Recap: ‘Top Chef Masters’ – ‘Diners to Donors’

Eeeeee! Tonight is the bug challenge! This is both exciting and revolting at the same time, not unlike a Charlie Sheen podcast. Although part of me loves that “Top Chef Masters” comes up with some wacky challenges for our chefs, I do wonder if making them cook bugs is a bit too far, as I”m not sure it really shows whether or not they”re good chefs. I mean, I wouldn”t hold someone”s fried scorpion against them, literally or figuratively. Of course, that”s assuming I would eat the thing anyway.

[Full recap of Wednesday’s “Top Chef Masters” recap after the break…]

So Curtis Stone hoes in to reveal that the Quickfire is all about going back to the chefs” roots – they have to cook with stuff found in the wild, like salsify. And bugs. Horned worms, darkling beetles, crickets and scorpions. Which are all alive, by the way, so they have to kill stuff THEN cook it. It”s like a weekend camping in the woods, but worse!
Some of the chefs seem amused (Mary Sue Milliken) and some seem like they”re going to hurl (Alex Stratta). In fact, Alex can”t BLEEPING do this. But he”ll have to, because the challenge is to make a five star dish with these bugs. In twenty minutes. I”d just pack my knives and go, honestly, because I”m pretty sure I”d just be staring at the bugs for fifteen of the twenty minutes, willing them to die or turn into a chicken breast.
Celina Tio has eaten crickets in Bangkok. She says they tasted like soy. Yeah, Celina, and frog legs, snake and alligator all taste like chicken. You know, just because something is white meat doesn”t mean it tastes like chicken. John C. used to force feed his brother bugs, so this is a bit of karmic payback. Suvir Saran won”t kill stuff, not even a bug. So, what to do? Just put a jar of live bugs next to your dish! With a blowtorch! So the diners can torture their food, then eat it. You know, it”s probably the logical follow-up to the Korean barbeque trend.
The judges will be Ruth England and Mykel Hawke of “Man, Woman, Wild.” I”ve never seen the show, but we can assume they eat bugs on it.
Tempura fried nightcrawlers with elderflower & herb salad
Ruth thinks it”s bitter and disgusting. So, off to a good start! Mykel says it”s the best worm he”s ever eaten. Curtis likes the salad. But it seems Curtis won”t eat some of the bugs. Curtis, you weenie! I mean, I wouldn”t eat them either, but you”re a chef! I think he”ll only eat the ones that don”t gross him out on sight. Which is fair, I guess. I wouldn”t be hopping up and down to eat tempura-battered bugs, either.
Tempura fried crickets, sunchoke & carrot puree, blood orange vinaigrette
Ruth loves this. Mykel thinks it looks horrible but tastes great. Curtis can”t understand how Hugh made a sunchoke puree in twenty minutes. I”m thinking Curtis skipped the crickets in his mouthful.
Soy crickets with salsify salad
Mykel loves that the crickets are salty, but wishes Celina had removed the legs. Celina tells her fellow chefs she was trying to stay true to the buggy origin of the dish. I”m now thinking about hairy cricket legs, and I feel a little sick without having eaten anything. It”s just like being there!
Himalayan jungle & market salad with live hornworms
Ruth thinks it”s a cop-out, as she doesn”t know Suvir is an observant Hindu. Then Mykel kills some bugs and eats them. Yeah, I don”t think I”m watching his show anytime soon. Curtis likes the salad. Again.
John C.
Grilled scorpion with a smoked poached egg & oyster root
Mykel thinks that, mixed together, it works really well. Curtis likes the egg.
Mary Sue
Thai sunchoke salad with toasted beetle vinaigrette
Curtis thinks one has some crunch. Hey, he ate the beetles! Ruth likes the coriander.
Salad with chipotle-dusted fried scorpion & aloe vinaigrette
Ruth thinks the aloe is too bitter, but Curtis likes the salad. Again. Everyone made a salad, which I”m sure Curtis is quite grateful for right now.
Omelet of nightcrawlers, amaranth, roasted shiitakes & bacon
Mykel digs it, as the bacon and eggs make it. Of course they do!
Angel hair with beetles & flowers
Mykel says it tastes dang good. Ruth likes the contrast between crunchy and soft. Looking at it, you wouldn”t know beetles were involved. Good call, Alex!
Hornworm & coconut soup with lime, lemongrass, ginger & arugula flowers
Mykel thinks it”s awful tasting. Curtis takes a bite and looks like he”s going to throw up. Yeah, this one isn”t winning anything.
Decision time! Curtis is amazed at how beautiful the food is, which is all he can say since he didn”t eat most of it. Least favorite is, of course, Suvir”s. Ruth actually seems angry until Suvir explains, hello, the challenge was against his religion, lady. Mykel also hated George”s soup, as the worm wasn”t chopped finely enough. He explains this from a technical perspective but let”s just skate past this before we all gag a little thinking about horned worm soup. On the tasty side, they liked Hugh”s fried crickets and Mary Sue”s beetle dish. The winner is Hugh. Amazing! Nice comeback from the salty scallops that sent him home in week one. He wins five grand for Wholesome Wave.
Elimination challenge! The chefs will be cooking for a fundraiser. Fans of the show will be on hand for a ten course dinner with each chef cooking one dish. The winning dish will get additional funds for that chef”s charity, but the least favorite dish will send someone home. Oh, and they have three hours and no time to shop, so they can only use what”s in the pantry. And there will be curveballs. I suspect this is not good.
Naomi writes down everyone”s dishes. Alex is already annoyed by her. Naomi gets a lot of flack for trying to keep things organized, but she seems to be pretty good at this so maybe everyone should just go with it, honestly. They don”t have to like her, but hey, let her make a list. It makes her so happy!
First curveball – no running water. Floyd is cooking raw fish and can”t wash his hands. Aw, man, I feel for Floyd. Everyone starts grabbing ice to melt. Suvir is zen. He finds the kitchen calming and magical. Suvir is either one hell of a Hindu or completely nuts.
Second curveball from Curtis – service will start half an hour earlier than plan. John C. is making risotto. John C. is so screwed. Doesn”t he know that most of the regular Top Chef contestants get sent home making risotto? Of course, he”s a Top Chef Master, so maybe he”ll be fine.
Naomi is running around yelling. Curtis comes back to inform the chefs that the waiters will not be coming. Naomi runs around a little more.
The judges take their seats. Curtis, James Oseland and Danyelle Freeman are joined by Alan Sytsma, editor ofgrubstreet.com. He was James” intern back in the day.
Mary Sute
Tuna ceviche with Peruvian aji amarillo on plantain chips
James doesn”t think there”s much flavor. Alan thinks it”s like a poorly made guacamole. Ouch.
Chaat salad of chickpeas & yogurt with baby spinach
Danyelle loves it, but James knocks Suvir for being inside his comfort zone. I never really understand this criticism, because why are you supposed to make food you”re not good at making? I know, challenge yourself, but if you”re really good at something, why fight it? It”s like going to an Italian restaurant and ordering tacos. Chances are, no one”s going to be happy.
Shrimp alhinho with pickled carrot, red beets & vanilla oil
Alan thinks the tooth of the beet is perfect, and Danyelle thinks it”s delicious. Danyelle never seems to add very much besides calling things delicious. James thinks it”s too salty.
Celery veloute with salsa verde & lemon oil
Danyelle thinks it”s delicious. Again. Curtis thinks it”s very rich. The diners think it was made on a puffy little cloud in heaven. This is a good thing, as I was a little worried that all of Naomi”s running around would result in something that tasted like Campbell”s cream of celery soup. She”s a little worried it”s too simple of a dish, but hey, no one seems to mind so far.
John C.
Roasted shiitake & prosciutto risotto with pine nuts & paprika
God, that looks good. Alan isn”t sure about the pine nuts, but Danyelle thinks they”re crunchy and toasty. Danyelle is very good at pointing out the obvious. James doesn”t think it”s challenging for John C. to make risotto. Picky, picky.
Rice flaked sole with roasted cauliflower, apple & sundried ginger broth
James thinks it”s loud and bold and sweet and sharp. Danyelle thinks the broth is a little assertive. Hey, Danyelle made an actual comment!
Hugh and Naomi are battling it out as to when to send out dishes. It promised to be a big fight in the promo, but it”s not. Sigh. Hugh is frustrated! Not that he has anything against anyone! They”re all well-behaved!
Roasted salmon, gazpacho vegetables with roasted chili & tomatillo sauce
Curtis thinks the tortilla chips are weird. James thought his fish was almost raw. Danyelle thought it was delicious. Okay, she didn”t really say that, but she thought it was perfectly cooked. Close enough.
Roasted rib eye & slow-cooked broccoli with red wine sauce & fried shallots
Curtis thought just by looking at it he could tell Traci knows how to cook meat. James loves it. Danyelle thought it was musty and Alan thought it was flat. James tells them they”re young and they”ve been brainwashed about uncooked vegetables. I don”t think that went over well with the young, brainwashed judges.
Buttermilk strawberry panna cotta, black pepper & champagne berry soup
James thinks Hugh is like Liberace. He”s amazed he was able to put this together in two and a half hours. Alan is amazed by the perfect, firm texture. Danyelle doesn”t understand the chili hairs. James patiently explains they”re a nice bridge between the savory and the sweet. Then he asks Danyelle what the hell she”s doing at the grown-up table. He doesn”t, but I suspect he”d like to.
Chocolate puddin” with fleur de sel & ginger cake donut
Suvir thinks it”s gross. James thinks it”s chalky, and Danyelle thinks it”s tasteless. Curtis says it doesn”t blow him away. I think it”s honestly shameful that Celina can”t make a good pudding from scratch. It”s not that hard, woman. Oh, and she calls it “puddin”” As if this makes it more comforting or Southern or something. Shut up, Celina. And fleur de sel is friggin” salt. I”m really, really not impressed. That ginger donut would have to be amazing and I get the impression it”s not. Celina should go home. But Celina thinks people are freaking out and loving her pudding (I mean, “puddin””) in the dining room. Uh, not unless they”ve run out of Jell-O at the local supermarket.
Naomi is elated with how the evening went. The diners pick their favorite dish of the evening while the judges decide who is going home. Or most of the judges decide who is going home and Danyelle picks what is least delicious.
Naomi and Suvir are called to the critic”s table. They”re the favorites! Naomi won 43 percent of the vote, so she gets $1,800 for her charity. Suvir got 40 percent, so he gets $1,700. The critic”s favorite is…Naomi. Wow, she didn”t even spend much time on her soup and it blew everyone away. Good for her. She gets money for Seeds for Change.
Mary Sue, Celina and John C. are called back. Their dishes were the diners” least favorite. James tells Mary Sue her ceviche was bland and Danyelle said the pickled onion was overpowering. Alan can”t understand why John C. made such a standard risotto.  Looked pretty good to me, but who knows. Alan tells Celina her puddin” had an off texture. Danyelle said the chocolate wasn”t rich enough. James tells Celina to get out of Dessertville. If that is a place, I would like to go to it, by the way.
The judges henpeck Mary Sue and John C.”s dishes when we know the one that really blew was Celina”s. Seriously, she should be embarrassed. No one in their right mind is going to give her a win for making a stupid pudding (puddin”), and the fact it wasn”t a good pudding (puddin”) makes me wonder if she”s a master chef at all. Curtis points out simple, basic desserts are a beginning culinary student”s lesson. Exactly.
The chef going home is… John? Seriously? For making a good risotto? That was worse than pudding (puddin”)? This is wrong, wrong, wrong.
John is sad about going home. He nods his large bandana-ed head in defeat. He says his egg is scrambled, which may be true but I”m not sure exactly how. Poor guy. He says the show is a carnival freak show of magnificence. Which is a good thing. I”m sad to see John go, especially when there was stinky pudding (puddin”) just asking to be kicked out the door.
Ooh, next week Hugh and Suvir get into it. Or not. You just can”t trust these promos anymore.
Do you think Naomi deserved to win? Do you think Celina”s pudding (puddin”) should have gotten her the boot? And what do you think about Suvir serving live worms and a blowtorch?