We forced ourselves to stay awake for the Top Chef Masters 11 p.m. premiere last night (thankfully, it will air at 10 p.m. going forward). Still, we couldn't wait to see how L.A. chefs John Rivera Sedlar of Playa and Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill fared. Were they masterminds or masters of disaster? Turned out, it was a little of both.
In the kickoff Quickfire challenge, chefs were paired up, then each picked a box containing an unknown ingredient. Each set of chefs had to create a dish using both mystery ingredients, then face off in a head-to-head taste test.
Sedlar squared off with powerhouse Traci Des Jardins using a combo of black licorice and peanut butter. Sedlar created an hors d'oeuvre of the two ingredients paired with bacon (because, of course, bacon is always the solution), and his dish got mixed reviews. Judge James Oseland said, “I would eat this if I were completely, like, wasted at home at 3 o'clock in the morning.” The late night snack lost to Des Jardin's duo of black licorice and peanut butter-inspired salads.
Milliken went up against Chef John Currence in battle cottage cheese and frogs' legs. Yeesh.
Milliken made it work, though, creating a fried chili cottage cheese cake topped with the frogs' legs, and both Oseland and fellow judge Ruth Reichl quite enjoyed it. She won the war against Currence, maybe in part because the cottage cheese component of his buffalo frogs' legs dish didn't quite make it to the plate. Oh, well.
Milliken's dish was put in the top two vying for the win, but lost out as well to friend and colleague Des Jardin and her rockstar salads.
Onto the Elimination round: Restaurant Wars — a challenge Top Chef typically saves until much later in the season. Sedlar's team won, and he must have been thankful since it meant he wouldn't be in the running for elimination. Most likely he would have been, considering the rack of lamb with a jicama, apple and lime salad came with a side of produce labels.
Millliken didn't get as lucky. Although she was on the winning team, her chocolate cake ended up on the chopping block, in part, perhaps, because the unsweetened chocolate she typically uses for the recipe was not available in the Top Chef pantry. It didn't look good for her, but in the end, Hugh Acheson and his unibrow bit the dust.
Of this first episode, Chef Milliken told us in an email, “Wow, a whirlwind of learning the ropes. No time to enjoy kudos and before I knew it, I was standing in front of the critics potentially going home–everyone's worst nightmare. It felt totally surreal, perversely out-of-control, but still oddly fun.”
So it was a roller coaster of sorts, especially for Milliken, but both L.A. chefs made it through the first cut. How far will they go? We'll have to “watch what happens.” (Sorry.)