David Burke has more than a few signature dishes—in the buildup, I was hoping for an Angry Lobster—but eggs are, as he says, "a great medium to express a chef's artwork." Burke's a mural painter of sorts: his big, splashy ideas splay across space and have a sort of urban-sophisticate permanence. For a less-established chef, cooking the egg custard inside of its shell might seem an old trick. But in this case, Burke helped popularize it, and his "sexy" watercress flan custard served en-shell with a ragu of bacon, mushrooms, asparagus, and carrots with fisherman's toast looks like the classic.
He's most-jazzed about the toast—a deep char-flavored black bread with nori and lemon zest—and describes it as the dish's "wow" factor. I get that he's been cooking the custard for decades, and to some extent the challenge almost pigeonholes him: What other egg dish could he serve? I was concerned when he said the toast was the part of the dish he was the most excited about. Each of the judges give it fine marks, though, explaining the densely layered flavors and the uniqueness of the supplementary toast. What do I know?
Compared to Burke's plates, chef Takashi-san's French-Asian style is more refined—a pointillist project, if you will, that draws upon diverse cuisines of his region and synthesizes them into something great. As part of his egg duo, he creates his take on a classic that's been around much longer than Burke's, preparing chawanmushi within his eggshell and topped with sea urchin and caviar. Alongside that, he serves a "hot spring" (slow-cooked) egg with cold udon noodles and natto, a fermented soybean delicacy that is, as Gail says, underrated and slimy. That's a combination I don't necessarily ascribe to, but Zimmern's impressed with a duo of dishes that actually compliment each other, and he and Gail vote for Takashi.
David's challenge is equally equanimous: cook crab three ways. He jokes that he hopes to overload Takashi with work, but again, there's little pretense for drama here between the two chefs. There's little time for anything but cooking, really, as each competitor has to prepare their three dishes in 30 minutes. For David, that means another specialty, his salty pretzel-crusted crab cake, paired with spicy mango crab and citrus salad with chili sauce and a Jersey-inspired, strikingly orange crab-and-beer soup.
Takashi's offerings—a sunomono (cucumber salad) with seaweed and crab meat, simplistic jumbo lump crab with cocktail sauce, and a crab miso—are more understated, but also seemingly more refined. For as much as New Jersey's loud, brash coastal life infuses the David Burke dining experience, Takashi draws upon the flavors and sensibilities of a world away. And while I'm not exactly sure what Curtis means when he says that Takashi has "intellectualized" the crab, the plates he's producing stand out without trying to. Though Gail votes for David, Curtis and Andrew choose Takashi.
One thing that's nice about an all-Masters challenge is the ability to source unusual products, and once Zimmern appeared, I figured we'd be in for something bizarre. It's a win-win for the episode (and the judges): At best, these experienced toques have cooked with the strange ingredients before, and at worst, they'll figure out what to do and still produce solid food.
The revelation of the foods leads to plenty of laughs, and it turns out that neither David nor Takashi has cooked with sea squirt, armadillo, or black sapote. In fact, Takashi's never even seen an armadillo (or, as David observes, a subway rat with a hard shell) before.
Gastronauts Ben Pauker and Curtiss Calleo have been helping New Yorkers eat adventurously for eight years (apparently) and will be judging alongside an old Top Chef: Masters favorite, James Oseland. The most shocking spin-off returner, though, is Zac Young, the fairy-dust-sprinkling pastry chef who finished fourth on the inaugural season of Top Chef: Just Desserts. Even he's on his best Masters-level behavior, but he's right… desserts IS stressed spelled backward!
NEXT: Battle bizarre