By Mary Alice Fallon Yeskey
7:43 AM EDT, September 6, 2012
It's getting down to the wire, my friends. Five chefs remain: Lorena, Chris, Patricia, Takashi, and Kerry.
This week the Quickfire challenge is all about prep (my favorite kind!). Each chef must separate 18 eggs, grate two pounds of parmesan, and butcher a beef tenderloin into five filets. The first two chefs to finish and pass have to use their properly prepped ingredients in a dish.
The remaining three chefs will judge. I love this challenge. I love all prep challenges. With these Masters, it's especially entertaining, as these guys probably haven't had to do mise en place in a long, long time.
Chris finishes first and calls check. The beef filets must weigh between 7.5 and 8.5 ounces and there was no scale -- they had to eyeball it. Admit it: that is pretty badass. Kerry smartly pointed out that it would behoove them all to cut their filets a little big as it's easy to trim one down, but if one comes up short you can't add more meat on.
Chris' first steak weighs 7.6 ounces. His second filet comes in short at 7.0 -- and he has no more filet left to prep another one, so just like that, he's out.
Patricia is next, and three of her steaks come in under (by less than half an ounce, ouch!), she's out. Takashi calls check and passes -- it's down to Kerry and Lorena. Lorena looks flustered and irate grating the living hell out of her cheese. She's too slow, though, and Takashi and Kerry move on to the 15-minute cooking challenge, while the other three depart the kitchen.
Takashi throws together sauteed beef tenderloin with a sunny side egg and provencal vegetable hash. They are all impressed that he managed to cook potatoes in 15 minutes.
Kerry plates a beef filet with parmesan crust and wilted arugula. Curtis pronounces arugula like there's a hairball caught in his throat -- arooogalaack.
Kerry takes the Quickfire, taking $5K for his charity, City Harvest, and immunity for the elimination challenge.
Curtis introduces the elimination challenge by reminding everyone how Las Vegas is the boxing capital of the world, and announces a special guest. Sugar Ray Leonard walks in and the chefs seriously freak out.
Lorena's face when she sees him is priceless, like she's being electrocuted. The chefs are going head to head in a ringside cooking challenge. Kerry is told he will sit this entire challenge out and be among the judges during the competition. So not only does he have immunity, he gets to relax for the next several hours. "Good win, Kerry," hisses Patricia. She seems a bit peeved.
The other four chefs draw knives to find out who their sparring partner will be. Our match ups are Takashi vs. Chris and Patricia vs. Lorena. Patricia puts up her paws and shrieks "meow!" when she realizes she's up against the other she-cat.
Lorena laughs fakely. These ladies are out for blood. Curtis explains that the chefs will not know what their ingredients are until they get into the cooking ring. They will have to immediately start cooking -- very "Iron Chef" style, which is fine by me. This is the kind of challenge that makes these shows great: A chef showing true ingenuity and creativity in a real-world way.
The challenge takes place tomorrow, but in the meantime the chefs take in lunch at Milos, a very high-end Greek restaurant.
Patricia wastes no time during her interview in bashing Lorena, declaring that she's glad she's going up against her because she has a "broader field of culinary experience" and that Lorena "has a smaller palate." She is getting cattier by the minute. It seems the genteel camaraderie of earlier episodes has faded away.
The next day, a live studio audience is roaring with applause as the critics and chefs enter Kitchen Stadium -- er, the boxing arena. Curtis grabs the mic center ring and attempts to do his best Michael Buffer impression, but it comes out more Michael Buble.
Takashi and Chris take the stage. Takashi is eating up the attention, mugging for the crowd and striking fighter poses. At least he's still having fun. Take notes, bitter old Patricia.
Jane Goldman of Chow.com has joined the critics with Sugar Ray for judgement of this challenge.
Curtis reveals the first secret ingredient: Bacon. Wait, really? The challenge is to make a great dish out of bacon? A better challenge would be how to make something NOT taste great with bacon. Ah well.
Chris and Takashi have a great time together, ribbing each other for the crowd. Takashi shares his Yuzo with the audience and Chris even borrows an egg from Takashi's fridge. As they are plating, Takashi suddenly realizes he's short one portion.
Chris looks up and sees what's going on and points to his extra piece of cooked bacon. Quote #1 of the episode: "Takashi-San: Take it. Take it." I actually get a genuine and huge flutter of happy warm fuzzies watching this.
These guys are at the top of their game and there is nothing but joy and mutual respect coming from both of them. Chris Cosentino has stolen my heart with this single moment of bacon sharing brotherhood. The audience and critics roar with applause. As do I.
Chris prepared a Mexican-inspired breakfast with corn, avocado, slab bacon and sizzled egg. Takashi's is a bacon steak with caramelized figs, dried dates and apricots, paired with an orange endive and fennel salad.
In keeping with the boxing motif, Curtis stands between the chefs to announce the results. He raises Chris' fist in triumph and declares him the winner. No surprise here, as his dish looked absolutely mouth-watering. And the man isn't too proud to share his bacon. Have I mentioned I heart him?
Curtis introduces Lorena and Patricia -- they have the same bacon slabs that the guys did. Lorena is thrilled with the challenge: "TOCINETA! Are you kidding me?!?!" This matchup is night and day: Lorena's fiery temper and excitement are in sharp contrast to cool Patricia's ice queeny methodical silence.
Quote #2 of the ep, from Patricia: "So the first thing I think of when I see this bacon is a BLT. But there's no bread, and there's no lettuce. So that's quite a challenge."
Patricia improvises a "BLT" -- Bacon, Leek, and Tomato salad. It looks clean but incredibly simple. Lorena's dish is a potato and bacon chowder with corn and bacon sofrito on top. Sugar Ray says he wanted to put his face into the bowl of Lorena's soup he loved it so much. Curtis declares Lorena the winner, to her utter surprise and Patricia's horror.
Now onto the championship round -- Chris vs. Lorena. Secret ingredient? Sugar! Chris seems totally perplexed. He decides to make zabaglione (an Italian custard-like dessert) which requires him to furiously whisk for the entire 20 minutes. It's exhausting just watching him.
Lorena is seriously overachieving with a flourless chocolate cake, pineapple and caramelized walnuts, and dulce de leche sauce. "Go Chris," barks Patricia, pointedly. She's really pickling right in front of us this episode.
The championship goes to ... Lorena! Curtis fits her with a ridiculous title belt and her excitement is overflowing. She really is a joy to watch this episode, you can tell she feels like the other chefs had not taken her seriously, but that she has proven herself with this win.
Onto the runners up. Takashi and Patricia the Pickle will fight it out to see who goes home. Their ingredient is chicken livers. They are both happy with that. Takashi talks more about why he chose the Red Cross Disaster Relief as his charity -- his hometown of Mito, Japan was devastated by the 2011 earthquake.
While all the chefs' charities are important, it absolutely means more to him than most. Takashi's dish is sauteed chicken livers with prosciutto and pickled red cabbage, Patricia prepared a warm asparagus salad with seared liver and prosciutto. They are surprisingly similar.
Jane and James disagree about Patricia's liver, he thinks it's undercooked and she thinks it's done perfectly. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that liver is not something I would ever want to have even remotely close to undercooked. I just threw up in my mouth thinking about it.
Patricia says that going home is not an option for her. She's right, as she takes third place, meaning Takashi is going home. I am totally bummed, he was a true bright light on the show and I loved watching him cook. It does feel like the Master of the Masters is going home way too early. You can tell the other chefs feel the same.
And then there were four.
Coming up next week: Some kind of flash mob all dressed in white throw a huge Venetian dinner al fresco, featuring an incredibly bloated, unkempt Robin Leach giving his commentary. Ew.
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