Recap: 'Top Chef Masters,' Season 5, Episode 7

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Ali Larter, nachos, and hot and cold fish
Bravo

Episode 7 challenged the chefs to make their take on nachos.

After last week’s double elimination, it was clear that the fact that both Sue and Jennifer were kicked off obviously ruffled a lot of feathers, largely because their dishes were judged on how well they satisfied children. As this week’s episode began, we welcomed back Jennifer, who beat out Susan in the Battle of the Sous Chefs for a second chance.

Actress Ali Larter walked out to introduce the Quickfire, for some reason, which revolved around the vaguely Mexican concoction known as nachos. The chef who made the best dish would earn immunity as well as $5,000 for their charity. Here’s what they made:

Neal: Chicken and Jack cheese flauta with tomatillo salsa and ancho chiles
David: Calamari and fried mango skewer with squid ink and Jack cheese sauce
Douglas: Shrimp with powdered nacho chips, cheese, beans, and salsa consommé
Jennifer: Skirt steak with tomatillo salsa verde, sour cream, and Cheddar sauce
Sang: Masa corn griddle cake with chorizo hash, pico de gallo, and Cheddar cheese snow
Bryan: Avocado-wrapped crab salad with tomatillo salsa and crispy corn chips

David’s calamari felt "thrown together," according to Ali, and Sang’s cheese tasted like the powdered stuff you find in mac and cheese mix. Doug’s deconstructed nacho was just about perfect, and Bryan’s crab salad was really elevated. Douglas’ dish ended up winning him immunity and $5,000 for Green Dog Rescue.

Ali took her leave, and after the contestants paired off, Stone introduced the Elimination Challenge, in which the teams would have to create a seafood dish that had both a hot and cold preparation. They’d be serving 60 guests at Duke’s, one of Malibu’s hottest restaurants. They’d shop that night, but wouldn’t know what protein they’d be working with until the following morning.

They shopped with no particular protein in mind, playing it quite possibly a little bit safer because of that. They had a nice dinner at Kwami (it’s that point in the season where the chefs do more than just run around), and we had the chance to hear Jennifer discuss not having kids, Bryan took some photos (using that great face-switching app), and they all seemed to enjoy each other’s company. But the next morning it was back to the competition, and the Anderson Seafood truck pulled up bearing sea bass, mussels, filleted John Dory, jumbo lump blue crab, and a slew of other seafood. They drew knives for the pick, and Jennifer and Douglas chose the John Dory, David and Neal chose the sea bass, and Sang and Bryan chose sable fish. And off they went to cook.

Here were their final dishes:

Sang: Dashi-cured sablefish with charred cucumber
Bryan: BBQ sablefish with pine nuts, cornbread, and soy bubbles
Sang’s was basically disgusting and lukewarm (Curtis spit it out), but the ash-nori emulsion had a nice sea flavor. Bryan’s preparation was very flavorful, and "one of the smartest, best dishes" judge James Oseland had eaten this season.

Neal: Local sea bass crudo with citrus tomato pepper vinaigrette
David: Mediterranean-glazed sea bass with tomato couscous and curry oil
The presentation was a mess, and this bass didn’t lend itself to a raw preparation because it was sinewy. David’s was very busy and the couscous was greasy, but the two dishes were connected conceptually.

Douglas and Jennifer: John Dory two ways: kimchi-cured John Dory with crispy John Dory and cucumbers
The presentation was beautiful, and the two dishes were actually two very different temperatures. The flavors and textures really went together, and the overall dishes was well-liked by just about all the judges.

All the chefs were called to the Critics’ Table, and Jennifer and Douglas learned that their dish was the favorite. "It was as if one chef had made this dish," Curtis said, adding that it was "executed perfectly," with a hot piece of fish seemingly magically nestled atop a cold broth.

The texture of Sang’s sable was mushy and lukewarm, and there wasn't enough of the nori emulsion. While Bryan claimed that the "bridging element" was smoke, that didn’t come across, and the two dishes didn’t complement each other at all (Oseland called it "exactly what you don’t want raw fish to be"). It took Neal a long time to break the fish down, and because the crudo was tough, he probably should have just served the tartare. David’s couscous was damp and oily, and though the fish was cooked nicely, it was lost in spices.

In the end, Neal’s sinewy, poorly executed crudo was the one that sent him home, and Sang breathed a sigh of relief because he knew that he could have just as easily been canned. Next week, Lucha wrestlers show up, and it looks like the chefs have to work with other chefs’ sous chefs.

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