“Top Chef Masters” Season 5, Episode 3: The Week in Quotes

Auditory torture, product placement, and a purple sweater.

By: Jessica Voelker

As we’ve discussed before, TCM’s principal problem is that the stakes of the show are so low. To drum up that much-needed drama, Bravo producers have so far turned to skydiving, shrimp heads, and—talk about a deal with the devil—a surprise visit from Kathy Lee Gifford.

This week they dropped any pretense of subtlety and just asked the team from daytime drama Days of Our Lives (yup, Days is still on) to come judge the food. Because of course a group of dead-eyed soap stars who survive on Benzedrine and broken dreams are qualified to evaluate dishes crafted by the country’s most accomplished chefs.

“You’re also wearing a purple sweater.”

Someone call McDonald’s HQ: Curtis Stone has abducted Grimace and made, from his lush purple coat, a form-fitting V-neck sweater. The Aussie’s regal garment was so intensely hued, I couldn’t stop staring at his cashmere-covered chest, and so, I confess, I missed much of what occurred during the Quickfire. I gather that the sous chefs had made some sausage during their online bout, and then the chefs had to make a dish from a packet of leftover vittles. (Conveniently, this gave Neal Fraser the opportunity to talk about how he has the biggest package. Good one, dude.)

Bryan Voltaggio created an homage to morning hunting—a preferred pastime of our Frederick favorite—using venison, coffee soil, and granola. I thought it was brilliant, but the Quickfire prize went to Sang “Shrimp Head” Yoon, who kept things simple with spicy pork larb—a smart choice for leftover meat and proof that TCM is not always about keeping things complicated or conceptual (sorry, Chef Bryan).

“I punch in the numbers on my Lexus RS, and we drive off to Whole Foods.”

Franklin Becker also won a prize this week: most gratuitous use of product placement in a single sentence. For the elimination round, he and his chef colleagues are challenged to make a dramatic dish based on sex, greed, or murder while name-dropping the corporate sponsors under the thin pretense of extemporaneous conversation. I should back up and tell you that the team of producers, in their infinite wisdom and not at all because they were under the influence of benzoylmethylecgonine, decided to hire an organ player of the old-timey variety to pound on the cords whenever something “dramatic” happened.

For instance: Three chefs received time penalties because their sous chefs sucked at making sausage, and they had to spend their 30-minute penalties acting out a common soap scenario. When Stone broke the news to Voltaggio that he’d be locked up in an onstage jail cell, we heard horrible organ notes. And when Yoon had to pretend he was murdered, again came the groaning auditory assault. By the time Becker was instructed to pretend to be in a coma, I had to bury my head under a pillow and cry for mercy, but I can only assume the organ player clamped down on the keys once more. Eventually, streams of blood began pouring out of the chefs’ eardrums, and Stone, sensing a lawsuit, wrestled the organ grinder from his instrument and locked him in Voltaggio’s faux prison cell. (Can’t you see Andy Cohen watching this gleefully from that weird basement where he drinks cocktails with lizards dressed up like ladies? “Bleed, chefs, bleeeeeeed!”)

What’s that? You’d like to know who won this week? That would be Jennifer Jasinski, who “murdered the competition” with her seared duck breast and citrus-chili duck sausage with fregola and celery salad, earning a plump sum for Work Options for Women.

“I think I’m a rather sophisticated diner.”

Joining the actor judges was a team of actually qualified food people that included Ruth Reichl and Top Chef newbie Lesley Suter—the Los Angeles magazine food and wine editor who is, no doubt, a sophisticated diner but seemed a little done in by the presence of her majesty Mrs. Reichl who, if you don’t know, has a supernatural ability to kill off less accomplished food scribes simply by flicking her bangs and blinking. When Suter dared dislike Douglas Keane’s contribution, joining forces with the Days crew, Reichl appeared peeved. “This is a master chef at work,” she sniffed, fixing her gamine gaze meaningfully on the bespectacled Los Angelino. “Please don’t kill me with your bangs,” Suter seemed to implore the all-powerful Reichl, whimpering slightly. And this was, without a close second, the most dramatic moment of this week’s episode.

Keane was of course spared the indignity of dismissal—nobody crosses Reichl—and in the end it was Odette Fada who suffered the sharpest slings and arrows of those pedestrian palates. The entire daytime TV crew vomited when they discovered there was egg yolk (along with mushroom) inside her raviolo—a signature dish the acclaimed chef has been cooking for 20 years. “The presentation was as bland as the taste” said someone named Drake. And the real judges sort of shruggingly went along with the whole charade, asking the pasta master to roll on out of TCM town.

Fada calmly packed her knives and went, no doubt wondering how a person goes from being nominated for a James Beard award to getting her signature dish picked apart by a bunch of soap stars who smell of self-tanner. It’s called the Andy Cohen effect, Chef Fada. We’ll see you on the reunion show.