So, last night was a reality TV party, first with 2 hours of So You Think You Can Dance (and if you guys watched...damn...it was good), followed by the premiere of Bravo's summer Top Chef substitute, Top Chef Masters.
I enjoyed TCM and think it's definitely an acceptable Top Chef substitute (as well as a vastly greater quality reality option in comparison to most of the other tripe that's currently airing), though I wouldn't go as far as Slate, who thinks the show is redeeming the Top Chef franchise (which did, I admit, just finish up a fairly lackluster season).
Top Chef Masters adopts a similar format to Top Chef - consisting of both a quickfire and elimination challenge each episode, but with some variation. Firstly, we're exposed to a different crop of 4 master chefs each week. Each week, a single winner is declared, and after 6 weeks of competition, the 6 initial winners move on to a semifinal round. For me, this format makes it harder to become attached to any of the chefs, as it normally takes a few weeks to familiarize yourself with each chef's personality. I couldn't tell you the names of the 4 that competed last night without googling something first and next week we're already going to be getting 4 new faces.
The main thing that struck me about TCM was what good sports all of the competitors were. Everything is for charity, and this seems to enable these top-level chefs to embrace the ridiculous challenges being thrown their way that aren't necessarily a good gauge of their abilities. What do I mean? The quickfire was judged by a group of Girl Scouts - and then the elimination challenge required the chefs to cook food on hot plates and in microwaves for college students. Classic Top Chef. You might think that a more arrogant bunch of "master" chefs might scoff about both these conditions and the judging panels, but all of the competitors seemed to both enjoy and embrace what was being thrown at them.
Judging-wise, beyond the input from the Girl Scouts and college kids, there still was also a panel of "professionals", much like the standard Top Chef. I was afraid that because these are known chefs competing that the panel would be reluctant to offer anything but praise for the dishes, but I was pleasantly surprised that they seemed alright with offering (constructive) criticism.
My final observation: host Kelly Choi is reminiscent of Katie Lee Joel's hosting of Season 1 of Top Chef. Translation: Pretty, but complete waste of space (bordering on mute when it's time to discuss the dishes).
What did you think of the Top Chef Masters premiere? Will you keep on tuning in?