After last week's rerun, we were amped for last night's all new Top Chef Masters. What we were not so amped about? The episode's title, "Blinded Me with Science." We didn't go blind, but we came close pulling an optic nerve rolling our eyes at the lame Thomas Dolby reference.
The episode began with the best and/or worst thing to happen to cooking: the microwave. Each contestant had to create a breakfast dish using only the power of electromagnetic waves. Our second favorite cheftestant, Hugh(nibrow), revealed that he and his family were on the cutting edge, riding the microwave wave all the way back in 1976. He then diabolically laughed that he had one friend that wasn't allowed over because the parents feared radiation. Charming!
The rest of the chefs had radiation fear: Naomi grew up in a microwave-free household and doesn't have one in her home or restaurant, while Mary Sue claims to use it only to reheat her tea. Whatever, appliance snobs!
Like something out of a mad scientist's wet dream, the guest judges were two comedians fused together in the form of Frangela (Francis and Angela). Even though everyone seemed to make the same dish -- zapped chanterelles and eggs -- longtime microwaver Hugh was deemed the winner.
For the elimination challenge, we got schooled. Chef, host, and hair gel lover Curtis went into a long lecture about how recipes are like formulas, There was also something about chemical reactions. Much as in science class, we forgot to take notes.
Shortly after, five scientists in lab coats arrived and did a little demo on Maillard reactions by torching raw beef. They followed this up with a explainer on emulsions, using a shaken vinaigrette to show how a bunch of stuff can get mixed up with a bunch of other stuff.
The cheftestants then had to pick one of the scientific principles and create a dish showcasing it for a children's science fair. Luckily, they got one of the scientists as a laboratory assistant. They also learned that they'd be cooking exclusively with beakers, test tubes, and Bunsen and induction burners. The science went way over Hugh's head and his scientist, Augustine, gave him the biggest liquid nitrogen burn: "You're not a scientist. You have to be curious to be a scientist." Ice-cold!
On the other end of the scientific spectrum, we learned that Floyd has a master's in biochemistry. San Francisco's very own Traci dodged a big Bunsen bullet when she chose acidity and demoed the most obvious difference between acid on tuna and acid penetrating and cooking tuna, as in a ceviche.
For the science fair, the grandes dames of non-Master Top Chef were back. Regular host Padma Lakshmi was a guest judge, and along for the ride was Ruth Reichl, who has been absent as top critic for far too long. Padma said this was the first time she ever ate out of a Petri dish, which we kinda doubt. You know Padma loves to eat out of scientific equipment. Don't lie, girl!
Mary Sue took top prize with her dulce de leche stuffed churros that demonstrated viscosity. In her demo, we learned that dulce de leche is slower to drip than the spiced café de olla sauce. Then we fell asleep and dreamed we were watching something interesting.
Hugh had to pack his knives and go after squabbling with James Oseland over his weak emulsion demonstration and whether the mayonnaise particles broke. Hugh blamed tomato water, but James didn't buy it. We'll miss the best furrowed unibrow, pursed lips, and eyerolls ever to grace any cheftestant. We're even contemplating a trip to his Georgia restaurant just to see him get annoyed in person.
Next week appears to be all about homecomings, including cheftestant family reunions and cooking for soldiers coming back from war. We'll be watching and reporting.