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Top Chef: Masters Ep. 4 – Have You Ever Set A Coconut on Fire?


Hey, guess what? This episode was kind of cool! Not that there still aren’t flaws – once again the Quickfire winner proved impossible to beat, and Bert and Gael are still fairly useless, but wouldn’t you know it, I enjoyed myself!

Here are the reasons why I think this episode was the best Masters episode:
1 – Tom and Gail made more than just cameos
2 – The challenges were fun and interesting
3 – The chefs were mostly fun and interesting
4 – Neil Patrick Harris

It was almost as if producers of the show were listening to me when I bitched about how Tom, Gail and Padma were sorely missed. Now, I didn’t get Padma, and that is still a BIIIIG problem, but we got Tom and Gail. Now before you say – “Hey, Top Chef commentator … aren’t these shows shot and edited months before you start dipping into your bag of snark,” let me just say that if I want to believe I influenced them, then I did. George Constanza said it best, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

Anyway, the biggest flaw in this show became apparent again – the Quickfire winner for the third time in four episodes went on to win the berth in the Finals. Only Rick Bayless last week, who only lost the Quickfire by half a point, has been able to overcome a deficit to win. It really hurts the enjoyment of a competition when you know who is going to win halfway through. After a handily won Quickfire win this week I wrote in my notes – “Well, this one is over.”

As for Neil, he wasn’t overly involved in the action – in fact he was somewhat subdued – but he was actually more critical than most celebrity guests are on the show. That said it actually makes him more endearing – adding to his Doogie, Barney, Dr. Horrible, Harold and Kumar, awards hosting pile of endearing moments.

So here we go – The guest Master Chefs:

Mark Peel – from LA’s Campanile Restaurant. He is Wolfgang Puck-trained and was a lot of fun to watch. He played for Doctors Without Borders – a very worthy cause.

Douglas Rodriguez – from Philly’s Alma de Cuba. His food looks amazing; it is shame he mumbles way too much. He is playing for Ayuda for the Arts.

Anita Lo – from NYC’s Annisa Restaurant. She cooks on the line herself in her restaurant, which is kid of cool. She is playing for SHARE – a breast and ovarian cancer organization. As I write this on my mom’s birthday – on what would have been her 69th birthday if not for cancer – I must say that I was rooting for Anita to win.

John Besh – from New Orleans and the owner of many restaurants there. He has no Cajun accent; I found that interesting as he came across like a native. He is playing for the Make It Right Foundation, designed to help rebuild the city.

Quickfire – a classic one from the All-Star Special, won by Season 1’s Stephen – cook eggs with one hand tied behind your back. As we have learned over the course of this show, the ability to cook an egg or make soup is a rite of passage for chefs. The challenge is judged by Gail Simmons. YAY! She’s back! And a couple of local LA experts – Terry Reish from Chino Valley Ranchers and Monica May from the Nickel Diner.

Douglas – Open-Faced Corn Cake with Scrambled Eggs and Ham. It looks amazing and the judges seem to like it.

Mark – Fresh Duck Egg Pasta with Egg and Olive Oil Cream Sauce. It looks good, and Terry rightly wonders how Mark made noodles with one hand! However, he also points out that it was bland, and Mark admits to have forgotten the olive oil. Amazingly enough, Mark tells us his dad had one arm and he pulled from that in the challenge! Personally, I didn’t like his choice of dishes; I felt it was not in the spirit of making eggs to just include it in a pasta dish.

Anita – Soft-scrambled egg and shiitake mushrooms with truffle oil and oyster sauce. They all LOVE it. Admittedly, the presentation in the eggshell was pretty darn cool.

John – Um … well … nothing. He intended to make a slow-cooked egg. However, it never baked properly in the oven and was unable to serve. He managed to provide the judges with one partially cooked dish to share. Not good. And even then, Gail thought it tasted greasy.

I thought the chefs cooked so smoothly and without a sense of panic; it was really impressive to watch, even if a couple of them actually messed up. It’s kind of refreshing to see these successful experts struggle with the show’s challenges. It gives you newfound respect for the regular contestants who have to endure tons of these challenges with arguably much less skill and experience.

Grading – Anita 5 stars, Douglas 3, Mark 2.5, and John gets a half a star. Ouch.

Elimination – Dinner for Neil and his friends at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. I must say this place looks legen … wait for it … dary! Sorry, couldn’t resist. It looks like what a restaurant opened by the Addams Family, Elvira, David Copperfield and P.T. Barnum would look like. Or as Anita said much more succinctly, “it looks like Hogwarts.”

NotPadma has a mentalist come out to perform for the chefs, and no, not Simon Baker. His name is Max Mover and if you met him at a party you would look at him and say, oh, you’re a professional magician. He does a cool card trick and reveals each chef will be using a magical concept for their theme – Mystery, Surprise, Spectacle and Illusion.

They have half an hour at Whole Foods, two hours of prep time, and another hour before service. I’ll touch on some of this in the Quickfire Hits:


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