TCM2, ep. 10, Finale
So Rick, Susur and Marcus are being driven to Los Angeles’ Union Station, where they are introduced to the idea of journeys beginning and ending over a breakfast. They are asked by Kelly to do the identical task that the 3 finalist of TCM 1 were given, to create a first course that reflects their first memory of food, a second course reflecting their experience when they decided to be a chef and their third course a reflection of who they are as a chef today.
The master chefs have 1 hour and $1500 to shop at Whole Foods and 4 hours that evening to prep. The chefs are well into their work when Kelly announced that she had a surprise for them. Usually that means a twist, but this time it’s all positive. The sous chefs from the primary restaurant of each master chef arrived to help them make their dishes even better. That is Duron Wong from Shang, Alan Sobel from RM Seafood and Michael Garrett from Aquavit. They operate at full speed immediately. Rick stated that they were cooking for a jury of their peers. Rick had some biting commentary about how he and Marcus are neat in their kitchen space, but Susur is a mess. That’s interesting, but it does not show up in the taste of the Susur’s food. Marcus had a near-disaster when his ganaches were still in the oven with less than 30 seconds to go on second course plating completion.
The dishes developed for the first course were:
Marcus – Lightly Smoked Char w/ Sweet Horseradish Shellfish Broth and Mashed Root Vegetables
Rick – Glazed Kushi Oyster w/ American Sturgeon Caviar, Hamachi and Live Sea Scallop Crudo
Susur – Royal of Steamed Scallop w/ Cantonese Black Bean Sauce, Dim Sum Shrimp and Crab Croquette
The dishes developed for the second course were:
Marcus – Salt Cured Duck w/ Foie Gras Ganache, Sour Tomato Jam, and Aged Balsamic
Rick – “Bacon and Eggs”-Braised Pork Belly w/ Poached Egg, Truffles, Gnocchi, Turnip
Susur – Tuna w/Wasabi Mousse, Pickled Cucumber, Artichoke w/Charred Sea Bream
The dishes developed for the third course were:
Marcus – Berberre Flavored Hamachi Meat Balls w/ Sea Urchin Froth and Wild Mushroom Couscous
Rick – Venison w/ Matsuake Mushrooms, Pear Butter, Stuffed Cippolini Onions, Brussel Sprout Leaves, Natural Jus
Susur – Lamb Thailandaise w/ Chiang Mai Sausage, Peanut and Green Curry Sauces, Mint Chutney, Polenta
This competition was as much about the ability of the chefs to articulate their own personal stories in food as to deliver the best food. Marcus talked about growing up in Ethiopia in a small village and then being adopted by Swedes and moving to a fishing village in Sweden when his mother died. In recent years, he has discovered that his birth father is alive in Ethiopia and gone to visit him. He decided to become a chef after success in cooking a duck as a youngster. He believes that his second dish combines the coastal traditions of Sweden with ingredients/recipes from the Ethiopian village his wife is from. His third course combines African traditions with fine dining. He focused on seafood, pickling and preserving and use of root vegetables.
Rick talked about going clamming from Queens with his father to Sag Hargor (Long Island) as a youngster, his experience eating bacon and eggs with muffins at Petrucchia’s house deciding him on cooking as a career and, despite recognition as one of the world’s best seafood chefs, use his classical French training so he can copmete with the best master chefs on meat dishes as well.
Susur talked about going to a dim sum restaurant with his father when young, deciding with the prompting of his first wife (who died in the Korean Air tragedy over Russian airspace in 1983) to try Japanese food and developing a taste for trying new food cultures as a result. He went back to Asia with his second wife to learn about the spices and also discovered the lamb sausage, peanut sauce and green curry sauce in Thailand recently on a trip with his children. Marcus added that his sister in Ethiopia wakes up early to go fetch a supply of water, emphasizing the importance of clean water.
So, their stories and personalities are interesting (and all that we as viewers can evaluate second hand) but what about the food that only the critics got to taste? The diners at this table in addition to Gail, James, Jay and Kelly are Tom Colicchio (the power behind the scenes of Top Chef Masters even though you seldom see him on camera), TCM1 winner Rick Bayless and TCM1 runners-up Hubert Keller and Michael Chiarello. They are very lucky to be sampling this meal. Rick Moonen commented that he lost in TCM1 to Michael Chiarello and in TCM2 Michael gets to help decide his fate. He also made sure the diners understand that he is taking major risks in not doing seafood to show that he can do New Zealand venison just as well. He got a question from Jay Rayner on how the import of venison by air squares with Moonen’s philosophy of sustainable seafood. Moonen says that when you are trying to win Top Chef Masters 2, you have to pull out all the stops and do whatever you as a chef need to.
Observations by the diners on course 1 are:
For Marcus – perfectly cooked, spectacular
For Rick – stunning presentation, perfectly cooked oyster, amazing,
For Susur – amazing, combination of chilis, oyster and black bean is great, taking dim sum to the next level
Observations by the diners on course 2 are:
For Marcus – ganache melting in center is brilliant; several want to know how he created this effect
For Rick – underdone, chewy, pork belly not braised long enough, simplicity magnifies any mistakes
For Susur – “it’s so punk rock”, broth extraordinary, not seeing the precise work characteristic of Susur, the tuna should have been sliced thinner
Observations by the diners on course 3 are:
For Marcus – odd in texture, falls apart more than you want, cauliflower is really good, sauce is briny to Kelly(who I don’t believe is voting) but beautiful to Gail (who is voting); this is the controversial dish of this finale with radically differing views of it
For Rick – perfect, Rick has gone way outside of his box by taking risks with this
For Susur – sausage really well done, loved the flavors and he nailed the execution
Rick Bayless sums it up by saying that there are pluses and minuses for each master chef’s food and it is a very difficult one to decide who will win. At Judges Table, the judges question Marcus, Rick and Susur.
As the master chefs wait for the judging, Rick Moonen stated “there are no losers here.” Susur responded with his different perspective by stating “well, there will be two, right.”
Rick’s philosophy is that he has redeemed himself from his TCM1 performance by just being in the finale and cooking well. Even if he loses, he is satisfied. For Susur, nothing but the $100K will satisfy him.
The final feedback from the judges to the master chefs is:
Marcus – Gail says sweetness from the apple and celery root was genius; Jay said fish perfectly cooked; he said ganache started with tarragon and white port wine, then cooked at high heat
Rick – Jay says it was one of the best oyster dishes he had ever had, perfect flavors and perfect cooking; James says gnocchi were not right; Jay says pork belly undercooked; Rick responded that he took it as far as he could and then rolled the dice; Gail said it was beautiful; James said venison minimalist but it worked perfectly
Susur – Gail says black bean sauce was sweet with beautiful texture; Jay asked about the black paint on something and Susur revealed that it was squid ink; Gail said second course plate was off balance due to tuna and wasabi mousse; Gail said lamb so much flavor, sausage great spice; James found polenta weak but jay did not
The judges’ summary statements were:
James – Marcus’ 3rd course tartare was too tough
Gail – Marcus was true to the African roots of that dish
Jay – Rick’s first course and third course were fabulous, but the second course was not; Susur’s Thai curry was super; Marcus first course extraordinary
The final scores are:
Gail JO JR Diners Total
Susur 4 4.5 4.5 4 17
Marcus 4.5 4 5 4 17.5
Rick 4 5 4 4 17
So Marcus wins a finale where the difference between him and the other 2 master chefs is judged to be about 6%. I believe this occured because the judges changed their opinions of one dish whose texture was questionable due to Marcus’ adamant statement that that is the correct texture for that dish despite the fact that it does not taste right “the first 6 times you try it.” Another factor was that both Susur and rick fell down somewhat on the execution of the second course. So TCM 2 is history. It was good television, but not as good as TCM1 in my opinion.