I had high hopes for Top Chef Masters. You know I love all things TC, and this sounded like the ultimate. Master chefs competing against each other. Possibilities seemed endless. The egos! The culinary artistry! The complex personalities! And a local chef, to boot. Well, the good news is, chef Tim Love was super likeable and presented himself very well. He had perhaps the only dramatic moment in the entire show, and he recovered quite admirably.
Jump for the recap.
Okay, cheftestants (or just chefs?) this round: Hubert Keller (amazing French chef, owns Fleur de Lys in San Francisco)
Michael Schlow (a James Beard winner, runs Radius in Boston)
Christopher Lee (chef at Aureole in NYC)
and of course, our man Tim Love, chef/owner at Lonesome Dove Bistro and Love Shack in Fort Worth.
From the beginning, Tim Love positions himself as the underdog, but he definitely wasn’t–the chefs seemed pretty equally matched, with the exception of Hubert, who is pretty much a culinary icon and has a few years on all the other chefs, experience-wise. But let’s back up. First, we are introduced to the chefs and their respective charities. Love is playing for the March of Dimes, because his two daughters were preemies when they were born and so he has a soft spot for MOD. Cut to requisite shots of him at Lonesome Dove taking shots and wearing cowboy hat.
Kelly Choi comes in. She’s stunning, just like Padma, but she’s just…not…Padma. I miss her. She tells the chefs (who are already chumming around like frat boys) that they are bringing back some of the favorite Quickfires of Top Chef seasons past. And the first one is…dessert. The chefs have 60 minutes to make a creative and delicious dessert for a very particular group of judges. Did anyone else totally see this coming? Of course, they are cooking for kids. Junior Girl Scouts to be exact, and the whole world yawns. Of course the chefs all say they are terrible at desserts. Schlow says they are the weakest part of his game. He actually kinda proves that by totally blowing it this round–his cakes don’t bake and his ice cream doesn’t freeze, so he scrapes up some awful looking chocolate discs onto a plate and serves them up. Hubert sprinkles magical fairy dust all over the kitchen and makes an amazing dessert complete with an adorable whipped cream mouse that of course the girls love. Chris Lee does pretty well, too, with his french toast and caramelized banana skewers, and Tim gets Tex-afied points for chicken-frying strawberries and serving milkshakes.
Winner: Hubert. The girls give him 5 stars. Tim and Chris get 3 1/2. Poor Mike gets 2 1/2.
Next, we are on to the Elimination Challenge. The theme is “Back to College.” The chefs will head to Pomona College to cook a three-course meal using only a toaster oven, microwave, and a hot plate. They get $150 bucks and are sent off to Whole Foods. Hubert has apparently never entered a grocery store and loses his cart. There’s no ground pork so Tim can’t make chili. The other two seem to be doing fine.
We come back from commercial break and have the one moment of interesting drama all night–Tim put his bags of meat and produce in the freezer overnight, thinking it was a refrigerator. He almost passes out as he looks at his rock-hard produce. Truly an awful moment. We head to Pomona. Chefs learn they will be cooking in dorm rooms (!). They get to work. Hubert takes his pasta into the shower. Tim is making pozole without hominy and gives his dorm room buddy a taste. Chris is tackling risotto. Cut to the judges. Finally, we get to meet them. Gael Greene, one of my favorite food writers, is there with her trademark hat. British food writer Jay Rayner and Saveur magazine EIC James Oseland round out the group. A handful of college students will also be judging (including the ones who gave up their dorm rooms).
The first courses come out. Tim makes a scallop carpaccio that doesn’t get a lot of reaction. On the other hand, Hubert makes Scottish salmon and everyone just about falls on top of each other loving it. Second course from Tim is pozole, and James Oseland, a man who doesn’t look like he watches much football, remarks that it is “great football watching food.” Tim’s third course is skirt steak, and Gael loves that he “tried to do a simple dish.” Rayner thinks it’s oversalted. Everyone loves Hubert’s mac and cheese with seafood. The other two guys make pork. Chris’s risotto also gets rave reviews.
At the critic’s table, TCM producers try to make it seem like it might be close by showing a lot of critical reaction to Hubert’s soup. It was very heavy on the cinnamon. Gael loved it but everyone else hated it. Come on, we already know that shower-with-his-pasta-DJ-in-his-spare-time Hubert is going to take this one, but thanks for trying to build suspense. Gael thinks Michael’s pork is overcooked. She’s very disappointed. But she loved the cabbage and bacon soup. Jay knocks Tim’s steak for being overseasoned. Oseland likes his kale and soup. Kelly loved Chris’s risotto and pork chop.
Chefs go into a back room and retire to a table full of booze. They laugh and hit each other a couple of times. Then it’s time for the scores. My dog nudges me awake. Michael gets 13 1/2 stars. Tim and his “cowboy cool” get 14 1/2 stars. Chris gets 19. Hubert gets 20 1/2. He wins.
A few thoughts here. 1) Tim Love did a great job, especially after he froze all his ingredients. He could have come off winey or mad, but he took this challenge in stride. He did do a bit of, “it’s time to hitch up the wagon and head home” at the end, but that’s his schtick, and it didn’t bother me.
2) Hubert Keller is amazing.
3) Hubert Keller is amazing, but I wanted to be able to really see him cook. I guess that’s not the point of these shows. But I was hoping we’d be able to really see these chefs cooking their brains out, not making desserts for children or searing off pork chops on a hot plate. Yes, they did a good job considering the circumstances, but I wasn’t as drawn in by the cooking as I’d hoped to be.
4) The judges were boring. I hate to say it because I’ve always admired Gael’s writing. But I wanted them to be better. I miss Tom C.
5) I’m sorry I didn’t take more detailed notes, but I had a hard time getting into this. Please tell me if you enjoyed it. I was happy everyone got along so well but I was bored. That is all.