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Top Chef Masters — Episode 3
We’re now halfway through the first act of Top Chef Masters — where 24 of the country’s most celebrated chefs compete four at a time, working their way into a second competition between the six winners of these four-by-fours.
What challenges have befallen these “masters” so far? Making a meal with dorm-room safe cooking elements — far trickier than it sounds when you consider half of the chefs competing claimed they had never used a microwave. Using processed (!!!!!) ingredients rather than fresh (oh, the HORROR!). And, perhaps most challenging, in this week’s episode serving food most Americans find absolutely appalling, inedible and all-out gross.
Yes, I do realize that what seasoned chefs might find challenging (the microwave, canned ingredients) is a bit different than what most Americans would find to be a culinary nightmare (Arugula?! Endive!? Escarole?!!!). But, that aside, there is one blip on the culinary map that might freak out both culinary camps: offal. Which is helpfully defined by Mr. Webster as “the waste or by-product of a process.” And by “waste” the definition doesn’t mean apple cores and watermelon seeds. Nope, the “proteins” in this week’s challenge were a bit more than that: ears, tongue, heart and stomach.
This week’s group of celebrity chefs was actually probably the most interesting to date — it included the famous (Rick Bayless and Wilo Benet), the pioneer (female trailblazer Cindy Pawlcyn) and the random French dude who seemed like a brat badly in need of a haircut or else a role as the prince you’d like to see become offal for ogres in “Shrek XIII” (Ludo Lefebvre, above, looking sinister).
The color-schemed quickfire that started the show went off without much drama, except the kind manufactured by Ludo, who hemmed and hawed and gave Wylie Dufresne a run for his %&$#!@ money over beet juice left in the kitchen by some waiters who were smart enough not to bring it out the first time.
Next came the offal challenge, with each chef ending up with something looking utterly unappetizing, unless you’re Cindy, who is part of a club that goes around eating various organ meats and is aptly named “Girls eat Guts.” Dear Lord, I feel bad for any schlub stupid enough to crash that ladies’ night. Talk about your man-eaters...
Anyway, the chefs were charged with taking their assigned organ meat and making a “street food” out of it — meaning something you’d find from a vendor in New York or at a fair or theme park or something. Mmm, pig ear hot dog anyone?
No hot dogs were made with pig ears, rather, Ludo, who ended up with something I’ve only seen dogs chew on, decided to think outside the box with that particular protein. And really, not only was he outside the box, he was outside his realm of culinary experience. Confident from the fact that he had, on numerous occasions, cooked pig ear back in his native France, he decided to take a risk and make something even I can whip up: a quesadilla. Deciding that something you can’t really cook ahead of time would be the perfect street food, he decided to make the Mexican standby, even though he had no idea what cheese to use. But really, what does a little thing like queso in a quesadilla matter when you already know how to cook pig ear, for God’s sake?
In any case, he decided to ask Rick, who has won every award under the sun for his Mexican food, what cheese would work on his piggy quesadilla. Rick, as sweet and likable as Hubert Keller in the first episode, gamely helped out, only to have Ludo claim he copied his idea when Rick decided to do a taco with his cow tongue protein. Of course, it’s kind of ludicrous to claim Rick Bayless was a copycat making the kind of food for which he has accolades, but you know, what do I know, I don’t know the proper way to cook a pig ear.
Away from Hurricane Ludo — who clearly could not make a quesadilla in under two minutes if his life depended on it — Wilo Benet was having a much nicer time working for the first time with beef heart. His take on a traditional Puerto Rican street food — the tripleta — was so good and fast, one taste-tester said (probably trying to outdo judge James Oseland in the one-liner department): “I think I can feel it beating in my mouth.”
That wasn’t where the one-liners ended of course. There were several to go along with Rick’s tongue tacos, including “I think I can feel it beating in my mouth” (thanks, random guy who got on TV by being super weird) and “Melt in our mouth tender” (Oseland) and some other guy who talked about Chef Bayless “Slipping him the tongue.”
Amazingly, no such jokes happened over at Cindy’s “Yummy Tummy” tripe table. I mean, come on, you can’t play around with stomach but you can with heart? How hard is it to say “I can’t stomach this tripe” ... rather than going on and on about how it was underseasoned?
OK, so maybe the tripe was just so bad they couldn’t joke around with it that much. Or maybe the seasoning was so bad the judges lost their senses of humor. Or maybe everyone was stunned silent by host Kelly Choi’s ability to “eat” food for a third straight episode, yet seem ever more skeletal. By the time the season is done, she'll just be some collar bones and googley eyes under piles of Jessica Simpson brand hair extensions.
Whatever the reason, they just weren’t having what Cindy made and she was relegated to the bottom with Ludo and his &$^@)#! pig ear.
Left were the top names standing, Wilo and Rick, both of whom did a good job and had fun doing it, despite not being members of organ meat clubs or French-born chefs.
In the end, Rick smiled his way to the top of the pile, while Wilo was just happy that Top Chef was donating a little something to his charity of choice, a children’s hospital in Puerto Rico.
Hear that, Ludo? He was happy about losing because charity gained! He did not exit stage left in a potty-mouthed huff of jerkiness because of two tortillas, some cheese and dog treats. Just an observation, in case you ever get invited back to a reality show. But I have a feeling Top Chef, Iron Chef or anybody else won’t be calling anytime soon.