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'Top Chef Masters': Duped again!

NUP_133894_0391 The week Art Smith made those undercooked, baseball-sized scotch egg monstrosities, I thought he was toast. Gael called it "grotesque" and "horrifying." And yet, Suzanne Tracht's dish of cold and possibly overcooked grouper was deemed the night's worst offering.

It was puzzling the way the show was put together, but reality TV competitions enjoy a good red herring, so OK, I gave the show a pass. "Top Chef Masters" is still one classy show, I said to myself. Full of genuinely talented and -- as far as the six finalists are concerned -- genuinely good sports, all of whom are rooting for one another as much as they are themselves.

Then there was last night's episode. We'll talk about Dale, Michael Chiarello and the fight that almost was in a bit -- in short, Dale was in the wrong -- but what was up with cutting Anita? I'm not saying I don't understand why she went home. Raw bar in the sun on a hot, sunny day? I get it. But I heard a lot more about Michael's too-briny shrimp, his unimpressive risotto, his "mushy" swordfish, and his extra-oily olive oil cake. I didn't hear anything good about any of his offerings, while Anita's pork dish seemed to at least win her some praise among the judges.

What didn't the producers show us? They showed us all the criticism for Michael, and then next thing you know, they're awarding him four-star ratings.Something doesn't fit. According to a set of Burning Questions Michael answered on BravoTV.com, the judges did like his "antipasti, risotto, lamb and veggies."

Really? Producers didn't let on. Which I think is unfair. A surprise elimination (or a twist elimination, whatever you want to call it) is no fun if we don't understand that the contestant we think should be going home actually did a few things right.

As for Dale vs. Michael...

NUP_133893_0274 The thing about working in a kitchen is it's a lot like the military. There is a definite hierarchy, a chain of command. So Michael acted like a drill sergeant -- so what? All of the former contestants know how these things work.

But a look around the blogosphere, and it's clear that because of Michael's approach -- demanding that his interviewees prove themselves with a chopping board, asking if they knew how to pronounce his name -- a lot of people like Michael a little less this morning. (Among them Richard Blais, who described Michael's spread as wedding food circa 1987. Ouch.)

He defends some of that on the Bravo website. A lot of charity money is on the line, and asking the "Top Chef" alumni to dice a few carrots during their interview, I think, wasn't a bad way to tell if they could handle taking orders. (Longtime viewers know many past contestants have considerable egos.) Asking them what they call him in a kitchen? (Answer: Chef) They all know that. And as for asking them about his name, Michael says, "If they knew who I was I felt they had a better chance of knowing my style of cooking … which would be a huge benefit." Fair enough.

Was it good to hear Michael say that in his early career he'd eat three Dales for breakfast? It wasn't a high point, having watched "Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello" for years. But Dale was in the wrong. Michael calling him "young man" was hardly a reason to erupt, and any chefs watching the episode would have deemed him unprofessional and unhireable. Working in a kitchen is all about taking orders -- unless you're the chef.

Dale realizes that, reluctantly it seems, and more or less apologized

It's a bummer to see Anita go. She was one of the more inventive chefs left standing, and I was pulling for a showdown between her, Rick Bayless and Hubert Keller. If I had to choose, my money is on Bayless for the win.

Who is your pick to win?

-- Denise Martin

Photo: Anita Lo (above); Rick Bayless. Credit: NBC Universal

Comments () | Archives (11)

Anita has been consistently weak over the last weeks. She deserved to go last week. Her brown and gray eggplant plate was a disaster and her cheese soup with hamburger balls for the hamburger quick challenge was an absolute disgrace. Sometimes it is the body of work that begins to add up more than individual dishes.

I agree - it was very frustrating to hear Michael's scores after all the negatives. And Anita's pork was apparently forgotten about. I also agree that Bayless is going to win it.


Agreed. Anita's been weaker in the last couple of episodes. But as I've been told before by producers and Tom and Padma, contestants are judged on a "What have you cooked for me lately?" basis. They're supposed to be judged only on the elimination challenge that week -- not on previous performances. According to Michael's blog, we just didn't see the praise he got for the rest of what was on his buffet. And for that, I feel duped!

I think it was apparent fom the beginning that Bayless will win -- the unalderated adoration of the critics has been disgusting to watch.

"Working in a kitchen is all about taking orders -- unless you're the chef. "

But, technically, Dale wasn't working for Chiarello. He was working for Anita Lo.

I LOVE Rick Bayless. His flavors actually remind me a lot of Bobby Flay. I think those 2 in a head to head on Iron Chef would be great! If it has already happened I will have to find it for download somewhere. I really hope Rick wins Masters.

My original vote was for Roy Yamaguchi since I love his restaurants and he was playing for a cause near and dear to me. However, since he was eliminated early on I am pulling for Rick now. I just love his flavors and get so hungry watching everything he creates.

Dale was very disrespectful to Michael and should have been remouved from the show.If he cannot control his own temper maybe hi should find a new line of work. It ruined that whole show because of that and left a very sour note with the viewers. Where are the producers????

I think that Michael Chiarello will win. They made him out to look like the bad boy this week to have a "twist" ending.

I really do not care who wins. I like them all. I love the show. I love the cooking.


Although Michael's style was a bit off-putting, it's hard to argue with it if he's gotten this far with it. How many times have we seen a sous chef ruin a certain dish for the chef they're working with? Just last year, Carla allowed one of her sous chefs to doom her chances at a victory.
Michael probably figured "this food is representing me, I've never met these guys, they're going to help me carry out MY vision." After all, he was on the line, not Dale.

As for Dale, what's the surprise? He's always been brash and ill-tempered. He can't blame it on "pressure" either. It's not like he was trying to avoid being eliminated. He was helping another chef try to win money for a charity for pete's sake. If you can't keep your cool in that situation, what are you like in REAL pressure situations? Absolutely inexcusable. It was embarrassing. He needs to remember that he hasn't done ANYTHING in the culinary world aside from appear on a television competition where he didn't even make it to the finals.

I don't understand why people are upset about Michael's interview technique.

My company long ago started giving practical skill tests to job applicants. We found that there is surpisingly little correlation between a person's ability to answer interview questions, and their ability to do the job quickly and well. If the challenge was supposed to show the competitors skills in hiring, Michael should have won hands-down.

One aspect of the show that could be changed for the better would be a blind critic's tasting. There's to much unnecessary information tossed around when the chefs and critics have their little chat. I see no reason why they need to have their food identified. Granted, at this point one could probably guess whose food was whose, but there is far too much fawning going on. We'd all be better off if the plates spoke for themselves.

As for winner, I'm still picking Hubert Keller.


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