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 7 is called "Culinary Knock Out," and that could have been the name of last week's show, which featured burlesque star Dita Von Teese. Instead, we learned from preview commercials that boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard would be in the house.
But first, the Quickfire Challenge: Separate 18 eggs, grate two pounds of parmesan cheese down to the rind, and portion five 7.5-8.5 ounce cuts of meat from a beef loin (without benefit of a scale), with no time limit. Cosentino looks stoked.
"At the restaurant, I butcher whole animals on a regular basis so I'm totally cool," he says in an interview. "I love it."
Cosentino works like a whirling dervish and finishes first, but when host Curtis Stone checks his work and weighs the meat, it turns out that Cosentino has made his cuts too light so he's disqualified. Chef Kerry Heffernan, who has lurked in the background for the past six weeks, wins the challenge as well as immunity, which means he's got a guaranteed slot in the Final Four.
Everyone's jaws drop as Sugar Ray Leonard appears in the kitchen to present the Elimination Challenge. The chefs will be engaging in one-on-one battles in a culinary "arena." Leonard tells them that a good chef is very similar to a good fighter; both must think on their feet.
Knives are drawn to determine who will fight each other. Cosentino will face off against Takashi Yagihashi, who has quietly been one of his toughest competitors thus far in the game.
Before they get started, they sit down to a lunch at Milos inside the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Cosentino watches rapt as owner Costas Spiliadis serves some beautifully simple Greek food. "My God, I can't stop eating these!" he says, cozying up to a plate of fried eggplant.
Flash forward and the chefs are in the arena, ready for battle. Cosentino and Yagihashi are told they'll have 20 minutes to make a great dish out of bacon. Cosentino, the king of tasty salted pig parts, beams widely. Yagihashi declares that he's at a disadvantage and prays for tuna.
The judges admire Cosentino's intensity as he sets about to make his dish, a California-Mexican breakfast bowl . He husks cobs of corn with the quickness, leaving the judges to ooh and ahh.
"To survive against Takashi, every dish has to be perfect, so I make an extra piece of everything in case something doesn't look right or something burns."
Cosentino discovers mid-cooking that he's short an egg so he asks Yagihashi to borrow one. He agrees, then asks for it back after it's cooking in the skillet. The audience claps at the good sportsmanship.
The minutes are counting down and Yagihashi panics when he discovers he is short one plate. Cosentino points at that extra piece of bacon that he made and tells Yagihashi to take it.
"I totally want to win, but I want to win on culinary merit," Cosentino says in a later interview. "It's all about the food, it's not about technicalities here."
And win he does for his Cal-Mex breakfast of thick-slab bacon, sizzling egg, julienned jalapeno, and avocado, as Stone thrusts Cosentino's hand in the air like a referee would with a boxing champ. Leonard tells Cosentino that he really admires his hand speed.
As the winner of a preliminary round, Cosentino has just grabbed himself one of those precious Final Four slots. He still has a shot at winning $10,000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research if he wins the next battle.
After Lorena Garcia wins the next preliminary round, she faces Cosentino in a final round battle. They again are told they have 20 minutes to make a masterful dish, but this time the ingredient is a real curveball: A bowl of sugar.
Cosentino looks nervous and admits he's not much of a sweets guy, but decides quickly and confidently that he'll make a zabaione custard with fresh fruit. Garcia starts making a flourless chocolate cake and then sets about to caramelize some walnuts and pineapples as a backup dish in case the cakes don't bake in the four minutes she's allotting for them.
She's pleasantly surprised that the cakes have baked, so she ends up serving a duo of desserts, which gives her the final edge in the battle. She's declared the winner, but Cosentino is still in the Final Four.
Sadly, Yagihashi must pack his knives and go. We thought he was Cosentino's stiffest competition, but he'll now face off with Heffernan, Garcia, and mentor Patricia Yeo for the Top Chef Masters honors.
A glimpse of next week's episode reveals that the chefs will cook for an all-white dinner party and the potential for that to be a hot mess seems evident. Stay tuned!