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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Top Chef Masters, Week 1: Traci Snarls, La Cocina Wins!

Posted By on Thu, Apr 7, 2011 at 11:52 AM

click to enlarge Do not fuck with Des Jardins. - SF CHEFS/FLICKR
  • SF CHEFS/Flickr
  • Do not fuck with Des Jardins.

We are still suffering from a bit of Top Chef overload, but the new season of Top Chef Masters with new host, format, and judges brought us right back into the world of cheftestants, Quickfires, and knife packings. We tuned in last night for the Season 3 premiere, hosted by our number-one hunky chef as seen on TV, Curtis Stone. Also, the judges this time around ― Ruth Reichl and James Oseland ― are just as topnotch.

The promo: Twelve of the most acclaimed chefs in America, battling in a culinary clash of the titans. San Francisco's very own Traci Des Jardins was the opening's most intimidating, saying she'd been the only woman in most of the kitchens she'd worked in France, and that she'd built a reputation for being mean. We like them fighting words ― we're in!

Other master cheftestants we have our eye on:

Suvir Saran, who blamed a bite from a rabid dog for his participation, and said his good looks and eloquence would carry him through (adding a "kidding" at the end)

Hugh Acheson, the self-proclaimed White Swan of the Masters, who parts his lips and speaks in a very interesting way

Mary Sue Milliken, who does women chef trips with Traci to Mongolia and Egypt, which should be its own reality show

The Quickfire was mystery box pairings. Chefs went head-to-head with the person next to them, creating a dish from what was in their box and their partner's. Amazing combos (frogs' legs and cottage cheese, dragon fruit and sardines) were as odd as the chef matchups. Three of these so-called masters failed to fully finish and plate.

Our hometown hero, Traci, had to use black licorice (a food she despises) and peanut butter, making duo salads for the win! We thought it was a cop-out to make a duo instead of a unified dish, but the judges unanimously loved it. The prize of $5,000 went to one of our favorite charities, La Cocina, so we aren't complaining.

The Elimination Challenge was everyone's favorite Top Chef stunt: Restaurant Wars. The winners from the Quickfire's head-to-heads were on one team, the losers on the other. The winning team was far more mature ― we loved listening to everything that came out of Suvir's mouth..

The losers' group was headed by Naomi Pomeroy, of Portland's Beast, who earlier served up an empty plate, and was looking for redemption.

Traci's team of winners had a restaurant called Mosaic, with traditional staggered reservations and seatings. The food was all on point, if a bit safe. Traci, even with immunity, pulled out another beautiful salad. The only surprise was the size of Hugh's scallops and the supermarket quality of Mary Sue's cupcakes.

The other team, Leela, had a very different approach, with all-at-once seating, an idea as nutty as its peanut soup. The judges had to demand the next course to be delivered, and when it was, the plates were labeled.

The critics preferred Mosaic, but the guests (who chose the winner), preferred Leela. Hugh and Mary Sue were at the Critics' Table to answer for their dish errors, and Hugh was sent home. His scallop was inedibly salty. We're guessing he may never use Maldon salt again.

Next week , the masters will cater a party for the voluptuous redhead from Mad Men. Call us mad, but we'll be watching and reporting next week.

Read more from Carina Ost at Follow SFoodie at @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook.

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Carina Ost


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