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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Commercial Interruption: "Top Chef Masters" makes us hungry for more

Sometimes there's just too much television for one Channel Surfing blogger to handle. That's when we need a break to sit back, relax and indulge in some friendly back-and-forth (via email, of course — we don't actually like to speak to one another in person). Bloggers Thomas Rozwadowski and Malavika Jagannathan are salivating over the latest episodes of "Top Chef Masters." True, we were originally suspicious when Bravo came out with "Top Chef Masters" as a summer stand-in for our favorite foodie competition. Would watching real chefs compete against each other for charity carry the same intrigue week after week as monkey ass in clam shells or badly made rice? Three episodes in and we're sold on the premise that watching successful chefs made great food for good causes is just as exciting as the food fights we're used to witnessing on "Top Chef." And perhaps even better.

Malavika: I don't know about anyone else, but I love the format of "Top Chef Masters" where four chefs compete each week for a spot in the six-person "championship round." Unlike the chaos of the first few episodes of "Top Chef," when we invariably end up nicknaming people because we can't remember their names, this has more of an intimate quality to it. You get a feeling for the chefs, their styles of cooking and even a little insight into their food. So far, that's been phenomenal. Last night's episode was a great example of why this competition works. The chefs -- Rick Bayless, Wilo Benet, Ludo Lefebvre (everyone's favorite insane Gaul) and Cindy Pawlcyn -- all had varying styles of cooking and backgrounds from Ludos' classical French training to Cindy's self-taught wine country cooking. When asked to produce a viable street food from their choice of offal (heart, tongue, guts and ears), the results were pretty spectacular. I won't lie -- those tongue tacos that Bayless whipped up looked pretty damn tasty -- and that's coming from a vegetarian!

Tom, what do you like about the show?

Thomas: I know this much: between "Top Chef Masters" and all the Food Network shows I've been watching during the summer doldrums, I'll be 300 lbs. by August.

I absolutely LOVE "Masters," save for Kelly Choi, who Sara Boyd rightly dubbed the "Human Mii Character." Her abnormal head and body configuration is harder to look at than pointy pig ears.

I'm going to say right now that I enjoy "Masters" more than the normal show, simply because I love watching the best of the best compete -- and for the most part, do so without resorting to typical reality TV shadiness. These are superstar chefs who simply take pride in their craft.

Even watching Ludo last night -- the man is clearly an arrogant jack (his accusation that Rick Bayless "copied" him was pretty ridiculous), but I was still rooting for him because that was pure passion oozing out as blood beet gazpacho. Now, I wasn't rooting for him as much as say, Bayless -- seriously, how excited is that dude to be a chef on TV. He's beams like a kid at Christmas -- but basically, I don't want to see anyone fail.

Now that's probably because of the format and the fact that we aren't getting to know these people (and their annoying Leah or Lisa the Hutt-like habits) after several weeks. But I'm encouraged and entertained by a show that offers a level playing field and just says, "OK, time to be creative, what do you got?" The show reminds me of a more polished "Next Iron Chef." Reputations are too important to maintain, so people just do their jobs -- and do them really, really well. Coincidentally, John Besh, the runner-up from that show, is on next week's episode (also featuring Neil Patrick Harris), so I'm really looking forward to that.

I also think Ludo needs his own show with Fabio and Stefan called "The Euros." They could insult each other constantly, remain defiant about how their food is always better than some simple-minded American chef's, and then come together for group massages.

On a final note, do you miss Colicchio, MJ? I really like the new "critics" panel, especially the British dude who puts Toby "I Use Stupid Movie Metaphors" Young to shame. I haven't even given ol' Lex Luthor much thought since "Masters" started. That's how much I'm loving this show!

Malavika: First of all, I'm going to Ludo you and accuse you of stealing my idea of having him do a show with Fabio and Stefan. That was totally my genius idea! (The entire show would need to be subtitled, but it would rule). They could also end each episode with an impromptu soccer match with Ludo head-butting Fabio in an homage to the 2006 World Cup final between France and Italy.

I'm fresh out of "European" references, so, that being said, I do miss Tom Colicchio. I like the critics, especially Gael Greene and her impressive supply of felt hats, but I wish the panel included a chef and one less "critic." It's understandable why you wouldn't want a chef to critique a fellow chef -- and possible friend. Still I wonder if the critics' opinions are worth anything more than your average diner's opinion because they don't seem to focus on technique as much as they do on taste.

Again, I'm just nitpicking what is clearly shaping up to be a fabulous show. The beauty of the premise is such that there's no clear forerunner -- although, "Top Chef" viewers know there's no such thing as a surefire winner (ahem Hosea ahem) -- and any one of these fine chefs would walk away with the prize.

Any final thoughts?

Thomas: Tacos! Quesadillas! Shows with Fabio and Stefan! All these ideas are in the air, MJ. Next you're going to say you have a great muffin top idea you want to peddle.

I think we've expressed enough "Top Chef Masters" love for one day. Now, we just need to get you to ditch "Real Housewives of New Jersey" and start watching "The Next Food Network Star."

--Malavika Jagannathan, and Thomas Rozwadowski,

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