“Top Chef Masters” Season 5, Episodes 6 and 7: The Week(s) in Quotes

Mindy Kaling, Ali Larter, Old Gidget.

Blonde on Blonde: Actress Ali Larter makes a cameo in the kitchen. Photograph courtesy of Bravo.

Hello there, TCM fans. After a recap hiatus last week—I wouldn’t dream of doing this while you all were on vacay—we’re back together to celebrate the fact that our own Bryan Voltaggio has made it to the final four despite serving beet sorbet to little kids, getting mentally bedazzled by a jeans-clad Ali Larter, and finding himself locked in a battle of egos with Sang Yoon.

“I’m wondering what Doug did with the other 27 minutes of the challenge.”

Our main takeaway from episode six: Mindy Kaling is not a magical unicorn. Uproariously funny? Yes. In possession of a Nora Ephron-esque ability to capture the pop culture zeitgeist in a way that’s totally original yet familiar as your favorite sweater? Totally. But not even Kaling can save a television show in which Gail Simmons sings a Yo Gabba Gabba song and children are fed eggplant jello. The comedian shows up for a Quickfire themed around her favorite romantic comedies. Which is such a boring idea. The waste-of-a-Kaling segment ends with her selecting Douglas Keane’s scrambled eggs and caviar, based on the movie Midnight in Paris. This makes Yoon feel robbed since, you know, he’s a genius chef appearing on a television show in which he has to design a dish around Mindy Kaling’s favorite romantic comedy. How would you feel?

“You can tell he’s pulling it back for a young palate.”

The Yo Gabba Gabba* things come prancing on to the stage as Curtis Stone explains that the elimination challenge involves using ingredients kids hate in dishes kids will love. Oh, and the masters whose sous chefs sucked in the last online challenge have to use Brussels sprouts on top of their other kid-unfriendly ingredients. The chefs cook things, and then for the rest of the episode we have to watch children eat food, Simmons and Francis Lam perform a horrific mating ritual to a 12-year-old with braces, and our man from Frederick self-destruct. Despite his beet-sorbet suicide mission, it’s not Voltaggio but Sue Zemanick and Jennifer Jasinski who go to the chopping block in a double elimination. But then, the twist: The two remaining ladies will duke it out in their own sous-chef-style online elimination. They are pushing this online thing hard, eh? I’m starting to feel abused.

The line of the night comes from Ruth Reichl, who criticizes—Yoon, I think it was?—for catering to a young palate. Say what, Reichl? Wasn’t the whole point of the challenge to cater to a young palate? Otherwise why am I watching children eat? And why else is a giant, red French tickler dancing around the room?

In the end, Neal Fraser takes the prize for his pasta with Brussels sprouts and spinach Bolognese, and I have nightmares about Simmons and  Lam doing Shirley Temple hands.

“If Jennifer made it to the very end I’d be surprised.”

So apparently Jasinski won the online challenge, because Zemanick was nowhere in episode seven except on some island with really great fruit where they take American Express. Fraser speculates that Jasinski isn’t going to stay very long, however, since she’s “outclassed” by the four remaining men. This ends up being ironic in a rain-on-your-wedding-day kind of way because—spoiler alert!—Fraser is the one who ends up getting the axe. Before that happens, Ali Larter shows up, and upon seeing the foxy Varsity Blues actress, Voltaggio instinctively reaches for his smelling salts so as not to swoon. Here I got an instant vision of the bunk-bedded room belonging to the young Voltaggio brothers, where a poster of a scantily clad Larter shares wall space with equally provocative Cindy Crawford shots and, I dunno, maybe a little Goo Goo Dolls action? Snapping out of my reverie, I hear Larter explaining to the chefs that food is her passion—especially superfluously cheffy versions of junk food (I’m paraphrasing). Basically, it adds up to our masters taking on nachos, which makes perfect sense. I mean, if I could ask Bryan Voltaggio, David Burke, Sang Yoon, Jennifer Jasinski, and Douglas f-ing Keane to cook anything in the world, it would of course be tortilla chips and plastic cheese! Voltaggio isn’t having it; he makes a sick-looking avocado crab roll that’s true to his style and, according to Larter, honeymoon-invoking delicious. Does he win? Of course not. Larter gives it to Keane for . . . I don’t really remember what. And that earns him immunity.

“It’s been great except for Doug.”

After learning that they’ll have to form teams and then shop for the elimination dish without knowing what their seafood protein will be, the chefs get a break and go have dinner at Kiwami, where the men commend Jasinski for pursuing her career as if she were a real person and not just a baby vessel with legs. Come morning, it’s off to meet the truck hauling the catch of the day. I can only imagine what happens in the next segment, as the online version of the show had sound issues and I didn’t realize lip-reading was a requisite skill when recapping poorly rated reality shows. When the sound came back in, the yellow team—Voltaggio and Yoon—were having a little snit about how to pin a fish and Keane was wishing that silly lady chef Jasinski wouldn’t talk so darn much.

“What does it feel like to be Gidget?”

Next up: an amazing interstitial segment. The judges, having seated themselves at a view-boasting table at Duke’s Malibu, are introduced to the daughter of the guy who wrote Gidget. Basically, she’s Gidget, except—much time having passed since the publication of that seminal piece of literature—she is now an older lady. Why on earth is the real Gidget on this show? Because, fans of the masters, there is no celebrity so minor that Bravo will not throw him/her in front of the camera. “Tune in next week when the chefs make upscale dog food for that golden retriever puppy in the Purina commercial!” “Watch as Scott Disick joins the panel of judges to tell David Burke how to grill ribs.” I quit everything.

“Bryan’s dish is one of the smartest, best-realized dishes I’ve eaten this season.”

So, here’s the thing: Voltaggio and Yoon can
’t work together. They’re just different. Different in that they are both so competitive that they can’t yield any ground to work together to create a dish. Okay, they are the same. Whatever—the point is they can’t create a cohesive dish. But the good news is our guy’s half of their sablefish offering—the hot half, of course—is good. So good it incites Oseland to make an almost-declarative statement that forces Simmons to reach for her smelling salts. “What did you say, my good sir?” she utters in Oscar Wilde falsetto. “One of the smartest, most-realized dishes IN THE ENTIRE SEASON!” I know they’re supposed to punch up the drama, but COME ON. We’re going to war with Syria, probably. The fact that this dish is one of the—you know what, nevermind. I’m glad Voltaggio did well. I even thought he might win this thing, then run out to the ocean and hop a wave with old Gidget, their surfboards cresting the curve in tandem just as the sun sets over the sparkling Pacific. But no, Keane and that courageous lady who ignored the call of her womb in order to have a kitchen career—just like a man!—win the challenge. Fraser gets sent packing, and that, as they say, is that.

*Side note: Is that red Yo Gabba Gabba thing supposed to be some sort of adult toy? And is that appropriate for children?