October 18, 2009

You’re Not My Mom! You Can’t Tell Me What It’s About!

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 10:46 pm

Another poor showing at Judges’ Table this week. Robin ran smack into the face of Rule E, saying she stood behind her dish when she should have been abandoning (er, critiquing) it. Ash went the “I had a much better dish in my head” route and seemed to put far to much stock in how well Charlie Palmer appreciated it in his head.(It was kind of a Rule D⁻¹ violation: don’t change your plan and then expect to get credit for the original plan.) Laurine opened her mouth and revealed that she didn’t know the difference between a rillettes and cat food. Any one of them could have gone home and it wouldn’t have been a surprise. But in the end it was salt before texture: Ash had failed at something so simple as to be unforgiveable.

Predictions: On the one hand, I want to stick with Laurine so that she doesn’t slip past me. On the other hand, it looks as if she’s working the front of the house in Restaurant Wars next week and that means there’s no chance she’ll go home, so long as she avoids the Radhika Trap. And it looks as if Robin, who is obviously the weakest chef left standing (she’s been in the bottom less often than Laurine, but she’s also never been in the top), is going to get herself in trouble next week. Restaurant Wars is always a good candidate for a surprise elimination, but I’m going to play it safe and assume Robin’s luck will run out.

Random observations

  • My comments about Robin above aside, I think its obvious that Eli was being a total jerk and owed her an apology. His evident pride in having “stepped up” to her was incredibly immature (and the other contestants undoubtedly would have told him so directly if they all didn’t also have a chip on their shoulders about her). Eli is such an arrogant tool that I really enjoyed watching Michael and Bryan get under his skin. It was simple schoolyard stuff (“That was flirting… Did you get to second base?”), but amazingly effective. The Voltaggio’s obviously know how to deconstruct a male ego.
  • "Dude, seriously, can you stop? You are pissing me off."

    "Dude, seriously, can you stop? You are pissing me off."

  • I think we can all agree that “the difference between a shaved armpit and a hairy armpit” was the good Toby Young.

October 9, 2009

Ash Turns the Color of an Avocado When Mike V. Drives Down the Street in His El Dorado

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 8:11 pm

Gosh, this week featured one of the loopiest Judges’ Tables in a long time. First, we had Ash’s bizarre sycophantic praise of Michael—which had the doubly unhelpful effect of making Ash look dispensible while emphasizing that Michael was almost entirely responsible for a failed dish—followed by Ashley’s exhausted failure to give the judges a single reason to let her stay. On a first viewing, I thought it was strange that the judges focused on Ashley and let Eli off the hook. On a rewatch, it’s clear that Ashley, in staying loyal to her teammate, took the bulk of the blame for both the undercooked prawns and the over-salted gnocchi. Probably, per Rule C, the undercooked prawns were enough to send her home. Throw in a sprinkle of Rules D and E and she was done for.

Predictions: I’m going to stick with Laurine for next week. There’s just as good a chance of it being Ash or Robin, but I’ll feel stupid if I switch.

Random observations

  • Kevin’s “High Stakes Quickfire” choice this week was a no-brainer. At minimum, his chance of making it through this round was 9 out of 10. In reality, his chance of making a worse dish than Ash and Ashley and Eli and Laurine and Mike and Robin all at the same time was very, very close to zero. At minimum, his chances of winning the $100,000 grand prize at this point are 1 in 10. In reality, his chances of winning are more like 1 in 5 (roughly equal with Bryan, Jennifer, and Michael, with a 25% wildcard factor) and aren’t going to change much until some of the heavy hitters get axed. In addition, the marginal value of being eliminated in Episode 7 versus Episode 8 is neglible. Kevin is already going to benefit a great deal from his run on the show, no matter how much farther he goes.
  • I really miss the Tom Colicchio kitchen walkthroughs in the first half of the season.
  • Mike is lucky to not have faced a Rule F elimination this week. Who do you think would have gone home if that tuna and scallops dish had fallen short, when he had consciously and none-too-subtly marginalized Robin through the whole process?
  • The only thing more important to me than winning this competition is my visceral hatred of womankind.

    The only thing more important to me than winning this competition is my visceral hatred of womankind.

  • To Tyler Florence, on behalf of every Top Chef viewer in the world: of course you can take “the power went off” as an excuse. It’s, like, the best excuse ever.
  • Also in re Mr Florence: Is it the fate of all young attractive male food celebrities to pork out and make everybody sad?

September 27, 2009

Problematizing Paella

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 9:43 pm

I should start off by noting, in deference to Andy, a change in the wording of Rule E. Instead of, “Be prepared to defend your dish at Judges’ Table”—which gives perhaps too much of a hint of Danny/Gene/Mattin-like defensiveness— we will heretofore say, “Be prepared to critique your dish at Judges’ Table.” The idea, as I stated in comments last week, is that you must:

(a) clearly state what you were trying to achieve, so the judges can see you put some thought into it, and (b) clearly state how and why you fell short, preferably with reference to some circumstance beyond your control. You want to be the guy who screwed up, but could do it better next time, not the guy who is oblivious to his own faults.

Moving on to the episode, this might be a condescending way to look at things, but it seems a little, I don’t know, culturally biased to eliminate Ron on the “deconstruction” challenge. I mean, “deconstructed” (actually “decomposed“) food should be an entry on Stuff White People Like. Ron clearly wasn’t with the program from beginning to end (though I wonder if Kevin and Eli’s pep talk didn’t send him off in the wrong direction, à la Tim “I am woeful, Johnny” Gunn).

I’m not even going to count this as a Rule E elimination, because Ron was just so overmatched and overwhelmed, he never had a chance. On the other hand, note that both Ash and Laurine at least got it on the record that essential components of their dishes didn’t make it to the plate (in both cases potatoes, puréed and fried, respectively). This serves as a nice example of Rule E and Rule D (” Be prepared to change your plan”)—it’s always better to send out an incomplete plate then to serve something that didn’t work).

Toby, I'm going to beat you to death with a pie-ell-ur-ah

Toby, I'm going to beat you to death with a pie-ell-ur-ah

It also would have helped if Ron’s paella had been delicious. I’m going to mark this one down for Rule C (“Respect your proteins”), for the overcooked fish.

Predictions: 3 for 6! If that doesn’t sound impressive to you, please check in on my Top Chef Masters posts.

I don’t think Robin will make it to the final, but I think her fellow cheftestants are being a bit harsh in their assessment of her. For instance, it’s really not clear why they think she’s so much worse than Mattin. I think that they just don’t like her because she’s somewhat annoying and are letting that cloud their judgment (see Rule F). On the flip side, Eli and Mike seem to get included in the “deserve to be here” category just because the other, better cheftestants like them.

But none of that matters. This is Laurine’s week to go home.

September 20, 2009

Cowboys are Frequently Secretly Fond of Ceviche

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 3:15 pm

All right, class, let’s see if you’ve been paying attention: why did Mattin go home for a mediocre ceviche instead of Robin for inedible, potentially dangerous shrimp?

Anybody who said Rule E (”Be prepared to defend your dish at Judges’ Table”), give yourself 5 points. Robin knew she screwed up and admitted it: “I’m not making excuses. I’m not proud of what I put out today.” She didn’t have much to say for herself besides—she didn’t even mount an argument that the shrimp had gone bad out in the hot sun and she shouldn’t be blamed—but she also didn’t fight an uphill battle against the judges’, um, judgment. What did Mattin do? He went the Danny route and said, “I was very happy [with my dish] and I’m actually very surprised to be here.” Not smart. Now, you’re not just unlucky or off your game; you’ve called your own judgment into question. That’s a self-inflicted wound you don’t recover from. As Tom said, incredulously, “The biggest problem is he claims to have tasted those ceviches and thought they were good?!

Predictions: I had Ashley pegged wrong. She not only kept her shit together, she stayed focused, thought things through, and excelled.

Robin and Ron are fighting it out down at the bottom. Ashley and Laurine are more marginal cases: they both have talent, but are too unreliable and streaky. I don’t think either has the grit to win this competition. My guess is Ron has finally hit his limit.

Looking out further, I’m going to call it now: the finale will be Jennifer vs. Bryan (who will have Michael oh-so-heart-warmingly on his prep team). Bryan will win, after which he will betray an emotion.

Random thoughts:

  • I was really surprised that Tom Colicchio’s much-promoted spit-out in the bushes was just chewy, too-raw ceviche and not a piece of bad shellfish (like, oh, say, shrimp). I would have thought it would take more than that—something dangerous to eat instead of just lousy (although Tim Love did say it made him feel sick).
  • Tim Love, to Robin: “‘I wanted to play off steak, so I decided to give you sausage and shrimp.’ That’s ridiculous.”
  • Ron, why in the world would you make an alcoholic beverage if you don’t drink? Also, the judges never like things served in coconuts.
  • On his blog, Tom Colicchio defines “correctly seasoned” as “whether it was salted correctly, because salt has the ability to bring out the other three types of taste you experience on your tongue, i.e., sweetness, bitterness and sourness.” That’s what I thought that meant, but I always assumed there was at least a little more to it.

September 13, 2009

Don’t Get Saucy With Me, Béarnaise

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 8:58 pm

In spite of the fact that he straight-up broke Rule C (“Repect your proteins”), I was surprised that Hector went home for a piece of beef that didn’t get cooked through in time. A stubborn piece of meat is a misfortune that can befall even the most talented chef on a time limit. On the other hand, one could argue that: (a) the beef could have gone into the oven sooner and/or been pulled out rarer, (b) there was evidence of uneven cooking and thus of inept food prep (though, to be fair, this reduces to (a) since, given adequate time to plate, the less evenly cooked slices could have been discarded), and (c) the meat was underseasoned (read: not salty enough).

I also think that Rule E (“Be prepared to defend your dish at Judges’ Table”) inarguably leaned in Ash and Hector’s favor. They both clearly understood what had gone wrong with their dish (the meat hadn’t rested) and could easily have fixed it given another chance. Ashley and Mattin, on the other hand, had almost nothing to say in their own defense, a fact that Gail Simmons bemoaned at Judges’ Table. Ashley weakly offered that they could have incorporated the asparagus into the sauce. But she wasn’t willing to openly confront Mattin when he told the judges he didn’t shoot her down. If Hector’s beef hadn’t been such a disaster, it’s hard to guess whether Ashley or Mattin would have gone home instead.

Predictions: Goodbye, Jesse! 2 for 4! A campfire challenge will favor the cool, the collected, and the rustic over the tightly wound, the scatter-brained, and the classically trained. I’d say that puts Robin on the firing line, along with bottom dwellers Ashley, Laurine, Ron, and Mattin. I’m guessing Ashley, who seems the least apt to keep her shit together.

Random thoughts:

  • Does Ron have a problem with women or is he just the worst team player ever?
  • Jennifer and Michael sitting in a tree…
  • H proposes the following unofficial rule: always cook with bacon. Evidence: Bryan’s Elimination win last week and Kevin’s Quickfire win this week. (Mattin’s velouté is the exception that proves the rule.)
  • Mike obviously learned his lesson last week. He didn’t go so far as to steal credit from Bryan for his “deconstructed Béarnaise,” but he made damn sure the judges knew it was a collaborative effort to which he and Bryan contributed just about equally. The judges weren’t buying it—the top prize went to Bryan without much ado—but this time they let his coat-tail riding slide. (Aside: You know that sauce was damn good, because there’s nothing the judges would like better than to roll their eyes and sneer at a “deconstructed” anything.)
  • Hector was pissed when he got eliminated. No “thank you” to the judges. No hand shaking with his peers. He made a beeline for the exit.

September 6, 2009

Top Chef: Right into the Danger Zone

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 5:59 pm

What did we learn this week? For one thing, we learned that that some of the airmen at Nellis Air Force Base are returning from deployment in theater and others are preparing to deploy and that it is therefore a matter of great pride and no little emotion to prepare for them a buffet lunch. More importantly, we learned that one must never let any consideration—seasonality, balance, the preferences of the quote-unquote customers—come before the goal of making a dish that will “wow” the judges.

We’ve seen it time and time again: the cheftestants are asked to collaboratively prepare a meal and, in service of the master plan, some schnook gets stuck making a salad or a dessert or a side of potatoes. And the judges look at the schnook and say, “How in the world did you think you were going to win this competition with a salad or a dessert or a side of potatoes?” And the schnook says, “No meal is complete without a salad or a dessert or a side of potatoes!” And the judges say, “Go home.” Don’t put yourself in that position. If that means serving eight courses of pork belly, go right ahead. Do you want to be the person who says, “We already had seven courses of pork belly, so I made… pasta salad.” Rule A, people. Learn it, love it, live it.

(I can tell you, for the record, that pasta salad is on Tom Colicchio’s list of dishes that could never possibly “wow” him. I have struggled long and hard, but I actually can’t think of a way that a pasta salad could ever possibly be a successful dish on Top Chef. You might get lucky and not get kicked off for it, but you’re sure as hell not going to win.)

Things started off looking pretty good for my predictions. Jesse and Ron got paired up for the express reason that all the other cheftestants didn’t want to work with them. They immediately established a negative rapport. They decided to make chowder on a hot summer day—a decision that raised eyebrows from their fellow cheftestants and the judges—and then squabbled with the other cheftestants over access to the proper equipment with which to prepare it. But, in the end, the chowder was pretty tasty and they didn’t even get called out for being among the worst. Lesson learned: you don’t get kicked off Top Chef for making a pretty tasty chowder—even on a hot summer day—if some other knucklehead made pasta salad.

After landing herself at Judges’ Table with that ill-considered salad, Preeti once again distinguished herself with a disregard for Rule E (“Be prepared to defend your dish at Judges’ Table”). While Laurine admitted that the dish was weak and showed just enough sense to save her own skin, Preeti dug in her heels and talked her way into elimination (“I thought our dish was really good. In terms of flavor, I thought it was better than a lot of the other dishes.” Uh-huh). It didn’t help that, by refusing to turn on each other or provide any specific information about who did what and why, Preeti and Laurine forced the judges to make a decision based almost solely on Judges’ Table conduct.

Predictions: The weakest links are pretty obviously Jesse, Ron, Laurine, and Mattin. I say, in the absence of an unscheduled meltdown, Jesse is the next to go.

Random Thoughts:

  • Just what exactly did Michael do to that slab bacon that Tom Colicchio found so impressive?
  • Mike was all class this week. He actually talked himself into the bottom group by failing to take any credit at all for Michael’s winning dish. He also fell prey to the Ashley fallacy that association with one good dish will immunize you from criticism for a bad one. It might save you from elimination (as it did here), but it won’t stop the judges from griping. They would have preferred he hadn’t made the shrimp salad and just basked in Michael’s reflected glory (like Eli did, apparently).
  • There is some talk of Jennifer being the season’s designated villain. I don’t get it. Sure, she can be a bit curt in the kitchen and she fits into the “pushy woman” box along with Tiffani from Season 1. But, if anything, the other cheftestants seem to appreciate Jennifer’s no bullshit, no drama, results-oriented approach. In this weeks episode, she was ending fights, not starting them.

August 31, 2009

A Shot at Love with Top Chef

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 11:09 am

This week was full of great examples of rules foolishly broken and wisely followed. To start with, Ashley landed herself at Judges’ Table by carelessly ignoring Rules A (“Never make a salad or dessert”), B (“Play it safe”), and D (“Be prepared to change your plan”). She made a panna cotta for dessert, even though nobody asked her to. She made two dishes, even though her team members practically begged her not to. And she served the panna cotta, even though it hadn’t set. So Ashley found herself in the ridiculous situation of facing elimination for a weak dish that she didn’t have to make and shouldn’t have served, when she had a second dish—the one she had set out to make in the first place—that the Judges really liked.

I think the record will show that the reason Eve went home this week instead of Jesse is pretty clearly the observance of Rule E (“Be prepared to defend your dish at Judges’ Table”). In both of her appearances at Judges’ Table, Eve was incoherent. It’s not so much that she demonstrated poor judgment as that she just made no sense. She did not give the Judges a reason to keep her on (Tom: “I don’t think, in her mind, she knows what she’s trying to accomplish.”). In contrast, both times Jesse clearly conveyed that she understood the flaws of her dish and the mistakes she had made in its preparation. This can only get you so far (note Gail’s comment: “How long can Jesse keep making this mistake?”), but it can get you through a couple of close eliminations.

I’m not sure what the hell happened with Preeti. She seems like a mediocre talent. Her dish was not well composed or seasoned, by the Judges’ lights. She probably should have ditched the shiso leaves when they started wilting in the hot sun. She went back to the Stew Room and determinedly refused to learn from the Judges’ critique (“It’s a crowd pleaser!”). I don’t think she’s in this for the distance.

Predictions: Eve is my first successful elimination prediction since Arriane was eliminated from Top Chef: New York (and that includes an entire season of Top Chef Masters)! Huzzah, I am back on top!

The obvious choice this week is Jesse. She’s been up for elimination twice now; she does not seem to have her head in the game. But Top Chef never shakes down that way—a cheftestant can be up for elimination twice, then win in the next episode. My guess is one of the middle-of-the-packers will make a spectacular error in judgment. Maybe Ron?

Random thoughts:

  • Were those comically giant dice or is Padma a much tinier person than I had realized?
  • It’s not just me, right? Michael and Bryan seem to hate each other?
  • Jennifer shows an excellent grasp of Rule D: “The octopus is frozen, but it seems like a good product and, if it’s not, I will make something else up on the fly.”
  • Mike: “People get tired of me. Real quickly.” I have no doubt that this is true, but, you know, I find this kind of charming. More self-deprecating prickliness and less “girls are icky” douchebaggery, Mike.
  • Hector ends up in the top four with a tofu dish. The exception that proves the rule?

August 20, 2009

Top Chef: Las Vegas

Filed under: Not Tech, Top Chef — Chris @ 10:26 pm

I’ll start off by saying congratulations to Rick Bayless for winning Top Chef Masters. He was my sentimental favorite, but if I had chosen him I wouldn’t have achieved my perfectly imperfect 0.0% record of predictions for the season. (I’m off to a good start this season too, see below.)

So, Top Chef: Las Vegas. Let’s play spot the stereotype: slightly older, slightly insecure female contestant who doesn’t have a chance in hell (Robin), check; arrogant, slightly obnoxiously, but talented, nerd (Eli), check; gimmicky duo, one of whom will be eliminated within three weeks (Michael and Bryan), check; hot-blooded Latino, who cooks “with his heart and his balls” (Hector), check; portly, good-natured goofball (Kevin), check; macho, misogynistic douchebag (Mike), check. (Query: is “misogynistic douchebag” a self-negating insult?)

Speaking of Mike (aka The Douche), which was worse: his irritation that Jennifer C. (nota bene: a girl) could keep up with him shucking clams (not beat him mind you, but just keep up) or his blustering when Robin declined to compete in the Quickfire? And speaking of Robin, did she make the right choice? (For a lot more on that, see the end of this post.)

This week’s events gave me good reason to believe the new rules will not have to be significantly amended.

In the Quickfire, the Red Team took about 15 seconds to settle on a plan in which Preeti would shuck the clams. Preeti made it clear to her teammates that she had no idea how to shuck a clam. Kevin, at least, seemed to know how to shuck a clam better than she did (“No, it’s not like an oyster at all!”) Now, was the Red Team prepared to change their plan? Hell no. Did that work out well for them? It did not. And that’s why we have Rule D.

In the Elimination, Jennifer Z. (thank God I don’t have to look at her creepy ear hoops all season) decided to Take a Risk and Wow the Judges with a seitan-stuffed chile relleno. Seitan is never a safe bet. Quoth Kevin: “Who cooks with seitan? Nobody bleeping likes that stuff.” And that’s why we have Rule B.

On a more minor note, at Judges’ Table, Jesse—after finding herself in the bottom for disrespecting a protein (Rule C)—was a great example of Rule E in action. I don’t think she was in serious danger of elimination—that chile relleno was just too bad—but she clearly impressed the Judges by knowing exactly what was wrong with her dish and how it could have been fixed. Eve also had a pretty good explanation at hand (she shouldn’t have added that cream), but got bogged down in a distracting discussion of “complexity” as a vice that seemed to leave the Judges befuddled.

Predictions: I had a 1/17 chance of choosing the first to go and a 16/17 chance of at least not choosing the Elimination winner. Instead, I chose Kevin who, in spite of being young and Georgian and not formally trained, is apparently a very talented chef. Bzzt.

It’s inherently hard to make predictions this early in the season—it seems like half the cheftestants didn’t even register on screen—but it would be no fun if I didn’t at least try. I was very unimpressed with Eve’s fortitude. I’m guessing she’s going to crack up.

P.S. They got Ferran Adrià?!! [UPDATE 8/25: Oops, I think that’s Joël Robuchon. Not nearly as big a “get.” I got thrown by his not-speaking-English-ness.]

The analysis of Robin’s gold chip dilemma is below the fold.


August 19, 2009

Top Chef Rules 2.0: These Are My Beliefs

Filed under: Not Tech, Top Chef — Chris @ 6:18 pm

In our continuing effort to spin out the Grand Unified Theory of Top Chef, let’s re-state, clarify, and augment our original (and since-amended) list of rules. In order to avoid confusion, we will enumerate the rules by letters of the alphabet.

Rule A: Never make a salad or dessert. These dishes don’t get any respect, unless they are truly wonderful (even then, it’s almost impossible to win with them). In the case of dessert, you are quite likely to screw it up. Especially ice cream.

Rule B: Play it safe. This is not Top Chef. This is Top Scallop. You can win this competition by cooking menu items from your restaurant week after week (just ask Ilan). Never make something you’ve never made before and just assume it will turn out OK. As timid and pathetic as it sounds, it really is better to be in the middle of the pack until the very end.

Corollary B.1: Don’t get cute. Don’t ever “cleverly” name your dish a “risotto” or “coq au vin” unless you are prepared to really truly execute the classic dish (and, face it, you’re probably not).

(Perhaps we should recognize here an underlying Principle to this Rule, which is that the cheftestants should assume, per Jim Pryor, that the Judges (especially the Guest Judges) are lazy, stupid, and mean. They’re lazy, so they don’t want to have to work to understand your dish; they’re stupid, so they want to eat something that satisfies their preconceptions; and they’re mean, so they’re going to be eager to find some way to criticize you (the simpler and the more obvious the better). With respect to Corollary B.1, the Judges will always be happy to ignore any playful intentions and point out that your twist on a classic dish was made the “wrong” way.)

Corollary B.2: Never be the team leader. The team leader is always the first to go. Even if you’ve got a bottom-feeder on your team undermining you, the Judges are going to ask,”Wouldn’t a real leader find a way to solve the problem?”

Rule C: Respect your proteins. Nothing will get you kicked off Top Chef faster than an over-cooked piece of meat. And a well-cooked piece of meat will always win over even the best vegetarian dish.

Rule D: Be prepared to change your plan. How many times have we watched a cheftestant complacently coast to elimination because he chose to go ahead and stick with the original plan even though he couldn’t get the best quality ingredients or something in the kitchen wasn’t working right or it turned out he had to cook everything with a box of matches and a mirror? Quick thinking is probably the signal virtue of the successful cheftestant. If the plan goes South, change the plan.

Rule E: Be prepared to defend your dish at Judges’ Table. This is really important and not widely appreciated. If your dish didn’t work, you cannot bluff the Judges. Tell them why it didn’t work and what you’d do differently and maybe they’ll take pity on you.

Rule F: It’s business, not personal. If you’ve got a Marcel, a Dale, a Lisa, or a Stefan on your team, you’re going to have to suck it up and deal with it. Sometimes these people are talented and can make a real contribution to your team, if you don’t go into a passive aggressive tailspin. Successful cheftestants accommodate themselves to strong personalities and persevere.

That’s it. Good luck, cheftestants. Please be so kind as to fail in only the above-mentioned ways.

Prediction: Just for kicks, let me glance over the list of contestants…  Eli Kirshtein is the youngest (25) and is not from a Big Restaurant Town (Atlanta), but he’s a Richard Blais protégé and that has to count for something. Kevin Gillespie is also young, also from Atlanta, and doesn’t have a culinary degree. That’s our guy. Kevin will be the first to go.

Top Chef Masters Catch-up

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 4:36 pm

I was AWOL for two weeks, so let me just weigh in with my final thoughts and an ill-fated prediction.

Michael Chiarello: I don’t care if he’s a huge dick—though I think some of his dickishness derives from his insecurity at having spent most of the last ten years out of the trenches, pursuing a career as a celebrity chef—he’s obviously capable of cranking out really delicious food so long as he doesn’t get pushed too far outside his comfort zone (and, honestly, Rick Bayless is no different. Every last dish has been Italian and Mexican from those two). He’s got chops, but he’s outmatched. Total stars for the competition: 79½.

Rick Bayless: This guy is so gosh darn nice, I want to be his best friend. More than any other Masters chef, I want to check out his restaurant. I just need some reason to pass through Chicago someday. Total stars for the competition: 86.

Hubert Keller: He seems to be some kind of Jedi Master. Last week he cranked out 18 dishes to the other chef’s 4 or 5, without breaking a sweat, and earned a perfect 15 star rating from the critics. And he’s just so jolly. Has he ever once even fleetingly betrayed a negative emotion? Total stars for the competition: 83.

Prediction: My heart is with Chef Bayless, but I’m guessing Chef Keller, based partly on his preternatural Cool and based partly on a hunch.

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