Last night's episode of Top Chef Masters featured Rick Tramonto, the third and final Chicago cheftestant. And when we say featured, we mean prominently -- Tramonto got so much airtime, we were sure he was headed to the finals.
He had some crazy competition, though. And when we say crazy, we mean in a good way (Debbie Gold of the American in Kansas City, goofy and sweet as can be) and crazy in an unflattering, off-kilter, stealthy, just under the surface kind of way (Toronto's Susur Lee, a self-described "chef gypsy" and a "ninja"). Rounding out the mix: the level-headed, totally cool Jody Adams and and Maria Hines.
The episode was just odd. The quickfire challenge was to create a "perfectly styled fruit plate." (Guest judge was Chicago's own Stephen Hamilton, whom we featured this week). The twist -- the winner would clinch one of the two finalist spots left.
Tramonto oozed confidence (some might say smugness) throughout. He was sure he nailed it with his fruit and herb shooters, tarted up with a Versace cup and "culinary inspirational" cards. But it was Adams' not-quite-cooked through fig and walnut tart that prevailed. See? Just odd.
For the elimination challenge, the chefs were to modernize the family dinner for the cast and crew of ABC's "Modern Family." Tramonto was psyched -- he watches the show with his kids. (We were psyched -- we watch the show after putting the kids to bed!) And we must say: there wasn't one dish that didn't make us hungry. Tramonto's white beans, sausage and escarole was homey enough, but he kept trumping the truffle oil in the dish, which the judges, sadly, couldn't detect. The judges thought there was too much heat to satisfy all taste buds in Lee's roast chicken with curry. And yet, in the end, it was Lee with the record-breaking 19 and a half stars.
Mantuano, it's up to you.