Here we go, folks. Meet the chefs:
Monica Pope, chef/ owner of t'afia
Marcus Samuelsson, chef/ owner of Aquavit
David Burke, chef/ owner of too many places to list
Carmen Gonzalez, chef/ owner of Carmen the Restaurant
Thierry Rautureau, chef in the hat/ owner of Rover's
Congratulations, chefs! Episode two of Top Chef Masters was definitely better than last week's series premire. Kelly judged the quick fire and challenged the chefs to make their best grilled cheese. I loved seeing these chefs take the humble grilled cheese to such exotic places. I agree with Carmen: "The best way to judge a chef is by ordering the simplest dish, that is how to see their technique," and this group didn't disappoint. They all made interesting versions of the classic.
Monica Pope took this challenge with a Moroccan inspired grilled cheese sandwich made of feta and farmers cheese with dates served in a raisin and walnut bread. While interesting, the one I really wanted to take a bite out of was Thierry's grilled cheese with taleggio and harissa. To be fair though, you could melt taleggio over a rock and I would think it was fantastic.
At this point in the competition you could definitely see some personalities coming out. The shocker for me was Marcus Samuelsson, he came off so arrogant from the beginning. Early on I was routing for him, but after last night's show I need to find a new champion. His selfishness in the kitchen was a turn off, but more on that in a bit. This is about Monica, who after her confidence-boosting win, had a bit of a swagger going there for a bit. I couldn't help but root for her too.
In the elimination challenge the chefs had to create a gourmet soul food dish to serve 125 people at Mekhi Phifer's birthday party at a swanky hotel in Hollywood (okay, who wouldn't want to go to that birthday party?). The chefs had only an hour of prep time the night before, and two and one-half hours leading up to the party to get their dishes ready.
Now here's where the fun began. Do you all remember that dun-dun-dun shot of the foil-wrapped stew? "The stew, Carmen! The stew!"
Carmen Gonzalez left behind the main part of her dish at the Top Chef kitchens and had to race back to grab it. Ever try to race to do anything in LA?
Carmen lost valuable prep time, and though Monica, David, and Thierry stepped up to help, the yucca and bacon mash component of Carmen's dish was a total loss.
Now, here's where my tide turned on my old favorite, Marcus. He could've helped, but didn't. Now, I know, I know, it's not called Top Friend or Top Nice Guy, but would it have killed him to take the yucca off the heat? Would you have helped Carmen? You can vote on the TCM poll here. (Not trying to sway you, but I was happy to see that 79% of you out there would have helped a chef in need).
In the hour Carmen had left, she managed to pull together an oyster and sausage stew with a cilantro salad garnish (sans yucca and bacon mash). Monica served up shrimp with mac and cheese grits, David made a complex (perhaps too much so for the critics) sweet potato mousse served in an egg cup with a hush puppy and pickled watermelon rind, Thierry made a farro salad with a roasted pork shoulder, and Marcus made BBQ chicken with mac and cheese and collard greens. (Okay, so people went back to his seving station multiple times. I never said the guy couldn't cook.)
Carmen's stew won the elimination challenge and moved her into the champions round; I just love a good underdog victory! Once David and Thierry were eliminated, it was between Monica and Marcus. Alas, the stars don't lie.
Adding insult to injury, Marcus hugged Monica and said, "You know what the lesson is here." As in, you should have just taken care of your stuff and let Carmen deal with her own kitchen disaster. I mean, come on, you won, did you really need to rub it in Marcus? I'm so over you (but, I am going to keep watching and I wouldn't say no to a table at Aquavit or Red Rooster).
My verdict: Now we're really cooking. The show was better this week than last, a trend I hope continues, and Marcus, I'm putting you on notice; you're no longer my favorite. Like last season, I'm hoping the winner is a great chef with a big heart (Rick Bayless, you rule!)
Did you watch last night? Let me know who you're rooting for!