Nicole Wilder/Bravo
Hillary Busis
April 07, 2011 AT 03:10 PM EDT

Top Chef Masters is serving up something new this season — actually, several new things. In last night’s premiere, we learned that Australian chef and Celebrity Apprentice contestant Curtis Stone has replaced pretty charisma vacuum Kelly Choi as the show’s host, while judges Gael Greene and Jay Raynor have been succeeded by former Gourmet editrix Ruth Reichl. Perhaps most importantly, the series has also traded its old, tournament-style format for a more conventional reality show scheme — all of the contestants started competing at the same time, and one of them will be eliminated each episode. That’s a lot of change to stomach, especially since the series never seemed like it was in desperate need of a reboot. So how did Episode One of Masters 2.0 fare?

Surprisingly well, at least in this blogger’s opinion. I’m pretty sure nobody will shed any tears over Kelly Choi’s departure; Curtis Stone appears on TV so often that he’s teetering on the edge of overexposure, but at least he knows enough about food to contribute something interesting to the panel. Though we haven’t seen much of Reichl yet, I’m also confident that she’ll prove herself to be an ace judge — even the woman’s tweets are poetic.

I was initially less enthused by the format swap, though. Sure, it used to be difficult to get invested in Masters because we couldn’t get to know any of the cheftestants until halfway through the season; the starring system was also kind of confusing. Still, I worried that running Masters like a regular season of Top Chef might mean that this season’s talent crop wouldn’t be as strong as that of years past. After all, only chefs who could afford to spend a hefty chunk of time filming a reality show could sign up to compete this year.

Thankfully, it looks like I shouldn’t have been concerned. Traci Des Jardins managed to make something delicious out of black licorice and peanut butter, while George Mendes’s salmon and smoky potato puree and Naomi Pomeroy’s rich chocolate torte actually made my mouth water. Clearly, these guys know what they’re doing. And as an added bonus, since the same group will be on air all season, Suvir Saran will hopefully get plenty of screen time. With his adorable accent, healthy confidence, and inherent quotability, Suvir seems like he’ll end up being this season’s Fabio — and every iteration of Top Chef could use a Fabio.

What did you think of the new and possibly improved Top Chef Masters? Are you happy with the changes, or do you wish the kitchen hadn’t gone through an upgrade?

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