Previously: Weeks of competition honed down the best of the best. Now only three chefs remain — Angelino and Mexican cuisine maven Mary Sue Milliken, virtuoso of French-California cooking Traci des Jardins of San Francisco, and classically trained Indian chef from New York City Floyd Cardoz. Each of them has a charity (Share Our Strength, La Cocina, and Young Scientist Cancer Research Fund at Mount Sinai Medical School, respectively), and each of them is angling for the $100,000 prize. But who will be the Top Chef Master?
The final three walk into the dining room to find Curtis Stone, James Oseland, Ruth Reichl, and Gael Greene awaiting them. There will be no quickfire this week, only an elimination challenge. The cheftestants are asked to create a three-course meal of a lifetime. The first course should be inspired by a food memory, the second will represent the experience that made them decide to become a chef, and the final course will be critics’ choice. Floyd draws first and selects “James,” who wants him to make a classic Indonesian dish. Mary Sue gets “Ruth” and her magical lemon souffl�. Traci pulls “Gael,” who wants French fried duck. All in all, it seems like a fix, except for Mary Sue. Good luck to you, girl! Before the cheftestants begin, they’re given help in the form of the sous and executive chefs at their home restaurants.
The final three head into the kitchen, where the judges tell them exactly why the dishes they chose are special to them. Gael had duck on her French honeymoon. Likewise, Reichl went to Paris with her family (parents) when she had souffl� for the first time. Oseland’s dish was similarly eye-opening because he had it the first time he went to southeast Asia and experienced the layering of flavors that typify the cuisine. He tells Floyd that his dish is not one “you cook from your mind, it’s a dish that you cook from your soul.” Oseland challenges Floyd to bring on the heat. For his part, Floyd seems a little nervous about the reverse-braising tactic that typifies his dish. Traci is also ambivalent about Gael’s insistence on serving her duck with a b�arnaise sauce.
After the critics leave, Mary Sue conjures the experience that made her want to be a chef. It was a simple shrimp cocktail made by a mentor of hers who recently passed away. She wants to make the dish in honor of him. Traci remembers enjoying a quail salad when she was debating whether to go to college. The quail salad won. Floyd calls to mind a business lunch he attended with his father in Bombay, where he had bass and learned the ceremony of dining.