'Top Chef Masters': No, Spike, it's STILL not about you

Michaelchiarello_topchefmasters_290 The remaining " Top Chef Masters" face a series of unfortunate events, including a blind taste test, a sudden venue change, a missing sous chef, and the return of Spike. Feh.

Last quickfire! The chefs have to identify ingredients blindfolded. I'm sure I'd suck at this, but I'd still hope that professional chefs would be able to ID hoisin sauce and peanut butter without too much trauma. Alas, Anita Lo misses both of these ingredients, which makes me fear for her continued tenure on the show. She ties with Rick for the middle -- they each successfully identify six ingredients. Shockingly, Hubert has the worst record with five correct picks. Michael, who initially said he'd be doomed since he only knows Italian, wins with seven correct picks.

For the elimination challenge, the chefs must create a buffet lunch for 200. On the upside, they get to pick a team. On the downside, they have to pick from former Top Chef contestants. Now, that's fine and dandy when it comes to folks like Antonia, Richard and Brian, but it's not so great when it means that someone will be saddled with Spike. Oh, how he annoys me...

The chefs have two minutes to interview everyone, and you immediately see their varying styles. Rick is interested in finding out who is comfortable with his flavors, while Hubert wants to know about pastry experience. Anita gloms onto Jamie, who worked for her before, and asks her opinion of who she should pick. And Michael? Michael actually asks the chefs to (gasp!) exhibit their skills. He wants an audition. Personally, I think this is smart -- he has no idea what these people are capable of. He just knows they've been on a TV show before. Big deal -- can they actually chop? But the sous chefs are aghast -- where's my hug? Where's my lollipop? Folks: It's not about you. You're working for your Master Chef in this challenge. Deal with it.

But Spike is there, and he is manifestly incapable of dealing with it. He refuses to chop, he spins his usual line of crap, and he makes me completely crazy. Dear Spike: Go. Away!

Since Michael won the quickfire, he picks first: He ends up with Fabio, Brian and CJ. They all look slightly shell-shocked. Rick picks Richard (he'd judged a quickfire that Richard had won), Betty and Alex; Anita takes Jamie, Dale and Ilan, and Hubert ends up with Antonia, Elia and (shudder) Spike. Spike is picked last -- and he's typically delusional about it: "In a weird type of way, it's very complimentary," Spike says. "They don't want me to outshine their food or anything." No, Spike -- they just don't want to work with you, because you suck. As Hubert says, "I'm stuck with Spike."

Rick and Hubert actively solicit ideas from their sous chefs, and get some decent options. Rick even turns Richard loose with the liquid nitrogen. Anita seems sort of lost, and it doesn't help that she remembers that Jamie tended to get bogged down in details and loses sight of the big picture. It seems they have that in common. Michael gives his team no latitude -- cook what I say, in exactly the way I want, and let there be no deviation. It is his meal, and ultimately it's his ass on the line, but that's not exactly the way to get inspired help, you know? He's pretty much guaranteed that they're going to follow orders, more or less, but do nothing more.

This being Top Chef, we get a couple more hurdles: First, the venue changes from an air-conditioned dining room to a sunny outdoor terrace -- which puts Michael (who has several dishes that include mayonnaise) and Anita (who is doing a raw bar) at a disadvantage. Then they learn they must divest themselves of one sous chef. Everyone grumbles, but let's face it -- Hubert just got a massive boost because he's now able to boot Spike. Score! (The other ejected chefs: Brian, Betty and Jamie.)

Rick and Hubert wow the crowd and the judges. Rick shines with his Mexican buffet, and Richard's avocado ice cream works out perfectly. Hubert puts on an amazing array of dishes -- 18! -- and all of them are fabulous. He narrowly edges out Rick for the win.

Anita and Michael both had trouble with seafood -- Anita because she had raw seafood in the hot sun (eek!), and Michael because his swordfish was mealy and his prawns were lackluster. Bu Anita's inability to roll with the changes are her downfall -- she gets booted. Curses!

Highlights, thoughts and odds and ends

  • Ah, Dale. I know you're talented. I know you can cook. But you are Chiroptera-feces crazy with the hair-trigger temper. Really? Blowing up at Michael and saying "What are you going to do about it"? THAT'S how you behave in a kitchen, when you're not the one in charge? Dude, you're a freaking nightmare. I have no idea how anyone works with you. (But I still hate Spike more.)
  • Michael takes the Dale blow-up with what might almost pass for good grace. Apparently we have his spouse to thank for that: "For the first 20 years of my career, I ate three Dales for breakfast. He is way out of his league. But my thoughts are my wife saying, 'You idiot, don't let your macho Italian self get in the way here...'" And those words of wisdom are what keep Michael from braining Dale with a frying pan -- which he richly deserved.
  • Yes, Michael was arrogant -- but he's a successful chef and he's in the finals. The sous chefs... aren't. The "Say my name, say my name" bit was a bit much, though.
  • I'm so happy to see Fabio again, because I know I'll get some good quotes. He does not disappoint: "I'm sweating like a mountain goat at the beach!" he says when they arrive on the terrace and learn they're losing a sous chef. Ah, Fabio: Every recapper's dream!
  • Hubert's reaction to the quickfire: "Kelly putting the blindfold me, that was probably the best part of the challenge." Perhaps that's why he did so badly... his mind was elsewhere.
  • Rick Bayless continues his reign of class: He goes out of his way to praise Richard for he avocado ice cream. Jay is flabbergasted that Rick would put such a major component of the meal in someone else's hands: "Cojones is the word that comes to mind."
  • Jay was actually on fire tonight. Here's what he had to say about Hubert's spread: "I counted 17 or 18 dishes. Didn't you care about us, couldn't you have come up with a complicated menu?" And on Anita's pork ribs: " It was rich and luscious and I stole some of James'," he says. Hee! Again, can't we get him in Vegas instead of Toby? Please?
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