Top Chef Masters Season 1 Episode 1 Review

Top Chef Masters Season 1 Episode 1 Review
Original Airdate: June 10, 2009

After five seasons, Bravo has decided to create a Top Chef spinoff. Top Chef Masters feaures more experienced chefs, in a revised format, and a new host – Kelly Choi. For the first six weeks, 4 chefs will battle for a spot in the finals. Then the final six will do a longer competition of some sort to crown the first Top Chef Master.

Judges Panel
Gael Greene, New York Critic
James Oseland, editor of Saveur magazine
Gail Simmons, editor of Food and Wine Magazine
Jay Rayner, London observer

This week’s Chefs:
Michael Schlow (Boston) – Radius
Tim Love (Fort Worth Texas) – Lonesome Dove Western Bistro
Christopher Lee (New York) – Aureole
Hubert Keller (San Francisco) – Fleur De Lys

The first episode of Top Chef Masters starts with each of this week’s four chefs enter the Top Chef Kitchen and introduce themselves. Collicchio makes his first appearance at minute #2 talking about Michael Schlow. We get to see some clips of these chefs if they appeared on Top Chef as judges – Hubert Keller was a judge back in season 1. Each of the judges and Tom put over each chef as a big deal in videos as the chefs hug each other hello.

Kelly Choi enters and does her best job to mimic Padma, but fails woefully short. She gets right to the point – it’s time for the Quickfire Challenge. Each Quickfire in Top Chef Masters will be a redux from one done in the first five seasons of Top Chef. Interesting concept

Quickfire Challenge
Make the most creative and delicious dessert you can – for a panel of little girls! Girl Scouts to be exact. The chefs in season 4 got 90 minutes for a dessert, but these masters only get 60.

Each chef talks about their dish -really gearing their dish towards their expectations of a child’s pallete. Except for Hubert Keller who makes some fancy stuff in fancy shapes and the girls just love it. Looks like this might be a blowaway for the Frenchman. Some hilarity as the chefs watch the Girl Scouts critique their dishes – one red-headed girl is just TEARING into some of these chefs. The chefs cannot believe it.

Christopher Lee talks about the main reason he’s doing this is for charity. Does anyone else find it somewhat ridiculous that these big budget shows end up giving $10K to a charity? What does that buy? For example, how much does Kelly Choi earn per episode vs. what they are giving to charity? Or how much is Glad paying for the Glad family of products to appear on the show? Just saying the economics and the sentiment aren’t really in concert.

Star Ratings:
Keller: *****
Lee: ***1/2
Love: ***1/2
Schlow: **1/2

Elimination Challenge
After the scores are given, Kelly jumps right into the Elimination Challenge. The chefs have to cook entirely in a dorm room! The challenge is to create a fantastic 3 course meal at Pomona college using just a toaster over, a microwave and a hot plate. The EXTREME POMPOUSNESS OF CHEFS rears its head, as Christopher Lee talks about how he would NEVER use a microwave, except some time in college he wanted to bang some chick. Stay classy Chris.

Shopping time: 45 minutes, Budget: $150. Hubert Keller jumps onto the Pompous bandwagon talking about how he, as a chef, NEVER SHOPS. These chefs galavant through Whole Foods to get some ingredients.

Chef Tim Love, the redneck chef from Texas, makes a redneck mistake and puts all his fresh Whole Foods ingredients and puts them into the deep freeze – all his stuff is frozen solid. He plays dumb, claiming he thought it was a fridge. I guess it’s understandable in a sense, but as a chef, cant you tell the difference in coldness between a blast freezer and a fridge? He vows as a chef to make the most of it.

The chefs begin setting up and prepping in the dorm rooms. Chris Lee lectures some kid about making his bed – I see his point, I mean you’re gonna be on TV dude. Hubert Keller is making a mac and cheese, and makes the pasta IN THE SHOWER. Fully clothed of course. He uses the water from the bathroom, then uses the shower to drain it out. Awesomeness.

The chefs plate and serve their food, and the judges all comment on it. Interestingly no Gail Simmons on this first judges panel, so we’re left to the new threesome of Gael Greene, Jay Rayner and James Oseland. Surprisingly Gael is more moderate, with Jay as the more acidic and James Oseland just loving everything. The college kids pretty much like everything too – better than the dining hall to be sure. Although the Chicken Nuggets takeout at Brower were pretty decent.

Wacky 1 minute in-commercial moment – the chefs all have trouble with the complex button interface on their microwaves.

Each chef goes before the judges panel and talks about the trials and travails of working in a dorm room with the dreaded microwave. Tim Love gets props for overcoming the frozen issue – heck he even used the defrost feature on the microwave!

The judges convene with themselves and talk through the dishes as the chefs go back to the kitchen to wait it out.

Before we get to the judging, the college kid ratings are in:

Diner Ratings
Lee: ****
Keller: ****
Schlow: ***1/2
Love: ***

Judges Ratings:

James: ****
Gael: ****
Jay: *** 1/2

James: *** 1/2
Gael: ****
Jay: ****

James: **1.2
Gael: ** 1/2
Jay: ***

James: ** 1/2
Gael: ** 1/2
Jay: ** /12

Keller: 20 1/2
Lee: 19
Love: 14 1/2
Schlow: 13 1/2

Keeping Score
Each week I’ll check to see if the quickfire winner is a good predictor of the final winner, and if each judge and the diners correctly called the winner.

Quickfire Winner – Keller 1-0
Diner’s Winner – Keller/Lee (tie) 1-0
Gael’s Winner – Keller/Lee (tie) 1-0
James’ Winner- Keller 1-0
Jay’s Winner- Lee 0-1

Final Thoughts
Keller takes it in a pretty close battle at the end. Closing comments are classy all around with no real controversy. Schlow said it was a humbling experience, which chefs might need. Yeah you came in last buddy.

A solid first episode and a worthy companion to the Top Chef Series. It will be interesting to see what the final round of winners is like.

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