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'Top Chef Masters' gets cheezy

April 15, 2010 |  4:04 pm

David Burke, Monica Pope, Marcus Samuelsson, Thierry Rautureau and Carmen Gonzales took a crash course in comfort food on last night's 'Masters,' where they were challenged to make grilled cheeses in the quickfire and Southern soul food for the elimination.

Competitors for this next week's Grilled Cheese Invitational should take heed of Monica's Moroccan melt, piled with feta, farmer cheese and dates on raisin nut bread and drizzled with orange blossom honey dressing. The internationally inspired sandwich won the quickfire challenge, and gave Monica first choice in her pick for protein in the elimination challenge.

Northern African inspirations were a common thread throughout the night, as Thierry used harissa in his taleggio and goat cheese grilled cheese as well as his elimination offering, a Moroccan pork shoulder paired with farro, cauliflower and a Brussels sprout slaw with harissa mayo.

The elimination challenge took place at Bond St., where they cooked a birthday dinner for Mekhi Phifer from ER. Carmen reveals he was her favorite doctor, aside from George Clooney, whom she jokes is her beau. (I had a sneaking suspicion he was cheating on me...) Maybe Carmen was busy daydreaming about Clooney, because she accidentally left her oyster and sausage stew back in the prep kitchen. Braving the L.A. traffic, she lost an hour and a half of final prep time to retrieve the soup.

Monica and Thierry stepped in to help prep her yucca, while Marcus chided them for not taking care of themselves first. In the end Carmen had to can the yucca, as her little helpers ended up burning it. Carmen served the stew without the yucca mash, but the misstep ended up being a beautiful disaster; the judges loved her simple gumbo-like stew and sent her on to the winner's circle.

While Marcus was edited to seem soulless, his soul food was chosen as the second finalist. While the others were assisting in Carmen's yucca debacle, he whipped up mac 'n' cheese, BBQ chicken and collard greens that had guests and judges coming back for seconds (and thirds and fourths).

The episode ended with a teaser for next week's episode, where six competitors from last season will be coming back, including local chefs Mark Peel and Ludo Lefebvre. From the clip, it looked like Ludo will be getting an earful from Rick Moonen. So, who are you rooting for next week?

--Krista Simmons

Photo: Grilled cheese sandwich at Clementine by Anastasia Sotiropulos.