Something I thought to myself while watching Top Chef Masters this week: You know who would never allow wrestlers in chicken masks to carry him offscreen, Charlie Chaplin-style? Tom Colicchio, that’s who. This occurred to me just after I watched Curtis Stone jump into the arms of a few men in tights and get whisked away as the remaining chefs smiled, pretending they weren’t witnessing the last vestiges of a man’s dignity disappear out stage left.
And then this occurred to me: No matter how ridiculous the original Top Chef gets, no matter how many non-sequitur celebrity appearances and shameless product tie-ins, you always have Colicchio there, lending much-need gravitas to the Bravo fluff factory. Stone, on the other hand, only amps up the ridiculousness with his V-necks and his white teeth and his handsome-boy, game attitude. He seems like a nice guy, but is definitely part of the problem.
“Blood turnip—that was my nickname in high school.”
Why is Daniel Handler, the eccentric author of the Lemony Snicket books, playing the accordion at the top of this episode? I’m thinking he maybe snuck into Andy Cohen’s Benz during a wild party at Dina Lohan’s house, and, like, a week or two later, Cohen discovered him knitting pajamas for cats in the corner of the closet where he keeps the thousands of copies of Fabulicious! that he secretly bought so Teresa Giudice didn’t get depressed again and start demanding that Bravo buy her a pink Lexus upholstered with Juicy Couture sweatpants. So Cohen opens the closet door, sighs, and, pushing aside a stack of books, says, “Grab that accordion, Handler, I’m sure we can find something for you to do over at Masters.” And now here he is, all dusted off, suited up, and ready to judge world-renowned chefs alongside that charming towhead Curtis Stone.
Stone announces that Douglas Keane’s sous chef, the wonderfully named Paul Winberry Jr., won the online challenge that nobody is watching. And because that’s how it went, Keane gets to design the Quickfire himself. This turn of events was totally planned from the beginning, and definitely did not happen because one day the show producers came to work to discover the nighttime cleaning crew had ganked their cocaine stash, forcing them to spend the next eight hours shaking and nail-biting and leaving desperate-but-cryptic messages on drug dealers’ cell phones instead of figuring out what the damn Quickfire challenge should be.
So Keane and Paul Winberry Jr. are in the pantry ho-humming over this brain bender when Keane gets a great idea: ketchup! See, Top Chef contestants are basically quarantined during taping, and in those long, lonely hours between designing dishes around Mindy Kaling’s favorite rom-coms and running through the aisles of Whole Foods in search of agar agar, Keane and Sang Yoon have struck up a bromance. And the dynamics of this sweet union involve a lot of gentle teasing. So Keane thinks it would be cute to make the chefs cook with Yoon’s most hated ingredient: ketchup. This blows up in his face, however, because Lemony Snicket concludes that Keane’s duck with ketchup miso and blood turnip sucks, and gives the win to Jennifer Jasinski, who made a scallop with a black-bean-and-ketchup sauce. Bryan Voltaggio also make something tasty—a cool play on Buffalo chicken wings with blue cheese snow. I didn't bother getting my hopes up that he would win, however, because he never gets to win. Ever.
“I lived with a Colombian girl for many years. Ex-stripper.”
The chefs are going to cook Mexican food at Lucha VaVoom, a hybrid of wrestling, burlesque, and a strip show with a Crying Game twist*. They have to make two dishes for 300 people in like five minutes, but the sous chefs get to come out of the dungeon and help them out. David Burke is all over the Latin thing, having lived with a Colombian stripper and whatnot, but Voltaggio admits he’s never even been to Mexico because he doesn’t believe in vacation or really anything that doesn’t involve liquid nitrogen and brow-furrowing. It just isn’t looking all that great for Bry-guy at this point—especially when he starts asking Latino employees in the market for cooking advice. And really, Voltaggio cooking Mexican food? That’s like Curtis Stone teaching calculus at a Manhattan magnet school. Just all wrong.
Anyway, the chefs start serving at the wrestling event, and by and by our panel of esteemed judges wanders in. But what’s this? Lesley Suter from Los Angeles magazine is back! Here I had totally assumed Ruth Reichl had her killed after their dust-up over Douglas Keane’s dish a few episodes back, but apparently she was just at the convent having a baby out of wedlock or something,** because she returned to get a little more mean-girl treatment from Gail “just kidding!” Simmons.
Suter: I love tongue!
Simmons: Um, that’s what I hear.
Suter: (Fighting back tears but pretending to laugh): Shut up.
Actually, everyone was really into Voltaggio’s tongue this episode. He braised it and served it with salsa verde and avocado. On top of that, he made gnocchi out of masa and seasoned it with chili oil. “Yum/wow,” you’re probably thinking. “He totally won, right? Finally—the guy’s been getting robbed all season! I’m so glad the gaggle of monkeys at the judges table finally came to their senses!”
Nope. Jasinski wins for posole and ceviche. And look, I’m happy to see her do well after all the sexist crap that went down last week, but really? Really, Gail and Curtis and Lesley and the other lady whose name I didn’t catch? The guy made masa gnocchi in the time it takes me to find my keys most mornings. Are you ever going to throw Voltaggio a bone? Also why are there so many questions in this paragraph? Should I just stop writing? Okay I will. But masa gnocchi? Come on.
*Wow that’s an old reference.
**Not true. I think she is married.