Episode 2 of Top Chef Masters kicked off last night, and while there were no L.A. chefs represented in this episode, the show does take place in L.A., so we got to enjoy a lot of B-roll shots of Union Station. This week's chefs were Marcus Samuelsson (Red Rooster), Monica Pope (t'afia), David Burke (David Burke Townhouse), Carmen González (consultant) and Thierry Rautureau (Rover's). As usual, the two winning chefs of the elimination get to move on for a chance to play in the champion's round (where they'll meet our very own Susan Feniger). But first, the quickfire.
The quickfire challenge was to make an extraordinary grilled cheese sandwich in 20 minutes. The judge for this event was host Kelly Choi herself, who was qualified to do so because she "likes grilled cheese sandwiches." On the plus side, there weren't any food-destroying caveats to the challenge like "Everyone has to use a cheese log from Walmart to make their sandwich." David Burke seemed to confuse host Choi with his triple cream cheese, prosciutto, almond, tomato and rosemary creation and Thierry Rautureau didn't use enough tallegio (though he did find time to say "How much do I want to win? Who do I have to kill?"). She liked Marcus Samuelsson's gruyere and cheddar sandwich with gazpacho and salad, but not as much as Monica Pope's Moroccan sandwich with feta, farmer's cheese and date on raisin nut bread. Samuelsson said "I can't believe Monica beat me," even though he didn't try her sandwich, and went on to dislike her for the rest of the episode.
For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs had to cook their version of a soul food dinner for a birthday party for Mekhi Phifer (High School High, O). Things started off okay until they got to the location after some prep work, and Carmen González realized that she left her stew back at the Top Chef Masters Kitchen. For some reason, that meant she had to drive back herself, which really meant that she had to sit by herself in the back seat of an SUV while some guy in sunglasses drove her. She did manage to say "Ay dios mio, why is there so much traffic in this town?" (Welcome to Los Angeles, Carmen.)
With hardly any time to prepare, Monica and David tried to help Carmen out by peeling and boiling her yucca, which Marcus very clearly thought was a foolish idea. It wound up proving even more foolish when they accidentally burned them. With no time left, Monica simply doctored up her stew and served it by itself, stating that she had no chance of winning now. Of course, anybody who watches Top Chef knows that whenever you mess up and have to do a less complicated dish, then say you're not going to win, that usually means you're going to win.
The food was served, we saw Mekhi Phifer laugh and smile about 400 times, and everybody at the rooftop hotel party seemed pretty happy. Marcus's dish of barbecued chicken with mac and cheese and collards was a hit amongst the guests, though the judges didn't like his complex, worldly version of collards. David Burke got too "lost in his head", and his sweet potato custard with crab, hush puppies and pickled watermelon rind did not make the judges go crazy. They liked Monica Pope's shrimp and "mac and cheese style grits", other than the fact that her shrimp were undercooked, which, obviously, they were not fond of. Thierry's Moroccan pork shoulder was enjoyed, though not enough to overcome the carrots and onions in the salad, which judge Oseland called "...palate numbingly raw."
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In the end, the highest score went (surprise!) to Carmen González for her oyster and sausage stew. This, of course, annoyed Marcus Samuelsson, until he realized that he also won. This made Monica Pope cry, blaming her loss on the fact that Marcus had more time since he didn't help Carmen out. "The lesson is," she muttered sadly, "just take care of yourself."
Next week on Top Chef Masters? Mark Peel and Ludo.
Noah Galuten can also be followed on Twitter via @ManBitesWorld.