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Top Chef Masters: Grouper is for divers, not diners

July 30, 2009 |  1:11 pm

Jt09fbnc It was a rough night for the Jar-heads.Though Suzanne Tracht shucked oysters with the speed of the Roadrunner revved up on Red Bull, it wasn't enough to pull her through to the next round of the Top Chef Masters Championship.

Michael Chiarello poked at her Jedi-like focus during the mise en place quickfire challenge, but her mind tricks ended up working against her in the elimination round.

For elimination, the chefs were instructed to cook their signature dish for their competitors. They broke bread together, sampling each others signatures and marveling at their peers' culinary prowess. (During this segment, I grab my Moleskine and add 'attending a dinner with this much culinary talent' to my bucket list.)

After the feast, the masters were paired off and given the assignment of re-creating their partner's dish, while imparting their own culinary vision on the plate. Bayless (Mexican) was paired with Chiarello (Italian), Lo (Asian/French fusion) with Keller (classic French) and Tracht (market fresh, classic American) with Smith (Southern comfort).

It was here that Tracht's focus was to her detriment; she was tooprepared, plating her grouper too early, giving the fish time to cook as it waited for delivery. And by the time it got to the table, it was stone cold. Smith's Scottish egg wrapped in a lamb meatball was a flop, too. Chiarello took the easy way out and completely avoided using any of Bayless' Mexican influence, but he managed to scrape by. Bayless took a step out of his comfort zone and presented a gorgeous, rustic plate of quail in a Italian-inspired Chiarello style.

But it was Anita Lo's riff on "the silver fox's" lobster bisque had all the judges raving -- including Gael Greene. Her spin on an after-school special (soup/sandwich) appeared to be a truly inspiring plate. Too bad about Tracht though. It just goes to show you: Grouper is for divers, not diners.

--Krista Simmons

Photo: Grouper at the San Pedro Fish Market by Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times