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'Top Chef Masters': Duped again!

August 13, 2009 |  9:13 am

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

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