Photo: Kelsey McNeal / Bravo
To be totally honest, we had trouble tuning in to Top Chef Masters last night. Not that we aren't in awe of the "four dudes left," to quote our favorite comfort-food teddy bear, Jonathan Waxman.
It's just that they're, well, all dudes -- our favorite non-dude, Susan Feniger, was banished last week, back to the confines of her delightful L.A. eatery Street. What would the kitchen be like without her cackle!? Where would the competition be without her somewhat goofy and laser-sharp stare?
Add to that the fact that the inimitable Gael Greene was sitting out the judging this time, and the episode was certainly lacking in double-chromosome jubilation. "Burnt sienna, depression, avocado" wasn't just an improvised name of a dish; it could've been the theme of the evening.
Oh, sure, L.A.'s comedy troupe The Groundlings was on hand to cheer things up a bit, but we saw through the ploy: Things are getting awfully close to crunch time, folks, and the judges are heartlessly out for blood. This means complicated, "ambitious" food -- none of that warm, worldly comfort food that people like Susan and Jonathan specialize in.
Speaking of which, we're still dreaming about the latter's roast-chicken, yam fry and avocado plate. If you took a classic TV dinner and rethought it, this would be what you'd get: Hearty, satisfying food that sticks to your ribs. Jonathan's chicken skin looked perfectly crisped, his fries delicately jutted off the plate, and his avocado-grapefruit side provided the perfect light dessert.
Unfortunately, as Susan proved the week prior, this kind of thinking is not for the "masters" among us. The judges voted him off for not "bringing it," although to our eyes, being the best chicken roaster in America, as Gail Simmons mentioned, has to count for something, right?
Perhaps in deference to the beloved Jonathan, the other three were humble in their success. You could tell, however, that Marcus Samuelsson could barely contain his joy over actually winning something for once -- first the Quickfire, and then the challenge as a whole.
Still, he had trouble reigning it in: Buying more ingredients than his $400 budget allowed, and attempting to get them all on the plate. His improvised dish took to heart the words "violet salmon," although, as one of the comedians pointed out, the cacophony of ingredients could've easily been described as "violent."
His salmon confit with caviar achieved Marcus' goal of "Jackson Pollock on a plate," with smears of beet here and there. If only he'd not included some halfhearted shrimp -- and some sort of sake bomb to guzzle on the side -- he might've achieved a true five-star rating.
That left the middle two: Susur Lee confounded with a vagina-inspired (we kid not) pastry surrounded by chocolate cardamom and peanut butter mousses. Rick Moonen aimed high but missed the mark, undercooking his pork roulade in spots -- a failing that's sent lesser chefs home in the past. Maybe that's another reason there were tears in his eyes as he bid Jonathan farewell, an "it should've been me!" sadness. We're right there with you, Rick.