Roy Yamaguchi Not Making the “Top Chef Masters” Final

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Since its debut in June, I have been watching Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters” religiously. As matter of a fact, this is the only show I DVR weekly and talk about it afterwards with my friends and colleagues.

I am not sure if I am qualified to be a foodie (what exactly are the qualifications to be a foodie, anyway?), but I love to eat, love to cook. Just recently, I took my husband to Suzanne Tracht’s JAR (Tracht is one of the finalists of the show) for his birthday. I know who Ferran Adrià is, and I can name Top 10 sushi restaurants in LA and categorize them for different occasions and budgets.

Last season of “Top Chef,” I was very disappointed by the winner. Hosea? Come on. He was flying low throughout the season—but not low enough to get kicked out—the only reason he won was because the cocky, but very talented Stefan made the silly chocolate mouse for the final challenge. (Several of the past contestants left the show for serving mediocre desserts. Don’t do desserts unless you must!) This result had many “Top Chef” fans ditch the show and move on to other classy Bravo shows like, “Real Housewives of New Jersey”…

But I have to admit, during the hiatus of the show, I was itching to get another “foodie” fix, and “Top Chef Masters” has been the perfect little treat. First of all, as the show’s title suggests, these are the “master” chefs. They are at the top of their game, so viewers can just sit tight and appreciate their creations. There is no messy reality show drama (like Hosea’s high school romance with fellow contestant, Leah), no tears (although I’m pretty sure Art Smith shed a victory tear Wednesday night…), no freaking out, no excuses. Unlike the regular show, “Top Chef Masters” selects a winner from each of the six episodes, and the six of them will compete for the final episode for $100,000 for their choice of charity.

So far, I am very happy with the judges’ decisions. I am happy that all of the finalists are veterans (older). I rooted for Hubert Keller, Suzanne Tracht and Rick Bayless. My husband adores Michael Chiarello. I didn’t know who Anita Lo was, but she made the Asian foodies of America proud.

But you know what, Roy Yamaguchi’s loss on Wednesday night left me bittersweet. I wanted him to win so badly, but at the same time, I didn’t think he would. His pasta dish for the Quickfire Challenge and the surf &turf for the Elimination Challenge seemed so uninspiring. I understand that they were able to use only ingredients from one aisle in a Whole Foods Market, but tomato sauce pasta with fried egg…? Short rib kalbi and mahi mahi…? I am sure the outcome would be significantly different, but I could come up with that menu. Unfortunately, Yamaguchi’s dishes lacked the serious “wow” factor.

What was great about Wednesday night’s episode is that the chefs (Michael Cimarusti, Art Smith, Jonathan Waxman, and Yamaguchi) were able to showcase their great camaraderie. During the Elimination Challenge, each chef was ask to shop for 11 items secretly for another chef and cook a dish using seven of them. None of them picked “difficult” items to ambush their opponent. Yamaguchi put it, “I wanted us to compete with great ingredients, showcasing our best ability” (he gave Art Smith, Southern chef, chicken—his favorite and strongest ingredient).

At the judges’ table, Yamaguchi also confessed that he was more of a “slow thinker” type of chef and he couldn’t think fast enough to come up with dish ideas.

In the end, Yamaguchi lost with the lowest score among the four. However, he was a gracious loser, and his humble, honest personality was truly DELICOUS to see. Ha!

Can’t wait for the next episode.

—NAO GUNJI

Roy Yamaguchi puts the finishing touches on his dish on Bravo's "Top Chef Master." (Courtesy of Bravo TV)

Roy Yamaguchi puts the finishing touches on his dish on Bravo's "Top Chef Master." (Courtesy of Bravo TV)

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