Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Top Chef Masters: Very Friendly Competition

Chef Rick Bayless of awesome Chicago restaurants and PBS fame, one of 4 remaining in competition for the title of Top Chef Master. Even though everyone in the game is already a "Master" it's still super fun TV.

If this is the first you're hearing about Top Chef Masters, which has been airing on Wednesday nights at 10pm on Bravo for 8 weeks now, well, that sucks for you. The remaining few episodes won't really mean that much to you. But, knowing Bravo, I'm sure a Top Chef Masters marathon is just weeks away and there are some deliciously compelling reason why you should not miss it.

When Top Chef premiered 5 years ago, who knew that watching people cook and then watching other people taste would be so damn compelling? Vicariously sampling creations created under pressure by young and a few not so young chefs of varying skill levels and bravado is just fun. Restaurant folk are usually characters and there have been many on Top Chef over the last few years - tattooed ones, couples, crazy Wolverine hair, dumb, smart, snobby, granola, and everything in between. But, what most of these competitors have had in common is a few missteps and/or indiscretions. So-and-so kissed whats-his-name, he hates her, she sabotaged him (or did she?), a lot of the competitors are green - new to TV and to behaving like an adult in the kitchen when the pressure is on.

Top Chef Masters removes the anything less than pro element and pits mature, talented and generally lovely noted chefs against each other where mutual respect and consideration turns out to be way more interesting than the amateur antics of regular Top Chef. The camaraderie is warm and fuzzy, the food inspired and the fact that these masters don't have to live in the same house while not competing really takes the edge off - in a very good way. We've seen some great fumbles against the clock or simply bombs with the very pretentious and slightly adversarily judges made up of noted food critic Gayle Green, Saveur's editor-at-chief James Oseland and Jay Rayner who hails from the UK and apparently the county of Sass 'cause he's never happy and delivers his digs with a snide smirk that frankly fall flat nearly every time. Oh, and there's a host...Kelly something. She's crazy thin and wears a lot of makeup and doesn't always get to eat with the Quick Fire judges and that creeps me out.

These chefs are amazing to watch. From high tech Wylie Dufresne to the tattooed and very clever Graham Elliot to the soulful Suzanne Tracht and the very wacky Art Smith who famously cooked for a certain Ms. Winfrey for many years. As food TV has become a palatable alternative to reality TV it's not surprising that a few TV vets are in this game too. Also not surprising, they are in the finals. Frontera Grill's very emotive Rick Bayless has been taking us through Mexico: One Plate at a Time on PBS for more than 5 years. Then of course there's Michael Chiarello (also NOT gay) representing the West Coast NappaStyle all over TV from PBS to the Food Network for years...Michael gets around...and he makes wine. It's a little too convenient that these two gentlemen are in the finals of Top Chef Masters. They are certainly the most comfortable with the camera and the camera sort of likes them too. Thankfully, they can both cook real good too.

Finalist Chef Michael Chiarello of Nappa and TV fame delights taste buds and charms the pants off everyone in the process.

Yes, I will miss the Masters in a few weeks and certainly hope more seasons are in production. But, the spectacular news is that Top Chef Season 6 starts on August 19th at 9pm/8pm C, meaning a very toothsome overlap for a few weeks - with Top Chef preceding Top Chef Masters! Please hold all my calls on Wednesday night and expect many Twitpics of the television that is if I can break myself away from the giant bowl of air-popped popcorn I'll be shoveling down my gullet because it's nearly impossible not to eat while watching these damn shows.

Update: 8/13

It was sad to see Anna Lo leave last night and very entertaining to watch past contestants talk smack about Michael Chiarello!! It's pronounced Key-a-rello, OK people. And note to the foodies out there...raw bar + summer sun = getting kicked out of the tribe.

Let's go Chef Bayless!!