To borrow a quaint expression from one super-stressed-out sous chef seen cantering through the Top Chef Masters kitchen: “Holy mackerel!”
Season five of Masters, which debuted Wednesday on Bravo, was a cornucopia of twists and reveals—smart move for a show that has historically struggled in the who-cares department. This time around, producers have packed the program with built-in drama by incorporating chefs’ employees into the games. Each master was told to bring along a sous chef, presumably to assist him or her during the culinary challenges. What the Masters weren’t told: Basically the entire outcome of the show rests on the hunched shoulders of their overworked underlings. For instance, when a sous chef wins a Quickfire, his boss gets immunity in the elimination challenge. And when sous chefs perform poorly, their employers pay the price with various “obstacles” during the challenges.
As this information sinks in throughout the season premiere, the Masters make a LOT of jokes about how they are totally going to fire their sous chefs if they mess up. Cut to a huddle of saucer-eyed, tattooed toque assistants pretending to laugh. “Hahaha, not like I need my job or anything! Thanks, Bravo!”
Let’s explore episode one.
“The guy who pussed out is the one who gets immunity.”
I remember kids earning detention for saying “pussed out” in grade school, but apparently such language is a-okay on cable television. In the above quote, Master Neal Fraser (Redbird) skewers fellow Master Douglas Keane (Cyrus) for driving to the first elimination challenge rather than skydiving there. (Later in the episode, Keane will also be called a “douchebag,” another once-verboten slur.)
The thematic tie-in of jumping from an airplane: The chefs will be cooking for the Canadian Skyhawks Parachute Team. Of all the contestants, Keane is the only one grounded enough—get it?—to ride (Lexis product tie-in, blah bah blah) to the venue, risking a too-short prep time and earning a borderline-inappropriate, gender-and-genitalia-invoking insult from the mustachioed chef at Redbird.
But as it turns out, he won’t be needing that extra hour anyway. Curtis Stone, our ocean-eyed host from down undah, informs us that Keane’s minion, Drew Glassell, has dominated the sous chef Quickfire, earning his boss immunity. Cue more hilarious jokes about how Glassell won’t be getting fired this week.
“I want to prove to him that we can do this.”
What with girthy toques falling out of the sky and the hypnotic effect of Stone’s azure ocular orbs (Gail Simmons is looking pretty smokin’ this season too), it can be hard work remembering who is who among the Masters. But show producers make sure one man shines brightly. And that man, I am happy to inform you, is our own towheaded knight in shining flannel, Bryan Voltaggio. Episode one sets him up as the unequivocal hero of season five—the level-headed, hard-working, all-American hunk who has returned to the Top Chef stage to avenge the prize his younger brother stole from him all those years ago. Along the way, he will generously share his accumulated knowledge with mohawked second-in-command Graeme Ritchie. That is—mind you—unless he fires him! HAHAHAHA. Someone might get fired.
“I had a butter knife, and my sous chef picked two proteins.”
Speaking of getting fired, Richard Sandoval’s sous chef thoroughly mangles the Quickfire, and the team’s punishment is that Sandoval has to cook with only a butter knife. This “obstacle” was faced by all the Masters whose employees messed up the first mission, but contestants like Canadian Lynn Crawford (Ruby Watchco) manage to put out judge-approved dishes without whining about dull blades. Perhaps ungenerous editing is to blame, but Sandoval seems to be the only Master to grouse his way through the challenge, complaining again and again about the butter knife. His incoherent dish is universally panned at the judges’ table, and the only reason he doesn’t go home is that self-described “underground legend” Herb Wilson doesn’t finish in time and ends up serving empty oyster shells. Yeah, that was awkward.
Is Sandoval being set up as this season’s villain, a sort of anti-Voltaggio? Or will that honor go to Keane, the douchebag who pussed out? Only time will tell.
“It’s a nice sexy dish where you didn’t expect sexiness.”
In the elimination, the chefs are forced to use the same ingredients their sous serfs chose for the Quickfire. In Voltaggio’s case, that’s carrots. Yup, carrots—and no meat at all. “What was Ritchie thinking?” I couldn’t help thinking. He’s totally getting fired! But the fox from Frederick manages to turn those root veggies into a dish that’s surprisingly “sexy”, according to returning judge James Oseland. Sexy carrots, ladies and gentlemen. Is there anything this guy can’t do?
As it turns out there is. He can’t win the first challenge. Voltaggio and Fraser both make it into the final three, but in the end it is effervescent Italian Odette Fada (632 on Hudson) who wins—earning a fat check for Doctors Without Borders along with the eternal devotion of two very good-looking judges.
Odette Fada leaves the judges’ table amid congratulatory pats from Masters Voltaggio and Fraser.
Gail Simmons: [Sighs, bats eyelashes] “I’m in love with her.”
Curtis Stone: [Slowly, in thick Oz-a-lese accent]: “She’s adorable.”
Humenuh, humenuh. It looks like Bravo has brought some much-needed heat to season five. We’ll be watching.