For two seasons, Top Chef Masters was the civilized, fun palate-cleanser to the cutthroat Top Chef, and with its humble star-ratings and gentle competition, it proved to be a fun lark for everyone involved. In its third season, however, the show has undergone a revamp, which has left viewers complaining of boredom. Almost every Top Chef fan I’ve spoken to over the past several weeks has admitted that they hate the new season, and some have even announced that they’ve removed it from their DVRs. Now with just one episode left, we must ask how did this once excellent spin-off fall so far?
Full analysis after the jump…
The season hasn’t been without strong points. The producers thankfully kept the ornery James Oseland around to keep things interesting. Also, Ruth Reichl is a welcome addition as she brings years of culinary experience to the proverbial table. The challenges have been fun, albeit crazy at times, and on a personal level, I really, really liked that the producers aired a clip of me saying “Tender… perfect” as I stuffed my face with a quesadilla on one episode. But that has more to do with my own ego rather than the show’s overall success.
The new format.
For its first two seasons, Top Chef Masters employed a tournament-style format wherein each week, chefs competed to advance to the finals round. This meant that sadly, some world-renowned chefs would fall by the wayside after only one week, but that was okay. The structure gave Masters an original hook — one that separated it from the original Top Chef.
Now, however, that structure is gone, and the show is virtually identical to Top Chef. One might think this would serve Masters well as it gives the audience more time with the contestants, but in reality, it’s a massive backfire. Let me explain: Top Chef obviously casts for people who have culinary chops but also those who would make for good TV. Big personalities are definitely part of the mix, and it helps keep the competition show exciting as it whittles down its players. Masters, however, is not about the personalities. It’s about the pedigrees. While some of the chefs may be jovial or jokey or a bit loud-mouthed, they pretty much are all about the cooking. They simply don’t have the personalities to carry a cutthroat Top Chef elimination format — at least not for a full season. If there’s a fourth season, I say return to the old format.
No more stars.
One of the fun and distinctive attributes of Top Chef Masters was the star system. Judges and diners would award the chefs stars, which would ultimately determine who would go home and who would stay. It was a fun, funky twist on the Top Chef judging, and for those of us watch at home, we could enjoy some guesswork as to how many stars any given judge might anoint a chef. Alas, the stars are now inexplicably gone, and so is the charm of Masters. Now we just have normal judging, which wouldn’t be so bad, except…
Not loving the new judges.
James Oseland is a character full of flowery turns of phrase. However, his supporting cast lacks the sort of authority we expect on a show dedicated to Michelin star winners. Recurring judges Alan Sytsma and Danyelle Freeman are an obvious ploy to reel in younger, hipper viewers — blatant, unnecessary nods to the food blogger world — but they feel like small tots compared to the likes of Oseland, Reichl, and former regulars Gael Greene, Jay Rayner, and of course, Gail Simmons. A show about master chefs deserves to have a panel full of master critics. The disconnect of having these massively accomplished people being judged by, uh, Restaurant Girl, feels a bit inconsistent with the mandate of the show. Next season, send the fresh faces to Top Chef. Give us back Gael Green.
Get a better table.
There is perhaps no better visual testament to how Bravo has undermined the judging process than by looking at the miserable critics table we’ve been stuck with this season. Week after week, our judges are found huddling around some minuscule piece of furniture, often sitting at weird angles and looking way too cramped. Throw them a bone and let them back to the big table, Bravo.
No more Curtis Stone
No chef is more oversaturated in the media than Curtis Stone. He appears on every reality show on television, and yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen him cook a single thing. Okay, okay — he does have cookbooks; so I guess he knows a thing or two. But there is something unlikable about the guy. Perhaps it’s an arrogance? Yes, that’s it. Curtis comes off as charming but cocky, which feels inappropriate in the presence of the much more accomplished chefs he’s judging. Sure, he’s ten times more comfortable on camera than previous host Kelly Choi, but the Choi-bot had a certain likability in her awkwardness, much like another robotic Asian hostess I’ve been known to adore…
Curtis is certainly not the reason why Top Chef Masters has stumbled this season, but if the producers decided to recast the role, I wouldn’t complain.
What have you thought about the season? How would you improve it?