Recap: 'Top Chef: Masters,' Season 5, Episode 4

Curry, a surprise party, and a peek behind the scenes

Curtis Stone was thrown a surprise engagement party in this week's episode.

With nine chefs remaining, we’re not exactly yet in the phase where we weep for those who get booted off, but we already know enough about these chefs that we know who we’re rooting for.

The Quickfire challenge paired beer and curry: In half an hour, they needed to prepare a curry, one which would pair well with a specific Goose Island beer. With only a half-hour to create a dish that’s complex by definition, they were understandably a little stressed. But they all picked out a beer (the same one, incidentally), decided on a curry to make, and got to work.

Los Angeles’ KCRW’s music director Jason Bentley was brought in to judge, because music is like curry, or something. Here’s what seven of them ended up with (for some reason, we haven’t been seeing all the chefs’ Quickfires):

Franklin: Malaysian curried mussels with okra and scallions, paired with Sofie beer
Jennifer: Harissa mussels with eggplant, chickpeas, chile papadum chops, and Matilda beer broth
Douglas: Coconut water consommé, petrale sole and mango, paired with Sofie beer
Lynn: Vegetable curry with green apples and cashews, paired with Sofie beer
Sang: Northern Thai yellow curry with Kaffir lime and chicken thighs, paired with Sofie beer
Neal: Grilled chicken leg, basmati rice and coconut curry sauce, paired with Sofie beer
Bryan: Wood oven-roasted shrimp, peanut, coconut, and orange cells, paired with Sofie beer

Douglas’ consommé "didn’t feel curry enough," according to Bentley, and Franklin’s mussels were too complicated. Lynn’s vegetable curry paired nicely with the beer and blew him away, though, and Sang’s was hearty, spicy, and "a real curry." Sang won the challenge, and won $5,000 for his charity, Worldwide Orphans. He’s far and away been the strongest challenger yet.

For the Elimination Challenge, James Oseland showed up to tell them that his magazine, Saveur, would be throwing a "global tasting," and that they’d need to provide the food. Douglas’ sous chef won the earlier competition, so he got immunity. Lynne, Bryan, and Sang’s sous chefs were on the bottom, so they automatically got put in a group together. Douglas got to choose his partners, David and Sue, and the remaining three chefs, Franklin, Neal, and Jennifer, were teamed together.

Off to Whole Foods they went, where everyone except the losing team had a half-hour to shop (Lynne, Bryan, and Sang got only 15 minutes). After Curtis left, Oseland told them that he wasn’t in fact feting Saveur, he was throwing a surprise engagement party for Curtis. Good times! To help them plan their menus, Curtis’ fiancée Lindsay Price came in, and she told them that he loves chocolate and spicy curry crab. They went shopping, some with more time than others, then headed into the kitchens to get some cooking done.

In the meantime, a bunch of (presumably) Curtis and Lindsay’s family and friends crept into the main room, drank some champagne, and waited for Curtis to walk in. We got to see what the set looks like backstage (it looks like the backstage of a set), Curtis walked in, smiled broadly, showed his human side, and tried some of the chefs’ food.

Here were the dishes, broken down by team:

Sang: Deconstructed Korean BBQ with ssamjang vinaigrette, scallions, and black sesame
The judges thought it was a great take on tartare, and deemed it delicious.
Lynn: Curried crabcakes with mango-ginger relish
Curtis thought that the crab tasted great, and Lindsay agreed.
Bryan: Bay scallops, grapefruit, and maple vinegar
The yogurt fought with citrus, but the scallop was just about perfect.
Team: Yellow corn cake with bourbon ice cream and caramel
While the cake tasted a little bland, overall it wasn’t a bad dessert.

Neal: Lamb kafta with peanut coconut curry
This largely came across as too fatty and difficult to eat.
Jennifer: Lobster, lentil, and coconut ravioli with macadamia and red curry
They didn’t get much in the way of lobster, but it reminded Lindsay of what they ate on their second date, so there was that.
Franklin: Salmon with citrus, avocado and cucumber and pink sake guava coconut cocktail
The cocktail was no good.
Team: Ricotta chocolate donuts
The texture was good but it had no taste, and the chocolate was more like a "skid mark."

Team: Korean surf and turf with steak and lobster
While the lobster and meat together was a little weird, it still tasted pretty good.
Sue: Curried crab beignet with cilantro aioli
It was a big bite, but was crunchy and tasty.
Douglas: Shiitake umami broth
The flavor was great, and the glass’ rim impressed Curtis.
David: Chocolate cheesecake pops with peppermint whipped cream
These were addictive, and just about everyone seemed to love them.

Sue, Doug, and David were called in to see the critics first, and they were told that their team had the top dishes. The umami broth was "deceptively complex" and full of flavor, Sue’s beignet was crunchy on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside, and David’s dessert made everyone happy. Each member of the team won $5,000 for their charities.

Franklin, Neal, and Jennifer were called in to meet with the judges next. Obviously on the bottom, none of their dishes really worked. Neal’s kafta was too fatty and not very interesting, and Jennifer’s pasta dough was too thick and there didn’t appear to be any lobster. Franklin, who decided to take on two dishes (not a wise move), made an absolutely atrocious coconut guava drink, and the donuts were bland and needed more chocolate, even though his salmon was okay.

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In the end, Franklin got the ax because he bit off more than he could chew, and served food that simply wasn’t very good. Another arguable elimination; they seemed to be leaning toward Neal because he made one simple dish that didn’t impress anyone. It’s clear that on Top Chef ambition is rewarded, but getting in over your head is punished.