Recap: 'Top Chef Masters,' Season 5, Episode 8

Lemony Snicket, Lucha wrestlers, ketchup, and Mexican entrées

Curtis was subjected to repeated humiliations during the course of this episode.

As the five remaining chefs entered the kitchen to meet Curtis in the beginning of this week’s episode, they were met by an accordionist, who also happened to be Daniel Handler, who is best known as Lemony Snicket, author of A Series of Unfortunate Events and overall weird dude. He introduced the Quickfire challenge, which was left up to a "mastermind," the sous chef who won the Battle of the Sous Chefs. This episode started off very oddly.

Douglas’ sous chef Paul won, so Doug got immunity and the two of them got 10 minutes to come up with their own Quickfire, and they settled on ketchup as their theme, to get back at Sang, who doesn’t allow ketchup in his restaurants. So they had 20 minutes to create dish that featured ketchup. Here’s what they ended up with:

Douglas: Duck breast with ketchup and mustard red miso, blood turnip, and scallions
Sang: Japanese-style karaage fried chicken with sweet chile sauce and grilled enoki mushrooms
Jennifer: Scallop with ketchup sauce, fermented black beans, avocados, and blood orange
Bryan: Buffalo chicken wings with celery emulsion and blue cheese snow
David: Grilled cheese and scallop sandwich with ketchup soup and salad with ketchup dressing

David and Douglas’ dishes were on the bottom, but Lemony liked Bryan’s and Jennifer’s, which he called "wondrous." Jennifer took the win, and with it $5,000 for Work Options for Women.

Lemony left (after giving Curtis an uncomfortably huge hug), and immediately afterward "guys in chicken suits," aka Lucha-style wrestlers, walked in to introduce the Elimination Challenge. "I gotta stop taking these drugs," said Sang.

The challenge was to create a two-item Mexican dish for 300 diners, to be served ringside during a Lucha Vavoom competition. The chefs went to a massive, awesome-looking Mexican supermarket with a few hundred dollars in their pocket to shop, and came back and got to work.

As they arrived to complete their dishes the next day, an obstacle was introduced: Sang and Jennifer’s sous chefs needed to switch off, working for the opposing chef. With one hour to prep before service, and an entire menu to learn, this was a big blow to recover from. But they forged ahead, and soon the flood gates opened and 600 guests streamed in.

After a brief Crying Game moment for David, they presented their dishes to the judges, including Jane Goldman from and Los Angeles Magazine’s Lesley Suter.

David: Shrimp and chorizo quesadilla with chipotle and watermelon; red snapper Veracruz with pumpkin seeds and cactus
The judges agreed that the quesadilla was more of a flauta, but it tasted good. In the Veracruz, the olives were overwhelming.

Bryan: Shrimp and chorizo with plantain and yellow corn porridge; chile masa dumplings, braised beef tongue, salsa verde, and avocado
The shrimp were a little underpoached, and the masa gave it a real Mexican essence. They seemed to really enjoy the tongue.

Jennifer: Shrimp, bass, and scallop ceviche with papaya, mango, pineapple, and plantain crisp; guajillo chile posole with shaved cabbage, lime, cilantro, and queso fresco
The ceviche was "flavored beautifully," and the posole was liked by all the judges.

Sang: Northern Thai-style shrimp cocktail with avocado foam and tortilla strips; pork shoulder barbacoa with sweet corn sope and radish cabbage slaw
The Mexican flavor didn’t come through in the shrimp cocktail, and it tasted strongly of fish sauce. The barbacoa was tender and traditional, but too salty.

Douglas: Bloody Maria with spicy tequila, tomato, and citrus; chorizo and corn fritter with scallion and garlic aioli
The judges have had better Bloody Marias (and felt that he was skating around the competition a little bit by serving it), and the fritter was mushy on the inside (in a good way) and crisp on the outside.

After a bit of horseplay in the ring, the chefs made their way to the Judges’ Table. Jennifer and Bryan had the judges’ favorite dishes. Her posole was well-balanced and rich, lightened up by the crisp slaw, and her ceviche really captured all the tropical flavors. Bryan’s tongue was brave, and the dumplings were fun and playful. Jennifer ended up on top, continuing Bryan’s reign as always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

While they appreciated Sang’s choice of fusing cuisines, the fish sauce was too overpowering, and his barbacoa was too salty and just not that interesting. David’s quesadilla wasn’t a quesadilla (Gail called it "easy party food that you could have bought frozen"), and there was too much tortilla wrapper and not much cheese. His snapper was cooked nicely, but the olives made it off-balance.

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In the end, Sang’s fishy shrimp cocktail and salty barbacoa got him sent home. Now we’re down to the final four, and only two episodes remain.