We spent the better part of Tuesday morning on a Top Chef Masters conference call, in which myriad media reps listened on mute while Season 3 host Curtis Stone and judges Ruth Reichl and James Oseland chatted about the upcoming shows and giggled supportively at each others' jokes. (They had no choice: they were playing to an invisible deadpan audience.) Despite being excited for the April 6th premiere, we almost hung up when the first question came through: "Curtis, you're sooooo good looking! How do you keep yourself fit?!" But we're glad we didn't, because in the end we actually gained some insight into the show, as well as discovered who Reichl is rooting for to win the James Beard, what Christina Hendricks does in her spare time and who really cooked the best meal of the season. Turn the page for the Top 10 Most Interesting Things We Learned on a Top Chef Masters Conference Call.
10. Say goodbye to "tournament style."
Top Chef Masters used to introduce a new group of chefs in each episode, with the winner moving onto the finals later in the season. Not so anymore. Now the Masters edition will run in the same format as all other Top Chef shows, with all contestants competing from the beginning and getting eliminated one-by-one.
9. Curtis Stone knows all the words to "Milkshake."
At some point this season, singer Kelis joins the panel as a guest judge. When her name came up, Stone immediately piped in, "Want me to sing the song?" and started in on the lyrics. [Deadpan.] Is there a milkshake challenge? Doesn't sound like it. It turns out Kelis studied culinary arts at Le Cordon Bleu in London.
8. Ruth Reichl doesn't mind the occasional eight-legged appetizer.
The Top Chef Masters promo indicates we have some sort of bug-infested challenge to look forward to this season. It turns out Stone got stuck tasting all the insect-ified dishes, while Reichl missed out completely. She was absent from that particular panel, which disappointed her. "I find nothing creepy about eating insects," she said.
7. There are more reasons to be intimidated by Christina Hendricks than we thought.
It turns out the Mad Men star, who serves as a guest judge, is a serious cook. She and her husband are "not dabblers," says Oseland. Hendricks told the judges it's not uncommon for her to be up at 4 a.m. making puff pastry.
6. Talking behind chefs' backs is much easier.
Reichl said she had little nervousness about acting as a judge, pointing out "That's what I've been doing for the last 30 years." The hardest part for her? "Doing it to their face."
5. The Masters check their egos at the door.
All three judges concurred that despite facing harsh criticism every week, the chefs took it well, spending little time defending their missteps when on the chopping block. "The chefs aren't fooled by their own mistakes," Reichl said. Oseland added, "The best chefs want to learn more. It's the younger ones that don't respond well."
4. Chefs were more so friends than enemies.
Expect to see a sincere comaraderie build among the contestants this season. "Everybody was on everybody's side," Reichl said.
3. Curtis is a double agent.
As a chef, Stone found himself often in the role of defending the contestants to the judges. "My role was almost to plead the chef's case to the judges," he said.
2. Reichl is a fan of @RuthBourdain.
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Not only does she enjoy the mystery tweeter who mashes up her tweets with those of Anthony Bourdain, Reichl is pulling for the handle to win the James Beard Award for humor. Who does Reichl think is behind the spoof? She claims to not know, but says she has a suspicion it's actually someone who serves as a guest judge this season.
1. Best dish of all? Curtis Stone's.
Apparently he creates a feast for the judges at some point that they deem the best meal of the season. Too bad, yet unnamed Masters winner.
Top Chef Masters premieres Wednesday, April 6 at 11 p.m., then moves to Wednesdays at 10 p.m.