Top Chef Masters: Season 1

Though I haven’t been blogging about it every week like I did with the last season of Top Chef, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Top Chef Masters this summer. For one, the skill of these proven, seasoned chefs can’t be denied. There’s no question of “Who Deserves to Be Here.” They all most certainly do. It’s been fascinating to see how well current superstar chefs complete classic Top Chef challenges.

I’ve also really enjoyed the sense of camaraderie among the chefs. While the Top Chef contestants are usually a cutthroat bunch, the Top Chef Masters competition has been full of teamwork and mutual respect, which is refreshing after years of bickering and backstabbing on Top Chef.

That’s not to say everyone has behaved perfectly: Michael Chiarello came off as a complete jerk last week. I hope it was a trick of editing–I know that happens sometimes on Top Chef–but if not, he needs a serious attitude adjustment.

Onto the finale. Going in, I was rooting for Rick Bayless. He seemed to have the greatest combination of attitude and skills. His food always looks amazing. I kind of can’t believe we haven’t made it to Frontera Grill yet–I hear those Tongue Tacos from his qualifying round are on the menu now, and that they sell-out nightly. (Not promising that I’d order tongue tacos, but I’d be tempted, just to say I’d had them). So going in, I was really hoping he’d win the full title.

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Of course, that means I was pretty pleased with the Finale last night, as Rick was crowned (the first?) “Top Chef Master.” I thought that the finale was excellent, actually, all around. The challenge was such a perfect tool for judging these chefs: They were asked to prepare a four course meal, the first to show their first food memory, the second to show their inspiration for becoming a chef, the third to be inspired by their first restaurant opening, and the final to be a vision of where they are headed as a chef. I loved the memories and photos of the chefs throughout their life. I loved seeing what each chef created. The food looked absolutely fantastic, but was clearly a representation of each chef and who they truly are. Like every Top Chef finale before it, the producers set aside all the drama, all the last minute crises, all the extra difficulties and said to the chefs: Cook us the best meal you possibly can. And like every Top Chef finale, it was refreshing to watch them do it.

Rick Bayless was absolutely a joy to watch cook, and I’m glad he won.  His passion for food is inspiring, and he managed to cook with poise and respect for his peers throughout the entire season. It was great to see how much this title meant to him–not because of the fame, or even the money for his charity, but as a way to validate true Mexican cooking. I hadn’t thought about it going into the finale, but certainly the culinary world is biased towards French and Italian cuisines, as two of the greatest cuisines out there. Rick proved that his Mexican food can stand with the best of them, and even come out on top. That seemed to be the real victory for Rick Bayless.

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