'Top Chef: Masters' doesn’t taste quite right
April 7th, 2011
10:36 AM ET

'Top Chef: Masters' doesn’t taste quite right

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Unfortunately, the producers of “Top Chef: Masters” don’t seem to agree.

Last night offered up the premiere of the show’s third season, complete with a lot of changes. As with previous seasons of “Masters,” the contestants are more established chefs than on standard “Top Chef.” They are:

Alex Stratta, Mary Sue Milliken, Floyd Cardoz, Hugh Acheson, Naomi Pomeroy, Celina Tio, Suvir Saran, Sue Zemanick, John Currence, Traci Des Jardins, George Mendes and John Rivera Sedlar.

I will tell you right now that Suvir’s sound bites are my favorite thing in the history of ever. His pontifications on what it means to be a master were the highlight of this entire episode.

The Quickfire challenge pits the chefs in head-to-head competition, preparing a dish using two main components in just 20 minutes. Several chefs don’t finish, sending out empty plates rather than half-completed ones. (That move seems a little self-important to me, but it’s the first week, so I’ll let it slide.)

The winners are Mary Sue, Suvir, Hugh, Floyd, Traci and George. Losers are John C., Celina, Naomi, Alex, John S. and Sue.

Those are the teams for the Elimination challenge as well, which for some reason is Restaurant Wars.

This is THE most anticipated challenge in any season of “Top Chef,” and you’re wasting it on the first episode? I realize producers want the drama of seeing an entire team of people who are used to running their own kitchens forced to work together, but this just screams “bad idea.”

By the way, you don’t get that “too many cooks in the kitchen” drama, either. Except, that is, for the Losers team (we’ll call them the Blue team), on which Naomi takes control and makes the incomprehensible decision to seat all of their diners simultaneously.

Just to clarify: Naomi is one of the chefs who couldn’t finish the Quickfire, so her time management skills (at least in terms of this competition) are already a little suspect. No one else on her team seems to agree with this idea of seating everyone at the same time. The move is questioned by the other team and the judges. It means the kitchen will be slammed, but that’s how Naomi runs her own restaurant, so that’s how this one will run, too.

As for the food, both teams have some stellar dishes, but they also both have some missteps. The Winners/Red team serve an overly salted scallop and an unimaginative chocolate cupcake. The Blue team offers up very raw lamb and an apple jicama salad that still has the label on it.

The critics all preferred the Red team, but the diners decided the winning restaurant, and they went with the Blue team. Alex and Naomi were up for the win, with Alex taking it. Meanwhile, Hugh’s salty scallop is judged to be more of an issue than Mary Sue’s simple cupcake, so Hugh is headed home.

There's not enough drama. These contestants aren’t the up-and-comers of a standard season of “Top Chef,” as evidenced by the fact that they’re competing for charity, rather than their own bank accounts. So there’s not that level of “I need this to establish myself” tension.

By the same token, they’re not the recognizable names we’ve seen in past “Masters” seasons, such as Hubert Keller, Rick Bayless or Marcus Samuelsson. It’s a faulting of the format.

Just speculating here, but, the show may have attracted bigger stars when chefs were asked to come in for quick preliminary rounds, and potentially return for final rounds. It was a shorter time commitment. Asking contestants to stick around for 10 straight weeks could be limiting star power.

Past “Masters” contestants were recognizable to casual viewers, even if only as judges on regular seasons of “Top Chef.” Watching Samuelsson or Bayless compete was entertaining because it felt like the judges had been thrown into the competition.

I’m sure Cardoz and Des Jardins and Stratta are well-known within the food world. But how are non-foodies able to distinguish them from a Richard Blais or Angelo Sosa?

Ultimately, it makes “Masters” feel like just another season of “Top Chef,” but one with lower stakes and less intensity. Coming off the heels of “All-Stars,” that could be a recipe for disaster.

What did you think about the premiere of “Top Chef: Masters”? Sound off below!


soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Snitch Doe

    Top Secret:

    Top Chef Masters Season 4 to include:

    Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier
    Art Smith
    Christopher Kostow
    more to come......

    November 1, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  2. northwestchefs

    the show needs something a little more. I really don't like the host. He doesn't really seem to have experience as a chef

    August 17, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  3. joyce

    Suvir is a hoot – an interesting mixture of funny and dignified. So glad he refused to kill the bugs. Maybe they'll stop having challenges that have nothing to do with real cooking. Can't stand Hugh, fix that unibrow, man!

    April 21, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. holly

    You guys know nothing about Curtis Stone he is an awesome chef one of the best.Watch him all of the time and i would watch the show just to see him.

    April 14, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
  5. CN

    i'm pretty sure the show is NOT shot over a period of 10 weeks. like all magical elves shows, they are shot sequentially over several days. accordingly, the judges adapt their lines to pretend as if a week has passed. there are several interviews with previous top chef/project runway contestants which should confirm this.

    April 14, 2011 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
  6. TD

    I liked the show. But they seem to be messing with the formula alittle too much..K.I.S.S!!!

    April 11, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jane T

    Well, I'm glad to know it isn't me. I agree with the writer 100%. The only "famous" chef here is probably Mary Sue Millikan; she was on the old "Two Hot Tamales" show with Susan Fenniger–who was on last season's "Top Chef Masters." Chef Tio has been on a lot of other cooking shows, too, but really, that's about it. Also, having Curtis Stone, who is suddenly EVERYWHERE on TV, stikes me as wrong. Is Tom Colicchio too high and mighty to judge second string Masters, or are the Masters second string because Curtis Stone is the judge? I will watch again but I won't fret if I miss an episode.

    April 11, 2011 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
    • dc

      You hit in right on the head. Tom Colicchio is a very highly-regarded and respected chef. I'd guess he said 'no' due to the time commitment- he does have his restaurants to run- and I understand why he wouldn't want to sit in televised judgement of peers like Hubert Keller. So Bravo drops the bar all the way to Curtis Stone, i.e. the male Rachel Ray?!?!? The guy can't boil water (allegedly). I mean, go get a Michael White, Michelle Bernstein, or Tony Mantuano. Heck, go get Dale Levitski- he's a Beard Award semifinalist this year. At least he'd have some gravitas as a chef. I think your comment about dumbing down the contestants because you have Curtis Stone judging is spot on. What is Stone going to tell Hubert Keller?

      April 11, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Taylor

    I'm not a huge foodie, but have always recognized the previous "Masters" chefs. I recognized only one this time. I'm afraid the eye candy of Curtis Stone isn't enough to peak my interest in this one.

    April 8, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Frank N. Stein

    I'd like to see the amateur chefs, versus the pros, and the winner gets to roast Gordon Ramsay alive.

    April 7, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Stacey W.

    I am relieved to hear it wasn't just me – I found myself feeling as though I was walking through a heavy fog while watching this. The casting is abominable, the host is no better than the woman they had doing it the last two/three seasons, and there was no sense that anyone was really in it to win it. And, something I've not seen mentioned yet – we usually get this many weeks after a Top Chef season is over – I think too much of a good thing is the problem. I'd rather have 6 weeks or 3 months off, and then get a great season of Masters. I said it to myself out loud last night, "I'm feeling a little 'overkill' here." Never thought I'd say it, but I don't see myself watching this season. Too many chefs, Restaurant wars at the beginning, and that after a marathon of reruns of the "restaraunt wars" episodes from every season prior? No one I've ever heard of, too many to appreciate their style or process... Top Chef – you sold out! You can come back from it, but be careful – burn out is NEVER a good thing for ratings.

    April 7, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Ginny

    Didn't like it...pretty boring won't watch again............falls flat, the chefs were all pretty boring

    April 7, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Pennagirl

    Traci Des Jardins is the only name I recognized off the top. Chef Tio was on The Next Iron Chef so I remembered her from that show.

    April 7, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ice Newb

      Yeah I almost thought it was unfair to let Traci compete. She sits on the US Culinary Council ffs. I would be surprised if she doesn't win it all.

      April 8, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  13. klava

    There's no sense of urgency in the latest incarnation of Top Chef Masters. By contrast, in the Celebrity Apprentice, in which contestants also compete for their charity, there's a sense of intensity. This is no doubt generated by Donald Trump in the boardroom repartee. Here, coming off the heels of Top Chef All Stars, the Masters falls flat.

    April 7, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  14. aztec49

    I didn't know aany of the chefs. Thought it sad that one of them left the sticker on the apples they served the judges. A tad boring.

    April 7, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  15. NANCY

    I tried it and liked it ! Go figure ! The horseradish gave the sandwich some pucbh ! BAAAM !

    April 7, 2011 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  16. joel

    I finally made their sloppy diahrear grilled samwich. It really isnt as good as it sounds. I probably should have left off the horsraddish. OOOOH WELL . . . Live and learn.

    April 7, 2011 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |

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