Is Top Chef Masters already flatlining? It stands to reason that every episode can't be a blockbuster, but this one was pretty pizazz-less, edible bugs notwithstanding. Read on for a full spoiler.
Cook live edible bugs. Crickets, beetles, scorpions, night crawlers, and so forth. The sight of crickets cut in half, legs waving, is a nice Japanese-era Iron Chef moment, but Top Chef Masters fails to deliver any poetically visceral descriptions of the bugs' taste and texture that would help us appreciate the horror and/or delight of this high-protein treat.
Citing a Hindu "no butchery" clause, Suvir cops out of the challenge, making a salad with a jar of live horned worms that diners can choose to kill and torch themselves. Guest judge My Cock takes him up on the challenge, in a somewhat squirm-inducing moment. CORRECTION: "Guest judge Myke Hawke."
Hugh takes the prize with fried tempura crickets and a sunchoke purée.
Cook a course of your choosing to be part of a 10-course meal for 50 guests. There are curve balls, but they feel phoned in. Ooh, dinner gets served 30 minutes earlier than expected, leaving you a mere two and a half hours to make a single course. Even the contestants have a hard time seeming stressed about this. How about some interesting curve balls? Ten-year-olds shooting at you with paintball guns! Live, semidangerous snakes! Randomly electrified kitchen utensils!
The methadone stand-in for drama comes from Naomi, who is produced into seeming bossy when she is, in fact, merely organizing when courses will go out and who's cooking what.
More legitimate drama: Suvir, who has become my least favorite person on the show, condescendingly talks smack about Celina's chocolate pudding. He sets up his diss in terms of concern (he doesn't really understand American "plastic-wrapped" pudding, having grown up eating only good, real pudding), and tut-tuttingly says, "I hope they don't bash her for it." Ugh. He also finds time to praise his own "Zen-like calm" in the kitchen.
The high point of the judging is when Saveur's James Oseland schools the whippersnappers from Grub Street and Restaurant Girl on how vegetables should be cooked (hint: more than the young whippersnappers think).
Simple, well-executed dishes well within the chefs' comfort zones stand on the victors' podium. Suvir's chickpea-potato-yogurt chaat salad sounded good; Naomi's celery soup with salsa verde and lemon oil was universally enjoyed and won the day.
It comes down to three not-very-terrible dishes. Mary Sue's ceviche was described alternately as a bit underflavored and tasting too heavily of the pickled onions. John's risotto with shiitake and prosciutto seemed kind of decent but kind of boring. Celina's puddin'—inexplicably and consistently missing the "g"—with a ginger doughnut was a bit gritty, owing to an overdose of cocoa powder. With little explanation John gets kicked off the show.
Viewers are left confused—not enraged, not even necessarily irritated—but certainly confused by the judges' decision. On one hand, you've got a boring but well-carried-off risotto, generally acknowledged as decent ("Perfectly good," I think James Oseland called it). On the other hand, an even more unambitious, "gritty" chocolate "puddin'," flawed and boring. Why did the risotto go home? Total mystery. Weird call, judges and/or producers.