Late in the recording of this series I finally got to meet the lovely Gail Simmons, who had stood in for me when my visa failed to come through. Her opinion: we were having it easy on Top Chef Masters compared to Top Chef. Or, as she put it, "Boy, did we have to kiss a lot of frogs when we did our show." I got her point. Our contestants were all top-drawer chefs who knew how to do lovely things with ingredients, knives, and fire. But, you know, it still managed to throw up a few nightmares and the worst of them so far turned up here, in the first of the championship rounds. That my more vituperative comments didn’t make the cut, is probably fair. I think I went a little bonkers.
We’ll get there in a moment. First though, I should say that this show also included one of the greatest eating experiences so far – though you didn’t get to witness a moment of our pleasure. It was decided that, for the elimination challenge, us judges should get to eat the signature dishes that our six chefs prepared for each other, to give us something to bench mark the re-engineered versions against. So two platters of each were made, both to be served family style. While the chefs ate in the kitchen we were on the dining room set, attacking them with a massive enthusiasm and gusto, which may be linked to the fact the cameras weren’t on us.
I remember that lunch in great detail because we all commented on how damn fortunate we were. From Hubert’s old school lobster bisque through to Michael’s Quail and Rick’s lamb this was the real deal. We adored Anita’s scallops – ooh, those sea urchins – and revelled in Suzanne’s home style chopped steaks with eggs and toast and lots of good sticky stuff. It was one of those moments that forced us to remind ourselves that we were being paid to do this. Where did it all go so right?
But there’s always a downside and that, for me, came the next day when the lovely Art Smith delivered his version of Suzanne’s stunning chopped steak by presenting us with – a Scotch Egg. Oh Lord. Oh help. Oh my.