Love, or as Celine Dion might sing it, "lurve," was in the air on Top Chef Masters last night. As if to prove that nobody scores after taking a date to a fast-food joint, host Curtis Stone dumped Danyelle Freeman for fellow Top Chef franchise host Gail Simmons, and critic James Oseland was reunited with former tablemate Gael Greene. In the best hour of the show so far, we discovered that ordinary people can love ordinary food and fall in love while Ms. Greene, oh sweet Jesus, may once have had something going with Elvis Presley.
Quickfire: Identify five ingredients in one minute using only a single sense of smell.
The six remaining cheftestants don blindfolds and nose plugs for the first round that will test their sense of taste. They down water chestnuts, cashews, worchestershire sauce, papaya and mustard greens. Chef Floyd Cardoz admits that he is claustrophobic and has a balance issue. Not surprisingly, he gets none right and is eliminated. Chef Traci Des Jardins fails the smell taste, unable to identify epoisses cheese, hot sauce, root beer, rice vinegar and mayonnaise. Chef Mary Sue Milliken and Hugh Acheson nail the touch test, successfully guessing okra, gummy bears, rice, blackberries and chayote.
Stone explains that the final test will assess their sense of hearing.
"I hear compliments, but I don't hear complaints," Acheson quips.
He also understands what food sounds like, besting Milliken 3-0 after guessing celery breaking, oyster shucking, and toast being buttered. Neither cheftestant can identify the sound of Rice Krispies in milk or a potato chip being eaten.
"Evidently, large Australian males eat a chip differently," Acheson says.
Elimination: Prepare a six-course meal for 21 couples based on the seminal moments in Chris and Victoria's relationship.
We meet Chris, who is going to surprise his girlfriend, Victoria, tonight by proposing after four years together. We learn that they love pretzels and beer, and apple pie, and she once tricked him into eating sushi by telling him that salmon was chicken. Chris is geeky and anxious, and we're still a day away from when he actually has to pop the question. Could we be witnessing the birth of a Top Chef: Weddings spinoff?
"This is poignant, and it makes me want to throw up in my mouth," Acheson says.
Cardoz will be making his karma sutra (black pepper) shrimp for the first course followed by chef Celina Tio's pretzel and pale ale mustard.
"Celina is making pretzels. That's something you'd find on the streets of New York, not in fine dining," Acheson says.
Tio explains to Milliken that she didn't have a proposal, just a conversation, with her husband. Shortly thereafter, Milliken cuts off the tip of her thumb. She is startlingly blase about what has happened.
"I look over, and Mary Sue is throwing the tip of her thumb in the trash," chef Naomi Pomeroy says.
Milliken has just shown that she is the toughest cheftestant in the kitchen. Meanwhile, out in the dining room, Oseland and Greene are making it uncomfortable.
"Do you ever eat any particular foods to get you in the romantic mood?" Oseland asks.
"No, I just try not to drink too much so I'll stay in the romantic mood," Greene answers.
The camera cuts to Chris, who, like the audience, appears in danger of throwing up. The food begins to come out of the kitchen, and Cardoz helps Tio plate.
"We don't need too many chefs; we need some Indians," Cardoz, who is Indian, says with a twinkle in his eye.
Tio's pretzel earns rave reviews but is seen as discordant with the frisee salad that accompanies it. Milliken's seafood stew with mussels and clams and Pomeroy's braised chicken thighs are met with hearty approval.
"I'm so full," Chris says.
"Suck it up, Princess," Victoria replies. I think she's good for him.
Acheson serves his version of beef and broccoli, and Des Jardins has prepared an apple galette for dessert. And then Chris gets down on one knee. Victoria accepts his proposal, and we have a genuine moment on Top Chef Masters, as the moms of both Chris and Victoria enter from the wine room where they've been watching the whole time in secret.
Pomeroy's chicken thighs are named the best dish, and when it comes time for elimination, Tio's disjointed pretzel and salad are deemed worse than Acheson's decision to "cook down" to the newly engaged couple and the dryness of Des Jardin's apple galette.
"I was there to serve a purpose for a moment in Chris and Victoria's life. And if that doesn't please the critics, then it doesn't please the critics. I just wish I could have won more money for Harvesters," Tio says.
Quote of the Night: "I didn't have an affair with Elvis. I had an hour with Elvis. I was the only woman in the hotel room when he came back from doing a show. So he took my hand and led me into the bedroom. As I was leaving, he said, [Elvis/Southern voice] 'Oh, ma'am, would you call room service and order me a fried-egg sandwich?' And that's why I became a food critic," Gael Greene says, in response to James Oseland's question about whether she had an affair with Elvis.