PLEASE READ BEFORE COMMENTING!!!
As usual, there's a lot of sneaky intel out there, but I'm endeavoring to keep this blog a spoiler-free zone. This isn't just for the readers, but for me, too -- I don't want to know what happens! As such, anything that's already been broadcast or has been posted on the official Bravo site is fair game for discussion. I will, for example, discuss the preview of next week's show at the end of the post. But if you've heard rumors that one chef has been hosting a lot of dinner parties, or that another chef was spotted boarding a plane to an exotic locale, please keep them to yourself.

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May 26, 2010

Top Chef Masters - S2E8 Postmortem

Awwwwwww... so sad. But I'm not troubled with the judging like some (I'm looking at you, Doktarr!). So let me just address this quickly.

It's been suggested that Feniger's critic scores ran contrary to the crowd's score, and that Rayner was unusually harsh. Last point first. I didn't think his tone was particularly harsh, but even if it struck you as such, he was only half a star below Gael and Gail. That's hardly a curmudgeonly, aberrant score. As to whether the judges' scores were out of line with the crowd... well, sort of, but not as much as you think. Yes, the judges scores were about a full star lower than the crowd, but the crowd still gave Feniger their second-lowest rating out of all five chefs (Susur coming in last with the crowd). So the judges scored her fifth out of five, and the crowd scored her fourth out of five. I don't see any disconnect there. Yes, the crowd scores for her were marginally higher, but generally speaking, that's what you'd expect. Since the crowd score is an average of scores from a very large sample of diners, you'd expect, on average, the top scores to be a little lower and the bottom scores to be a little higher. So I think this idea that Rayner tipped the scales, or that the judges and the crowd weren't on the same page is a non-starter. Plus, Susur was only on the bottom because there wasn't enough room on the top. This was between Waxman and Feniger, and is anybody really surprised that Waxman edged her?

And yet, it's sad to see such an ebullient personality kicked to the curb. I'm guessing it was a very good dish, but when everybody is pretty much firing -- and it sounds like everybody pretty much was -- something on the simpler end of the spectrum is probably going to lose out to something that's a little more refined. I'll be curious to read the critics' blogs once they go up, but my hunch is that Feniger simply undershot the level of refinement that they expected for the event and the stage of the competition, which made her stick out. And when you're on the chopping block, the last thing you want to do is stick out.

On the other end, I get the feeling... and it's just a feeling... that Moonen is regarded by many as, perhaps, not on the same level as the rest, and I hope this week puts that notion to bed. If he survives next week and makes the finals, he'll have earned it.

Which brings us to what's always the best topic of conversation heading into the semis. Who do you want to see in the finals? As far as who's most deserving based on performance so far, it's hard to say. If the next episode were voided and the judges had to simply choose three to advance based on the season thus far, Susur is the only shoo-in. Though he's been a little inconsistent, I feel like Moonen probably deserves a free pass as well, especially coming off a week as strong as this one. My vague notion is that I'd place Samuelsson fourth based on performance thus far, though I wonder how much of that is simply because he really challenges the judges, and much as I love him, you could make a case for Waxman being the most deserving of the door. You just have to adore the guy, and there's always something so satisfying about seeing simple, soulful food rock the house, but he's obviously tired and hasn't shown us his best as of late. It's not a crash of Anita Lo proportions, but Episode 8 Waxman isn't Episode 5 Waxman.

As far as who I'd like to see in the finale? Susur, for sure. And even if he's the least deserving -- and I'm not conceding that he is -- I feel like Samuelsson could be so much fun in the finale. He has such a foreign, outlandish style, and if the last challenge is, once again, to cook your life's story, who isn't curious to see what he does with that? Waxman's a big ol' teddy bear whose food just makes people happy, and Moonen's a dynamo whose dishes keep sneaking up on people... can't we just skip episode nine and go straight to the finale with four chefs? Ah, well. I guess I can take solace that I'll be equally disappointed no matter what happens next week.

Discuss!

Comments

As much as I agree with your analysis of Susan's sandwich, I still would like to try that dish. I love that kind of food, and when everyone is going super refined, good finger food or comfort food can be so damned appealing. Maybe I was seduced by the sexy way she sold the dish, but if I were standing before a table filled with each of tonight's dishes, I would reach for hers first.

Oh, darn. I went out to dinner last night, and opened this site as part of my morning routine without even thinking, and spoiled myself.

Not Dom's fault - I'm just venting about my own stupidity.

I'm sorry, but 2 episodes from the finals and a toast sandwich & fried egg isn't going to cut it. I loved Susan on that show, but she absolutely deserved to go last night. We're well past eliminating mistakes--now it's about wowing the judges. Consider, if this were regular TC, last night would've been to determine who goes on to the final location.

Poor Susur out of his element again. He was right and Waxman was wrong though: you cook for the judges, theme be damned. As long as you pay some lip service, you're fine. Having said that, my take on the "gods"...

Poseidon - seafood. I would've done octopus or squid, but really anything would be fine I think. Dionysus - wine & decadence. Not so refined as Susur's, but as long as you got the wine in there, you're fine. Easy enough.

Hades & Ares: Hades != Satan. Rick's take on Hades was only half right plus he took away from Marcus's themes. Red is the color of Ares, not Hades. I would've gone for bold, spicy flavors w/many red components for Ares and mostly mushrooms & root vegetables for Hades w/some pomegranates as garnish. It turns out they both got it mostly right anyway with the exception of the pomegranates. In fact, Marcus went past the mythology to incorporate his own experiences with war, so kudos to him.

Aphrodite's kinda tough unless you go for the cliched (and often incorrect) love motifs, chocolate, decadence, etc, but that can also potentially butt up with Dionysus. I really liked the eggs to symbolize fertility, but I think I would've done something w/a giant scallop shell (butting against Poseidon, I know) & foam, since most ppl recognize the famous painting by Botticelli. Maybe some apples too.

I'd like to see Susur, Waxman & Marcus (agreed w/Dom in that I'd love to see Marcus's life story in his food) in the finals, but I think Waxman's getting cut next. Too bad they can't recess for a week or two while they recharge their creative juices, but Moonen's on a roll right now and I don't see Waxman getting by. Marcus might be vulnerable too--if he were game-savvy, he'd learn to eliminate maybe one ingredient per component since pretty much every criticism so far has been variations of, "there's just too much going on." Still, he's cooking his style of food, which I admire, and the edits seem to be toning down the "arrogant" chef bit now that Moonen's taken on the villain role (and w/some relish).

--
Dave

Dave_P, I have to disagree with your assessment of the Susur vs. Waxman approach of cooking for the judges versus cooking for the theme.

The two are not mutually exclusive. There's no reason why Susur shouldn't have been able to embrace the theme.

Dionysus was probably the easiest god to cook for. God of wine! I'm not a chef. Heck, I'm not even a very good cook but even I can think of things like marinating things in wine, wine-based sauces, using grapes, using other kinds of alcohol, etc etc etc

I was actually very frustrated with Susur's whiny behavior (pun not intended) in this episode. Come on, man, have some fun with this one. The others totally embraced the theme and that made it more enjoyable to watch.

I have no doubt that Susur is an amazing chef, but really, even a cursory knowledge of Dionysus (wine, party god) should have been more than enough to give him an idea of theme. Seriously, the God of Wine? You can't get much easier than that thematically.

Ok, having said that, I expect the finals to come down to Moonen, Susur, and Marcus although I'd be happy with any of them in the finals. Me, I'm pulling for Waxman to take it all, followed by Moonen.

I was really surprised by Feniger's dish - I've been eating that, minus the coconut jam, for breakfast for years!

It's a good combination, but I really don't see how you could spend 4 hours making it. And, if as Jay remarked, the bread was not hot, there really isn't much recommending it.

I reserve judgment because I don't know what the coconut jam does to the dish, but I just can't see how it would put it over the level of one of the other dishes.

@ Bart:

I am getting a little annoyed at "It's not my kul-tur" Susur, but I think they are deliberately editing him that way. If the other chefs aren't complaining, than I assume there's nothing to complain about. Still hoping he wins it all.

I guess on the toast and jam thing I am over-romanticizing the simplicity of it, but I thought it was a bold move more than a stupid one. Of course it didn't work so I suppose bold is stupid when it results in a loss. Still, I remember this amazing series of bar foods I had at eatery 112 (I think that is the name of it) on a one day visit to Minneapolis last summer. There was a great blue cheese salad, amazing sweet breads, dessert, and then, two hours later as sort of a pre-hangover treat, someone ordered a bacon and egg sandwich with harisa. In context it was one of the most delicious things I'd ever eaten. I think Susan was going for that effect and it made sense to me.

for my ideal final: moonen, samuelsson, susur.
i like waxman's personality, but what has he done these last few weeks - foodwise - to make you root for him? spaghetti bambino? i root for him because he seems a really pleasant, if desperately harried and tired, man.

bart: susur didn't even know how to pronounce dionysus. he was obviously told dionysus was the god of wine and he made a dish that incorporated wine (chinese wine) and mediterranean flavours. in other words, he used his god at least as well as samuelsson and feniger did. though greene objected that the plate was too refined, her objection is because she was thinking of the orgiastic/drunken aspect of the god. but not all versions of dionysus are orgiastic/drunken. he was, after all, a god and is often depicted in a dignified way. (see roman statuary) if he'd gone "full-on-drunken-loon dionysus", susur would have been playing on a cliche of dionysus that some people, greene for one, hold dear. in his refinement, susur managed to catch the godly aspect. BUT ... even though greene complained about susur not bringin' the orgiastic, she still gave him 4 stars and, in her blog, raved about his pork and "croquette".

i don't know about anybody else, but after oste e coc's post last week, i can't stand to see the chefs put their fingers in their food to taste it. it makes me feel a little queasy. also: did anyone else notice that although susur said the secret to tasting something is to take ONLY two spoonfuls, (otherwise you'll overload your palate) he himself took any number of spoonfuls of the sauces?

altoids: yes but ... it ISN'T his culture. he's chinese and canadian, nor was the tailgating, nor were the simpsons. the odd surf and turf was the only challenge that was right at him and he nailed it. the producers are the ones who choose to highlight the "not my culture" moments. they're the ones making a big deal of them. but, in effect, susur hasn't said the words gratuitously.

It was sad for me to see my ideal final three as the bottom three last night! I would really like to see Waxman get his mojo back. He seemed pretty out of it last night, which does not bode well.

Agreeing with everyone else that Susur probably got the easiest draw. But I also have to agree with his approach - I think history shows that if you cook really good food you're usually going to be ok, even if you don't do the best job of incorporating your theme. Giving at least a nod to it (I actually said "yes!" out loud when he decided to marinate the pork loin in wine) while cooking awesome food pretty much assures safety.

Bart: It's easy to assume that anyone with a standard Western education would have a "cursory" knowledge of Dionysus or tailgating or The Simpsons for that matter (actually, I shudder to think about what % of the average American high schooler knew who/what Dionysus was). How about cooking to the theme of Kuan Yin or Ebisu (yes, I'm mixing pantheons)? I mean, that's easy enough, right? And considering Susur did get the wine gist (he prolly asked a producer or a fellow chef), I fail to see what there is to complain about.

And yes, ideally, you want to follow both the spirit of the challenge as well as pleasing the critics, but if push comes to shove, many years of TC have shown us, it's all about the judges. The only difference in TCM is that the crowd is also a judge, but if I had to choose between mass appeal & more finicky judge palates, I'm going for finicky every time.

Altoids: In Susur's defense, he really has been smacked w/more than a dash of western cultural references these past weeks, though I agree w/you about the likely edit. But then, he also got to use black chicken & sea cucumber (even though he didn't), ingredients he had a huge advantage over the others because of his cultural differences, and proceeded to clean house that challenge, so it sorta works both ways. And there were a lot of cuts of the other chefs bemoaning they'd never worked with this stuff before in that episode.

I forgot to mention the QF tasting, which was surprisingly disappointing. Ppl were trying to "blindly" ID the ingredients instead of just working out what exactly they were tasting and ticking off an ingredient list. Sure, if you didn't know what you were eating, you'd have to rely on the former technique, but if you figure out that you're eating green Thai curry, it's not hard to get a dozen ingredients out of that. Butter, Susur? Seriously? And only one master remembered that salt is indeed a legit ingredient.

--
Dave

Unless I'm mistaken M.S. would go home with nothing for his charity if he misses the finals.

Thought it was a fairly good episode, but the last two off have just tried to soft pedal something (pizza, egg and toast).

Moonen also now has a fairly commanding total star lead if that matters at all.

I get frustrated with TC and company for their lack of basic game theory and fairness. People already mentioned the flaws with the surf and turf challenge. With tasting the ingredients, I feel that it was done all wrong, as it was when it debuted on TC. What is even more frustrating is there are multiple different ways to make it exciting for the viewers as well as fair for the contestants.

Possible suggestions:
1. Give each contestant a white board, shielded from all other competitors, but in view of the cameras. Every 10 seconds or so, they each write down an ingredient. You are knocked out if you don't answer in time or incorrectly guess. Can be done in heats or all at once.

2. Say ingredients in a round. Flip a coin for who goes first. Have the rules similar to a spelling bee. WHY DID KELLY SAY THE KIND OF SAUCE BEFORE SUSER WENT?!?!?! Though granted, Susur should have definitely gotten it after that...

While it appears that the crowd generally follows the trend of the critics, this week, there were two big discrepancies. Susur was 2nd in critics, 5th in diners. Waxman was 4th in critics, and T-2 in diners. All others were within one place of each other. I think this discrepancy was foreshadowed with Waxman's "cook for the judges vs. cook for the people" comment. I believe competition-wise, when in doubt, cook for the judges since they account for 75% of the score. But for a chef like Waxman, diner enjoyment may be more personally rewarding.

I think my biggest gripe last night was the Elves and Gail. Gail made two very glowing comments, one being the "lather someone in coconut jam" and the other being the "I'm going to make my eggs that way from now on". Yet, her score was the lowest(I think) of the dishes, indicating that it was her least favorite. Now, we know the Elves get creative with the editing, but I was expecting higher scores from her. I guess, in the end, she, like Jay, couldn't get past the casual nature of the food. Kind of sad, really.

One other random comment: Susur clearly knew nothing of Greek mythology. So, I bet he asked someone "who is this guy" and was told "god of wine", so he used wine. If someone had told him the god is also called "Bacchus", then depending on his command of the language, he might have figured out the more subtle aspects of the god.

I done been called out!

My point is not really that Feniger should have stayed and Waxman should have been sent packing - I didn't taste the food, after all, and the flaws in both dishes were relatively minor by all accounts. My point is that whether something is "refined" or "street food" or raw or cooked or breakfast food or a salad or whatever should, in my mind, be mostly irrelevant. What should matter, in my mind, is how good it tastes, the depth of flavors and textures in the dish, and to some degree, how innovative and how well-presented it is.

It wasn't just Rayner who, it seems, prejudged the dish. Gael Greene, on her blog, dismissively calls it a jelly sandwich more than once. Again, I have no problem with it being the losing dish, but I have a problem with a less refined style being rejected out of hand.

Entirely fair, Doktarr, and when I call you out, I do so with love :-)

But I think these judges have shown a total and complete willingness to accept simple dishes. Heck, the fact that Waxman is still around is testament to that. But you do have to draw the line somewhere. I've said before that a perfect, fresh peach can be just as delicious as a technically complex and masterful four star dish. That doesn't mean that they should both receive the same score in a cooking competition.

Now, I'm not necessarily saying that Feniger's dish crossed that line. As usual, without the ability to taste, it's largely speculation -- even moreso with TCM since we don't typically get recipes like we do for TC. But my point is that I don't think it's fair to suggest that the level of simplicity or complexity should be irrelevant. Did the judges set the bar too high? Perhaps. Hard to say. But it has to be set somewhere.

I think I know why this season of TCM is less enthralling for me than the first season. Last season, it seems like they had a good number of challenges that involved cooking sit-down dinners for around a dozen people. This time around it has been mostly about cooking 50 or more buffet style meals. I found it more exciting to see the chefs cook the smaller amounts of food and being able to properly plate everything and then watch the guests as they sit, savoring and commenting on the food - frequently saying insightful and funny things. This season we're surrounded by huge pans, sterno cans and (as Rayner put it) camping stoves and assembly-line plating while the guests stand in line in order to get little plates balanced with one hand while the other is holding a wine glass and utensil. We can barely hear the guests comments about the food - in fact frequently we have to read them in subtitles.

It is just less satisfying for me to watch.

I think Danny has nailed the problem with this season (although I still love the show).

And I'm going to stick up for Doktarr. My position is that if Feniger's sandwich tasted better than Waxman's dish, then Waxman should have gone. Waxman's most famous dish is his "simple" roast chicken -- of course, if more people could make roast chicken as good, they would. If the producers didn't know what kind of chef Feniger is, she shouldn't have been invited. As Anon, said: "I guess, in the end, she, like Jay, couldn't get past the casual nature of the food. Kind of sad, really."

Dom, I think you are wrong about the relative status of Moonen vs. the other chefs. If anything, he may have the best rep of any of the chefs at the moment. Susur and Samuelson have both stumbled in their NY restaurants, and while RM has been hit with some of the same commercial woes that have afflicted other Las Vegas restaurants, RM, both upstairs and downstairs, is evidently firing on all cylinders (hoping to check this out myself next month).

For the record, I'm a big fan of Samuelsson's cooking, at least at its best. His restaurant food is hardly outlandish, though. He's a charming guy, and it's interesting seeing him get the semi-villain edit.

"And I'm going to stick up for Doktarr. My position is that if Feniger's sandwich tasted better than Waxman's dish, then Waxman should have gone."

I don't necessarily disagree, but we really don't know this to be the case. We know Feniger's dish was criticized for being overly simple. We know she got lower scores than Waxman. We don't know to what degree those are connected (though they obviously are to some degree). What I take issue with is the idea that the best-tasting dish should advance no matter how simple it might be. As with the peach, taken to its logical extreme, it's impractical for a competitive scenario.

As for Moonen, I didn't mean in general, I meant among those writing and commenting about TCM online, both here and elsewhere.

And I'm with you on Samuelsson. I only ate at one of his places once -- Aquavit, while under his watch (2002, maybe?). But I really, really enjoyed it. Still one of the best foie dishes I've ever tasted.

I've been trying to put my finger on what it is about this season of TCM that has set it so far apart from TCM 1.

I havent seen last year's shows since that time...
and please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong...

But for me, the most significant and most unfortunate difference is this: as far as I remember, last time there was some kind of spirit of celebration of the chefs' abilities. The attitude, as I remember it, was: let's make sure everyone has the opportunity to do their best, and let the judges decide whose food is best.

At the level of a Master Chef, that confidence should be omnipresent. It hasn't been completely lacking this season, but several times the interviews with the chefs have revealed the "I need to get the best advantage" mentality, as in, I will screw over the next person if I need to. And it seems to me that the challenges have often been more about the challenge than about the food.

All in all, a disappointing season thus far for me, because I really haven't felt the spirit of cooking, rather than the spirit of competition, that I did last time.

@DF:

"My position is that if Feniger's sandwich tasted better than Waxman's dish, then Waxman should have gone."

But don't you think the fact that Waxman placed higher among the crowd suggests that maybe his dish DID taste better than Feniger's? I mean it's not like the diners are all pretentious critics who value fancy techniques over taste.

Waxman's dish tasted better according to the crowd but i'd like to argue against feniger's sandwich. you're in a competition with some of the best chefs in the USA. it's near the END of the competition, so you need something to distinguish you - in a good way - from the rest of the competition. last week, mantuano chose pizza. this week, feniger chose a sandwich. okay. grilled pizza can be good. sandwiches can be good. so, they're legitimate choices. the problem with choosing pizza or sandwiches, though, is that they have to be executed at the highest level to impress. it's like with diving competitions. you do a wonderful jacknife, you get credit for a wonderful jacknife. but if you do a so-so reverse one and a half somersaults with three and a half twists, you get more points and you DESERVE more points. yes, a hot dog is great food. but your child can do it well. a souffle: slightly harder. a torchon of liver stuffed in a black chicken leg: much harder, more adventurous and, if done well, more deserving of the judges' consideration. it still has to taste good, but if it does taste good it deserves more accolades than pizza or a sandwich.

feniger's sandwich wasn't executed at the highest level. someone mentioned the toast was cold. that's unforgivable when you're doing something relatively simple. (also, it may just be me but her egg looked unappetizing.) if feniger and waxman had received exactly the same scores from judges and guests alike, i still think feniger should have gone home, however much gail wanted to put her finger in the coconut jam and spread it on her husband.

top chef masters is, in principle, different than top chef because the chefs involved are on a higher level. does anyone really believe mantuano, feniger, or tramonto are THAT much better than the voltaggios, though? i don't. and i think that's partly why this year's TCM has been a little disappointing. the level of competition on top chef season 6 was so high that i expected much more of this year's crop of masters than they have - with the exception of susur and mooney - so far delivered. if feniger had been competing in last year's top chef and had brought out a sandwich and an egg this late in season 6, she would have been booted from tc as well, i bet. her plate wasn't impressive. her toast was cold. and her conception was so simple that she would have had to have made it flawlessly to win.

this competition is MAINLY about taste, but you shouldn't confuse "mainly" with "only".

I thought it was weird that the judges weren't blindfolded for the taste test.
Also, Feniger store-bought bread presentation might have well had a big red ejection button on it.

Finalists?
Susur, Moonen, and Waxman, by far.

Samuelsson's roots narrative is trite and Ethiopia is a lousy food reference to chain oneself to. (No offense!) If he makes it to the finals, he need to snap the hell out of it and go back to fish or whatever he made his name with in the industry.

ally:

"I need to get the best advantage" mentality, as in, I will screw over the next person if I need to"

I think this has to do with the chemistry amongst the chefs, particularly Marcus. He, as well as the other chefs, commented how much faster he was at getting to the meat/seafood counter at Whole Foods, which gives him first dibs on protein. He almost revels in the fact that when takes all the protein that another chef wants. He has tried on more than one occasion to get Moonen away from seafood. When one chef has this mentality, it can permeate and create stress to the other chefs, which is probably part of Marcus's game plan.

None of his tactics are necessarily dirty, but I find his type of competitive personality a bit off putting. It reminds me of Spike "let me take scallops to screw everyone else." (He also did took chicken in the healthy lunchbox challenge with the same mentality). Marcus is a much better chef than Spike with a greater repertoire, so he doesn't screw himself over like Spike did.

Did anyone else read Gael's blog and find her last line HIGHLY offensive??!!

I made a response to that blog and noticed it was not posted (this was 2 days ago). It was not littered with profanity or insults, but it was a little sharp. Nothing that would require censorship unless her ego took a blow (that could be why there are only 3 comments on that blog!)

Kim-In-Chicago...

That the sandwich was as Insulting to the judges as it would have been to Aphrodite? A little dramatic, yeah, but I'm afraid I don't understand what's offensive about it.

(Belated because I've been watching the episodes seriously late.)

It seems like there are two questions here: how far was Feniger's dish from perfection, and would it have won if it were perfect?

As far as I can gather, the answer to the first question is "reasonably far." They loved the coconut jam, which seemed to be where she spent most of her time, but the toast was cold and the presentation was very casual. It's entirely possible that a transcendently perfect toast&eggs dish could win, but this was not transcendently perfect.

The second question is, to me, more interesting. I tend to get frustrated when chefs win with extremely simple dishes (e.g. Fabio's roast chicken), but the fact is that they do win, at least on normal Top Chef. Is it just an issue of different expectations on Masters? Or if that had been the best toast and egg of the judges' lives, would it have won?

Sad to see Feniger go as she was such a nice person. Samuelson was hard to root for earlier, now, I wouldn't mind if he or Waxman made it to the finals. I just love Moonen's personality and skill, as well as Lee.

If they were cooking for 12 or 20 rather than catering parties all season, I would expect Moonen's fish to be perfect.

For the final 3, I hope that Moonen makes it because he acts like it will hurt him most not to make it but, after Sussur and Moonen, I'm torn. Samuelson is brilliant but is young and doesn't self-edit. Waxman is a legend even to other master chefs but he has been looking soooo tired.

Since there's no break before the final on this show, I hope Samuelson takes it. If they had even a week off from the filming schedule, I'd be rooting for Waxman.

Hijack alert. I just want to be on record somewhere for the mothership season before Dom releases his rankings. I've put the chefs for the next season into the 4 tiers they usually fall into. I don't have time/energy to break it down more than that.

Placing these guys into tiers based on posted bio and very, very brief internet menu perusal:

Too old/too young to even bother looking into. History dictates they have no chance at all.
Tamesha Warren, 24 — Resides in Washington D.C. (Hometown: Barbados)
Tiffany Derry, 26 — Resides in Dallas, Texas (Hometown: Beaumont, Texas)
Lynne Gigliotti, 51 — Resides in Hyde Park, New York (Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Amanda Baumgarten, 27 — Resides in Los Angeles, Californi

Caterer/Restaurateur tier. Wildcards, but not big threats.
Kenny Gilbert, 36 — Resides in Telluride, Colorado (Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio)
Jacqueline Lombard, 33 — Resides in Brooklyn, New York (Hometown: Boston, Massachusettes)
Arnold Myint, 32 — Resides in Nashville, Tennessee
Andrea Curto-Randazzo, 39 — Resides in Miami Beach, Florida (Hometown: Vero Beach, Florida)

Undistinguished mid-season fodder tier. Could gain steam.
Tracey Bloom, 33 — Resides in Atlanta, Georgia (Hometown: Rochester, New York)
Kevin Sbraga, 30 — Resides in Willingboro, New Jersey
Kelly Liken, 33 — Resides in Vail, Colorado (Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
Angelo Sosa, 34 — Resides in New York, New York (Hometown: Connecticut)
Alex Reznik, 33 — Resides in Hollywood, California (Hometown: Brooklyn, New York)

Accomplished and trained under big name. History dictates most of these last halfway.
Ed Cotton, 32 — Resides in New York, New York (Hometown: Boston, Massachusettes)
Timothy Dean, 39 — Resides in Baltimore, Maryland (Hometown: Washington D.C.)
Stephen Hopcraft, 40 — Resides in Las Vegas, Nevada (Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio)
John Somerville, 42 — Resides in West Bloomfield, Michigan

Agree with the general analysis of the rankings, except for the age factor. Kevin was on 26 when he was filming last season. Granted, I'm sure Kevin is the exception rather than the rule, but I don't think being younger than 30 necessarily means that you are out of the race, so to speak.

Also, in regards to the most recent TMC episode, count me into the group who loves Susan, but agrees that she should be the one to go. Taste is always the most important factor, but there has to be some level of difficulty involved. Plus, it sounds like there might have been some temperature issues with the toast and egg.

Nice job nommommom. Some strong bios this year. Dom has a tough job ahead of him.

See, I know if I just hang back for a while, you guys will do my work for me :-)

Been a really busy few weeks at work... shooting for preseason rankings next week.

One thing that I did find out is they really dialed back the MG content this season.

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