'Top Chef Masters' recap: Season 4 premiere

Editor's note: We are thrilled to welcome Mary Alice of Charm City Cakes as our recapper for the new season of "Top Chef Masters." We think it's a sin that she doesn't have her own Wikipedia page. But she does have a fan page. Take it away, Mary.

"Top Chef Masters" season 4 is off! The chef-testants are in Vegas this time around, each vying for 100K to donate to their charity of choice.


Curtis Stone is back with his Outback Steakhouse voice to introduce us to this season's contestants, which feature many repeat competitors and heavy hitters.

This season's judges include Saveur's James Oseland and Gilt Taste's Ruth Reichl.


The usual fanfare opening montage ensues -- lots of Vegas B-roll, yelling, overwrought range fires and mad chopping.

As is typical in the first episode of any competitive reality show, we get to see a couple of contestants up close and personal, and the rest fly by in a blur.

First intro is the ever sunny and fabulous Chef Art Smith, who is back for his second time around on TCM --- and he's half the man he used to be. Literally.

The guy has lost 120 pounds. He looks amazing and hasn't lost an ounce of his sparkle. The editing team clearly loves him, as he is heavily featured in this episode (which is totally okay, as he's hilarious).

Thierry Rautureau, who was cut rather early on his last time on TCM, is up next. From the looks of things, he's the sassy Frenchmen.

Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier are partners in business at their restaurant Arrows and partners in life -- they've been together for over two decades.

I must agree with Art Smith in that they look like they could be brothers. Or perhaps the middle aged version of '90s rockers



The rest of the chefs are introduced rapidly: Patricia Yeo, Takashi Tagihashi, Sue Torres, Missy Robbins, Debbie Gold, Lorena Garcia, Chris Cosentino, and Kerry Hefferman (who for some reason is constantly flashing incredulous looks on camera).

As each chef enters the kitchen the rest show genuine thrill/surprise as they discover who their competition is. While their reactions seem real I do have to wonder -- did they REALLY not know who else would be competing? Really?

In walks our host, Curtis Stone, looking for all the world like a second hand blackjack dealer in his odd vest ensemble. But he's adorable and Australian so he pulls it off.

We are a go with the first quickfire: Each chef must pick a partner and then a game of culinary blackjack takes place. Each pair gets an ingredient card placed down, and then another card on top. They must produce a dish with both ingredients.

All of the pairings actually seem quite easy (garlic and steak? duck and peaches?) so I'm not too worried about anyone at this point. [Confidential to the graphic designer who chose the typeface for the playing cards: The '80s called. They want their font back]. Also, I learned that Langoustine is a name for large, mutant crawfish.

The chefs will be cooking for three professional Vegas card dealers. Fifteen minutes of running and yelling ensue. Bravo fills the time by having some of the chefs (in very bad voice over dubs) talk about the charities they are playing for, which all sound like amazing organizations doing great work.


The Vegas dealers come in and chow down on each dish -- and they're not afraid to criticize. Debbie Gold winces at their critique and owns up to the fact that hers was "an herbaceous dish."

I haven’t heard that turn of phrase since sophomore year in the dorm room. In the end, Chris and Patricia take the Quickfire with their beef and catfish combo, winning 5K each for the Michael J. FoxFoundation and Heifer International.

Elimination Challenge Time! In the Vegas tradition, the chefs will be creating a buffet. Groans galore. The chefs are divided into two teams.

Chris Cosentino whips out, "I didn't come here to make bulls---" which is the Top Chef equivalent to "I didn’t come here to make friends."

The Chefs divvy up their dishes and head to Whole Foods to shop. Thierry orders 22 pounds of salmon, screwing over Takashi. Gentlemanly joshing occurs, but you know they'll be seriously at each other's throats later.

Quotes No. 1 and 2 of the episode, both from Art Smith while shopping:


1: "There's no f------ brioche."

2: "I cook for billionaires. I don't have budgets, I just buy."

As the Chefs return and commence prep in comes Curtis, with the now-really-not-surprising mid-challenge twist: Each must scratch off a lotto type ticket to determine a prize or setback, such as immunity, losing 30 minutes of cooking time, or a bonus 1K for their charity.

At the end he hands one golden ticket to each team and they reveal their culinary mission: The red team must create a Mexican buffet, the blue team must create an Indian buffet.

This is madness. They've already done their shopping!

Each team can choose to send back a chef to pick up additional ingredients, only the red team does and sends Art Smith back for lots and lots of cilantro.


Exactly 23 minutes into the episode, we've got our first bleeder. Poor Missy was chopping zucchini (!) and lopped off a portion of her pinky. She wants to just wrap it up and keep going, but the producers call in an EMT and she begrudgingly heads off to the ER.

Such a difference between the lily-livered chefs of regular"Top Chef,"who leave when they get paper cuts. Props to Missy for being so hard-ass.

Quote No. 3 of the episode, from Thierry:

"I'm serving beef at an Indian buffet. It's kind of like serving vodka at an AA meeting."

The red team steps up and tries to fill in the space that Missy left. Chris is cranky. Art tries to help. Time's up -- prep is on and buffet dinner is served. To a bunch of mimes and pirates.

They called in an army of Las Vegas showpeople to try the food and I am genuinely frightened by the mimes in quazi-scream masks and Kanga hats.


The dishes do well,  though, I question the logic of a ceviche in a buffet. Really? Lots of oddballs and the judges eat each dish. Joining the judges is Krista Simmons from the LA Times.

Meanwhile, Missy is in the ER and they basically tell her she is lucky to have her finger intact (the word "graft" was used and I tried to block the rest out). Needless to say, she is out.

Dishes are served. Lorena's includes "Leche de Tigre" which I am pretty sure is a Charlie Sheen trademark.

The judges are overwhelmingly impressed with the Mexican (red) team's dishes, and bummed at the lack of authentic Indian flavor in the blue team's dishes.

Cut to the stew room interstitial: Art Smith wants to cook on the costumed pirates' booty. Shocker. Missy re-enters, all bandaged, and owns up to the fact that she's gone. It's a bummer. She wishes she could have been eliminated by cooking a "s----- dish."

Critics' Table


[Note: I would like to thank Bravo for their correct use of an apostrophe in the plural possessive. Very few get this right.]

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Missy, "pinky-less" and trembling, bows out. Curtis guarantees her a spot in next season. Classy move, Bravo. Heal up, Missy! We'll see you in Season 5.

Note to the judges: You can't have something be "pretty unanimous." It's like being "sort of pregnant."

Without much surprise, team Mexico wins the challenge. Chris Cosentino takes the competition and 10K for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. He shares that his Uncle had Parkinsons so the winning is that much more important.

In the end, team Blue/Indian did not win, and Sue goes home. A rather unexpected twist as it seemed like Debbie's dessert was the least favorite dish.

All the judges agree: If only she'd marinated her chicken in yogurt, it would have been more succulent. Lesson learned. It's an extra bittersweet loss for Sue, as she cooked Mexican for years. Had she been on the other team she knows she would have done way better.


Sue packs her knives and we are given a sneak peek into the upcoming season: Cursing! Yelling! More Injuries! The B52s! Playboy Bunny Holly, screaming about garlic!

And the inevitable melted, squished wedding cake (which gives me a particular serious anxiety). Stay tuned for episode two and all of Season 4's madness.