Top Chef Masters Recap: Blanc-ing Out
Picnic by Bravo
Paging P. Diddy. There was a white party and no one invited you.
OK, it wasn't that kind of white party. Instead, on last night's episode of Top Chef Masters, the final four contestants were charged with catering a Dîner en Blanc, which is kind of like the James Bond of meals, that is, if 007 had a website and multiple Twitter accounts. Still, there's something fun about a "secret" international pop-up picnic, for the attendants at least. Less fun for those stuck worrying if the terrines they made yesterday mushed up by mealtime.
But first, the Quickfire.
With just four chefs left, a paired-up Quickfire was no surprise. They drew knives, putting buddies Patricia Yeo and Chris Cosentino on one team, and Kerry Heffernan and Lorena Garcia on the other. For each team, Yeo and Garcia were on the "pantry" side, fetching ingredients and equipment and doing prep work for their teammates who were on the "hot line," (did anyone else sing the song in their heads for the next hour?) actually making the dishes.
When time was up, Johnny Avello, who runs sports betting at the Wynn, showed up to serve as guest judge. (Sidenote: Apparently the Wynn is the only casino that also offers "entertainment betting," allowing you to bet on the winner of, say, Top Chef Masters. As opposed to sports, is that like ... female gambling? Do they have a female restaurant too?)
After tasting the dishes, Avello said the most refreshing, honest thing we've ever heard a guest judge say on this show -- that he was honored to taste the food of such amazing chefs and had no place complaining about any of it. (Right. On. Finally! Why do these guests judges suddenly act like they're Alan Richman?) But he had a favorite, and that was Heffernan's shrimp farfalle -- a dish that carried the weight of Garcia's seared salmon with rice that didn't make the plate.
No more immunity, though, nor should there be. There shouldn't have been last week either. This is the final four. Time for a high stakes Elimination Challenge, which came in the form of the aforementioned Dîner en Blanc. This was no picnic -- pun intended. Each chef had to design a three-course menu for 75 diners, but the real challenge was coming up with something that could be cooked ahead, refrigerated overnight, then served cold the next day and still taste dynamite.
Kerry Heffernan's menu
Some chefs fared better at this than others. Namely, Heffernan embraced the chill factor and served a cold cauliflower soup, (though not without name-dropping Hillary Clinton, from whom he got the recipe) a haricot vert and orzo pesto salad and grilled chicken and kielbasa, all of which impressed not only the judges but Aymeric Pasquier and Sandy Safi, decesdants of the Dîner en Blanc founders.
Yeo based her menu on the silk route's Marco Polo, who traveled from Venice to China, which told a lovely culinary story considering the meal was staged at the Venetian hotel. But she didn't think hard enough about how her dishes would taste the next day, and as such, her daikon salad, spiced bison and curried cauliflower just didn't cut it. "I wish I could have served you yesterday," she repeatedly told the judges. Well, that sadly missed the point.
At the judges table, Ruth Reichl, James Oseland, Francis Lim and the ever-dreamy Curtis Stone ooh'ed and aww'ed over Heffernan -- seriously, not one ounce of criticism -- but for reasons not completely known, gave the win to Cosentino and his fabulous pâté. Garcia skated by, perhaps because diners were practically licking each others' faces for one last taste of her jalapeno chocolate mousse, but sadly, Yeo and her side of stale bread were let go.
Soon it will be finale time, with only two contestants making the cut this time around. Who will it be? Predictions? Let us know in the comments.
Get the Squid Ink'd Newsletter
Sign up for our weekly food newsletter, which features top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips and a link to our print review.