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Live Blogging "Top Chef Masters"

Terzo Piano Restaurant

An update: To celebrate chef/partner Tony Mantuano’s win on the season premiere of “Top Chef Masters,” Terzo Piano is adding the two four-star dishes from the episode to the dinner and lunch menu. They will be available for the month of April. Dishes inspired from the episode’s challenges include: Tony’s “Top Chef Masters” Ravioletto with Mozzarella Co. crescenza cheese, wild mushrooms and rosemary and Tony’s “Quickfire” inspired chocolate bread pudding with banana bourbon caramel and Intelligensia coffee ice cream. The prices are $10 and $9 respectively.

It isn’t very often that my work life manages to coincide with my tv-addict life. For, while I am the Director of Public Affairs and Communication at the Art Institute, I am also an indiscriminate viewer of reality television. So last night was a truly special occasion: the season premiere of Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters,” a cooking competition among the country’s culinary elites. And one of the contestants in the premiere is Tony Mantuano, identified as the chef at Spiaggia and Café Spiaggia (and also identified as President Obama's favorite chef). Tony is also the chef of the Art Institute’s own Terzo Piano, the Modern Wing’s restaurant that opened last May. So excited was I last night that I live-blogged the episode. At home, on the couch. Alone. I was live-blogging for myself. I offer that now-un-live-blog below . . .

Quickfire Challenge: Chefs have to choose an apron color. Why? That seems cruel. Tony of Terzo Piano is paired up with Susan Feniger of Street and he’s already nervous that she won’t be serious enough. Tony admits upfront that Chinese food isn’t his forte. I’m already starting to sweat a little bit. But . . . psych! They’re at a gas station, for the time honored Top Chef challenge of making a meal out of quickstop food. And wha? Tony is a fan of the Bravery? I’ll have to look them up and try and catch Tony at Terzo Piano for other musical recommendations. He’s easy to talk to; he’d probably make me a playlist. Tony and his partner are trying bread pudding made with white bread. Tony sarcastically calls it “artisanal bread.” Funny. Tony’s charity is Feeding America. I like it when chefs have charities that actually have something to do with food. Other chefs are working with Cheetos and Clamato, both of which I admit I have enjoyed singly but never together. Tony and his partner Susan did the smart thing by going with something sweet instead of something savory. My favorite bread pudding in Chicago is at Ceres Table, up in Andersonville. I feel ok saying that because Terzo Piano doesn’t do bread pudding. My favorite Terzo Piano dessert is fresh mini-donuts but they aren’t currently on the menu. So I go for the chocolate semi-freddo with salted caramel instead when I’m there.

The judging: Fedora, one of the members of the Bravery, says it’s too sweet. I can’t take that seriously. But why would Tony and Susan go first? Why judge dessert before soup? Nonsense. I like Govind’s attitude. 3 stars for Clamato. Nuclear mac and cheese: 3-1/2 stars. Bread pudding: 4 stars. Tony and Susan win the quickfire! The other chefs clap jealously.

Elimination challenge: They stay in teams, which nobody really likes in any reality show that I’ve watched (which is pretty much all of them). Coworker and fellow ARTICle blogger Katie agrees via text message that teams are fundamentally unfair. The chefs have to cook for 30 couples on their first date. How can I get in on this kind of action? A privately catered first date with 29 other couples? Weird. But intriguing. The show offers up a picture of Tony and his wife, Cathy. Cathy is the sommelier at Terzo Piano. I have greatly enjoyed her selections. But never during work hours. Of course. Now on the show is a picture of Tony with President Obama. Interestingly, the only time I’ve ever seen the Obamas at a restaurant in Chicago, it was at Topolobampo, the high-end Mexican restaurant run by . . . last season’s “Top Chef Masters” grand-prize winner, Rick Bayless. Chicago represent!

In my favorite “Top Chef Masters” companion, the live blog, Tony is already being referred to as “Obama chef.”

Ooh! Tony’s making his own pasta. I’ve had Spiaggia and Terzo Piano pasta. Unbeatable. “Paranoia will destroy ya,” Tony says. The Kinks? Also on Tony’s iPod? I had no idea Tony was so . . . tuneful.

The tasting: These dates look really uncomfortable. But Jimmy and Govind’s dish looks really good. Lamb, yum. Terzo Piano offers lamb sliders. Just sayin’. I wouldn’t want to be on any of the dates I’m looking at. Duck breast looks like it might be hard to beat. I’m getting nervous. But Tony’s pasta is a hit.

The judging: Tony is sort of struggling to unite their two dishes. Malaysia . . . then Italy? Travel is romantic? Not if you’ve ever flown coach with me. Will Tony and Susan suffer for the overcooked shrimp? Jerry gingerly drinks a vodka tonic or something like it during the judging. Tony is drinking red wine.

Jerry and Ana: 15 total stars. Jimmy and Govind: 12-1/2 stars. Ouch. Tony and Susan: 17 stars. I think. They don’t post it, and I can’t add after 9 pm. But anyhow, they win! Congratulations, Tony! We look forward to seeing you in a couple weeks for the champions round! And of course we always look forward to seeing you at Terzo Piano.

Image Credit: Jeff Kauck