Top Chef Masters Episode 9: Back to SchoolBy Graham Kates
September 19, 2013
The final four cheftestants walk into the Top Chef Masters kitchen knowing that only one won’t be making the finale.
Last week, an early contender for the title was knocked out when Sang Yoon was given the boot, which means the remaining chefs all cleared a major hurdle on their paths to victory.
This week, they’re told the final Quickfire challenge of the season is a burger competition. Also, they discover after they’ve finished, Yoon is the guest Quickfire judge.
His least favorite burgers include Douglas Keane’s shrimp burger (inspired by one Keane tried at a Japanese McDonald’s) and Bryan Voltaggio’s classic bacon and cheddar burger. The winner, in a surprising twist, is Jennifer Jasinski’s burger with caramelized bacon, shiitake ponzu slaw and sriracha ketchup. Yoon likes Jasinski’s burger best, even though he quite famously hates ketchup.
Ever since facing former cheftestant Sue Zemanick in a battle to stave off elimination, Jasinski has won every single challenge, host Curtis Stone points out. She’s on a major roll.
Stone moves on to reveal that Voltaggio’s sous chef, Graeme Ritchie, won the last challenge in “Battle of the Sous Chefs,” meaning Voltaggio is granted immunity for the next elimination challenge - a non-stop ticket to the finale! Voltaggio is now the first cheftestant to reach the finale on both Top Chef and Top Chef Masters. In addition, he has managed to get this far without winning a single challenge on Top Chef Masters.
On to the elimination challenge, which is introduced by Tom Waldman, the director of communications for the Los Angeles Unified School District. He tells the chefs they’ll be serving food at a teacher tribute, and that each chef will be asked to make one dish inspired by a particular LA teacher.
As they shop for their ingredients, Jasinski seems particularly frantic and Burke smells blood.
“I think she’s my next target to take out,” he says. “She’s getting nervouser by the day, and like babbling nervous.”
We’ll see, Burke. We’ll see.
While he thinks Jasinski may be going home, Burke reveals during prep that he’s been really impressed by the chef skils of Keane and Voltaggio.
“Doug and Bryan, those guys are playing on another field right now. Modern technique, this and that, these are gonna be the future drivers of American cuisine,” Burke says.
During service, the teachers and judges in general seem impressed with all the dishes. But their favorites are Keane’s smoked salmon with cauliflower, cucumber, and three kinds of caviar - which judge James Oseland says “feels like a celebration” - and Voltaggio’s calamari Bolognese with miso cavatelli, bacon, and squid ink.
“I was trepidatious when I heard that it was going to be calamari Bolognese,” says judge Gail Simmons, “but every component of that dish was beautiful.”
In the end, Voltaggio FINALLY wins. Just one episode before the finale, Voltaggio might be on a roll. If so, watch out, chefs.
Burke and Jasinski are in the bottom, but the judges have more praise than they do criticism of both dishes. They like Jasinski’s rack of lamb with creamy grains, pear, fennel and red wine reduction, although some eaters find the lamb a bit too rare. Meanwhile, they appreciate the risk Burke took in preparing 60 bittersweet chocolate soufflés with toasted orange peel and raspberry sauce, but they think the texture was off. Burke explains that it sat too long while waiting to be served.
In the end, Burke’s mistake was bigger than Jasinski’s, they decide. He’s told he just missed the finale.
As he leaves, he tells his comrades: “It’s a real tribute to what’s going on in American food working with all of you.”
The final three are all set for the finale, but there’s one last item to wrap up: the final “Battle of the Sous Chefs,” which aired on Bravo right after Top Chef Masters.
The remaining sous chefs are told to each create a dish that tells the story of the very first day they worked for their Top Chef master. Also, the dish has to be a dessert. And one more thing: it will be served as the final course of the Top Chef Masters final challenge.
Voltaggio’s sous chef, Ritchie, wins again with his coconut pudding, sorbet with Greek yogurt and lavender pudding.
“I basically gave him the alley oop, all he has to do is slam dunk it,” Ritchie says of Voltaggio.
Meanwhile, Keane’s sous, Paul Winberry, Jr., puts him at a disadvantage for the finale. Winberry’s Greek yogurt panna cotta, compressed mango & Thai herb ice was Oseland’s least favorite, so Winberry will be barred from helping Keane during the first day of finale prep.