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Top Chef Masters 4 – Episode 1 – Excuse Me, I’m The Queen of Lemons

I have been gone from writing about cooking for so long, I forgot that the show actually returned! That’s right – this week marked the return of the Top Chef franchise after a virtually unheard of two month absence since Paul took the gold in Top Chef. We return with the franchise’s middle child – Masters. To sum up its past – first two seasons had a goofy preliminary round format and a wooden model host. Season 3 replace her with the hunky Curtis Stone, and sliced the participants down to 12 in a more standard Top Chef Competition format. Floyd took the title the last time the Masters threw down for competition – and battled for glory, ego and cash for charities.

Returning for action – Stone is host once again. Judges James Oseland (Bert on these pages due to how he reminds me of what Sesame Street’s Bert would be if he was an adult human food critic), Ruth Reichl (no nickname, but RR in my shorthand notes), and new judges. Salon and Gourmet writer Francis Lam did not appear this week, but LAist Food Editor Krista Simmons did. She may or not be related to Gail, but one thing is for sure, she looks like she could have played Katniss in the Hunger Games. That’s right – she’s 15 years old. Not really, but I was so distracted by how young she looked, I almost asked her to babysit.

The Masters

Patricia Yeo Om Restaurant & Lounge / Moksa Pan Asian Izakaya – Charity: Heifer Project International. A Bobby Flay disciple – she focuses on Asian-inspired American food, and Asian street food. And I must say, she looks so much like Margaret Cho’s version of Kim Jong Il from 30 Rock last season.

Takashi Yagihashi Takashi Restaurant and Slurping Turtle – Charity: Japanese Tsunami Disaster Relief. James Beard winner of Best Chef: Midwest in 2003. And his Noodles restaurant was one of the “Five Best Noodle Shops in America” by Bon Appétit.

Art Smith LYFE Kitchen and Southern Art Restaurants – Charity: Common Threads . Season 1 contestant Smith is back and 120 pounds lighter. He was once Oprah’s personal chef and owns Art and Soul here in DC. And he’s wearing a snappy hat.

Thierry Rautureau Rover’s and Luc – Charity: Food Lifeline. Another past contestant, and another snappy hat, and in fact, his nickname is “The Chef in the Hat.” His Seattle restaurant was featured in tons of food publications.

Missy Robbins A Voce Madison and A Voce Columbus – Charity: Grow to Learn NYC . A Georgetown grad who moved to Chicago, and like last season’s Sarah, became a student of former Master contestant Tony Mantuano. She cooked for the Obamas – and hopefully it was healthy, or else Michelle will kick her butt.

Kerry Heffernan NYC Chef – Charity: City Harvest. Part of me hopes that he is related to Kevin James’ character in King of Queens. He wound up working for Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud and was a guest judge during All-Stars.

Debbie Gold Kansas City’s The American Restaurant – Charity: Children’s TLC. She was also a former contestant and is prominent KC chef – I was just there, and didn’t go to her place. However, I did go to an amazing BBQ restaurant connected to a gas station. Gold built 40 Sardines into a hugely successful restaurant and was nominated for “Best New Restaurant” from the James Beard Foundation. Now that’s a good name for a restaurant. Or a punk band.

Lorena Garcia Lorena Garcia’s Cocina Restaurant – Charity: Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Inc . A very good looking woman from Venezuela, she left law school for cooking. Her restaurant is in the Miami airport – which beat the hell out of a Cinnabun. She was also a guest chef on All-Stars.

Mark Gaier Arrows – Charity: Equality Maine Foundation. That’s right – a gay man name Gaier. That’s like my college astronomy professor named Telesca. True story. Mark’s Maine restaurant was chosen as “One of America’s 10 Most Romantic Restaurants” by Bon Appétit and “One of America’s Top 50 Restaurants” by Gourmet.

Clark Frasier – Arrows – Charity: Outright Lewiston/Auburn. Mark’s partner – at home and at work. And they look exactly the same. So that will be fun for me to recap. They look like how the band Nelson would look today – if they became a gay chef couple.

Chris Cosentino Incanto Restaurant in San Fran – Charity: Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinsons Research. Cosentino has been notably featured on the Food Network in The Next Iron Chef America and Chefs vs. City. He’s also got a line of clothes – but I don’t expect him to show up on Project Runway.

Season 4 takes place in Vegas. Vegas, baby! Vegas! They gather in the kitchen and we discover that Yeo (sorry, it’s shorter than her first name) was once Chris’ boss. Chris actually utters that they “all can cook in our places of business.” Really? I thought this was Top Chef Amateurs. Sigh.

Stone tells them that we are in Vegas and they will have to do Vegas things this season. In this case, play food blackjack. They are paired up and are dealt two cards per team – however, instead of 21; they are getting ingredients on the cards. They only get 15 minutes to cook, and Chris laments that his catfish is whole, so he has to filet it in that time. After some frantic cooking, the teams put out their plates. Of course, the Masters are judged by three casino dealers. Because that makes sense. The one guy is name Bryon. Not Byron, which is what I spelled out at first. Bryon. He spells it that way, making me instantly hate him.

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