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James Oseland's palate should be donated to the Smithsonian

July 16, 2009 |  6:17 pm

Topchef-masters1 On Wednesday night,  Michael Chiarello, Rick Moonen, Nils Noren and Lachlan Mackinnon Patterson triumphed at what America does best: making unhealthful food look deceivingly tempting. The episode  reminded me of a blog that surfaced in the office this week called Fast Fancy Food, which I found repulsive and creative. But this isn't about me, it's about the contestants (at one point, it was about fine dining too).

The chefs were challenged to create dishes inspired by junk food (hot dogs, corn dogs, fish sticks and fried shrimp). Poor Moonen didn't even get to finish his dish, and scored no points. Chiarello, whose restaurant Bottega was reviewed last week by Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila, won with his fish stick meatballs. This seems like a bit of a misnomer, sort of like those chickenless-chicken nuggets from Trader Joe's, but I guess it worked.

For elimination, a group of "Top Chef’s" biggest fans were invited to a cocktail party thrown by the contestants. (I’m a little offended I wasn’t invited.) The challenge was to cater a party of 100 with three courses -- and no help. The chefs toughed it out, proving that though they're successful restaurant owners, they hadn't lost their hands-on approach. It also helped that Kelly Choi cut them some slack and said the dishes were meant to be miniatures.

That didn't make for a blissed-out shopping trip, though. Moonen proved his ADD is just as bad as he claimed it was while shopping for ingredients. While everyone else was checking out, he was running around with an orchid in his hand. No matter, though. His opakapaka (pink snapper) ceviche was apparently as amusing to eat as it is to say. Even with his zero points from Round 1, he managed to beat out Noren's Swede-centric fish dishes and Patterson's beef dish.The judges were also extremely impressed with his panna cotta, of which he made 300 individual servings. One fan was very enthused about his dessert. "This reminds me of something my mom would have baked ... if she would have baked." Ha!

Chiarello's dessert got mixed reviews. Gael Greene repeatedly put down his basil gelato, declaring, "I don't like lawn clippings in my dessert." Basil, lawn clippings? Really? Apparently,  she hasn't had Carmela's Meyer lemon sorbet. For some reason, she was converted by the time she hit the judging table, though. Perhaps it was by the distinguished palate of James Oseland, a palate that Jay Rayner says should be studied and put in the Smithsonian.

Who knows if Oseland's taste buds will get their own gallery opening, but Chiarello's libido was sure on full display Wednesday night.  Regardless of the fact that he spent half his time flirting with the ladies at the cocktail party, he took the win. Something tells me he's not going to have a happy wife when he returns to Napa.

So who will earn the last spot in the finals? Let's hope it's our very own Michael Cimarusti (Providence), who will be competing against Roy Yamaguchi, Art Smith and Jonathan Waxman.

-- Krista Simmons

Photo courtesy of Bravo TV (From left: Michael Chiarello, Rick Moonen, Nils Noren and Lachlan Mackinnon Patterson)