So, Top Chef Masters premiered last night. Somehow, despite a barrage of citywide advertising (including on this site!), we almost forgot to watch, but we ended up getting sucked in. There was a lot of hemming and hawing at first: judges introducing the first round of chefs (Michael Schlow of Boston’s Radius; Tim Love of the short-lived Lonesome Dove; French-born D.J.-chef Hubert Keller; Christopher Lee of Aureole), chefs plugging their charities, Bravo plugging the Glad family of products, and the usual belabored challenge setups (flashback to Richard Blais’s banana scallop! Jump to Girl Scout judges!). But then the cooking kicked in and we were able sort out the brilliant from the despicable. Here’s our breakdown.
• Gotta love Tim Love. The tequila shots, the chicken-fried strawberries, and the accidentally frozen veggies? You’re doing a heck of a job, Timmy.
• Product-placement backfires: After Schlow’s cake fail, there was a jump cut to the useless oven’s brand name. Also, Whole Foods carries ostrich eggs but no ground pork?
• At one point, Christopher Lee poured stock out of a plain blue box — it was not labeled Swanson. For two seconds we were spared a shill!
• While the other chefs were clueless about microwaves, Lee came through with seviche, avocado, and … popcorn!
• Had to love Jay Rayner for lines like “overcooked pork is a bad idea” instead of that other Brit’s tortured Star Wars metaphors.
• Though the chefs eventually loosened up, they seemed kind of wary and aloof at first — Christopher Lee was hardly as excited to see Gael Greene as Big Gay Richard was to see Colicchio.
• Cooking for Girl Scouts, yawn. No more kiddie foodies!
• The stacked dessert challenge: You wouldn’t know it unless you watched his exit interview, but Keller started as a pastry chef — of course he was going to make a chocolate-mousse swan. Chris Lee points out in his exit interview that Keller’s cute accent didn’t hurt.
• The Elimination Challenge: four contestants plus three courses, presented all out of order, equals confusing as hell.
• Did the producers really think we’d be charmed by college students?
• Saveur’s James Oseland using the word “delicious” about 50 times. Sietsema must’ve been pissed.
• Wait a minute — the judges gave Keller props for dipping a dorm-room showerhead into his pasta? He might as well have washed his lettuce in a bidet.
• We can already see the press release Aureole is going to send us about Chris Lee’s “good enough to put on my menu” French-toast sticks.
So, what did you think? We’re staying mum about hostess Kelly Choi, because, unlike Padma, she has our cell-phone number. Kelly, call us!