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Top Chef Masters 2, Ep. 1 – Why Is This Show Starting at 11 pm?


I ask this question only because I am moving tomorrow and am forced to write this commentary after midnight. It didn’t help that the Top Chef: Masters Junior Varsity team of judges managed to make me fall asleep at the wheel. We are one episode in and I am already tired of them.

Top Chef: Masters returns! Not sure how many of us were actually crying out for a return, but we got it. For those who forgot, and judging by how many people were reading last season, I could probably fit you all in my new basement; this is essentially Top Chef with no drama. The food is probably insanely good since these are all, well, masters. I mean it is the difference between watching Yoda and Mace Windu fight, and watching young Padawans fight. Sure, Yoda has mastery of the Force, but those Padawans sure want to impress really badly.

Can you tell that my son has recently discovered Star Wars, much to my pleasure?

In addition, this Top Chef Lite show is not hosted by Padma and is not judged by Tom, Toby, Ted, and only partially judged by Gail. We get Gael Greene, Jay Raynor and James Oseland (known as Bert in these pages, since he reminds me of the Sesame Street character). These judges are great food writers, but terrible TV personalities. The lack of charisma is palpable and they just try waaaaay too hard to make what comes across on the page as pithy and creative look good on screen. It fails.

Last season, Rick Bayless and his mastery of Mexican cuisine took home the crown. The show really picked up during the final episodes when the traditional Top Chef format took hold (single eliminations until the final group). It’s these early rounds where one (or in this week’s episode, two) chef makes it to the final rounds and the rest go home.

Also, the scoring is based on some bizarre “star” system as you would see in restaurant reviews (again, good on the page, dumb on screen). Add up the stars, and we see who wins.

This show is not unwatchable. In fact, at times it is lots of fun, plus it is great watching these master chefs slumming it on Bravo. You know they are all fans of Top Chef, and are really getting a kick out of the show. What hurts the show is that sense of urgency that hungry up-and-coming chefs bring to their big opportunity is lacking when celebrity chefs compete for charities. Celebrity shows like The Apprentice work because the celebs are performers and are playing things up for the audience. These folks are professional chefs – they are not used to the camera. And so, at times, such as tonight, we get a boring show.

The chefs seem likable enough this week:

Govind Armstrong – LA-based owner of 8 oz Burger bar. Gael finds him to be good-looking. He basically looks like Lenny Kravitz’s older brother. He is playing for the National Kidney Foundation.

Susan Feniger – Owner of Streep in LA. She reminds me of everyone I have ever met at a local Farmer’s Market. She is playing for the Scleroderma Research Foundation.

Ana Sortun – Owner of Oleana in Cambridge, MA – She cooks Mediterrean flavors and looks like she is in the Professional Tennis Tour. She is playing for Farm School.

Jerry Traunfeld – Owner of Poppy in Seattle – He reminds me of that guy in school that always raised his hand from the front row seats. He is playing for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights coalition

Jimmy Bradley – Owner of Red Cat in NY – He was Harold’s boss! He also has some real British-style teeth going on. I can’t stop thinking of The Simpsons’ episode where Lisa needed braces and is shown the Big Book of British Smiles. He is playing for Charity: Water, which drills wells in Africa and India.

Tony Montrano – Author of Momma’s Favorite Chef. He looks like he should be somewhere in my extended family. I think I saw him at a Thanksgiving dinner back in the 80s. He is playing for Feeding America.


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