Remember Mike Tyson's Punch Out? That old Nintendo game in which scrawny "Little Mac" fought his way through towering opponents, eventually taking down the heavyweight champion despite his apparent feebleness? Well, on last night's episode of Top Chef Masters, chef Lorena Garcia followed a similar trajectory.
Boxing was the night's theme, with legend Sugar Ray Leonard serving as guest judge for both the Quickfire and the Elimination challenges. In the former, chefs were forced to do the unthinkable -- prep work! Quelle horreur! The final five each received hunks of parmesan cheese, 18 eggs and a beef tenderloin and were charged with having to actually create some mise en place: grating the cheese to the rind, separating the eggs and parsing out six filets each weighing between 7.5 and 8.5 ounces. The first two to finish, meeting all those criteria, would get a chance to win immunity.
Both Chris Cosentino and Patricia Yeo thought speed was the name of the game. They were wrong.
Boths chefs were disqualified for carving steaks under the weight requirement, and with no loin left to fix the mistake, both were out. Chefs Kerry Heffernan and Takashi Yagihashi each succeeded in time, leaving Lorena "Little Mac" Garcia knocked out.
Heffernan and Yagihashi then went on to what would become the first of many head-to-head battles, whipping up a dish out of their perfectly portioned ingredients. Heffernan went with a parmesan-encrusted beef filet while Yagihashi topped the beef with a fried egg. Heffernan won out, which not only earned him immunity, but the right to actually sit out this week's elimination challenge and judge instead -- a move we're fairly surprised TCM made this late in the game.
For the remaining four, however, the Elimination round quickly morphed into Iron Chef mode, with each chef forced to battle tête-à-tête, creating dishes based on a secret ingredient.
The face-off took place not in Kitchen Stadium, however, but in a boxing ring where Curtis Stone served as announcer. (Good try, Curtis, but don't quit your day job.)
Cosentino and Yagihashi were up first and it was revealed they were contenders in "Battle Bacon." Off they went, frying away. Cosentino cooked up a Mexican-style bacon and eggs breakfast while Yagihashi did a "bacon steak." The only trouble was he was one bacon slice short and had about a minute to go. This would have eliminated him from the competition, but in a move of pure gentlemanly badassness, Cosentino donated a spare bacon bit to his opponent to keep him in the game. Cosentino said he wanted to win on merit and not a technicality, and sayeth the judges, that he did.
Garcia and Yeo were up next in ... Battle Bacon, again. A little ant-climactic, but fair nonetheless. Garcia had been labeled the underdog, with chefs scoffing at her skills a little bit in their behind-the-scenes interviews. But despite Yeo being the favorite, Garcia put her game face on and whipped together a bacon chowder that ended up creaming Yeo's bacon, leek and tomato dish.
That meant Garcia had to take on Cosentino -- a match-up that seemed even harder for her to win. In a nod to their guest judge, the secret ingredient was sugar, which led Lorena to bake off a flourless chocolate cake (certainly a feat in 15 minutes) paired with a caramelized pineapple while Cosentino prepared a classic zabaione with fruit. Though simplicity is often the name of the game on TCM, this time Cosentino's straightforwardness didn't win out, and Garcia took top prize once more, making her the unexpected big winner this week.
Then came the hard part -- Yagihashi and Yeo had to cook for their lives in one last battle. Secret ingredient? Chicken liver. This was bittersweet for the two friends, each of whom of course wanted to win, but didn't want to see their ally sent home. In the end, though, Yagihashi's chicken liver with prosciutto and pickled red cabbage simply didn't have it over Yeo's chicken liver and asparagus, and he was sent packing.
On a happier note, though, Garcia finally won the respect of Yeo and Cosentino, who praised her in their interviews and said they actually do see her as a contender. We're sure she's thinking ... "Thanks?"