Top Chef Masters Recap: Season 3, Episode 6

After last week's fast-food failtacular, which featured cretinistic attitude, blind panic, creative improvisation, and a general level of excitement more reminiscent of regular old "flailing for their newbie lives" Top Chef than "ho-hum, trying to win some money for a charity" Top Chef Masters, my hopes were raised. Episode six, sadly, dashed the show right back to dullville again with its decent quickfire spoiled by a sodden, ridiculous, shambolic challenge.

QUICKFIRE
An elegant premise: good ingredients, but only seven minutes to execute a dish. The twist: Each chef would evaluate the other contestants' dishes ... and their own. The real surprise of the challenge was that three of the chefs bad-mouthed their own work: Celina, Alex, and Hugh all earned some honesty/self-flagellation points for ranking their own food near the bottom of the pile. Celina and Alex gave their dishes 6's (with 7 being the worst), and Hugh went all the way on his "cat food"-like tuna dish, ranking it a 7.

Hugh may be the breakthrough personality of this show—he's wholeheartedly and unapologetically weird, and brings a good game without breaking a sweat.

The perpetually hapless Celina came out on the bottom with her overwhelmingly blood-orange-flavored scallop crudo, followed by Hugh. Traci emerged the winner with a beef carpaccio, edging out the always formidable Naomi and her seared foie gras with chanterelle mushrooms and apples.

CHALLENGE
Guest judges: the very gently and unoffensively rockin' band Maroon 5. "Maroon who?" you might reasonably ask. Fairly big between 2002 and 2005, less street cred than Nickelback, safe enough to be played in family-friendly grocery stores, and featured in the CSI: NY episode "Page Turner." Maroon 5 are—aside from their terrific-looking hair—about as far from experts on anything as you can get.

But still: Their absurdly random food requests ("Something vegan! Thanksgiving turkey! Corn like they grow in Nebraska!") formed the the basis of the challenge. To add the perfect twist of stupid to this already nonsense set-up, the prep and cooking for the meal had to take place on RVs outfitted with full kitchens.

Here's the challenge with RVs: "Oh no! It's slightly cramped! We don't have induction burners!"

People, previous Top Chef stars have—and this is a slight exaggeration—had to cook by harnessing the body heat of previously killed contestants, using only what they could forage from the subarctic taiga. Cooking in a frickin' perfectly functional luxury tour bus is about as exciting as watching me microwave a Slim Jim.

Traci won the day: Her handpicked team triumphed, and her dish, a Japanese-style steak, took top honors.

No one's dish was really terrible, and it was sort of sad to see the dignified and talented Alex sent home for doing four(!) dishes, three of which were actively praised by the guest judges.

All the judges, even fan favorite James Oseland, were fairly flat this time around. Exception: Gail Simmons telling the band members (who were quarreling over a root vegetable) that "the mashed potatoes will be your Yoko Ono."

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