Top Chef Las Vegas….errr Napa Valley

Last night on Bravo’s “Top Chef: Las Vegas,” the scene shifted to the Napa Valley in California, and some of the cast had physically changed. That’s because there was a decided time lag between when the final four left Las Vegas to when they re-convened in Napa…we’re not sure how much time, but enough for host Padma Lakshmi to have her pregnant belly start showing. Also, Kevin’s hair was different (and there was less of it)and Jen looked like she had gotten some sleep. The brothers Voltaggio pretty much looked and acted exactly the same.

So Padma announced that for part one of the finale, there would be a quick fire challenge to start, and she introduced guest judge and Top Chef Master Michael Chiarello, a Napa Valley restauranteur himself. For the challenge, they would have to cook Padma and Michael a dish in 30 minutes using Napa grapes and whatever else was in a pantry on the Napa Valley train….and of course, they would all have to share the train’s kitchen. This was a high stakes challenge, too…the winner would win a third generation 2010 Toyota Prius. Wow, these sponsors are really ponying up!

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Top Chef Masters: a master is crowned

The one thing that struck me this season on the inaugural “Top Chef Masters” is how truly amazing these chefs are at what they do…and how they can create masterpieces on a plate within minutes, using any ingredients in front of them. Well, the finale last night was no exception, with Hubert Keller, Michael Chiarello and Rick Bayless squaring off for the grand prize of $100K for charity and the title of Top Chef Master.

They began by having host Kelly Choi take them to the Getty Villa, where they would be spending the day and night, having time to think about their menu, and then creating four main dishes each to serve to a panel of judges. The judges for the finale would be the three who have been here since the start–food critics Jay Rayner, Gael Greene and James Oseland; “Top Chef” regulars Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons and Padma Lakshmi; and each of the winners of the first five seasons of “Top Chef.” The task? A “meal of a lifetime”–dishes that represented various parts of each chefs’ life–their earliest food memory, when they decided to become a chef, their first restaurant opening, and today.

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Top Chef Masters: zero hands

nullLast night’s “Top Chef Masters” was the prelude to next week’s season finale, and it was one of the most intense and difficult challenges, if not the most difficult, yet. The final four first did their quickfire challenge, where they were blindfolded and had to guess what was being put in their mouths–10 items in all, and among them were peanut butter, hoisin sauce, hummus, pappadum, ketchup, smoked paprika and mango. After looking afraid and not feeling like he did well, Michael Chiarello wound up winning with 7 out of 10 correct. Rick Bayless and Anita Lo had 6 correct and Hubert Keller had 5. So Michael began with 5 stars, Rick and Anita 4 each and Hubert 3.5.

Then came the elimination challenge, and each chef would have to cook a buffet lunch for 200 Hollywood guests, but the catch was that they couldn’t touch the food. Instead, they had to interview and “hire” a staff from among former “Top Chef” contestants. Among them were Fabio and Jamie from last season. They also each had a $2000 budget to work with.

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Top Chef Masters: would you like fries with those vegetables?


Yesterday’s “Top Chef Masters” on Bravo brought us from five contestants down to the final four, and the challenges, especially the elimination challenge, were particularly interesting. First, after unveiling mounds of fast food burgers and fries with the chefs wondering if they would have to create something using those pre-made items, host Kelly Choi told them that instead they were going to make their own gourmet burgers with side dishes, and serve to judges that included “Top Chef” Season 4 contestant Spike Mendelsohn and filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, who created the film “Supersize Me.” But I’m wondering..what did they do with all of that fast food?

Rick Bayless made a ribeye burger with three kinds of guacamole. The judges loved the burger but wondered why Bayless made three types of guacamole instead of just one. Still, Rick managed 4 stars.

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Top Chef Masters: six real masters compete

Last night began the finals of Bravo’s inaugural “Top Chef Masters,” and all I kept thinking was that if I was there in person, I would be more in awe than I was simply watching it. These six are some of the best chefs in the world, and here they were in the same room. Anyway, meet the contestants–Hubert Keller, Anita Lo, Rick Bayless, Michael Chiarello, Suzanne Tracht and Art Smith. There were similarities between some of them and yet each chef has a unique culinary point of view.

Their first (quick fire) challenge was another “Top Chef” favorite, the relay race. They divided into teams of three–Anita, Rick and Hubert against Suzanne, Michael and Art. The tasks were to shuck oysters, chop onions, cut up a chicken and then whisk egg whites until they hold for 5 seconds when the bowl is turned upside down. With four tasks, one person from each team would have to do two of them. The judge was “Top Chef” personality Tom Colicchio. Hubert and Suzanne faced off with the oysters and Suzanne was like a machine, making it look incredibly easy, but Hubert caught up to her eventually. Then Hubert and Art faced off with the onions and both were incredibly fast and efficient. Anita and Michael did the chicken, and Anita was a bit faster, but wow….I can’t even do this if I have an hour, and they were carving entire chickens in seconds. Finally, Rick and Art faced off with the eggs…they had to first separate them, and Art got hung up by having a stray yolk he had to remove from the bowl. But it didn’t matter…Rick whisked those whites into what resembled whipped cream in lightning fast fashion and he passed the 5 second test, giving his team the victory. That meant Anita, Rick and Hubert began with 5 stars, while Suzanne, Michael and Art began with 4 stars each.

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