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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Top Chef Masters: Crickets and Curveballs

Posted By on Thu, Apr 21, 2011 at 11:19 AM


Last night's Top Chef Masters was for the crickets -- well, bug eaters. The Quickfire Challenge was to make a five-star dish using bugs and wild plants. Looking at the worms, nightcrawlers, and scorpions, the cheftestants were creepy-crawly freaked out. (The captioning under Alex read, "I can't f***ing do this.") Well, they had to: $5,000 for their charity and immunity was at stake. They were soon grilling and frying up bugs. (Except for Suvir, who grew up as a practicing Hindu vegetarian; he could cook meat, but not take a life. His bugs were served alive in a jar, with a small torch for the taste testers to finish them off.)

The guest judges were the hosts of Man, Woman, Wild. Superhot host Curtis Stone ate around most of the bugs in the judging, and when he finally tried some, he looked like he was going to hurl ... not attractive, Curtis! More of those looks, and you'll move to our number two slot for Sexiest Man in Food TV.

The winner of this challenge was Hugh (we're so mad that we didn't come up with the nickname Hughnibrow first), who made tempura crickets over carrot and sunchoke puree.

The Elimination Challenge wasn't nearly as Fear Factor like. The chefs had to create a 10-course dinner to raise money for the charities they are playing for. It seemed simple enough -- one dish per person -- but S.F.'s own Traci remarked that it all felt a little too easy and that something didn't seem quite right.

We awaited curveballs, and boy, did they come. First, no running was allowed in the kitchen. Second, the chefs had half an hour removed from their allotted three hours of prep. Finally, there were no servers: The chefs would have to step in. Naomi and Hugh both wanted to take control and butted heads.

The critics' table was a little different this time around; no Ruth Reichl. Alan Sytsma, editor of Grub Street, was the guest judge. We learned that his first job in his food writing career was as an assistant to James Oseland, the head critic at the table and at Saveur. Can we get an awkward turtle soup up in here?

The differences in experience were highlighted with the reception of Traci's dish, a roasted ribeye and slow-cooked broccoli with red wine sauce and fried shallots. Restaurant Girl Danyelle Freeman called it "musty," while Sytsma called it "swampy." Oseland responded with, "You guys are young; you've just been brainwashed by all of this noncooking of vegetables. What Traci has given us here is bold cooked vegetables."

The diners voted for their favorite dishes and each gave $100 to that charity. In a rare move, the critics and the diners agreed on a dish and thus the chef. The winner was Naomi and her celery veloute with salsa verde and lemon oil.

The least favorites weren't bad, just bland. The chef packing his knives was John, who played it safe with a one-note risotto.

Next week, the cheftestants will be cooking for the contestants on The Biggest Loser -- and we are big enough losers that we will be watching and reporting for you.

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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