'Top Chef Masters' recap: Mad Meals

top-chef-masters.jpgPreviously: The chefs hit the ground running with a "Restaurant Wars" challenge that made Alex Stratta an early favorite and sent Hugh Acheson packing for the dreaded over-seasoning. Salt in the wound, anybody? Eleven cheftestants remain with $100,000 for charity still at stake.

The cheftestants parade into the kitchen, minus John Rivera Sedlar, who had to drop out of the competition due to an emergency. Curtis welcomes back Hugh Acheson and introduces their quick fire challenge: Make a meatball dish in 30 minutes. The catch? They have to grind their own meat. The guest judge is Grammy-nominated R&B singer Kelis, who is also a professionally trained chef, meatball connoisseur, and maker of tantalizing milkshakes. Floyd Cardoz decides on a meatball grinder, thanks to some inspiration from his son Peter, who is a volunteer for the charity he's competing for -- the Young Scientist Cancer Research Fund at Mount Sinai Medical School. Naomi Pomeroy says normally, as a talented butcher, she'd have an advantage in a meat-centric competition, but even she's unfamiliar with the old-school grinder they're tasked with using. Half the contestants can't even get the grinders attached to their chopping blocks, and others are getting jammed up along the way. Celina Tio reminds us she didn't serve anything at her last quick fire, so she needs to crank this one out, no pun intended. With half the time remaining, the chefs are struggling, except Suvir Saran, who remains characteristically Zen-like. As time ticks down, George Mendes adds an emulsification to make his broth tastier and frothier. A few moments later, the 30 minutes are up.

The chefs retire to another room as Curtis welcomes Kelis to the meatballapalooza. First up is Sue Zemanick's spicy pork belly meatball with spicy tomato sauce. Kelis likes the cheese cleverly hidden inside. Because who wouldn't? Next, they sample George's chicken and short rib meatball with spicy tomato-citrus sauce. Kelis thinks the broth fell flat but appreciates that the chicken isn't dry. She finds Alex's spicy lamb meatball with toasted fruit and almond couscous deliciously spicy but has a problem with the decorative lentils on the plate. He snits, "Well, I don't like your songs." So nah-nah, nah-nahnah. Oh wait, I think that might be one of the lyrics to "Milkshake." The fried beef and bacon meatball sandwich with Asian slaw inspired by Floyd's son is deemed overly salty by Kelis, who refuses to eat the bread in the sandwich. Floyd thinks she missed the point. The chef complaints keep coming when Kelis eats Traci Des Jardins' tarragon chicken meatball consommé without a spoon, says it's too mild, then misidentifies fennel as dill. Chefnanigans! Kelis says she's still looking for a dish to knock her socks off. Will it be Mary Sue Milliken's turkey albondigas soup with toasted pumpkin seeds and manchego cheese? Mary Sue worries that it won't because she forgot to put in the vinegar, but Kelis loves the flavor. Curtis likes the look of the Vietnamese chicken meatball from John Currence, and Kelis takes her sweet time before proclaiming it "wonderful." John is relieved. Suvir's Indian spiced meatball with tamarind glaze likewise looks and tastes great. The final offering is Hugh's lamb merguez meatball with Shiitake slaw and yogurt. Kelis like the meatball but takes issue with the garnish.