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A 'Top Chef' Tribute to Teachers

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Education, reality TV, and food are three of my passions. Not necessarily in that order.

So when all three are combined on the Bravo cooking competition show "Top Chef Masters," that get's my attention.

Shows like "Top Chef" and Fox's "MasterChef" seem to have about one episode per season involving children and school lunches. On the school episode of "MasterChef" recently, one lovable little urchin tasted a chef's dish and told him, "You're not going to win with that!"

("MasterChef Junior," with kid chefs age 8 to 13, premieres Sept. 27.)

This week on "Top Chef Masters," there was a twist. The four remaining chefs in Season 5 were asked to create a dinner to honor four teachers from the Los Angeles Unified School District.

"Chefs, for this elimination challenge, we want you to create a tribute dinner for some amazing teachers and administrators," says host Curtis Stone.

The chefs receive an information packet about the four teachers: Emily Grush, a special education home health teacher lauded for her dedication to students with serious physical disabilities (one of whom attends the dinner); Carlos Lauchu, a middle school science teacher who has many of his students passing Advanced Placement tests; Stacey Joy, a 31-year veteran 5th grade teacher; and Jeffrey Austin, a government teacher known for helping his students learn complex economics topics.

The chefs are extra-motivated for the dinner for a total of 60, which includes the honorees (who are taken by surprise when they are identified) and some of their colleagues and administrators.

"Our society doesn't put teachers on the pedestal where I feel they should be," says one of the chefs, Jennifer Jasinski.

While the chefs finish the courses, Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy welcomes the guests to the dinner in the Top Chef studio.

"Of the 36,000 people who serve as teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District, it has been a profoundly rewarding experience to recognize four here today," says Deasy, who seems to relish the event.

The chefs serve what are meant to be elevated, inspiring dishes:

• Smoked salmon with cauliflower and three types of caviar, plus sea urchin foam, from chef Douglas Keane.

• Calamari Bolognese over miso cavatelli pasta, bacon, and squid ink, from chef Bryan Voltaggio.

• Rack of lamb with creamy grains and pear, fennel, and red wine reduction, by Jasinski.

• A dessert of bittersweet chocolate soufflĂ© with orange peel and raspberry sauce, from chef David Burke.

Not your average school cafeteria fare. (Nor are they meant to be, in contrast to when these shows cook for children.)

Spoiler alert: The food-critic judges give Bryan's Calamari Bolognese a gold star as the best dish, while David gets a "needs improvement" for his mushy soufflé, and he is sent packing. (Bravo makes full episodes available on its Web site, but there appears to be a lag time of a couple of weeks from the air date. The episodes are re-aired on the cable channel at various times.)

The superintendent and the teachers have only praise for the tribute dinner.

"The food was phenomenal," says Deasy. "The sentiment was overwhelming."

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