For a “reality” show, there isn’t any real dramatic hook this week on Top Chef Duels. Neither contestant has harmed the other in any grievous way. Neither is sniping at the other from the closed confines of the stew room. There’s no beef—Kobe, wagyu, or otherwise. That’s because there doesn’t need to be.
Since Top Chef: Masters premiered in 2009, it has drawn a cadre of established chefs who, for the most part, have become famous for the personality of their flavors rather than their personages. Cooking in general has gained mass media attention—particularly when Michelin gets involved—but Top Chef: Masters seek the aforementioned stars rather than see them. They’re far more interested in fine dining than Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.
Even compared to its more-famous antecedent, Top Chef: Masters ignores many of the brioche-and-compound-butter tropes of reality television. Masters get a pass—they’re not really expected to cultivate drama once the cameras roll. Instead, there’s dignity and respect within the kitchen. They’re rooting for one another, or so the production team would have us think. And what it often lacks in reality-style fireworks, it has made up for in captivating cuisine.
But there’s still a duel to be fought, and this week pits French-Asian stylist Takashi Yagihashi against the latest somewhat-absurdly Curtis-credentialed “godfather of American cuisine,” David Burke. The two are old friends; situating the two of them in a Manhattan bachelor pad must’ve produced some awesome TV dinners.
Though I have a hot-and-cold (or sweet-and-sour) relationship with celebrity chefdom, Andrew Zimmern is one of the good guys. His Bizarre Foods, which debuted in 2007, introduced new edibles to an increasingly brave American public at just the right time. No matter your stance on the farthest corners of global cuisine, watching the guy eat an eyeball and justify it has been a pleasurable (and positive) experience for eating well in the States. Once I saw those round-rimmed glasses, I knew we’d be in for a treat.
For dinner this week is a pair of quickfires that get at the Masters ethos—each chef chooses cooking that lands in the other’s culinary wheelhouse. Sure, the $10,000 isn’t as much of a motivator for these two chefs (the contested funds on Top Chef Masters go to charity), but here we see a more welcome, less cutthroat approach. The win-at-all-costs mentality is ditched in favor of the desire to beat a friend at his own game. There’s no strategizing. Just eggs.
NEXT: A culinary egg-stravaganza