home Archive TopChef:Masters2,Ep.2–PoorMekhiPhifer…


You know you need to contact your agent when …you appear on a charity version of a reality cooking show on basic cable. Such has befallen former ER and 8 Mile star Mekhi Phifer who has gone from 135 episodes on the venerable TV hospital drama, and from being a lyric in an Oscar-winning Eminem song, to having his birthday party catered on Top Chef: Masters.

Not that the food wasn’t good. And not like he didn’t have famous guests like Don Cheadle and Linda Cardellini show up. I would like my birthday parties to generate that kind of guest list; instead I may get famous blogger relatives. If I am lucky. There may be a Giants game.

But back to the show. This episode was clearly better than the first one this season, not in small part due to Bert’s decision not to wear a bright red cardigan. As a new owner of a 46-inch, LCD, HDTV viewing pit, I welcome not having to wear sunglasses during the broadcast. The chefs were a bit more interesting in this installment – the Quick fire involved grilled cheese sandwiches, Linda Cardellini was in it so I can have Freaks and Geeks flashbacks, and it had one heck of a comeback story.

Before getting into the nuts and bolts of the show, just some quick comments about the comeback. Carmen Gonzalez, famous Puerto Rico-native chef consultant, who was described as a “force of nature” at the start of the show, made what could have been the biggest blunder on Top Chef. She left her main course in the kitchen and had to brave LA traffic to go back to get it, thus severely cutting into her cooking time. So what happened … she won. That’s incredible and a testament to the quality of her cooking that she could pull that off with half the effort, half the ingredients and the skills to think on her feet. I was impressed and will likely be rooting for her in the Finals.

As for the other finalist, Marcus Samuelson? Big strike against him – he chose not to help Carmen. While she raced back to the kitchen, she asked if the others could do her a solid, in a competition for charity, and put her side dish in a pot for her. David Burke and Monica Pope did – and managed to burn her yucca anyway – while Marcus made it known he wasn’t going to help. While I understand what he is saying – it is a competition. True. But it isn’t a real competition because, as I have said before, there is nothing really at stake. So why be a hard ass? Plus, even during regular Top Chef, the Cheftestants regularly help their mates out in the kitchen.

What made it worse for me is when Marcus got word that he was also moving on, he whispered to Monica that she should have learned a lesson, to watch out for yourself. That sucked. You should not feed into the concept that helping others is a mistake. Poor Monica was reduced to tears later on recalling the story. I say, way to be a good sport, Monica. If this was a true competition where cutthroat rules are in place and your future career was at stake, I may have a different opinion. In fact, I would. But this is like mocking someone for not racing during the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. Get over yourself, Marcus. David even joked that he was playing for a charity, and that charity is not Carmen. And yet he helped anyway.


Marcus Samuelson – Red Rooster in New York. He is of Ethiopian descent, and raised by adoptive parents in Sweden. That old story. Playing for Tap, from UNICEF, a clean water initiative in Africa.

David Burke – David Burke Townhouse in New York. He is a big guy who seems to have taken this game in stride and went out to win via experimentation. Almost as if he was testing himself more than anything else.

Monica Pope – T’afia in Houston. She quit cooking school after three months and is basically self-taught. Wow.

Carmen Gonzalez[ – chef consultant – she is known for reinventing Puerto Rican cuisine for mainland consumption. Playing for the ASPCA.

Thierry Rautureau- – Rovers in Seattle – He is the guy in the hat from all the promos. He has blended French techniques with Northwestern ingredients. As a seafood lover who was amazed at how amazing the fish was in Seattle, that sounds awesome!

Quickfire – NotPadma shills whatever other show she is on and states the obvious – grilled cheese sandwiches are incredible. In fact, one day, my wife and I are going to open a grilled cheese sandwich shop. Nothing but grilled cheese. And there we will live out our days in fromage paradise. Anyway, NotPadma is the judge and prances around trying to be Padma. And failing.

Seriously, she is scarily skinny. Like Courtney from Survivor skinny. And Courtney has the excuse of being on an island for three weeks.

Carmen – Italian Raguette with Machego, garlic, cilantro and lime. NotPadma likes the herbs.

David – Triple Cream Cheese with Prosciutto, almonds, tomato and rosemary. Nada from the judge.

Marcus – Gruyere and Cheddar with Gazpacho and salad. NotPadma likes the sweet and tanginess.

Thierry – Taleggio and Goat cheese with olives, Harissa and pear, pine nut and arugula salad. The Man in the Hat has never made this before. Impressive.

Monica – Moroccan Inspired Feta and Farmer Cheese with dates on Raisin nut bread and herb salad.