Hooray! Top Chef Masters is back! You know, that souped-up version of the old Bravo staple in which we get to watch alreadyfamous chefs duke it out in the kitchen, not for money (as all their winnings go to charity) but for the prestige of being crowned truly the best of the best.
Right? That must be the motivation, though frankly we still don't understand it. These chefs already have notoriety. They already have a decent nest egg — they must, if they can spend weeks filming this show with no six-figure prize at the end of the tunnel. But to Bravo they cometh, and we're thankful they do, even if it's purely to make fools of themselves for our entertainment.
Repping L.A. is … well, no one, unfortunately, save for new judge and local writer Krista Simmons, who served alongside veterans Ruth Reichl and James Oseland. But that doesn't mean there aren't a lot of badass chefs in the repertoire, such as Chris Cosentino of Incanto Restaurant in San Francisco. Wait, the offal king hasn't been here before? We could've sworn … or maybe we've just seen him hobnobbing on TV a lot lately with Bourdain and his ilk. Hmm.
But you know who we haven't seen in a while? Art Smith, because we were shocked at how skinny the man is. As in, skinny, but just as sassy, so all is well.
(Interestingly, both Smith and Cosentino soon will be seen on Time Machine Chefs. Wow, do these guys have some time on their hands or what?)
There was no mass elimination in the beginning, as other Top Chef varieties have done. There's no being “on the bubble” or cooking for your life right off the bat. Come, now. This is Masters. Have some respect.
Instead, host Curtis Stone simply strolled in and, with this season being set in Vegas, dealt each two-chef team a pair of ingredients to cook with for the first Quickfire challenge.
Side note: The chefs seems pretty stoked to see Mr. Stone. “There's the maaaaan!” one of them shouted. And you know, Curtis Stone is the man: He's ridiculously good-looking, he can cook, and he has somehow managed to circumvent all this competition nonsense and go straight to judging everyone else. What a bitch.
Certain teams got off pretty easy, with decent-sounding ingredient combos: brandy and honeycomb, black garlic and flank steak, duck breast and peaches. Then poor Takashi Yagihashi and Kerry Heffernan were dealt pork tenderloin and bologna. Bologna? It's Vegas, we guess. It's a gamble.
Team Chris Cosentino and Patricia Yeo looked as though they might not fare so well, stuck with beef and catfish, but somehow they fashioned this into the fancypants-sounding Beefalo de Gato Pescado and won. Go figure.
Then it was off to the elimination challenge, in which the chefs were divided into teams and forced to make buffet food. None were too excited about this, naturally, but it's Vegas, and there are scores of hungry circus freaks who need to stuff themselves at 2 in the morning.
It was at Whole Foods, shopping for said buffets, that Art Smith delivered our favorite line of the episode. Flustered by having to rein in his spending, the former Oprah chef blurted, “I cook for billionaires. I don't have a budget. I JUST BUUUUY!”
Back in the Top Chef kitchen, Sly Stone passed out scratch-off lottery cards, some of which granted immunity, some of which cut down cooking time, and some of which bestowed more money on the chef's charity. But the gold lotto scratchers were the real pain in the ass. Each team was handed a card, one saying “Mexican” and the other saying “Indian.” To the chefs' dismay, they realized this meant they had to adapt their buffets to become such. Cue the collective groan.
Team Mexico sent Smith back to Whole Foods to get better ingredients. (Or maybe he was just being too talkative and they couldn't handle it.) Team India did … nothing, really. They “adapted” their dishes but added little in the way of Indian spice — a decision that ended up costing them in the end. After your typical judge banter (“This ceviche is mushy,” observed Simmons. “I'm the queen of lemons!” asserted Reichl.), Team Mexico came out on top, with Cosentino winning once again with his jazzed-up “Pork and Beans.”
Sadly, chef Sue Torres didn't fare so well, mostly because her non-Indian lemon meringue pie was dubbed a “failure” by the self-appointed queen, and she was sent packing. And in a bizarre twist, chef Missy Robbins is out too, not for a bad dish but because she stabbed her finger badly enough to require a skin graft. But fear not: Curtis Stone says he “personally guarantees” her a spot next season. Right. Because he calls the shots around there. Hear that, Andy Cohen?
Stay tuned for continued Top Chef Masters coverage.Follow Ali Trachta on Twitter @MySo_CalLife. Follow Squid Ink at @LAWeeklyFood and check out our Facebook page.