Top Chef Masters is returning in April, and it makes for an excellent holdover if you happen to be going through withdrawal from regular “Top Chef,” as I often do. In fact, Top Chef Masters can sometimes be even more enjoyable than its mother show because all the chefs participating in it are, you know, really good.
But there are some kinks in Top Chef Masters that need to be worked out. They recently announced the lineup for this upcoming season (it begins in April on Bravo, an NBC/Universal network), and some of the great chefs from pervious episodes will return, like Rick Moonen, Wylie Dufresne, and a host of others, along with many other famous chefs who have yet to appear. Once that season begins, I wouldn’t mind instituting the following changes:
1. THE JUDGING SYSTEM
Right now, Top Chef Masters differs from regular Top Chef in that each course served by the masters is given a star rating by each judge. Total number of stars wins. It gets a bit laborious when one chef gets 22 stars and the other gets 19 1/2 or something. I guess this is meant to flatter the master chefs, who will receive roughly 15 more stars from the show than they will from the Michelin guide. We don’t really need to do this. It serves to often give away who will win if one chef is demonstrably ahead of the rest. Just go ahead and dismiss them.
2. THE HOST
In Kelly Choi, Top Chef producers have again hired a host who is very pretty and does not appear to be inclined to ingest food. Choi is a pleasant host, like Padma Lakshmi, but she lacks Padma’s almost cruel imperiousness over the contestants. Remember Ash from last season, who thought Padma hated his guts? ALL the contestants feel that way, and it makes the show that much more interesting. Choi’s presence constantly makes you aware you’re watching a spinoff, and a show that has BETTER cooking talent than the real thing doesn’t deserve that. I’m not saying replace Choi. They just need to give her a reason to be there.
3. THE JUDGES
I have little issue with the judges for Top Chef Masters, except that I constantly fear Gael Greene will snap a bone trying to pick up a salad fork. Still, the show lacks a judge like Tom Collichio or Anthony Bourdain (who was brilliant in his one judging appearance), whose force of personality dominates the panel. You can feel Tom’s lordship over the Top Chef panel. None of these judges have quite the same presence (or, frankly, ego). The show needs someone like that.
4. PLAYING FOR CHARITY
Hey, rich people need money too. Playing for charity is nice, but then I never feel like anything is at stake when that happens. Why not toss a little extra cash the winner’s way? That way, I don’t feel like I’m watching the Pro Bowl of cookery on occasion.