E: A new season of Masters, woohoo!
M: As I said at the end of our review of the All Stars Finale…. here we go!
E: The contestants are grown ups instead of divas (even when they’re divas). I love Top Chef Masters. That said, I’m completely fascinated that these people actually are taking the time to do a full on season of Top Chef rather than the tournament style we’ve seen in the previous two seasons!
M: Me too, totally fascinated. Most of them, I think, have gotten so big that they can take as much time as they want/need away from their restaurants (or projects, in some cases I think). Some of them, though, seemed like “nouveau” masters, so it is a bit baffling.
E: I’m a little embarrassed to ask, but did you know who anyone was? I think I’ve seen Mary Sue Miliken before, but that might be it.
M: I do know who Alex Stratta is, but that was it. Like you, I think I’ve seen Mary Sue before and both Traci and Celina are very familiar looking, but other than that, blanks.
E: I’ve heard of Alex’s restaurant, Stratta, anyway. So that was something. Usually there are judges from previous seasons of Top Chef, and folks like MichaelChiarello we’ve all seen on tv. Not that this makes them less mastery – it just makes them a little harder to keep track of. I’m sorry not to see Wylie Dufresne back for a third try, though. But Suvir might just make up for everything; the man is hilarious.
M: I had mixed feelings about there not being any contestants from previous Masters seasons returning, but ultimately I liked it. I will miss people like Wiley, but we had the returning Rick Moonen almost win the last season and have just finished a season of Top Chef were everyone was a returning cast member. I was definitely ready for people I didn’t know, and already love some of them, like Suvir.
E: That’s fair enough. It was tricky keeping track of them, but I’m sure that’ll change eventually. I definitely liked this Chopped-esque Quickfire, which was fascinating for it’s own sake. Everyone grabs a basket with a mystery ingredient.
M: I loved the twist that not only did they have to do what was in their own basket, but they had to compete head to head against the person next to them, and use BOTH people’s secret ingredients. That was great. Only giving them 20 minutes, not the customary 45 for quickfires, though, I think was rough.
E: 45 minutes is customary? What show do you watch, buddy? Quickfire times vary wildly but tend to be on the shorter side.
M: I watch the same show as you, chica, I just must pay closer attention. They are most commonly (though by no means always) 45 minutes, occasionaly 30 minutes, and occasionally something other than that, like when Tom set the time for them to cook in in All Stars.
E: Anyway. Worst draw was probably marshmellow and tinned corned beef. Ouch.
M: Oh, without a doubt, even though some of the other pairings were pretty strange, like peanut butter and black licorice.
E: You have to think that future Top Chef contestants will be heartened to see that one chef left a major component off his dish and two others didn’t even serve theirs. The only thing Naomi managed to get on her plate was a slice of raw dragonfruit; Celina was much further forward, and could have – like John – just served her plate without the missing component, but chose not to. Anyway, not so genius at time management.
M: I agree that it will be heartening for future contestants, but again, they only gave them 20 minutes. These people are not used to Quickfires, so to do a particularly hard one in only 20 minutes seems nasty to me.
E: Aw, I’m fine with them not serving a softball. Nobody’s used to a Quickfire before the first one. They’re Masters, so it ought to be extra hard.
M: That it was.
E: So far I like food critic/new judge Ruth Reichl, and I like that Curtis Stone – while certainly as pretty as Kelly Choi – is an actual chef. The weakest link of this show has always been James Oseland to me, and I’m sorry to get such a big dose of him to start.
M: I saw one article talking about the return of the show saying that there was good and bad. They mentioned Oseland two or three times in their list of the bad. Personally, I find him mildly annoying, in that he rarely likes anything, and like Simon Cowell is not particularly tactful about his comments, but I think you need some of that from time to time (like this season on Idol, where someone needs to let the audience know when the weaker people are weaker, so that people like Pia aren’t the only ones being criticized in a given week, but I digress).
E: Heh – you know I’m right there with you on American Idol. Maybe what it comes down to is that I don’t get the judging. Traci Des Jardins wins by mixing her ingredients into two different salads? Now, this woman is clearly the queen of salads. But really? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the exercise, making two entirely different dishes instead of one integrated one?
M: That seemed like a cop out to me, too.
E: The winners and losers of each pairing are put together in teams for a first ever Top Chef Masters Restaurant Wars! Cool.
M: Again, they are jumping into the deep end right from the start! The team with the winners of the quickfire pairings consists of Suvir, Floyd, Traci, Hugh, Mary Sue and George. Because of their ethnic diversity (a couple Indians, a Canadian, etc) they named themselves Mosaic, which definitely fit the trendy one word restaurant name template. The other team, consisting of Naomi, Alex, both Johns, Sue and Celina, had a little more trouble with a name, before setting on Leela.
E: I really thought that restaurant Leela (and I love that it means Moment of Enlightenment, I had no idea) was going to fail epically due to their seating plan.
M: They clearly edited it to look like they would fail, and it sounded like a horrible idea, not just from the start, but throughout. Turns out, however, that the “exciting, communal atmosphere” that Naomi was going for paid off with the diners. Plus, while the wait time was clearly an issue, their food appeared to be every bit as well received as Mosaic’s.
E: Well, not quite with the judges.
M: True, the judges did say they would have chosen Mosaic.
E: When James Oseland took a bite of Mary Sue’s cupcake and whined “oh, it’s just so rich and dense” I wanted to smack him around. Those are BAD things? In what world? (Okay, yes, I get that things can be too rich and dense. But everyone else’s issue was that it was dry. So, what on earth?)
M: I think his worse comment was that it tasted like a supermarket cupcake. Now, I don’t know what supermarkets he’d going to, but even in the time or two I’ve been to Whole Foods I haven’t even seen any cupcakes that would compare to what Mary Sue put out. Supermarket cupcakes generally suck.
E: I’m willing to bet that Leela won because its desserts were so good. It’s the last thing you eat, and it leaves an impression. It wouldn’t (and didn’t) sway the judges, but I could see it doing so to the general public.
M: I don’t know about that. I think they had some pretty good dishes, despite the raw lamb that definitely would have gotten John Sedlar booted if they had lost.
E: Agreed. I get so creeped out by that; I hate bloody food, so when a foodie says something is too rare, you know I’m going to be gagging looking at it. I wonder Alex’s fricassee was really better than Naomi’s cake, or if they decided to hold the service against her? Because that cake got a huge amount of acclaim.
M: Hard to tell. Before we get to who got the boot, you know what else was hard to tell? Who some of the contestants even are! I rewound it a couple times at the beginning to try to figure out who the heck George was, because they didn’t introduce him, but had him there in the kitchen, and even had a couple of the other contest mention having worked with him in the past before we even saw his name. And John Sedlar, Sue and Celina? We pretty much got nothing about them. Come on producers, it’s the first episode, throw us a fricin’ bone!
E: Yes. That. That drove me nuts. I didn’t even realize there were two Johns until I looked up how to spell Suvir’s name on Wikipedia and it mentioned a John S. Wha? Is that fair? Badly done, editors, badly done. However, I suppose time will cure that soon enough.
M: Anyway, two people we did get to know, and who I had already started to identify as people I liked, were Mary Sue and Hugh. Mary Sue, as we said, seems familiar, and reminds me of last Masters season’s Jody Adams, warm and likable, and really talented. Hugh looks and sounds like French Stewart and was really entertaining. Unfortunately, they were the bottom two, with Hugh’s disgustingly large and over salted scallops earning him the boot. Why couldn’t they have edited it so we didn’t get to know anything about Hugh, and instead got some info on George or Sue or someone? Why get me to like Canadian French Stewart if you’re just going to jettison him 20 minutes later? Not nice editors, not nice.
E: No. I’m going to miss his wacky eyebrows and his strange, peculiar commentary. I’m happy to keep Mary Sue, however, who seems like a love. And I am really looking forward to this week’s episode.
M: And thanks to our slowness in getting this up, you don’t have long to wait!