Not that we love the guy, exactly, mind you -- we love hating him, and hate it when we end up loving him. In his second appearance in the inner sanctum of Top Chef Masters -- the first was last year, when he made some offal tacos for tourists -- Ludovic Lefebvre, the Paris-by-way-of-SoCal enfant terrible, managed to astound, confound, infuriate and otherwise entertain anyone unfortunate enough to be in his blazing path of culinary genius.
To judge by Ludo's opinion of himself, "culinary genius" is an understatement. Granted, the man has worked wonders with his LudoBites, his roving, temporary restaurant concept that has delivered chilled liquid-chorizo and other inventions to L.A. denizens for a couple of years now, so any amount of bluster is at least a little justified.
More from last night's episode after the jump.
But merge that arrogance with his non-native grasp of English -- and an accent thick enough to serve in a gravy boat -- and you have a toxic cocktail of predictably handsome French pomposity. Take, for example, Ludo on his personality: "I'm intense!" Ludo on his cooking style: "I want to put love in my dish," or, simply, "It's Ludo!"
Maybe this explains the little outbursts and battles from this week's episode, which were hinted at mercilessly in ads but surprisingly jokey and timid when seen in context. This was the week when last year's cast-aside Masters were brought back for another chance to prove themselves: First in a quickfire challenge to be judged by the Real Housewives of Orange County, who proved themselves ignorant of edamame and unaccustomed to the taste of ginger. (Ah, the look on doyenne Gael Greene's face as she initially bonded with the drunken, plastic-surgery enhanced ladies, only to recoil at their stunted palates.)
And if that didn't get Ludo's blood boiling, then it was his competition in the main challenge, an attempt to re-invent British pub food. Left with no choice but to reinterpret but Irish stew -- a dish far more foreign to him than the English language -- Ludo took radish slices, roasted peanuts, beef and "Guinness caramel" and attempted to pass it off to a bar full of pub-grub stalwarts. Spoiler alert: They weren't having it.
Of course, this wasn't his first choice. When the mellow, "Obi-Wan-like" master Jonathan Waxman got dibs on what dish to cook (Shepherd's Pie, which he turned into an elegant lamb dish), Ludo was left to duke it out -- or rather, whine -- with sustainable seafood chef Rick Moonen over the choice of fish and chips. Moonen confidently grabbed the challenge and ran with it, turning in a "chicken-fried" sable fish with an "electrified" lemon-confit tartar sauce that looked conventional, but by the sound of it, sure didn't taste that way.
That left Campanile's Mark Peel to round out the old pros, and pals Wylie Dufresne and Graham Elliot Bowles to provide a fun mini-rivalry. While Peel was practically D.O.A. from the moment he served his take on a Yorkshire pudding-and-sausage dish (his pudding didn't rise in a malfunctioning oven), Dufresne and Bowles gave each other a run for their money.
The former put aside his molecular gastronomy playbook to turn in bangers and mash, which, by his interpretation meant store-bought Merguez, smoked mashed potatoes and a rich jus. Bowles did a deconstructed steak and kidney pie, wherein he restricted the offending -- to him, at least -- kidneys to a vinaigrette, for fear of having them "taste like piss."
Waxman easily trumped the rest with his deceptively simple, full-flavored plate. And while Peel wasn't even in the running -- earning a shameful one star from the pub-going guests -- Bowles and Dufresne found themselves separated by a point. Regardless, Moonen's highly-polished fish dish earned him the other spot in the finalist's circle.
And Ludo? Well, he wasn't going quietly, even though his multi-culti mess of a "stew" was respected more than it was enjoyed. When pressed for an analysis of his loss, he predictably reflected upon the challenge as a whole: "The English people are jealous of The French!" Stay classy, Ludo.