Recap: ‘Top Chef Masters,’ Season 5, Episode 2

Two elimination challenges help to thin the herd

The chefs had to create inventive Asian interpretations of American classics for an Asian night market.

We’re now two episodes in to this season of Top Chef Masters, and it’s starting to become clear who’s going to be rising from the pack and who will most likely be getting a ticket home relatively soon.

The episode began with the sous chefs in the middle of a mise en place race, and the Quickfire Curtis introduced was similar to last week’s, where they had to work with the same ingredients as the sous chefs. This time, however, the chefs had 30 minutes from the time the first sous chef finished their challenge to complete their mise en place and create a dish using those ingredients. And, oh yeah: someone would be eliminated at the end of it.

The sous chef challenge involved breaking down celery root, a pomegranate, squid, and rack of lamb, and when Sang Yoon’s sous chef finished first (giving him immunity), all the others had between 28 and 11 minutes to complete the work their sous chefs started, with Sandoval getting the short end of the stick thanks to a pokey assistant.  

Here were the dishes, which Stone and Gail Simmons judged:

Jennifer: Seared lamb loin with caramelized celery root, pomegranate reduction, and squid
Sang: Baby squid stuffed with spiced lamb sausage and pomegranate pickled celery root
Sue: Seared lamb loin, celery root puree, fennel pomegranate slaw, and crispy calamari
Lynn: Grilled rosemary lamb, celery root and pomegranate salad with grilled calamari
Jenn: Lamb tartare with fried squid, celery root, and pomegranate seeds
Richard: Lamb tartare, calamari salad, pomegranate jicama, micro green salad
Douglas: Lamb tataki hot pot
Bryan: Carpaccio of lamb and celeriac, pomegranate fish sauce and squid
Odette: lamb chop with celery root, pepper and black olive ratatouille, and crispy squid
Franklin: Grilled squid stuffed with lamb shawarma, salad of celery root, arugula, and pomegranate seeds

While every dish was certainly a variation on the theme, each one was decidedly different. Still, it came across as a Chopped-style challenge, and it was tough to get a good impression of what these dishes were really like.

Gail loved Sang’s stuffed squid, Sue’s lamb loin and salad, and Jenn’s tartare. Sue’s dish was “perfect,” though, and she won the challenge as well as $5,000 for her charity, the Gulf Restoration Network.

At the bottom end were Lynn’s rosemary skewer kabob, Odette’s lamb chop, and Richard’s tartare. Richard ended up getting the boot, in a way that’s possibly even more disappointing than losing a “real” Elimination Challenge: being set up for failure by his slow sous chef, then botching just about everything he was able to cobble together.  

With no time to mourn, Curtis introduced the Elimination Challenge. They would need to put an Asian twist on an American classic, and had two hours to prep and cook before service to 200 guests at an Asian-style night market. At least they got the help of their sous chefs!

They went shopping for supplies, and aside from Odette having no idea what to buy and Franklin losing his cart all seemed to go to plan. While cooking, the only real snag encountered was the fact that Jenn’s bread was a lot denser than she expected, and she was planning on serving a banh mi, which needed the bread. Sue had a similar problem, but scooped the middle out of the bread to help lighten it up.

Here were the final dishes:

Jenn: Pork meatball banh mi with chili mayo and cilantro-cucumber salad
Franklin: Peking-style burger with chicken, pork, duck, charred scallion, and eggplant fries
Odette: Glass vermicelli with mushrooms, fish ball, and miso broth (a play on spaghetti and meatballs)

The judges found Jenn’s bahn mi too bready, as expected. Franklin’s burger was full of flavor, but the eggplant fries were full of oil. They called Odette’s play on spaghetti and meatballs “crazypants,” but the fish ball was too soft and a little weird.

Bryan: Gyoza dumplings, chicken feet, green daikon, snap peas, and floral herbs
Neal: Panko-crusted chicken with coconut curry peanut sauce, and chicken heart

A seemingly tipsy Kathy Lee Gifford showed up to help judge this group, just in time to (not) eat the heart of a chicken. Everyone except for Kathy found Brian’s soup fantastic, with a rich developed broth. They liked Neal’s play on chicken nuggets, but found it salty.

Sang: Fried shrimp head and poached tail with chili garlic aioli and Burmese cabbage slaw
Lynn: Ginger chili BBQ pulled pork and Asian slaw on a scallion biscuit
Jennifer: BLT with scallion mayo, bacon, bonito-marinated tomato, and BBQ-spiced lotus chips

Everyone loved Sang’s dish, and Even Kathy Lee tried the head before vanishing, never to be heard from again. They liked Lynn’s pulled pork but found the slaw to be a little “food court,” and while Jennifer’s BLT was also good, it wasn’t necessarily an American dish turned on its head. 

Sue: Asian lobster roll, taro chips, spicy yuzu aioli, and pickled carrots
David: Ginger BBQ chicken dumpling and wonton-miso soup
Douglas: coconut and green cardamom cream with black sesame cookie soil, matcha rice krispy treat

They complimented Sue’s approach to the bread, but there was shell in the lobster. David’s soup had a lot of components but turned out good, and even though James Oseland thought that he would hate Douglas’ dish, he loved it, and the matcha rice krispy treat left blew everyone away and left Francis Lam “warm and happy.”

Bryan, Douglas, and Sang were called in to meet with the judges first, and they were told that they’re the ones on top. Sang’s crunchy shrimp head and complex slaw took the win, with $10,000 for his charity, Worldwide Orphans Foundation.

Sue, Odette, and Jenn were on the bottom, and the judges were really none too pleased. The texture of Odette’s fish ball was offputtingly soft and gluey; Sue’s lobster roll didn’t taste Asian even though it was supposedly loaded with Asian ingredients (and the judges got shell); and the meatballs fell out the back of Jenn’s overly bready sandwich.

In the end, Jenn’s folly with the bread proved to be her ticket home, even though everything else on her plate tasted good.

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Next week: The chefs cook for the cast of Days of Our Lives