Top Chef Duels recap: 'David Burke vs. Takashi Yagihashi'

Two Top Chef Masters experience the most "bizarre" battle yet.
Ep. 05 | Aired Sep 3, 2014

MASTERS OF THE (TOP CHEF) UNIVERSE It's a clash of styles as composed competitor Takashi Yagahashi stands in the face of David Burke's culinary fireworks.

Nicole Wilder/Bravo

For better or worse, once the plates begin to emerge from the convivial kitchen is that Burke is, to a large extent, doing "his food" with the required dishes subbing-in for other proteins or highlights. After a few courses of variations of existing David Burke dishes, a sea squirt Benedict just doesn't seem all that exciting, even with potato pancakes as English muffins and the squirts as the Canadian bacon. Though a ragu of sea squirt with ramps sounds delicious, and the precariously perched plates bear David's culinary signature, it's just not the level of risk-taking or experimentation that anyone was looking for.

Takashi, on the other hand, prepares a first course that synthesizes the cuisine of an entire region, but still maintains his identity. Sea squirt rolls are the star of a plate that draws from China (doubanjiang, or fermented bean paste), Korea (gochujang, another pungent paste product), and Japan (miso) in Takashi's understated-yet-generous style. He even "asked a spot prawn to help."

Though Andrew preferred David's offering, the "Gastronauts," argue that Takashi's was more "brave"). This can be a common over-criticism on Top Chef; all that should matter is who offered the best food.

Despite Takashi's clear advantage in the eyes of the judges, David's armadillo, bacon, snail, and pigeon meat pie cooked in red wine with dry cranberries, crushed pigeon sauce, and fresh-baked biscuits looks like the best food of the week. It's rustic and comforting even through the TV screen. Though the Gastronauts are quick to criticize it—citing textural one-note-ness—it seems like the judges' favorite plate of the night, particularly when compared to Takashi's trio of armadillo offerings.

Counting David's tripartite challenge, the chefs were asked to prepare a minimum of seven dishes this week. Takashi made 10. At least one was bound to fall short of the super-high standards they've set, so it's not surprising that sautéed armadillo was the "meh" note alongside red wine-braised and blood sausage-filled offerings.

Five episodes in, we're starting to see more and more emphasis on pastry chefs. Granted, the challenges call for complete three-course meals, but outside of satisfying the judges' sweet teeth, there isn't much utility in judging desserts. The chefs don't make them on their own time, and the pastry chefs themselves aren't the ones competing. But then again, dessert has never really found a home on the normal show (remember the cake Hung served in the season three finale?), and at least with pastry chefs on board, we're getting composed desserts that actually succeed, but how wrong can you can go with a chocolate-y persimmon?

David's golden chocolate dome with brown butter sapote ice cream, peanut butter ganache, and sapote mousse is pretty, but it still feels like an alternative version of a "David Burke dish" rather than a Top Chef reinterpretation. And although Takashi's dish doesn't really seem all that special, he clearly conforms to the challenge by plating a black sapote rice pudding with sapote cake, macaron, and ice cream.

Ultimately, the "epic" nature of David's cuisine proves inescapable, and his style shines through more than the ingredients he needed to highlight. Though his food isn't "dramatic" in the reality TV sense, in the battle of Masters, Takashi-san's understated dignity and approach—even with some of the strangest ingredients the show has ever seen—earn him a well-deserved victory and trip to the finale.

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