Graham Elliot Bowles

Review: Gordon Ramsay’s MasterChef

MasterChef is the latest American incarnation of a successful British reality competition.  The original MasterChef has been a hot commodity for years in the UK as has its cousins MasterChef: Australia and MasterChef: Hungary.  For the American version Fox has teamed Gordon Ramsay, one of the world’s greatest and most renowned chefs with two of the kingpins of the US restaurant industry, Chef Graham Elliot Bowles and restaurateur Joe Bastianich.  Fox was nice enough to let me catch a preview of MasterChef’s debut episode, a sneak peek so to speak.

Meet the players:
Graham Elliot Bowles on WannabeTVchef.comBowles is a prodigy who became America’s youngest 4 star chef at the age of 27.  He is a pioneer of the trendy molecular gastronomy movement that couples cooking and chemistry.  His groundbreaking restaurant, graham elliot, combines cutting edge American cuisine with humor and just a touch of moxie to create Chicago’s first “bistronomic” restaurant.  His accolades are many having brought home traditional culinary affirmation like the coveted James Beard Award and new age recognition as a competitor on both Bravo’s Top Chef: Masters and the Food Network’s Iron Chef America.

Joe Bastianich on WannabeTVchef.comIf the name Joe Bastianich sounds familiar it should.  His mother is famed Italian cheflebrity Lidia Bastianich.  He is also friend and business partner to America’s most successful Italian chef, Mario Batali.  But Bastianich’s life is about more than just great restaurants.  He is also a noted winemaker who is described as a “street-level philosopher.”  He has been honored as both vintner and restaurateur by the likes of Food & Wine and the James Beard Foundation.  His book on wine pairing, Vino Itialiano (available at amazon.com), is considered the standard by which the genre is judged.

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Gordon Ramsay on WannabeTVchef.comFew people in the western world are not familiar with the name Gordon Ramsay.  Though his reputation in the states is built mainly around his explosive temper and colorful use of metaphors in Europe he is thought of as one of the best chefs in the world.  It is a shame that most Americans only know the exaggerated personality shown on TV because he is one of the most gifted and passionate people in the culinary world.

The premiere episode features 100 hopeful home cooks vying to be one of the 30 finalist competing for the title MasterChef.  To earn one of the coveted MasterChef aprons each competitor is asked to cook the meal of their lives for the three judges.

The first round of dishes fails to yield a single plate worthy of remaining in the contest.  This forces Chef Ramsay to give a pep talk to the remaining contestants filled with the bleep riddled prose that the host is known for as well as a bit of the overcharged, dare I say forced drama that is the mainstay of virtually every “reality” show.

As with every “reality” contest on TV there is a plethora of over-critiquing.  Negative comments are far more negative than they need to be and positive comments are stuffed with Pentecostal exuberance.  Nothing is ever mediocre in “reality” TV; it is either dreadful or the best thing ever.  This lack of gray area is why television is anything but real.

The best example of overly-negative critiquing is when Gordon takes a stuffed bell pepper garnish from one plate, dumps out the contents so he can spit out the mouthful of fish taco he is tasting.  The best example of made-for-TV positive shtick is Bowles tasting one contestant’s Korean duck wrap and stating, “That is like sex in your mouth . . . in the best possible way.”  There are plenty of the tear jerking moments that producers love to show as well.  MasterChef follows the American Idol formula to a “T.”

But, as with any of Ramsay’s shows, there are truly honest moments.  It is these glimpses of lucidity that make him a star.  At his soul, Ramsay is a compassionate person and it is evident that he genuinely cares for other people.  It is likely that his persona and Graham Elliot’s lovable big guy personality will produce a similar chemistry to Paula and Simon.  Although I highly doubt Bowles would look as good in a short red dress.  Bastianich is the wild card; he lacks that biting English snark while at the same time he is cold and calculating in his critiques.

MasterChef separates itself from “Worst Cook in America” because it starts with ametuers who can already cook and seeks to make them better.  It also separates itself from “Next Food Network Star” because it allows Southern cooks to compete.  The best home cooks in America traditionally hail from the South but NFNS has clearly avoided casting calls in the South for some reason opting for mainly East Coast and West Coast auditions.

MasterChef also separates itself from all other TV cooking contests with its prize – $250,000 cash and a major cookbook deal which is potentially worth millions.  I like MasterChef more than I do Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen or Chopped and far more than I do NFNS.  But at the same time it is a far cry from Iron Chef America.

MasterChef premieres Tuesday July 27th (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on Fox.  For more information check out the official press release HERE.

Top Chef: Masters

The second season of Top Chef: Masters is taking some flack for the seeming lack of “Masters” in the competition. Tonight’s episode “It’s My Party” is no exception. Of the five contestants I am only familiar with one, the remarkably talented Marcus Samuelsson.  That is not to say that the other contestants are not great chefs.  There are any number of talented chefs who fly under the radar because they do not live in a large media market or have avoided the limelight.

The other four Carmen Gonzalez, David Burke, Monica Pope and Thierry Tautureau I needed to learn more about. Here’s what I found:

Carmen Gonzalez is the owner of Carmen the Restaurant in Miami. A native of Puerto Rico, she opened her namesake restaurant in 2003 and has received a notable amount of fanfare including Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence from 2004-2006; AAA’s coveted 4 Diamond Award in 2004 and 2005; a 2006 mention in Zagat’s America’s Top Restaurants.

David Burke owns David Burke Townhouse, David Burke at Bloomingdales, Fishtail by David Burke, Burke in the Box, David Burke Prime, David Burke’s Primehouse, David Burke Las Vegas, and Fromagerie, Burke.  With as many restaurants as he has with his name in the title it is a wonder I have never heard of the guy.  He was named the first ever recipient of France’s Meilleurs Ouvriers de France Diplome d’Honneur for excellence in American cuisine.  He has also been inducted into the 2009 James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America.

Monica Pope, that name sounds familiar, is the owner of t’afia in Houston, TX.  Pope was the 2009 Best Chef at the Houston Culinary Awards and a James Beard Award Nominee.  She is a sustainable foods advocate and hosts a local food talk show on Houston’s 1560 AM.

Thierry Rautureau is a native of France and is known as the “The Chef in the Hat.”  He is the owner of Rover’s Restaurant in Seattle and the only chef on tonight other than Samuelsson to actually win a James Beard Award in a any category in Rautureau’s case for Best Chef in The Pacific Northwest.  His French pedigree is stout.

Which brings us to Marcus Samuelsson.  Truly one of the most talented young chefs in America, Marcus was born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden and trained in Europe.  He is the youngest chef to ever receive two three-star ratings from The New York Times and he is a two-time James Beard Award winner.  He is a food activist, TV show host and best selling author.  His restaurant, Aquavit is consistently one of the most popular in the uber-competitive NYC market.

Tonight the chefs throw a birthday party for actor Mehki Phifer.  Please, Bravo, enough with the stupid “challenges.”  Just put a bunch of talented chefs in a well stocked kitchen and let them cook.

Tweeting Top Chef Masters WK 1

I have to admit that I’m not the biggest Top Chef fan. I don’t watch cooking shows for drama; I watch for food. Top Chef Masters is a different story altogether. I loved last season won by Rick Bayless. Top Chef is one of the most Tweeted shows on TV. Often the Tweets are better than the show itself. So each week I’ll share some of the best 140 or less. Let the snarking begin:

@lillyj fair warning: I will be live-tweeting #topchefmasters. It can be annoying & can have spoilers. xo lillyj

JeffHouck: Feels great to be back in the warm bosom of #topchef. Froggy love daddy? :::squeaky squeaky:::

floridagirlindc: If you are a Top Chef fan in any way shape or form, you’re gonna wanna follow  @lillyj and@JeffHouck. Who are your fave #TopChef tweeters?

AlwaysLegITGirL: #TopChefMasters is back last season

@RealSkipBayless‘ brother was the winner. They’re polar opposites but u can tell they’re brothers

culinarypirate: I want Govind Armstrong on my team <3 #topchefmasters

nSquib: Some of the chefs on #TopChefMasters aren’t exactly masters… *cough*Govind*cough*

lillyj: Susan’s the crazy lesbian-version of Danny DeVito, I’m certain of this. #topchef

tnoe27: Yes! Gas station ingredients on topchefmasters

tifftwin: I would totally eat flaming hot cheeto mac & cheese. But not grilled slim jims. #topchefmasters

friedrice599: #TopChefMasters, Kelly I am glad to have you back in my life again

LanceSturg: I have a problem with #topchefmasters. Why is the $100,000 NOT furnished by the makers of the Glad Family of Products TM ?

JeffHouck: So embarassed. I can’t believe my natual human instinct for sleep got in the way of watching a TV cooking show. #topchefmasters

mlj78: OH Govind Armstrong is H-O-T. #topchefmasters #yummy

vitanga: Cool.

@thebravery are guest judges on #topchefmasters right now.

JeffHouck: :::rubbing eyes:::: What did I miss? Did Kelly Choi swallow a carb?  #topchefmasters

JeffHouck: The Bravery looks unaccustomed to eating food, much less not slouching. #topchefmasters

lillyj: We should drink every time someone says, “I want to win.” Well no crap, Why bother being here otherwise.  topchef

JeffHouck: If I had called for “Obama” mentions in the #topchef Masters drinking game, I’d be drunker than Charlie Sheen by now.

JeffHouck: Math quiz: If #topchefmasters is on at 11. and you sleep through the first 14 minutes, how many Prius commercials did you miss?

culinarypirate: Oooh, Govind knows how to talk some culinary sh*t.  #topchef

JeffHouck: Carpaccio was my favorite Ninja Turtle. #topchef

patrickjd: Gael Greene would break her own hip to ride that stallion aka Govind Armstrong #topchef

thebookpolice: God, am I hoping for a total flameout from Ludo. What a tool. #TopChefMasters

lillyj: I could never be with a vegan. Or vegetarian. It would be too… annoying. #topchef

culinarypirate: Tony, you will NEVER steal Obama’s heart from Rick Bayless! #topchef

arosey: My wife cooked chicken marsala when we first started dating. Last meal she ever cooked for me. 5 years ago. I hope they do better! #topchef

lillyj: “Mac and cheese is an exploration of bland”? OH REALLY? Sit your hipster ass down, who do you think you are? Yelp Elite? (burn!) #topchef

culinarypirate: Wait, who are these guys? #topchef

JeffHouck: I think the gardenia goiter is slowly swallowing Kelly Choi. #topchef

lillyj: What weighs more.. the flower in her hair or her? #topchef

stephmarch: Why is Govind such an ass? #topchefmasters

thesupermikey: what have we learned on tonight’s #topchefmasters – Govind Armstrong is an asshole.

kittenwithawhip: Noting that I’ve been as much looking forward to @jeffhouck‘s #topchefmasters coverage as I have the actual show.

lillyj: Susan’s the crazy lesbian-version of Danny DeVito, I’m certain of this. #topchef

Funfearlessbean: Ana can make her duck dish for me anytime! #topchef

JeffHouck: What a shock. The Obama chef won his first show. Just like last season. We’re gonna run out of Obama chefs at this rate. #topchef

lillyj: Would you rather have dinner with: gourmet hats, pretentious editor, moley critics or the hungry? I vote hats. #topchef

ActsofFaithblog: Aww Govind was bringing the pretty to the table. Bye. #topchefmasters

lillyj: OMGOMGOMGOMG Hank Azaria is gonna be a guest judge?! “C’mon Gloria!” #topchef

@culinarypirate Thx for all the fun #TopChef ppl! Tune in to @JeffHouck‘s & my TopChef Podcast tomorrow! http://afx.cc/d7p

Next Wednesday you can follow for yourself by going HERE or HERE but you’re probably better off letting me do all the grunt work.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

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