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 9 is called "Old School, New School." We've already seen from the preview commercial that the remaining three Masters (Chris Cosentino, Lorena Garcia, and Kerry Heffernan) will be working with teenage culinary students, but who is repping the old school? The answer is quickly revealed in this week's Quickfire Challenge.
"You're an evil man, Curtis!" Cosentino says to host Curtis Stone as they walk into the kitchen and see cooking stations with dividing walls. He and the other competitors know immediately from previous seasons of Top Chef that this means they'll be cooking with a mystery partner.
Turns out they'll be cooking alongside their judges: James Oseland, Ruth Reichl, and Francis Lam. Oseland is revealed to the audience to be Cosentino's partner. Stone says the idea is for each team to create and plate the same dish.
Heffernan, who's revealed himself in previous episodes to be a difficult partner, is immediately frustrated with Reichl, who has put on a phony Eastern European accent and declared herself a "home cook." Garcia is faring better but she's clearly stressed while instructing Lam to chop up chicken and bacon. Cosentino is almost uncharacteristically polite and calm while telling Oseland how to prepare and cook prawns.
After time is called, the dividers are removed.
"Holy shit, James!" Cosentino exclaims as his partner is revealed. "Oh my God, that is fucking hysterical!"
"So they pull the wall back," he later recounts, "and it's Mister Sweater himself!"
Cosentino's calm demeanor in the Quickfire pays off; his dish and the be-sweatered Oseland's, which consists of prawns with sautéed celery, thyme, and pine nuts, look almost identical, though Stone points out that Oseland was a little shy with the celery. It's ultimately Stone's favorite, bringing Cosentino's winnings for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research up to $41,000 -- which actually amounts to $82,000 so far, since the Foundation has secured a matching donor from Brin Wojcicki Challenge for all donations up to $50 million this year.
The Masters draw knives to select two students from a culinary program at a Las Vegas high school to assist them in the Elimination Challenge. They're shocked to learn that the student teams have prepared a dish for them and the Masters will have to help them reinvent and elevate the dish -- but they're not allowed to touch the food.
Heffernan, always the team player (not), gets to bullying his kids right away, and we feel sorry for them. Garcia is stoked on what they've been asked to do in this round, but is worried that her team will be undone by nerves.
Cosentino, in this awesome new kinder and gentler mode, takes time to see his charges as real, thinking people rather than wards of his Elimination Challenge. By the time they've taken a ride to Whole Foods for supplies to re-tool their pork tenderloin with apples and Calvados sauce into a pork loin with sage brown butter, apples, hazelnuts, and watercress (representing the pig's food cycle), his team seems calm and confident.
One of the young cooks, Emilio, tells Cosentino he was thrilled when he read in Cosentino's bio that he's "the meat guy." Cosentino flashes his diagrammed pig tattoo. Indeed, it seems a nice stroke of luck that Cosentino has randomly chosen a team with a pork dish.
Heffernan's kids look like they're about to cry as he berates them to move faster, and Garcia's students haven't shaken their nerves, but Cosentino's team moves so confidently and efficiently that they plate all their dishes with five minutes to spare on the clock. Cosentino is surprised and proud of their work but is a little bit worried about the watercress wilting in that five minutes.
The judges are joined by the students' high school teachers and some of the students' parents to try the dishes. Lam finds the brown butter sauce to be perfection, and the mother of Lacey, Cosentino's other student, is thrilled and says cheekily, "Her reward is that she's going to get to cook a lot more at home now!"
When the judges leave to deliberate, Reichl and Oseland seem to disagree on Garcia's lasagna, which Reichl thinks is not restaurant quality. There is discussion of wilted watercress, and for the first time in this episode, we feel a twinge of worry. Ultimately though, Garcia gets sent home with the feeling that she should have tried something more complicated than lasagna for the Elimination Challenge.
All that separates Chris Cosentino from winning Top Chef Masters now is Kerry Heffernan, a chef he's defeated time and time again lo these nine weeks. Chances are good that our boy will bring it on home. He's already done a tremendous job.