Top Chef Masters: A Masterful Dessert
In this first episode of Top Chef Masters, the difference came down to dessert, which was actually served at the beginning of the episode during the Quickfire. You see, Top Chef Masters works a little differently than the regular Top Chef – there are only four chefs in each episode (master chefs, mind you) competing for a spot in the finals. And in order to determine who is most deserving of that spot – a cumulative measure of stars awarded by judges and tasters throughout the quickfire and the elimination challenge is taken. So with that said, the winner of this episode won based on their quickfire performance.
Let’s explain one more time. Instead of all the cheftestants competing against one another at the same time, the 24 total master chefs are placed into six groups of four where only one person out of each group has a chance at competing in the final challenges. Each episode focuses on one particular group. Last night we got to watch Michael Schlow, Tim Love, Christopher Lee and Hubert Keller compete in the first episode.
I’ll be honest: the only chef of these 4 that I had even heard of was Hubert Keller. Whether it’s because he was a guest judge in past seasons of Top Chef or he’s just more famous than the others, I’m not sure, but what I do know is that Hubert Keller seemed like the clear winner from the start!
In a mere 60 minutes, Keller put together that phenomenal dessert pictured above that consists of chocolate mousse, orange sabayon sauce, meringue swans, and an entire verrine made with berries and Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies. And he made it look adorable with animal shaped characters to appeal to his audience. It was out of this world (or at least definitely on the master level!) and awarded a perfect 5 stars by the Girl Scouts.
Hubert’s next best competitor was awarded 3 1/2 stars giving him Hubert major headway before the elimination challenge. At the bottom was Michael Schlow with only 2 1/2 stars for his mediocre looking dessert.
To Schlow’s credit, the plate you see above is not exactly what he had planned. It’s more a reflection of things not going his way – ice cream not setting, cake not baking. One disaster after another led to the disaster of this plate. But I love how real this plate makes these challenges. If I were to ever compete in Top Chef, this is how I imagine things happening – something not working, and scrambling to just barely put something on a plate to serve. Watching a “reality” competition play out always does seem scripted somehow but this almost fateful “screw up” reminded us as viewers that these challenges are not as easy as the contestants make them look.
I give a lot of credit to Tim Love for what I thought was a very creative and aesthetically appealing dessert. It did actually tie for second with 3 1/2 stars but Girl Scout critics didn’t seem to enjoy this strawberry trio as much as I thought I might. I mean come on – “chicken fried strawberry”? He definitely deserves points for creativity.
But of course dessert wasn’t the only challenge in this episode. The elimination also highlighted some of Hubert Keller’s kitchen (or shall I say dorm room) skills where he served up the “best dish of the night”: Cold Scottish Salmon Over Mustard. For me, this was the best looking of his dishes but I give him tremendous points for using the dorm’s communal shower to drain and rinse the macaroni for his Creamy Mac N’ Cheese With Prawns, Mushrooms and Fresh Herbs. And who didn’t love the mini clip that showed Hubert absolutely clueless about using a microwave?!
I can’t wait for the rest of the season to unfold but I have to admit it’s strange to see these master chefs on this side of the game. With new judges and a new host (Kelly Choi), the whole thing sort of feels surreal, but very interesting!
EPISODE 1 RECAP:
Official Episode Title: Masters Get Schooled
Challenges: Quickfire - Create a dessert in 60 minutes to be tasted by Girl Scouts.
Elimination – Create a three course meal in a college dorm room (using only a hot plate, microwave and toaster oven) to be tasted by college students.
Episode Winner: Hubert Keller
Chefs Eliminated: Michael Schlow, Christopher Lee, and Tim Love
Chefs Competing in Finale: Hubert Keller,
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