Last night’s Top Chef Masters wasn’t the same Masters we have come to know and love-hate over the past two years, but rather a revamped edition very much in the mold of the original. Basically, no more semifinals, no more star-rating system, no more Jay Rayner, and Kelly Choi has been sent back to the glue factory. Saveur’s James Oseland remains as a judge, joined by Ruth Reichl new host Curtis Stone, the Aussie Ken doll best known for his recent work as an impatient investor on America’s Next Great Restaurant. And we get twelve chefs instead of 22, with one being sent home each week, and the winner taking home $100,000 for a charity of their choosing. Does this top-to-bottom revamp mean the show will be any better than it has been in the past? The suspense is killing us.
Things kick off with the competitors very naturally walking into the kitchen one at a time so we can learn about them, because we’ve apparently never heard of most of these Masters. Suvir Saran (Dévi) tells a heartbreaking story of how being bitten by a rabid dog clouded his judgment when agreeing to do the show, which actually makes a lot of sense to us. John Rivera Sedlar (Playa) thinks it’s a “real delight” to be invited to do this, so it should be a treat when he realizes he is in for some hell. Mary Sue Milliken (Border Grill) and Traci Des Jardins (Jardiniere) are besties; Hugh Acheson (Empire State South) has a serious unibrow and alludes to Black Swan to describe himself; and Naomi Pomeroy (Beast) is an annoying bossy-type lady. Oh, and Alex Stratta (Stratta) says he will win this season because he has prayed and meditated, so, you know, no need to watch again until the finale, we guess.
Curtis shows up and it’s Quickfire time: Cook unlikely ingredients together! Frog legs and cottage cheese, cockles and marmite, etc. The chefs have twenty minutes to put a dish together, during which they fret and scream expletives like, “Oh, boy!” Three of them fail to finish their dishes in time, which we think should be grounds for immediate dismissal but it sadly is not. Ruth and James show up from their strategy session on how to destroy Bon Appétit to taste the dishes and pick their favorites. Alex is shocked to see who is judging the Quickfire; he did not sign up for this (go home). Traci wins by using her licorice and peanut butter in separate salads, circumventing the whole point of the challenge. We’re left wondering why they didn’t show the dishes made by George Mendes (Aldea) and Sue Zemanick (Gautreau’s), but apparently chicken liver and popcorn was deemed unfit for viewing.
The Quickfire winners and losers form teams to compete in Restaurant Wars! This is Bravo’s trick to make us feel like we’re watching normal Top Chef, but it’s the first time they’ve done it on TCM and it’s a big deal; the earth’s axis moves slightly as a result. Naomi, because she is a chef who runs a restaurant, unlike every other person on the show, wants to be the leader of Team Loser. She is unopposed, and enacts her evil agenda of seating all the diners at once, citing “community spirit” and some other Portland nonsense. Teammate Celina Tio (Julian) is pissed, but Naomi always gets what she wants, so nothing can be done but to obey her treachery. Naomi names their restaurant Leela because “it’s elevated and it’s calm” (it is neither of those things). Team Winner decides to call their restaurant Mosaic, because its chefs have different skin colors! Hugh thinks the group looks like a joke somebody’s grandfather would tell: “Two Indians, two Americans, a Canadian, and a Portuguese guy … walk into a bar.” [Crickets.] But what happens after that?!
Time to go shopping! Food is thrown on checkout counters, chefs have trouble finding exits, mayhem ensues. Hugh finds a tin of steroid-enhanced scallops and thinks it would be a good idea to serve them.
Back in the kitchen, Naomi fears the other team because most of them have trained in Europe and have magic cooking powers as a result. Suvir waxes on about the nature of being a Master and we start to wonder if he ever got that dog bite checked out by a doctor. Mary Sue can’t find sugarless chocolate for her cupcake, so she’ll just guess how much less sugar to put into the recipe (genius). George has a crush on Hugh’s potatoes, but Hugh has a crush on George’s hair. They share a moment.
Guests start to arrive at Leela, and Naomi’s plan to make everyone feel really welcome works by making them stand in line to be seated. Her teammates voice doubts back in the kitchen, but no one says anything to their ruthless leader. Meanwhile, the judges show up at Mosaic and Curtis is so happy to be away from his ANGR nemesis Steve Ells, a.k.a. Dr. Chipotle. Restaurant Girl showed up for dinner, too. Meh.
In the kitchen, George berates runners for not carrying his masterpieces correctly, but everything else is running smoothly. Leela has a fire in their kitchen, though, and James is livid about his chile-rubbed rack of lamb not being on the table RIGHT NOW. Basically, the judges “critics” love Mosaic and hate Leela, especially because Naomi keeps telling them how good the food is as she puts it in front of them. Curtis does explication for the no one who is watching and has never seen Top Chef before: The diners will pick the best restaurant and one chef from the losing team will go home.
The chefs decompress in the Wine Room, where there appears to be more beer than wine. Suvir babbles about this being his first time coming back to planet earth and living like a normal person. Definitely rabies. Both teams think the other will lose hard. Leela’s crew is summoned. The critics liked Mosaic better. The critics are smart. The diners like Leela better. The diners are idiots. The weird winning music plays.
Hugh is summoned to judgment for his salty-ass, uncooked megascallops; Mary Sue for her “supermarket cupcake.” Restaurant Girl thinks Hugh should stay because he did something more adventurous. The critics ignore her and send him home. So long, Hugh! We know it will be hard to say good-bye to George’s luscious locks.
This season on Top Chef Masters: Christina Hendricks! Chefs running around! A marriage proposal! Maroon 5! Military men! Dinner service without waiters! Cutting up bugs and frying worms! “Were you expecting delicious?!” Masters from last season! Synergy with The Biggest Loser! A high-school chemistry class? George berating people! Cheftestants crying! Tom Colicchio!!!