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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Top Chef Masters: Improv

Illustration for article titled iTop Chef Masters/i: Improv
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A quick and painless episode (well, aside from the ever-empty Kelly Choi) sent us into the finale tonight, putting forward three chefs with distinctly different styles and backgrounds. These final few episodes I find the most interesting of any season; with only the strongest chefs left, the critics must step away from dividing the good from the bad toward a much more complex and nuanced exploration of why one good dish is better than another.

Things started off well enough during tonight's quickfire; given the four chefs' differences, I was all in for seeing their takes on one another's recipes. The soupification of those entrées really zapped my interest, though, a sloppy addition that felt more like a hassle than a challenge. Top Chef-throwback or no, I would have much preferred to see the chefs prepare each other's recipe with their own spin than see them scrap those dishes midway through for soup. Improvising isn't the same thing as having to deal with an entirely new set of instructions halfway through; ditching the challenge halfway through also made the challenge harder to follow. I was digging the extra time we have now with this few people, really ready to appreciate how they were changing these dishes, then all of a sudden with the mention of soup everything's being simmered and passed through chinois. In the end, Marcus' soup-take on Jonathan's dish, a chicken soup with with crunchy tortilla chips, won him his first challenge. James sat primly and made faces. Onward.


In the elimination challenge, each chef was given a color, an emotion, and an ingredient to work with, playing off improvisation. Susur landed the easy set of chocolate (color), lust, peanut butter and immediately begins to construct a vagina/chocolate underwear plate with adult flavors. God bless Susur. If it were anyone else, it'd be creepy instead of charming. Susur's take on improv was "it was a silly thing," and so was his dish.

Tonight's competition was stiff enough that the judges were forced to examine the conceit of the challenge. Finally, the judges are considering how the chefs adapted their dishes to the challenge. Here Jonathan's depressed burnt-sienna avocado dish really let him down; I love roasted chicken and would order that in a heartbeat, but after seeing Susan go home last week, maybe Jonathan should have paused before cooking a comfort-food type meal. The judges seemed to buy his explanation of the dish as "entertaining," but that just doesn't seem analogous to the comfort-food idea. Sorry to see him go.


That leaves us with Marcus, Susur, and Rick heading into the finale, which many of you called last week. I for one am squarely in Susur's camp.

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

Favorite exchange of the evening:
    James - My pork was almost raw!
    Rick: No, it wasn't.
    James: Pouty face


Worst exchange:
    "Hi James!"
    "Hi Kelly!"

Thank goodness for Gail Simmons, who consistently delivers substantive critiques.



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