Top Chef Masters, the less dramatic, charity-oriented sister series to the Bravo hit, returned for its second season last night. There are 22 master cheftestants jostling to win $100,000 for the organization of their choice. Only eight advance to the championships, which is when things should get juicy. For these first few episodes, though, it’s all about separating the chaff from the wheat. Last night’s crew of six were subjected to two team challenges: cooking a gourmet meal for rock band the Bravery using only food bought at a gas station, followed by creating a romantic dish for 30 couples on their first dates. Below, we single out this episode’s superlatives.
Biggest Screwup: The episode was conspicuously free of technical errors or flesh wounds (fingers crossed for some in the future), but a simple mistake created one of the most sickening dishes we’ve ever seen on a cooking show. Working together as a team, Govind Armstrong and Jimmy Bradley thought it would be a good idea to make macaroni and cheese with Cheetos — only they grabbed a bag of the spicy flavor instead of the original orange stuff. The results? A bowl of Martian-red mac with bits of grilled Slim Jims that looked painful to eat (see video below).
Most Appetizing Dish: The same team redeemed itself in the date challenge with a duo of lamb, serving up some perfectly cooked chops and carpaccio to the delight of diners and judges.
Unintentionally Hilarious Moment: Judge Gael Greene’s just-a-tad-too-friendly introduction: “Govind is really a rock star, with his fabulous good looks and unique California style.” Later when the chef remarked that eating a lamb chop with your hands is sexy, Greene looked ready to pounce.
Most Creative Solution to a Challenge: Teammates Susan Feniger and Tony Mantuano won the elimination challenge by adding a narrative to their plate. In addition to serving up a Taleggio-filled pasta and spicy shrimp-and-scallop dish, the duo incorporated the always sexy fantasy of exotic travel, taking inspiration from Italy and Malaysia.
Awkward Moment: Witnessing the inane dialogue from so many first dates made us cringe, but Jimmy made things a little more uncomfortable with an off-the-cuff remark. Asked what it was like working with Govind, he retorted, “Ebony and ivory,” which would have been fine if it didn’t also describe their difference in skin color.
Biggest Braggart: There was a bit of a three-way pissing contest between Govind, Jerry Traunfeld, and Tony to see who could boast the most, but the latter takes the prize for dropping the names of celebrity clientele. “We’re sort of known at Spiaggia as being the place where the Obamas would go when they lived in Chicago,” he said, making it sound as though they ate every meal there. He later added, “If I could make the president and the First Lady happy on their date night, I could make first-time daters happy.”
Fun Facts: Govind had a huge crush on Susan when he worked for her as a teenager, even though she’s a lesbian. Also, apparently 30 percent of the audience wants to have dinner with Gael.
Best Criticism: “I find this dish to be impossible to eat in any kind of polite or gracious way.” —Gael Greene on cheftestant Amy Sortun’s duck-leg soup.
Best Smack Talk: Jimmy Bradley on cooking for the Bravery: “We should feed those [bleeps] cat-food tartare.”
This Week’s Villain: Without any competition, Govind Armstrong. Whether deflecting criticism (“I’m listening to this band and, you know, I’m like, ‘Who the fuck are these guys anyway?’”) or dissing his partner (“Not to talk shit about Jimmy but it’s like, you know, all he was really doing was making a salad.”), the chef came off as the biggest tool in the group. Still, we’ll miss his potent quotables and hope someone fills the void he leaves.
Parting Words to Remember: “I wanted to get here and test myself and see what I got. And I have learned that I have oldness.” —Jimmy Bradley
Winners: Susan Feniger and Tony Mantuano
Eliminated: Ana Sortun, Govind Armstrong , Jerry Traunfeld, and Jimmy Bradley