Can a brilliant cook make even a bowl of worms appetizing? We’ll find out this season on Top Chef Masters, which premieres April 6 at 11 p.m. ET on Bravo. In one memorable quickfire, the stars of Discovery’s Man, Woman, Wild visit the Top Chef kitchen and challenge the competitors to make a winning dish out of night crawlers, beetles, and other creepy-crawlies. “And guess who got to eat it all?” laughed Curtis Stone, the Australian chef (and onetime wannabe Celebrity Apprentice) who’s taking over as host of Masters this year, during a conference call with reporters. “I tell everybody this was the best job of my life. That was one of the worst days of the best job of my life.”
Even if Fear Factor-inspired shenanigans aren’t your thing, there’s still plenty to look forward to on Top Chef Masters this year. Here are a few more tidbits about what’s coming up on Season 3:
- Former New York Times food critic and Gourmet magazine editor Ruth Reichl will be taking a seat at the judging table. Though she’s not as familiar with the franchise as veteran Masters judge James Oseland – after hearing the word Oseland used to refer to the show’s contenders, she repeated it in bewilderment: “Cheftestants?” – she’s clearly become a cheerleader for Top Chef. “I would love to see Grant Achatz do it, and Daniel Boulud, and Thomas Keller,” Reichl said when asked which master chefs she’d like to see compete on future seasons of the show.
- Though Masters used to operate as a tournament – groups of chefs would compete against one another in several preliminary rounds, then the winners of those rounds would come back to compete in a “Champion’s Round” halfway through the season – this year, it’s going to be following the regular Top Chef format. The judges agree that this allowed them get to know each individual chef’s style a little better.
- As EW reported a few weeks ago, Mad Men star Christina Hendricks will be involved in a ’60s-themed challenge. But she’ll be contributing much more than just the inspiration for the challenge – “She and her husband are serious cooks,” Oseland said. “I mean, they’re not dabblers.” Reichl, too, was impressed by the actress’s kitchen prowess: “Christina Hendricks, who on Mad Men is the most beautiful woman in the world, is even more beautiful in person. And it’s a little scary to have her talking about being up for four hours making puff pastry, because she’s not only beautiful but she serves these extraordinary meals. It’s very intimidating.”
- Another celebrity judge with a surprising foodie background will also be stopping by: “Milkshake” singer Kelis, who actually trained at Le Cordon Bleu.
- In a tidy bit of NBC-Universal synergy, in one episode, the chefs will be cooking for Alison Sweeney and the cast of The Biggest Loser. But even if Sweeney’s show hadn’t been involved in a challenge, the Biggest Loser host might have showed up on Top Chef’s set anyway. “Before the season started, Alison phoned me up and said, ‘Look, even if you don’t get me on the show, I’d love to hang out and watch it all happen. I’m a huge fan,’” Stone revealed.
- And, okay, this isn’t scoop, but it’s definitely worth repeating anyway. One reporter asked the judges what they’d love to be eating at that very moment, and where they’d ideally be eating it. Stone replied that he’d like to be slurping down clams on the shores of the south of France. Reichl said she’d go for sea urchin in Santa Barbara. And Oseland pulled out all the stops with his epic answer: “I would be in Jakarta, Indonesia, eating coconut rice flavored with lemongrass and ginger wrapped up in a banana leaf along with some chili paste and a beautiful piece of fried chicken.” Mmmm… is it dinner time yet?
Are you excited about the return of Top Chef Masters? Which challenges are you most looking forward to? Let us know in the comments!