Last night on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters,” four more talented chefs squared off in Round 2–Graham Elliot Bowles of Graham Elliot Restaurant in Chicago; Wylie Dufresne of WD-50 in New York City; Suzanne Tracht of Jar in Los Angeles; and Elizabeth Falkner of Citizen Cake in San Francisco.
Host Kelly Choi announced that their initial “quickfire” challenge would be one of the favorite Top Chef challenges–the vending machine challenge. They had to use a roll of quarters to buy a few vending machine items and then make a small tasting dish out of them–and the judges would be Ilan, Betty and Michael from Season 2 of “Top Chef,” three contestants who had experience with the vending machine fun. They also called these tastings something like “moot vooch,” another of those French culinary terms that flies straight over my head.
Anyway, Wylie made some sort of grilled cheese sandwich with ham and a Dr. Pepper reduction sauce, and also made some homemade beer nuts. Suzanne made shallot rings out of fritos and also used Dr. Pepper in the batter. Elizabeth made a beef jerky with Dr. Pepper (really, all of them used this stuff?) and she also made some sort of weird horseradish ice-cream. Graham made tuna salad, or he doctored up some tuna salad that was already made. Suzanne’s rings knocked it out of the park, as she wound up with a perfect score of 5. Graham was a close second at 4.5, Elizabeth at 3.5 and Wylie bringing up the rear with a 3…..mainly, Wylie’s reduction sauce was hardened….and he was visibly throwing f-bombs around in frustration. Go Wylie!
Then for the elimination challenge, the four chefs had to prepare a meal for the creators of the hit show “Lost.” The creators and writers of the show would be one fourth of the judging, while house judges James Oseland, Gael Greene and Jay Rayner would make up the remaining votes.
Using the “Lost” theme, the chefs had to prepare a meal using “wild” items like wild boar and tuna, and had a $250 shopping allowance to buy non-perishable items to use–no fresh items like fruit or vegetables or herbs were allowed. They then had 2.5 hours to prepare their meals.
Graham made a tuna trio, one a raw style, one a nicoise style with green beans from a can and the last one a seared filet with coffee crust. I hate fish and that made me hungry. Wylie made a roasted chicken with slow-cooked poached egg, some beets and a banana mustard sauce. Suzanne made wild boar with risotto and pasta and squash and called it a “holiday” style, stick-to-your-ribs style meal; and finally Elizabeth also made wild boar two ways, as well as a papaya/yam puree.
Overall, the judges really enjoyed each of the creations, and what I love about this show is that unlike The Food Network’s “Chopped,” these judges respect the chefs and are very positive and gracious, even if they don’t like something. Well, a few of them didn’t like the puree on Elizabeth’s dish, and they liked Suzanne’s boar better than Elizabeth’s. In fact, Suzanne drew raves from the judges for the way she assembled a whole dish of comfort foods, making many different foods into a veritable symphony on a plate. They also loved Wylie’s chicken as well as his egg, and loved the play on words/humor Wylie injected into his dish. As for Graham, he also was commended for his tuna, in particular the seared version.
At the judging table, Elizabeth wound up with a total of 16.5 points, while Wylie had 20, making a nice comeback following the first round. That put Elizabeth out of the running right away. Then Graham wound up with 20.5, eliminating Wylie. That left Graham and Suzanne, and we already knew that the judges found basically no flaws in her dish. She wound up with 22.5 points and the victory. But the best part about Suzanne is that she is so humble and soft-spoken. Her restaurant is called Jar and Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio talked at the start of the episode how Suzanne is known for her simplicity, and she followed that philosophy in the dishes she created last night for the win. She was then very gracious, citing her passion for cooking and the support she has from her family to do what she does.
So Suzanne Tracht and Hubert Keller are the first two finalists on “Top Chef” Masters. We have six weeks of this before heading to the finals, where one chef will be eliminated each week until they crown the Top Chef Master. If you do the math, the great thing about that is we have basically a whole summer of this great new show. If you haven’t checked it out yet, and love this type of show, make sure you add it to your DVR list. See you next week!