Take the unfortunate case of Hugh Acheson, who was eliminated from this week’s episode thanks to his tragically oversalted scallop: Hugh used the salt that was available in the Top Chef Masters kitchen, which just happened to be Maldon, a salt known for its hefty-size flakes; just a few extra grains can push a dish from perfectly seasoned to inedible. Because all the other cheftestants were witness to the error, they now know that this is the salt found in the kitchen, and they’re likely to season their dishes accordingly. The kitchen on the show is state of the art, but it’s also unfamiliar to this new lineup of chefs -- they have a huge task in learning how to navigate their way through it, from the heat of the stove to the hot spots in the oven, not to mention the 10-person camera crew leaning in over their about-to-break hollandaise.
Of course, the downside of the new format is that the chefs are going to have to pull off some consistently strenuous feats of cooking. On previous seasons of Top Chef Masters, the winning chef cooked for the judges an average of six times. This year, the winner will have to go up in front of us a whole lot more, including both Quickfires and weekly Elimination Challenges. They’re going to need to pace themselves, and really ration their energy and creativity.
But back to Hugh’s salty scallop. Curtis mentioned this on the show, but I really want to drive it home: while the diners in our premiere episode voted otherwise, the judges overwhelmingly preferred Team Red’s Mosaic restaurant to Team Blue’s Leela. It was heartbreaking to have to send a chef home from what we considered to be the better team; I was genuinely surprised when Leela won the popular vote, having experienced what I thought was a very unremarkable meal. What appeared in the episode to be a brief delay on our entrees was in reality well over a half an hour; additionally, many of the dishes were truly underwhelming, including John Sedlar’s nearly raw rack of lamb and John Currence’s bizarre sweet potato and peanut soup, garnished with a gooey glob of chicken liver “mousse.”