Top Chef Masters Episode 1: Place Your Bets

Contest heads to Las Vegas for Season 4

Top Chef Masters Episode 1: Place Your Bets

Bravo’s Top Chef Masters premiered Wednesday night, and while it always feels like regular Top Chef with half the energy, it’ll do until the real deal returns.

This season the contest is taking place in Las Vegas. Try not to choke on the Vegas puns and gambling-themed challenge this season. Who wants to get in on my pool to guess which Vegas personalities will be showing up? My money is on Celine Dion.

We go through the usual fast intro of all the chefs. This season there are 12 and fans might recognize a few faces who are back at another shot at the title. Let’s meet them: Thierry Rautureau, Takashi Yagihashi, Art Smith, Kerry Heffernan, Lorena Garcia, Sue Torres, Missy Robbins, Mark Gaier, Clark Frasier (Mark and Clark are boyfriends and not twins as I first thought — Ha!), Debbie Gold, Chris Cosentino and Patricia Yeo.

The chefs are all in the Top Chef Masters kitchen when host Curtis Stone and his VPL (look it up  — man, I’m classy) and greets the chefs. Curtis tells the contestants all about the season and how the winner will get $250,000 for the charity of their choice. Oh, and it’s time for the Quickfire Challenge. And it’s not one of those weak 30-minute challenges like Top Chef, it’s an insanely hardcore 15-minute challenge. I can’t even open a box of pasta in under 20 minutes.

Top Chef Masters Season 4 cast

The chefs are asked to partner  up and Curtis breaks out the first deck of cards of the season. The teams will be dealt two cards and on the cards aren’t your standard Kings and Queens. No, they’re ingredients. And some of the pairings are interesting. Like pork tenderloin and bologna. Chris and Patricia won the quickfire with their beef and fish dish. They both get $5,000 for their charities.

For the elimination challenge, the chefs are given the task to horrify any foodie: they have to cook buffet food. Hey, it is Vegas, and we knew from the start we were going to cover every Vegas stereotype. I can’t wait for the dead hooker challenge.

Of course the buffet won’t be your typical mashed potatoes and dried-out fried chicken. It’ll be world-class.  The chefs are asked to split into two teams and this is how it’s broken down: Red Team — Art, Chris, Kerry, Lorena, Patricia and Takashi. Blue Team — Missy, Clark, Debbie, Mark, Sue and Thierry.

The chefs soon head off to Whole Foods. And what would any Top Chef incarnation be without the frantic Whole Foods shopping montage.

Back in the kitchen, Curtis comes back in and this time  he’s got scratch-off lottery tickets. Really? Going to spend all your Vegas tricks in the season premiere? He hands out the tickets and the chefs start scratching them. Art gets immunity. Others get a 30-minute delay cooking time and some others get $1,000 for their charities.

Oh, and even though they’ve already shopped and made their menus, Curtis hands each team a golden lottery ticket. The Red Team scratches off “Mexican” and the Blue Team gets “Indian.” They have to theme their buffets accordingly. Uh-Oh. They get an additional 30 minutes for one of their teammates to go shopping. The Red team takes advantage of that but the blue team decides they’ll just adapt. Hmm. Not such a smart move.

It’s time for frantic cooking and our first injury of the season. Already? Yes, already. Missy cuts herself and she thinks she can just wrap it up and slip on a glove. The Top Chef Masters medic thinks otherwise. She’s taken to the hospital where the doctor tells her she not only needs stitches, but a skin graft. That’s a serious cut. That means Missy will likely be out of the contest. Her team finishes her dish since she spends the night at the hospital.

Curtis and the critics head for the buffets to try the food. If there’s one big difference between Top Chef and Top Chef Masters, it’s the judges, or critics, as they’re called on this version of the show. They’re all so meh. Let’s just say judges’ table newbie Krista Simmons is no Gale Simmons. But they’re the ones getting paid to eat delicious food and not me. So I’ll still take their word for how good or bad the food is.

The critics seem to favor the Mexican buffet to the Indian buffet. It seems the Blue Team’s idea to just adapt their menu didn’t work out. As we all expected. The Red Team wins the challenge and Chris is named the winning chef. That’s $16,000 for his charity in the first day. Missy says her goodbyes as she has to leave the competition and care for her injury.

The Blue Team gets the news that they’re the losing team and the two choices for elimination are Sue and Takashi. The critics decide to send Sue packing.

What did you think of the Top Chef Masters Season 4 premiere?