

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Well, going into Episode 2 of Top Chef Masters, I was sure I knew exactly how things would turn out. As the show introduced the four chefs competing this week for a chance at $100,000 for charity, the deck looked stacked in favor of Wylie Dufresne.

Why?

He’s the “name” guy.

Last week, the “name” guy — Hubert Keller — took home the prize and after watching Wylie coolly make contestants nervous as a guest judge on the show, I thought for sure he had in the bag. I mean, he had Richard from the Chicago season shaking in his boots at the thought of being in the same room with WYLIE DUFRESNE, master of molecular gastronomy.

What is molecular gastronomy, you ask? It’s the “science of cookery” meaning that you are basically using unusual means — like liquid nitrogen and special water bath machines — to cook your food instead of the normal oven, stovetop, microwave. And Wylie is the king scientist of the food world.

Most of Wylie’s techniques seem right out of the lab, which is fitting for him because he looks like he should be in a white coat during the day and playing Dungeons & Dragons at night rather than working with food 24/7. If Millhouse from The Simpsons grew sideburns and weird floppy long hair before taking a beaker set into the kitchen, he would end up looking like Wylie's blue-haired twin.

So anyway, I thought for sure that the three other celebrity chefs — the jolly, competitive, tattooed Graham Elliot Bowles, the reserved Suzanne Tracht and the first Susan Powter knockoff I’d seen on a cooking show: Elizabeth Falkner — didn’t have a chance in heck against Wylie.

Turns out Wylie wasn’t exactly who I thought he was.

Instead of being this cerebral character I imagined to dance around the kitchen like Roger Federer on a tennis court, he was an ungraceful bundle of nerves with a knack for dropping the sort of words that keep the censors busy with the beep machine.

In the first challenge, the quickfire, he freaked out right away after finding out that three contestants from Season 2 are judging their take on making an “amuse bouche” (a one-bite teaser from a chef) out of vending machine fare. He was concerned they’ll get him back after his harsh on-show criticisms of their food (even though they wouldn't know who made what). Then, several potty-mouthed minutes later, his dish disappointed, and he went on another cuss-filled rant.

He ended up with the lowest total (out of five stars) of any of the contestants with three stars, which elicited yet another beep from the censors.

Leading the pack going into the elimination challenge is the mousy Suzanne, who some how made the former Top Chef contestants want to lick the bowl to lap up all the aioli she made from a can of Dr. Pepper.

The elimination challenge also took off the packaged foods theme of the very clever quickfire: The contestants were to make a meal using only things you might use if you were on a desert island after a plane crash. So, basically only things in cans and meats like boar.

Mmmm, boar. Not.

Oh, and they must cook their meal for the judges as well as for the writers and producers for the desert island TV show, “Lost.”

Again, Wylie pulled out his bag of molecular tricks, managing to cook eggs in a water bath to the consistency of “fudge." But he’s so flustered and nutso in the kitchen that he ends up giving judge Jay a plate without chicken on it. Whoops. Though at least he had the presence of mind not to cuss in front of the judges.

Also feeling frazzled was Elizabeth, she of the Susan Powter bleached buzz cut. Known for her tasty pastries, she was hoping to show that she could do more in the kitchen than bake cookies (though she did bake chocolate chip cookies for her competitors while in the stew room). Unfortunately for her and her charity of choice, The Edible Schoolyard, the results weren’t as heavenly as a freshly baked snickerdoodle (her yam/papaya pudding was likened several times to baby food).

Seeming much more pulled together was Graham, who was intensely set on beating Wylie. If he’d had more than one episode to compete in, I’m sure that obsession would have risen to the level of Hosea’s weird thing with Stefan last season. Obsession aside, Graham put together a stellar plate and beat both Wylie's "fudge" and Elizabeth’s baby food with his seared tuna trio.

Winning it all was Suzanne, who, though freaked out about not being able to use fresh ingredients, managed to create a plate that was aptly compared to a holiday meal, island style.

She ended up winning by two whole points, taking home $10,000 for her charity of choice, JFS/SOVA Community Food and Resource Program and an invitation to the final four weeks of the show for a chance at $100,000 for SOVA and the title of Top Chef Master.

As for Wylie, I’m kind of wondering if it was a bad choice for him to do the show. Not all publicity is good publicity, my friend, even if you are Wylie Dufresne.

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