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'Top Chef Masters' mighty comeback

April 29, 2010 |  4:23 pm

NUP_137352_0072 Wednesday night's "Masters" was a comeback tale if there ever was one: Hong Kong-born Canadian chef Susur Lee, who came in dead last in the fruit plate quick-fire, pushed through to receive the highest elimination challenge score in TCM history.

Lee's messy plate of artistically cut fruits and outsize blackberry ravioli was a negative space nightmare, as not a single centimeter on the plate was left to breathe. The presentation had both judges, food photographer Stephen Hamilton and Gail Simmons, less than visually stimulated. Lee attributed the low score to a cultural misunderstanding, a sentiment that "Next Iron Chef" contestant Jehangir Mehta, the Indian-born chef at New York's Graffiti, seemed to struggle with as well.

Because the challenge was "high stakes," Boston's Jody Adams won a spot in the winner's circle with her fig and walnut tart with pomegranate syrup and zabaglione. The others were left to duke it out for second space, competing in a craft services challenge for the cast of ABC comedy "Modern Family."

Considering Lee's poor scores in the first challenge, a logical strategy might have been to keep it simple in round two. Instead, after a pep talk on the phone with his wife, the self-proclaimed "ninja" opted for a complex international dish: slow-roasted curry chicken roulade stuffed with sausage with a side of polenta and grits paired with sweet, chunky tomato jam and a fiery mint chutney. Lee's lack of footwear might have made the Health Department upset, but the cast of Modern Family -- and the judges -- loved his multidimensional dish. It scored him 19 1/2 points out of 20.

From the looks of next week's wedding episode teaser (which was more like a spoiler since it showed Lee cooking before he was announced as the winner), the Barefoot Contester will be taking technique to the next level with a croquembouche.  It's a common complaint that Top Chefs have a weak foundation in pastry, but the base of the cake looked strong.

His solid technique will definitely be a benefit when executing the complicated pastry cone. But will it be enough for another win?

-- Krista Simmons

Follow me on Twitter @kristasimmons