The only chef with a Miami connection in the second season of Bravo's Top Chef Masters won last night's episode. After a bout of unlucky events, Carmen Gonzalez seemed an unlikely winner in an elimination challenge that required the chefs to put their twist on soul food for actor Mekhi Phifer's birthday party.
Now a consultant, Gonzalez worked at several Miami restaurants including The Miami Club, Tamarind and later her own Carmen the Restaurant. The Gables restaurant earned the Miami New Times Best New Restaurant in 2004 and Best Puerto Rican Restaurant in 2005.
During the show's quickfire challenge, Gonzalez cut her finger while preparing a grilled cheese sandwich. You'd think that the masters would be asked to do something a little more challenging than making a fancy grilled cheese sandwich in 20 minutes.
The cut was a minor glitch compared to when Gonzalez, upon arriving at the kitchen at the Thompson hotel in Beverly Hills, realized that she had left her oyster and sausage stew at the Top Chef Masters kitchen where the chefs had prepped their food. If only the stew wasn't the primary element of her competing dish. Gonzalez hops back on the Lexus (product placement at its finest) and sits through a 16-mile ride in Los Angeles traffic to rescue her forgotten dish.
decide to help out a little and peel and cook the yucca for Gonzalez's yucca mash. Marcus Samuelsson becomes the villain in the show by not
helping Gonzalez and focusing on his own food. Camera cuts to Samuelsson giving the
typical "I want to win, this is a competition" spiel.
When the helping chefs get back to their food, they forget about Gonzalez's yucca and it burns. Gee,
thanks guys. Gonzalez comes back with her stew to find her colleagues
burnt the yucca so she makes the difficult decision (yawn) to serve the
stew sans yucca mash. It all seemed to work in Gonzalez's favor in the end.
"I really feel like Carmen is dancing on my tongue," judge Jay Rayner exclaims after tasting the stew.
Gail Simmons shoots back: "I'd like to see that."
So would we.
stew earned the highest combined score from the judges and the
audience. And Gonzalez forgetting her dish provided the only drop of drama or
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stress for viewers who so far have been subjected
to some pretty boring TV (we can't wait for Top Chef to return).
Samuelsson earned the second highest score and moved on to the champion's
round with Gonzalez but not before pontificating to Pope that the lesson in all of this for her is that she should just take care of herself. That's so nice of him.