Recap: 'Top Chef Masters,' Season 5 Episode 5

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It's Restaurant Wars Time!

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72 and Sunny's team came out on top.

As the episode began, Curtis told the chefs that there would be no Quickfire, so it was clear that something was up. Two teams were created based on the winners of the sous chef battle, Neal (whose second-in-command won the challenge) got immunity, and Curtis announced that this week’s challenge would be the big one that usually comes this time each season: Restaurant Wars.

The two teams (Neal, Bryan, Jennifer, and Lynn vs. David, Sang, Sue, and Douglas) would be forced to create two completely distinct restaurants from scratch, partnered with a "celebrity restaurateur." Actress Busy Philipps came out to challenge them to make "elevated and sophisticated" food that brings together all of LA’s disparate cuisines. The team whose sous chefs won got to have their second-in-commands on hand for two hours; the other team had to go it alone. As these are all accomplished chefs, it would be a walk in the park for them… or would it?

They sat down to figure out their strategies, and as strategy sessions usually are, it seemed like quite a slog. Ideas were tossed around, some were embraced, others were thrown out, and Bryan complained that they weren’t paying enough attention to him. But off they went to Whole Foods and Restaurant Depot to stock up on supplies, and the challenge was underway.

Sue revealed that their restaurant’s name would be called 72 and Sunny, and that it would "show the diversity and different flavors of LA-inspired food." Lynn revealed that the name of her team’s restaurant would be Artisan, and would take inspiration from the city’s "firsts" like sundaes and Cobb salad.

The division of labor was decided upon (Jennifer and David would manage front-of-house, respectively), servers were scared straight, and service began. The critics (including Francis Lam and Ruth Reichl) showed up at Artisan first, and the first dishes were served.

Jennifer: Cauliflower-tahini soup; citrus salad with avocado, chevre, endive, radicchio, and orange vinaigrette
The soup was more of a sauce, and the salad’s dressing was too sweet, with the components not playing too well together.

Bryan: Cobb salad-inspired salad with dehydrated bacon and horseradish snow
Neal: New York strip steak with cavolo nero and twice-baked fingerling potatoes
The "salad" was beautiful, and "every bite… was a complete surprise," according to Reichl. The steak was "expected" and not very exciting.

Lynn: Chocolate brownie sundae with roasted banana ice cream and peanut caramel sauce
Neal: California olive oil cake with mascarpone ice cream
The cake was moist if "lackluster," and the brownie was incredibly rich.

Onward they went, over to 72 and Sunny, which seemed to be having a more difficult go of it in the kitchen. But in the end, it was only the food that would matter.

Douglas: Slow-poached salmon with ginger shiso, dashi gelée, and salmon caviar
Sue: Quinoa, arugula, and feta salad with radishes, mint, and lemon vinaigrette
The salmon was a little "jiggly," but worked for Reichl. The salad didn’t have "the mark of a chef," Dana Cowin felt.

David and Douglas: Snapper with sweet corn purée, garlic chorizo, and roasted tomato vinaigrette
Sang: Sous vide strip loin with broccoli two ways, puffed tendon, and black bean ghee
The raw scallions on top of the snapper were unnecessary, and the sauce on Sang’s beef was delicious.

David: Tangerine and spiced honey panna cotta with strawberry champagne gelée
Sue: Chocolate malt semifreddo with fudge, marshmallow, and graham crackers
The panna cotta was smooth and silky is a little too large, and Sue’s semifreddo was very popular.

No team was a clear winner based on the way the meals were presented on television, but 72 and Sunny edged out Artisan. Service was "warm and controlled," according to Gail, and no dish bombed (Reichl dropped an interesting bit of knowledge, mentioning that Jean-Georges Vongerichten once told her that his favorite sauce was a combination of soy sauce and butter). The chef who approximated that sauce, Sang, ended up winning the challenge.

Artisan’s team was next, and it was clear that the judges weren’t blown away by their offerings. Jennifer’s soup was overpoweringly rich and had nothing to do with LA, and the mushrooms in her very ordinary salad were a bit out of place. Douglas’ dish was a New York steak even though it was supposed to be an LA theme, and Lynn’s brownie was also very rich. On the other end, Bryan’s salad was universally loved, and he appears to be safe for now.

In the end, it was Lynn that ended up getting shown the door. Her dessert just wasn’t that great, and if you serve a dish that’s not that great, you go home. 

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