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The third episode of most reality cooking shows is when a bit of calm is meant to set into the kitchen. The chefs have experienced a few eliminations, not heard their names called and now think that they might actually win this thing. So, of course, that's when the third season of Top Chef: Masters decides to get freaky by telling the cheftestants that they'll be cooking bugs for their quickfire challenge. Because the number one rule of reality cooking shows is that you can never be too comfortable in the kitchen.
Quickfire Challenge: Create a five-star dish out of edible plants and bugs.
The cheftestants are none too pleased to see the glass containers of crickets, beetles, worms and scorpions. "At least it's organic," host Curtis Stone quips.
The chefs have 20 minutes to grind, fry or grill their bugs. We learn that chef Celina Tio has eaten crickets in Bangkok but never actually made them herself. She decides to do a play on what she ate with a soy cricket on a salsify salad. Chef John Currence is busy grilling scorpions, but he pauses to apologize for sticking bugs in his younger brother's mouth when they were growing up.
"I'll eat brains and eyeballs. I'll eat anything but bugs," chef Mary Sue Milliken says. There's a lot of salads and egg dishes being prepared, but none as inventive as that of chef Suvir Saran. He makes a salad and serves it with a dish of live worms and a blowtorch, explaining that his upbringing in India prevents him from killing a live being, but he wants to give his diners the option.
The tasters are Ruth England and Mykel Hawke of "Man, Woman, Wild." He's former special forces. She's a journalist. Together, they'll eat anything. Tio gets knocked for keeping the legs on her crickets.
"I just wanted to keep it true to its origin," Tio jokes of her decision.
Stone turns green when eating chef George Mendes' ginger and worm soup. It's one of the guest judges' least favorites, alongside Suvir's jar of live worms. Mary Sue's sunchoke salad with beetle vinaigrette narrowly loses out to chef Hugh Acheson's tempura crickets with a carrot puree. But Acheson earns $5,000 for Wholesome Wave and immunity.
"This will pay off handsomely when I open up Hugh's Bug Shack," Acheson says.
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: Cook a 10-course charity dinner for 50 guests
The chefs have three hours and can only use what's in the pantry, which thankfully no longer includes the bugs. Stone warns that a series of curveballs will be thrown at the cheftestants.
Tio sets out to make a dish that diners at Julian will recognize -- chocolate pudding with a ginger doughnut. It's been on her menu since the restaurant opened. She wants to show that she can do dessert, but when she says she has to add extra cocoa for texture, it's a worrisome sign.
Chef Naomi Pomeroy once again grabs control of the dining room, calling out the dishes that each chef will be making. It is irksome from the comfort of my couch. I can only imagine what it would have been like with the stove at my back.
Stone introduces the first curveball: there is no running water. The chefs improvise by melting ice on the stove. The second curveball follows shortly thereafter; the dinner will begin 30 minutes earlier than announced.
Acheson decides to help with expediting, and he and Pomeroy began to grate on each other. Stone says there won't be waiters coming, and the chefs begin to get snippy, admonishing those who try to help with plating. We learn about the chefs' worst nights in their own restaurants, and Tio tells us that once both bathrooms went out at Julian, and she was forced to send diners over to Cosentino's.
The special guest judge tonight will be Alan Sytsma, editor of GrubStreet.com, who informs us that he was once an intern for critic James Oseland. He thankfully escaped without Oseland's penchant for sweater vests or describing a dish with three adjectives.
We see our first side of bad Suvir, which makes me wonder if he's being built up to be a villain in future episodes. After Tio takes her plates out, Suvir says that Tio's pudding is "not good in texture," which unfortunately, the judges agree with at the dinner table. Nice guys finish last. So, naturally, Suvir has one of the night's top two dishes with a chickpea, potato and yogurt salad. He loses to Naomi's celery veloute (soup) with salsa verde and lemon oil.
Mary Sue's bland tuna ceviche, John's safe shiitake and prosciutto risotto, and Celina's chalky puddin' land them on the potential chopping block. And despite Oseland's admonition that Tio "needs to get out of dessertville," it's chef Currence who is shockingly sent packing.
Line of the Night
: To be basically stripped down naked with nothing but your knives and ability, it's a lot of pressure. But as challenging as this is, it's just a carnival, freak show of magnificence
. -- chef John Currence on being eliminated