Top Chef Masters: Its A Magic Night For Anita Lo
Recap by RTVC Staff Writer Logan Huffman
July 9, 2009
Chef Anita Lo
Previously on ĎTop Chef Mastersí, Rick Bayless faced off against Cindy Pawlcyn, Ludo LeFebvre, and Wilo Benet in an Elimination Challenge set at Universal Studios theme park. Rick emerged victorious, earning a spot in the champion round.
Itís time to meet our chefs for this week. First up is Douglas Rodriguez is from Philadelphia, and he has a restaurant there, Miami, New York City, and Scottsdale, Arizona. He focuses in Latin American cooking, and he is extremely proud of his James Beard award for rising chef. The charity he is playing for is Ayuda for the Arts, which is a Hispanic culinary scholarship program, as Hispanics make up sixty percent of the food industry workforce. He says that winning would be a fun boost, but it will be tough against the masters, who are all equally passionate and competitive.
Anita Lo is up next, and she has been living in New York City since 1984. She has two restaurants in New York City. She won Food and Wine best new chef in 2001, and she has a Michelin Star. James Oseland thinks that Anita has an advantage being that she works on the line so much, and Anita says that you have to love cooking so much that you need it. Anita is playing for SHARE, which is self-help for women with breast or ovarian cancer. Anita says that she would absolutely love to win.
John Besh is up next, and he is a chef in New Orleans. John has five restaurants, and he is honored to represent his city and cooking style. James says that John is a real Cajun boy that brings snazzy flare to his classic French cooking. Gail Simmons from the regular series tells us that John has won two culinary awards, 2006 Best Chef Southeast, and Food and Wineís Best New Chef 1999. John is playing for Make It Right, which helps to rebuild New Orleans. Of course, John would love to win.
Our last contestant for this episode is Mark Peel, who is a chef who own the restaurant Campanile in Los Angeles. Tom Colicchio tells us that Mark worked in a kitchen for Wolfgang Puck, and his career propelled from there. Mark has won Food and Wineís Best New Chef, along with multiple James Beard awards. James tells us that Mark is a California native who is one of the stateís best chefs, and James thinks he has one of the best restaurants in the state. Mark is playing for Doctors Without Borders, which takes medical supplies to countries in desperate need. Mark is very competitive, and knows he will be at the top of the game, but expects the others to be as well.
Kelly comes into the kitchen and introduces herself, and runs the rules down for the contestants. This weekís Quickfire Challenge borrows from the Top Chef: All Stars Special, and comes Escoffier, from the father of French cooking, who believed any chefís skills could be tested by how they cooked an egg. Mark thinks that an egg is the hardest thing to cook, as it can be screwed up by only seconds. Like the chefs did in the All-Star special, the masters must have one hand behind her back the entire time.
The three judges for the challenge are Gail Simmons, regular Top Chef judge who Kelly informs us has been known to cry if her eggs arenít cooked properly, which sounds slightly psychotic, Terry Reish, an egg farmer, and executive chef Monica May.
The chefs must place an oven glove on the hand theyíre not using, and Kelly begins the challenge with a 25 minute time limit. Douglas is making a Latin American breakfast bread as his dish, but he says that only using one hand is like a circus act.
Mark reveals to us that his father was only born with one arm, so he watched him his entire life only using one hand, adding that if his dad can do it, then he knows he can as well. John laughs as he drops his butter, as Mark tells us that everyone is too good for him to do something simple, so he decides to go with a duck egg pasta.
John is making a perfect over easy egg in a casserole dish that you can top with things like asparagus. John adds that he does this every morning, just with both hands.
Anita asks John to help her, and he agrees to, telling us that Anita was having trouble and she literally needed an extra hand, as she had to slice the tops of eggs off in a very precise manner. John says that he really enjoyed when he was a guest in season five, but it is apples and oranges with this experience, as it is more difficult than it looks. John says that he waited until fifteen minutes from serving the judges, and popped his eggs in the over, and then relaxed.
Anita saw this challenge on ĎTop Chefí, and says that it is hard for her. Anita makes a soft scrambled egg with some truffle oil and oyster sauce.
John goes over to his oven to check the eggs, but they havenít even began cooking. He knows he should have checked them sooner, and scrambles (no pun intended) as he is in trouble now. He grabs one of the casserole dishes, places it on a burner, and hopes for the best.
With only two minutes left, the chefs rush to complete their dishes. Mark barely gets his pasta done, and begins plating with only twenty seconds left. Everyone hurries to complete their dishes as Kelly walks in and says that time is up. Mark is upset because he didnít have time to wipe his plate. John is kicking himself because he knows he can do much better than this. He calls himself a dummy, adding that he does this everyday, as he wonders why he canít cook an egg. Another chef asks him what he made, and he says nothing, as his eggs never finished cooking.
Before the dishes are served, Anita laughs and says that it is a good thing this is for charity, and thanks John again for his help. Douglasí dish is served first, an open-faced corn cake with scrambled eggs and ham. Gail says that it is delicious and wonders if the corn cake is homemade, while the other judges agree that the eggs are nicely cooked.
Markís dish is served next, a fresh duck egg pasta with egg and olive oil cream sauce. Terry wonders how he made the noodles with one hand, and Anita asks Mark as well. He shows her with his hand on the table how he did it. The judges like the noodles, but seem to agree that the dish tastes bland. Mark realizes that he forgot the olive oil, and his heart sinks.
Anita is serving a soft scrambled egg and shiitake mushrooms with truffle oil and oyster sauce. Gail loves the presentation of the dish (which is stuffed inside the egg shell and served on a really cool egg holder), and the judges all love the taste of the dish.
Kelly explains to the judges that the final chef didnít have a chance to finish, so there is one dish for all of them to share. John made a slow-cooked egg, not quite the perfect over easy egg he wanted to make, as despite having all of the ingredients, the eggs never finished cooking. Gail notes that one side of the egg is raw, but John seems to be excited when Terry says that it tastes like a fried egg. Gail adds that she gets a taste of burnt grease at the end. Yummy! Kelly gives the judges their score cards to fill out.
After reconvening in the kitchen, Kelly reveals that the judges gave Mark 2.5 stars. John receives Ĺ a star, which is 50% better than he thought he would do. Douglas receives 3 stars, and Anita gets a perfect 5 star score. The other congratulate her, as Anita tells us while she feels good about the five stars, there are another 20 stars up for grabs, so things can go either way. Mark says that he knows he still has a chance with his score, but it wonít be easy.
The Elimination Challenge is to create a delicious dinner for the Emmy Nominated Actor Neil Patrick Harris and some of his friends. Douglas is excited to cook for Doogie Howser.
Neil is a lifelong fan of magic, so the dinner will take place at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. Neilís friend, Max Maven, a magician and mentalist, is there to give the chefs a magical demonstration. Mark says that Max has a great magician look.
Max notes that cooking and magic have a lot in common: they both follow recipes, with the ingredients in magic being mystery, surprise, illusion, and spectacle, and if the done right, the results are delicious.
Max pulls out a blank deck of cards, and has each chef take a card without looking at it. He throws in a few more odd card tricks that end with each chef having a card. Afterwards, Max says that they think they had a choice in picking their cards, but that is the surprise of the whole thing.
Max asks Mark to show his card, and it says mystery on it, Johnís says surprise, Douglasí card says spectacle, and Anitaís says illusion. Mark has no idea how he did that. I guess it wouldnít be magic if he did have an idea.
Kelly explains that the must create a dish for the dinner that is inspired by the card they drew. Douglas thinks that he got the best word out of anyone, as everything he does is big. John feels great about the challenge, as he thinks food can be just as great as magic, adding that he immediately began trying to figure out what he was going to do to surprise people.
As the chefs arrive at Whole Foods and begin their 45 minutes of shopping with their $250 budget, Mark began thinking about how to do a mystery, and decided to use a classic French technique of wrapping the dish in paper, which would make what was inside the paper a mystery. Mark wants to buy some snapper.
John says that since he received such a low score, he knows that he is going to have to go all out and hit the ball out of the park in this challenge. John saw the giant liquid nitrogen tank in the kitchen, and knows he wants to do something with that.
As Douglas gets some cheese, he tells us that he is going to go with dishes that he knows will get wows, but says that we will have to wait and see the spectacle part, as like any good magicians knows, you canít reveal your secrets.
Anitaís word is illusion, and she definitely knows that food can seem to be one thing, but end up being another. She is trying to create the illusion of something being a scallop, but also knows she needs to create an entire seaside escape. Anita says that she isnít the most theatrical chef, but it was fun and freed her to do something more out there.
Everyone finishes shopping and checks out, as Mark tells us that Anita doesnít really say much, but the rest of them have concluded that she is the one to beat. Mark jokes that he thought of over salting all of Anitaís food, but he quickly dismissed the idea. Mark jokes with Anita and tells her that sheís the target now.
Mark tells us that Anita has a massive reputation in New York, and there is always an east coast-west coast rivalry. Mark adds that someone once told him that you havenít really made it until you have a restaurant in New York, and he said, ďBullshit!Ē
The chefs return to the kitchen from the store and begin their two hours of prep time for the dinner. Johnís life has always been full of pressure, as he joined the Marines right out of high school despite knowing he wanted to be a chef, as he wanted to see the world. He adds that his Marine experience came in handy after Hurricane Katrina, as he made giant vats of beans, poured them into ice chests, and took them around in boats serving people. He adds that bringing home the money would be so much to him.
Douglas says that his whole life has been about cooking. He considers Julia Child his main mentor, as he watched her when he was eight years old, unlike his siblings who wanted to watch cartoons. He is preparing duck four different ways, and adds that he thinks he is doing well and will have a lot of spectacle to his dish.
Anita says she grew up in a very multi-cultural family, noting that both of her parents worked, and even after her mom worked long hours, she would come home and cook huge meals for them, and she feels very fortunate to have role models like that in her life. Anitaís charity has special importance to her, as her aunt had breast cancer, and being able to give her charity $100,000 would be the biggest success in her career.
Tom Colicchio walks into the kitchen and greets the chefs, explaining that he isnít there to judge, but simply to provide moral support. Tom asks John why he put in a request for liquid nitrogen, and John says that he is making a horseradish sorbet tableside. Tom jokingly asks him if heís done it before, and John responds that it is very New Orleans.
Anita explains to Tom that she is going to have the illusion of a scallop, with the dish actually being steak tartare instead, and got some rice krispies to make a sand out of in order to give the dish some crunch. Anita jokes that her artistry is really being challenged.
Tom asks Douglas how he feels, and Douglas acknowledges that it is definitely pressure. Tom jokes that Douglas has made a spectacle out of himself many times, and Douglas agrees with the assessment.
Mark tells Tom that it is definitely different being on the show, as you sit and watch and wonder why they make those mistakes, but he is sweating being there and understands.
Tom tells us that he thinks the master chefs have realized something that the regular contestants usually donít: they donít get bogged down by the work or challenges, and they realize any story can be told with food. Tom adds that the frustrating thing for him is not being a judge there and not being able to eat the food.
As the chefs rush to finish their preparations, Anita jokes while she is making eggs that it is definitely easier with two hands, while Mark says that working against the clock is difficult, as it feels like a scene from an early James Bond movie, joking that he feels like a laser is creeping towards his crotch.
Douglas works to create a spectacle by smearing ďcanned heatĒ on his coconuts in order to make them flame. Anita is nervous by this prospect. Time is up and everyone leaves the kitchen.
The next day, the chefs head to the Magic Castle. Mark says that while he has known about the Magic Castle for years, itís a private club and you have to be invited, so heís excited to see whatís on the inside.
The chefs enter, but an owl on the wall requires them to say a secret word to gain entry. John tries Abra-Cadabra to no avail. Douglas guesses open sesame, which is correct, moving the bookcase aside so they can pass through. Anita says that there is so much to look at in the castle, and it feels like Hogwartís. John says that it was like a maze, but they finally reach the kitchen.
The chefs begin cooking their last hour before service. Mark is excited to be serving first, because peopleís taste buds get tired, and he wants to make the first big impression.
John says that he is working to surprise the diners by combing flavors and textures that they think wouldnít work. He knows he is taking a huge risk that could flop, but also knows that he needs to hit it out of the park, guaranteeing us that his dish wonít be boring.
Anita knows her steak tartare flavors are spot on, but her planning isnít going so well, as once she puts the bowl on top of the dish, it covers most of the seascape, which doesnít make her a happy camper.
Douglas tells us that he hasnít been behind the line in fifteen to twenty years, so this is fun for him and is like going to culinary school all over again. Douglas knows that the plate was large, but feels that the presentation was spot on and all of the ingredients were delicious.
The chefs rush to finish plating. Mark finishes with five minutes left, and while his fish isnít in the oven anymore, it is still cooking in the paper, and he worries that it may accidentally overcook, but knows that there isnít anything he can do about it.
The judges and guests take their seats in the dining room, and Gail thanks Max for letting them invade the castle. James asks if the home was built for them or if it was previously a mansion, and Max says that it is a private home. James jokes that itís probably built on an ancient Indian burial ground, and Max responds that they are still looking.
Mark comes out with his dish, and Kelly introduces the guests: actor Neil Patrick Harris, actor David Burtka, magician Ed Alonzo, Max Maven, and of course Gael and James is there, with Gail from the regular series there instead of Jay this week.
Markís dish is a Tai Snapper in parchment with garlic mashed potatoes and leeks. Mark says that it is a mystery to him as well, as things are transformed in the over. He also has some scallion oil and Dassai Sake to go with the dish.
Everyone loves the smell of the dish, and Neil says that the fish tastes so delicate. James loves the green sauce that goes along with it, and Gail likes how it was a mystery to Mark as well. Sake is Neilís favorite, so he thinks it pairs well with the dish. Everyone agrees the dish is delicious.
Johnís dish is served next, and he asks Neil to step up and assist him with the surprise portion of his course. He has Neil hold the pot with giant blue gloves on while he mixes in the liquid nitrogen and makes his horseradish sorbet. Neil says that he is nervous, adding that he canít feel his fingers and that it is freezing cold. John pulls out a spoon to serve the guests tableside. Kelly says Neil did a great job, and John adds that it wouldnít have been the same without him.
Johnís dish is a salmon tartare with a frozen cauliflower blini, and also a cucumber and salmon roe salad with horseradish and crŤme fraÓche sorbet, and finally a tempura-fried lobster wrapped in smoked salmon. Gail loves the pure cauliflower flavor, even though Neil notes that it is freezing cold and doesnít think John executed it as well as he had planned. David says that there are a lot of surprise elements, and he thinks that part was executed to an A plus. Gael loves the game of it all, and how much John enjoyed being the magician.
Anitaís dish is next, which is braised Daikon with Kombu caviar and steak tartare. Anita adds that the tartare is meant to look like a scallop, with the seascape underneath with will crackle if they listen carefully enough, and hopefully the broth she included on the side will add the smell of the sea to the dish.
Everyone loves the presentation of Anitaís dish, but David isnít so sure of the Daikon with the other flavors. Neil loves the surf and turf aspect of the dish, along with the taste of the tartare, and adds that this is his favorite dish so far.
The others watch as Douglas tries to light his coconuts on fire. I realized that sounds kind of wrong after I typed it. Mark doesnít think the fire will go out quickly enough, and Douglas says that he considered taking it off of the plate, but there would have just been a huge void from the empty space on the plate.
When Douglas walks out, he is very excited to see Gael. Douglas warns everyone to be careful from the flame, and explains his duck four ways dish: Oyster Ceviche with Duck Broth, Empanada with Foie Gras and Figs, Duck Breast with Butternut Squash, and a Duck Soup with Young Coconut. He says that itís supposed to be a play of fire and ice.
James jokes that someone may need to call 911, as Edís coconut is really on fire. Gael says that there is a lot of spectacle on the plate, and Max says that even without the flame, the presentation is very impressive. Neil thinks that it was a clever idea that wasnít executed well. Ed says that duck shocks him because he uses a duck in his act. However, he still thinks it was good.
Kelly thanks everyone, and she and the critics leave the diners to fill out their scorecards. The chefs leave the kitchen and head to be judged.
We see a clip during the commercial which involves a magician doing a trick that results in a bunny coming out of his hair. Itís actually kind of disturbing. The magician gives the bunny to Kelly, and Neil points out that itís peeing on her.
Itís time for the Criticsí Table. Kelly thanks the chefs for a magical evening.
John is up first, and he says that he wanted to surprise everyone by using techniques that he wouldnít normally use. Gail loved the blini, but notes that it was head freezing cold. Gael thinks that it was too cold and was an unpleasant shock. James asks John if he thinks his sorbet was successful, and John says that he achieved the flavors that he wanted, but admits to Gael that it would have taken about ten minutes to get a firmer sorbet. John says that his lobster was poached in the shell to medium rare, and Gael says that it was perfectly cooked.
Anita is up next, and Gael notes that her dish was like a surrealistic painting. Gail says that the dish was gruesome and shocking in a great way, and she loved it. Anita is happy with her steak tartare, despite never having made it with the Daikon. Gail doesnít think the broth went with the other elements, but James thought it paired well with the Daikon.
Douglas says that he wanted to cook dishes he knew how to cook, but he doesnít really feel that he was successful in getting the spectacle on the plate with the fire. Gail asks him if he has ever set fire to a coconut before, and Douglas says that he actually has as everyone else bursts out laughing. Gael loved Douglasí ceviche.
Mark is up last, and admits that he was a little stumped by his word at first. Gael thought it was a great idea since he was doing mystery. James always thinks as Markís work as deeply Mediterranean, and he didnít get that in the dish, but in a good way. Mark says that the dish was in his style, but the ingredients were things he doesnít normally use. Gael thinks that everything went well together and adds that the leeks were perfectly cooked. Gail notes that the sake was the perfect contrast to everything in the dish.
Kelly asks the chefs to return to the kitchen while the judges deliberate. Once back there, Mark notes how quiet a kitchen is with no one to yell at. Douglas jokes that he was yelling at himself; they just couldnít hear him.
Back at Criticsí Table, Gail says that she loved the way John embraced surprise in his dish, and Gael had great fun watching it. Gail adds that she doesnít think it was the most successful dish of the evening by any means.
Gael loved Anitaís intellectual approach to illusion, and James says that the steak was lovely, rich, and bloody tasting in a good way, and he thinks the poached Daikon worked. Gail loved the beach scene and thought the flavors were delicious; she wishes there had been more salt, but notes that she may have gotten that if she had poured the broth over the meat.
Gael knows that Douglas wanted to do the spectacle, but it didnít quite work. James didnít taste all of the wonderful ingredients in the stock, and Gail says that he knew that the dish didnít come together for him, which is sad, as they all know how talented he is.
Back in the kitchen, Mark asks everyone if they would do this again. Douglas says that he would start again tomorrow, and Mark says that it is a skill set that he isnít used to, and that he would definitely do it again.
Back with the critics, Gail says that Markís dish looked really simple when it was served, but it wasnít simple at all when they tore into the package. Gael says that all of the ingredients came together for a really wonderful dish, and James thinks Mark may have pulled off his theme more than anyone. In the back, Anita toasts to all of them before they return to the Criticsí Table.
The chefs have returned to the Criticsí Table. John is first, and the diners gave him 2.5 stars. James says that his flavors were fresh and vibrant, but the blini gave him brain freeze, and gives him 3 stars. Gael and Gail both give him three stars as well, bringing his total to 12 stars.
Mark is up next, and the diners gave him 4 stars. Gael says that he gave them a mystery in a bag that was delicious, and gives him 4.5 stars. Gail gives him 4 stars, and James gives him 3.5 stars, bringing his total to 18.5 stars. John must pack his knives and go.
Douglas is up next, and the diners give him 3 stars. Gael says that his spectacle fizzled, and gives him 2.5 stars. Gail also gives him 2.5 stars, but James only gives him two stars, bringing his total to 13 stars, which isnít enough to beat Mark, so Douglas must pack his knives and go.
Anita is last, and she must get 14 stars to beat Mark. Anita gets 4.5 stars from the diners. Gail says that she was swept away by her thoughtful presentation of illusion, and was so pleased at how her flavors reflected that interpretation. Gail gives her 4.5 stars, James gives her 4 stars, and Gael gives her 4.5 stars, bringing her total to 22.5 stars and making her the winner of this episode. Mark must pack his knives and go.
Anitaís charity SHARE will receive a check for $10,000, and of course, the other chefsí charities will receive donations as well. Anita will be moving on the champion round. Anita thanks the critics as she heads back to the kitchen.
Anita is congratulated by the guys in the kitchen, and tells us that she is thrilled that she won $10,000 for her charity, but laughs as she says that another part of her is mortified that she has to do this again. She adds that it is exciting.
Mark says that he will take away from this experience a great respect for the talent other chefs have, adding that he canít wait to see who wins. Douglas says that it was fun and he had a great time, and he would do it all over again. John says that he would have liked it better if he had won, but it wasnít in the cards. He is happy walking away with a donation for New Orleans and better friends. Douglas makes up a cheer for Anita as they all walk out of the kitchen, ending our episode.
Next week, the chefs must cook a three course meal for 100 people, by themselves. Sounds fun! However, the chefs donít appear to be having so much fun. See you guys next week!
Logan is a North Carolina native whose hobbies include a passion for reality shows, hiking, and Mocha Frappucinos. He can be contacted at Logan@RealityTVCalendar.com.
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