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.

Before their elimination round, each chef had to create their signature dish before sitting down family style to share their dish with each other. It was at this point that I was secretly wishing I could be at that table. Hubert made a lobster truffle cappucino with something called corn madelene; Art made seared grouper with hearts of palm and mushrooms; Anita did seared scallops with potato puree and sea urchin flavored mustard greens; Michael did a fennel and balsamic quail with greens and apples; Suzanne, who makes simple comfort food, made a chopped sirloin with green peppercorn sauce and a fried egg; and Rick made a rack of lamb with chile sauce and a fig/red wine sauce.

Now, this wasn’t the main challenge, but they were about to be tested. Each chef had to take another chef’s dish and create their own spin on it. Yikes. They were all nervous about this for fear of insulting one another, and also because it may take them out of their comfort zone. Hence the word “challenge.” Hubert got to choose first and then the others would be selected at random. He chose Anita, who would in turn have to re-create Hubert’s dish. Rick and Michael, and Art and Suzanne were the other pairs.

Art, who admitted he hates working with eggs, made a scotch egg type dish, with ground lamb wrapped around an egg, and sweet potato fries. Suzanne in turn made grouper with gnocchi, peas and bacon.

Rick made a quail with parsnips and prosciutto over wild greens, trying to stick to Michael’s Italian theme instead of his own Mexican point of view. Michael made lamb chops stuffed with chick pea and fig puree.

Hubert made scallops with a sea urchin sauce and fingerling potatoes, and Anita was maybe the most creative, making a corn chawanmushi (what?) with a lobster biscuit and champagne/lobster gelee.

The judges, who included Gael Greene, Jay Rayner and James Oseland, as well as some of their former competitors, were flipping over Anita’s dish, with judge Jay Rayner calling her “clever,” and also with Rick, who Gael Greene described as “brave.” They were less than impressed with Art’s dish, and while they enjoyed Suzanne’s, they said the fish was a bit dry and the gnocchi were cold, leaving them to wonder if she finished early and had the food sitting out for too long.
Michael admitted he was more concerned with pleasing Rick than he was the judges, and that could have gotten him into trouble. And Hubert did a decent job with Anita’s scallop re-creation.

So they declared Rick and Anita the best, but the chef with the highest score would win $10K for their charity. Rick scored 18 stars with the diners and judges, giving him 23 points total, but Anita scored 24, with a few perfect 5’s in there, and she won the $10K. And both of them were safe from elimination.

Michael scored 14.5, giving him 18.5 total, and Hubert a total of 21.5, making him safe from elimination. Then Art and Suzanne….Art scored just 11, giving him 15 stars total and sending Michael to safety. Suzanne only had to score 11.5, but she didn’t…..the judges couldn’t get past having some cold food on their plates, and she scored just a 10.5 or a total of 14.5. So Art was safe and Suzanne went home.

So now it’s down to five–Hubert Keller, Anita Lo, Rick Bayless, Art Smith and Michael Chiarello.
Anita is proving she may be really tough to beat, but the other four are no slouches at all.
So who do you like to win it all? Lucky for us, we have another month or so to find out while enjoying what each episode watching these brilliant chefs in action.

See you next week!