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Top Chef: Masters 2, Champions Round, Wk 3 – Judges Screw Up Another One


After a couple of weeks of being able to tolerate the riff raff that Masters uses for their judges, we get one heck of a big stinker this week. I will once again call for the head of Bert, as I think he just brings down the quality of this show with each passing week. And I am not just talking about how ridiculous he looks in a t-shirt at a tailgating party. Well, actually, maybe I am.

What I mean is that Jay, Bert and Gael, along with NotPadma, have a dynamic which fails miserably in certain settings, settings which make Top Chef interesting from week to week. They cannot slum it. Jay sometimes can pull it off – as he did in the Irish pub week, but that could be more of his English background. Bert and Gael look like fishes out of water whenever the setting shifts from a controlled 5-star restaurant environment. And NotPadma fails where Padma excels, and that is not appearing too much like a spoiled model when mixing with the rest of the world.

This has to be fixable. I understand why you need top-notch food critics to judge top-notch chefs. However, with all of the food critics out there, we cannot find some of them who can find pleasures in eating out of a Dodge Caravan, just as much as they find pleasures eating in the finest restaurants on the East Side? When Top Chef went to tailgate during the Chicago season, the judges got down with the concept. They enjoyed themselves, and they understood that judging tailgating food takes a different eye than judging fine cuisine. Based on this week, these three didn’t get that.

That’s not to say Tony didn’t deserve to go home – the diners didn’t care much for his pizza either. But I can guarantee that you can go from tailgate party to tailgate party across the country, and will find nothing that resembles what Marcus and Suser Ninja put out there. You will see more of what Rick and Obi-Wan Jonathan did.

I am not a food critic and will never remotely try to say that I could do what Gael and Bert do in their columns and reviews. I am not here to review food. I am here to review reality TV. Masters occasionally hits on what makes Top Chef so good – the basic premise is the same, but Masters has those two differences that drop the quality. The hunger of the “nobody chefs” to succeed easily trumps the pride competition from the masters. And the judges on Top Chef seem to be TV-ready and adventurous, and these Masters judges are not. And don’t get me started on how awesome the gorgeous host is of Top Chef (love the promos for the new season!), and how much of a personality vacuum the placeholder is in Masters.

So here is my suggestion to Masters Producers as you gear up for a Season 3. Keep Jay. He ruffles my feathers time and again, but I think I can live with him. Bring in Gail Simmons full-time; she acts as a perfect bridge between the two shows – enough cred to judge and enough whimsy to have fun. And search for a new third judge and a new Asian or South Asian model to host, preferably one who says or does things worth watching.

Anyway, rant over. Before we get into this week’s challenges and say goodbye to Tony, a couple of things. First, Top Chef is coming to my neck of the woods. The new season kicks off on June 16, at a much more manageable time for note-takers with day jobs (9 pm). And will be in DC, in fact, the Whole Foods used is down the road from my house. Guests this season will include Members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and other Capitol celebrities and people of note. I fear an appearance by the Real Housewives of DC – but I’ll need to get over it.

Second, past Top Chef cheftestants will be involved in an online culinary academy – www.topchefuniversity.com, created with Gail’s fingerprints all over it. It is a great idea for those wishing to learn how to cook like a professional, or to hone up their already-solid skills. Who knows, maybe a future Top Chef will learn tricks needed to win a future season on this site!

This week’s Quickfire – after a couple of cool ones in a row, this one turns out a bit lame. NotPadma teases it by saying the guest judge is someone with legs “ZZ TOP IS ON TOP CHEF!!!!” Alas, I was wrong. It’s Olympic swimmer Jason Lezak – he of the Michael Phelps-led come-from-behind relay team. Get it. He has legs. And swims. And, I guess, eats. Jay is joining him as the judges. The chefs have to make something involving legs – and have a bunch of proteins to pick from.

Tony – Warm Crab and Potato Salad with Three Types of Coriander – Jay finds a shell. Not good. Jason likes the flavor, Tony likes Jason.

Ninja – Indochine Roasted leg of lamb with lamb Meatballs, Pine Nuts and Dry Sherry Sauce – Jay finds the meatballs to be cute. Ninja is not amused.


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