Welcome to Cosentino Watch, where we recap the moves of San Francisco chef Chris Cosentino as he competes in Top Chef Masters. Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Episode 3 is called "What Would Brian Boitano Eat," a play on the Olympic figure skating champ's Food Network series, What Would Brian Boitano Make? Boitano bops in for this week's Quickfire Challenge. The chefs are given 20 minutes to create a seafood dish without the use of heat. Cosentino grabs some mackerel and makes a spicy fra diavolo sauce to put on top of raw slices. He brushes a charcoal mixture on the plate to give it the illusion of being cooked, a trick he uses at Incanto with a raw beef heart tartare. Boitano calls Cosentino's dish a "nice little starter to a meal" and awards it second place, or as he calls it, the "silver medal."
Host Curtis Stone tells the competitors that Top Chef Masters alumni such as Mary Sue Milliken, Jonathan Waxman, and Susan Feniger will judge the Elimination Challenge, which is to create an entertaining teppanyaki meal such as what's served at Benihana. Cosentino doesn't seem fazed by the premise, but the judges make him nervous.
"Holy crap!" he says. "We're awestruck. They've all been in our shoes. It still doesn't make it any easier."
The chefs split into teams of three and Cosentino joins up with Thierry Rautureau and Art Smith. He's been squabbling with the latter since the first episode. There's only a half hour to shop for supplies at Whole Foods Market and Rautureau decides to use some of the time to get a massage inside the store.
"What are you doing?" shouts Cosentino. "You're a ding dong!" But he doesn't really seem too upset.
As the chefs describe what they intend to cook, Cosentino's idea immediately stands out for originality. He's going to try to recreate his Grandma Easton's clam chowder, which seems crazy because he can only use the flat teppanyaki grill to cook.
No chef looks comfortable on that teppanyaki, and they all quickly discover that it's burning hot in the center and pretty ineffectual elsewhere. Each team has 30 minutes to make a meal, which gives each chef only 10 minutes.
Smith turns on the Southern charm when he plops some grits on the grill. He starts telling a family story. Cosentino is starting to worry about time, and you can feel the tension.
"Everybody off!" he bellows, shooing away his teammates. "Clear out! Fire in the hole! Daddy's in, go!"
He recalls his grandmother's soup and how he's going to play on it, dropping some squares of pork belly on the teppanyaki and searing them in duck fat. He describes how he's "nitro shocked" some clams and put them in a Cryovac with kombu, bay leaf and beer.
He can't find his mandoline and scolds Smith for not putting it back in the right place. Smith is tight-lipped but the camera cuts to the judges, who've noticed this small outburst. Could this be the end for our hero?
Stone makes sure he lets Cosentino know that he felt uncomfortable around the "angry chef" but he still tells him that his team had the judges' favorite dishes. Smith wins the overall challenge and is overcome with emotion; he just bought a building for his Common Threads charity and he's very grateful that the judges have allowed him to make money for the children that it serves.
That means Cosentino is safe, and ultimately Maine-based chef Mark Gaier has to pack up his knives and go. We learn that Gaier, who was competing alongside his longtime partner Clark Frasier, first met in the Eighties when they worked together at Stars, which was then one of San Francisco's most celebrated restaurants.
Teaser scenes from next week's episode show the chefs taking to the sky in a helicopter and assembling a meal from dizzying heights. Let's hope Cosentino doesn't suffer from vertigo because this challenge looks like a game-changer.