You wouldn't think that contempt for the abstract concept of "science" would be enough to hold a show together. But the producers of Top Chef Masters gave it a shot this week with challenges that could have been put together by the medieval church, premised as they were on "science as liability" and "science as enemy of art."
The quickfire was absolutely thrilling, relative to solitary confinement in a sealed, buried coffin. The challenge: Use a microwave to cook a hot breakfast in 10 minutes for two extremely safe comediennes. Most of the cheftestants used bacon and/or eggs. Mary Sue whiffed it with a goat cheese and avocado sandwich where the bread got hard "like eating a football." Hilarious!
Predictably, everyone carped about microwaves a lot. Precious Naomi grew up a cherished, protected child, never sullied by the presence of a microwave. Mary Sue only uses them to reheat tea. Hugh pasted microwaves and fast food in one lazily dismissive remark: "Just like McDonald's." But he won the quickfire with a beautiful and inspired baked egg. It didn't prove to be much of a gain, however, since at this point in the game immunity is no longer part of the deal.
Each chef teamed up with a suspiciously good-looking scientist to help them explain one of five scientific concepts vis-à-vis a gastronomic science fair. The concepts were mostly mind-blowingly simple: "Acidity." "Viscosity." "Emulsion." (Some points for "Maillard reaction," which is a bit more subtle and a cornerstone of cooking.)
Traci bemoaned the fact that she "went to a Podunk-nowhere school that didn't have things as fancy as science fairs," apparently missing the point that all you need to have a science fair is a few pieces of cardboard and a measuring tape. Throw in some tinfoil and baking soda, and you're golden.
Then came the un-twist to the science fair theme: The chefs were only able to cook using scientific equipment like beakers, pans, open flames, and induction griddles, which is like telling a championship race car driver that they have to compete in a race using a perfectly serviceable late-model Honda Accord against opponents also driving Accords.
Much—much—was made of how difficult the challenge was. Mary Sue's killer quote: "We're cooking with beakers ... and Bunsen burners ... it's absurd." (This could be easily translated to: "We're cooking with vessels ... and flames ... it's absurd.") Later she said: "We're cooking on Bunsen burners ... it's sort of like cooking with one hand behind your back." Yes. One hand behind your back COOKING ON A GAS BURNER. Oh, the whining on this show. (Almost certainly producer-prompted, but, oh, the whining.)
The comedy highlight was the appearance of a black-and-white-clothing-bedecked, suspender-wearing James Oseland, who looked as though he was ready to go to a Skavoovie and the Epitones concert, or like the least dangerous Reservoir Dog.
Oseland also got the "Don't quote me on that" quote of the show, as he said of Naomi's calzone filling: "That melting gelée did really spurt in your mouth in the most unpleasant way." He also chided lazy Hugh for his boring mayo (a.k.a. "emulsion") breaking; Hugh said of the Saveur editor-in-chief, "He just doesn't know what he's talking about." Gotta disagree: He's one of the very few people who should be allowed to have any dialogue on the show.
Mary Sue won with viscous dulce de leche–filled churros, beating Floyd's admirable Maillard reaction/no Maillard reaction beef duo. It was a bit sad, as Floyd actually has a master's in biochemistry.
But the lack of immunity caught up to lazy, arrogant Hugh, who got bounced in a pretty darn easy decision.