Last night was the fourth preliminary round of “Top Chef Masters” on Bravo, and the challenges are surely not getting any easier. For this one, the four contestants were Mark Peel from Los Angeles; Douglas Rodriguez, who owns several restaurants nationwide; John Besh from New Orleans; and Anita Lo from New York City.
Host Kelly Choi announced the quickfire challenge, and as they have been using some of the more interesting challenges from past seasons of “Top Chef,” they continued that by asking the chefs to create a dish with eggs, but with one hand tied behind their back. The judges were “Top Chef” regular Gail Simmons, as well as two other experts in eggs including a diner owner. Douglas went first and made a corn cake with eggs and ham. Mark, who said his dad was born with one arm, knew a little something about this particular “disability,” was a bit more ambitious, making a duck egg pasta with an olive oil cream sauce. Anita cooked the egg in its shell with shiitake mushrooms and truffle oil. And John made simple slow-cooked eggs, but he cooked them too slowly, because they weren’t done in the 25-minute alotted time.
Douglas scored a 3.0, and Mark a 2.5 because he omitted of all things, the olive oil. Anita scored the maximum 5.0 as the judges just loved her dish, and John, because he salvaged one of his eggs by stove-cooking for a couple minutes, received 0.5 points when he expected to not have any points at all.
The main challenge was to cook for actor Neil Patrick Harris and a few of his friends, two of which were magicians (and Harris is also a magician as a hobby), as well as judges Gael Greene, James Oseland and Simmons, in a magic castle in Hollywood. They each had a theme to base their creation on–Doug had “spectacle,” Anita “illusion,” John had “surprise,” and Mark had “mystery.”
Mark went first and made a Tai snapper in parchment along with garlic mashed potatoes and leeks with a lobster sauce. He also served it with scallion oil and Dassai Sake wine. The judges loved his mystery aspect and also the food.
Next was John, and his big surprise was using liquid nitrogen to make a horseradish sorbet. His dish was a salmon tartare with cauliflower blini served with the sorbet, along with a cucumber and salmon roe salad, as well as tempura fried lobster. The judges were a bit freaked out by the frigid sorbet, most of all Harris, who was asked to help John make the sorbet at table.
Anita was next and made a braised daikon with Kombu caviar and steak tartare. She meant for it to look like a sea scallop with shellfish broth, with the illusion that it was served on a bed of sand. They all loved this one, both for the taste of the food and for the creativity Anita put into it.
Douglas closed with duck four ways, first with an oyster seviche (what’s with all the raw food? Blech!), an empanada with foie gras and figs, duck breast with butternut squash puree, and a duck broth served in a coconut bowl that was literally on fire (the main part of his spectacle). Everyone there was afraid of the flaming coconuts, and they didn’t particularly love his food.
At the judge’s table, John scored an 11.5, giving him 12 points total. Douglas was next, and he only scored 10 points, but his grand total of 13 points eliminated John. Mark did better, scoring 16 points with the diners and judges, giving him 18.5 and eliminating Douglas. Now it was down to Anita, and since she had a big head start and the fact that the judges loved her creation, we could all see this coming. Anita scored 17.5, giving her 22.5 overall and the title. Her charity was breast cancer research, and she will compete in the final rounds with Hubert Keller, Suzanne Tracht, and Rick Bayless.
Only two more initial rounds and then the real fun begins. I think Anita is going to be a really tough competitor for the other five in the finals, but we’ll see. Let me know what you all thought of the show last night….