TV Time: Top Chef Masters Season Four

She Said: Top Chef Masters 

I was really excited for the new season of Top Chef Masters ( airing Wednesday nights at 10:00pm Eastern on Bravo). I’m a really big of Top Chef. I love it! I have learned so much about food from watching it and I’ve seen my palate really expand, too.  I’m grateful because I would have never been a fan of kimchi or gnocchi without the Top Chef enticement. That brings me to what I see as the biggest problem with the show:  the non-food enticement. I really love learning about different cultures and cuisines. What I don’t like is their need for a salacious episode or two in most seasons. I don’t watch the episodes that I have a problem with, but I really hate that I have to do that. Why should I have to give up and episode of a food show because they are trying to make it “sexy”.  I am not interested in the sexual themed episodes that they’ve had. Nor am I interested in having to help RJ know when to shield his eyes from the scantily-clad (they find a way for that all too often) people on the show. I should be able to enjoy watching a food show without having to worry about smut.

We’ve recently been re-watching the first season of Top Chef Masters. We didn’t even know this coming on this week or we probably would have switched shows. The first season was full of really great challenges and fantastic chefs (like Rick Bayless, Hubert Keller and Tim Love). It was definitely a mistake to be reliving how cool the first season was and then try the new season. We don’t really know many of the chefs.  Of course we know Art Smith and Lorena Garcia but other than that we didn’t know who anyone was. That’s really disappointing. I have to say that even from just watching one episode I’m really disappointed with the cheering options.  The only chef I felt interested in was sent home. I hate it when someone I like is the first person out on a reality show.

We watched all of Top Chef Masters season one, some of season two and none of season three. I wasn’t at all prepared for the different format. It’s just like regular Top Chef now. I liked that Masters used to be broken down in little rounds and then the winners of the rounds would compete for the last few weeks as the Champions round. I liked that. Top Chef Masters used to have a really beautiful sense of camaraderie. From watching last night, I can see that it’s gone and I really miss it. I loved to see chefs who were making money for charity and were in it to win it but didn’t have to have all the drama of the younger chefs on Top Chef. Now it just feels like the same drama, but I resent it more because shouldn’t the Masters have better control over their tempers?

I don’t like the group of critics this year either.  James Oseland is the only critic whom I really like.  And I’m sorry to say that I don’t like Curtis Stone. He may be a wonderful man in real life but I can’t stand to watch him on television. He’s so boring and stiff.

We watched the premiere episode last night. I had high hopes for this season. It’s been a long time (it seems) since the Texas season and I was ready for some new Top Chef. I was nervous from the moment that I saw it was in Las Vegas. I just knew that they were going to try to shoe horn in as much skin as possible. I was right! I had to tell RJ to look away ten or twelve times because they just HAD to show skimpy costumes. No, they didn’t. The challenge was really neat. I liked the idea that they were figuring out how to make a buffet more upscale. They didn’t have to have showgirls and whatever some of the other performers were there, and certainly they didn’t have to be in costumes.

I thought the quick-fire was kind of boring. I didn’t like all the different twists that they threw at them before the elimination challenge either. Some of the food looked okay (Art’s dessert looked amazing- of course), but it wasn’t anything the felt really special to me.

Between the showgirl costumes and the boring challenge (not mention that young chef who would not stop cursing and yelling) I really didn’t enjoy this. I wanted to like it. But, I just don’t. In the teaser for the season there were more bikinis and some Vegas celebs that I’m definitely not okay with watching perform. I really don’t wish to continue to watch this show. That makes me sad.

The next season of regular Top Chef had better be awesome to make up for it!!

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He Said:  Top Chef Masters Season 4

Kari gave me the Top Chef Masters Season 1 for my birthday and we’ve been watching it through lately.  Naturally, this got me excited for the new season of Top Chef Masters.  As much as I wanted to like it, I have to say that the magic is gone.

When Masters first appeared, it was nice to see chefs that are successful in their own right compete against each other in a similar way as the flagship series.  Similar being the key word in that sentence.  Since everyone was established already, and the money went to charity, it wasn’t quite as cutthroat and could focus solely on seeing great chefs do what they did best.

There was something special about the way they took 24 chefs, and whittled them down to six through the initial part of the season, and then watch the surviving chefs compete for a few challenges before the winner is finally crowned.  The quick fire challenges were recreations of challenges originally seen on Top Chef, and the elimination challenges were original, but limiting in some way.  Keeping with their professional status, the chefs were judged by food critics, just like they were in real life, instead on critic, a fellow chef, and a random host.  The contestants were awarded stars by the critics to determine the winners and losers.  The host was smiley and there to explain challenges and guide everything along, but didn’t get a say in eliminations.  And the diners (like really life) always got a vote.

All that is gone, and I hated not only the new format, but also the host, the new judges, and the contestants.

Curtis Stone is not nearly as engaging as Kelly Choi, but I guess he makes up for it some in also being a judge.  At least he has the culinary chops to make a judgment, unlike the host of the main series.  The other new judge is annoying, and has no gravitas whatsoever compared to the original judging panel.  The fact that Curtis is a chef changes the concept of the critics’ table in a way that I don’t like.

The contestants who were chosen also bother me greatly this year.  I can understand their difficulty in casting.  When they first started it was pretty cut and dry which chefs deserved to be on which show, but as James Beard award winners, and Bocuse d’Or contestants has really muddied the waters.  That doesn’t excuse some of this casting however.  I’ll give them a pass for Thierry Rautureau; he didn’t advance past the first round in season two.  But Art Smith, who finished fifth overall in Season One, shouldn’t get to compete again.  I also don’t approve of casting Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier.  They are business partners.  They work at the same restaurant, with each other.  That’s a huge advantage!

Gone are the stars, the qualifying rounds, and sadly, my interest.  The play now is indistinguishable from Top Chef, and the difference between them was so much of the fun.

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