When the producers of Top Chef Masters called me late last year and told me that we were going to film Season 4 in Las Vegas, I was thrilled. I know it can be fashionable to be a Vegas naysayer, but I never have been: I love the city, not just for its iconic place in American culture, but for the fact that it simply has some of the best food anywhere—from high-roller restaurants like Twist to terrific off-Strip restaurants serving Asian, Pan-Latin, and hearty American food. It's a city full of excellent, inventive cuisine, with a strong undercurrent of culinary adventure. Where better to set our new season?
And what a season it is. The chefs this go 'round are, as always, significant players on the American culinary scene, with richly diverse backgrounds and strengths. Some might not have faces quite as nationally recognizable as others, but all of them have the level of passion and talent required to take them to the Top Chef Masters set, and when I saw who was on deck that first day, I was tremendously excited about seeing what they were going to create in the coming weeks.
And so we launched right in to the first challenge! The buffet is a quintessentially Las Vegas form of eating (as Dana Bowen wrote in Saveur, it "perfectly captures the city's blend of optimism and indulgence"), and I am not exaggerating when I say that what we were served in this episode amounts to best buffet food I've ever had. There were no major misfires, no big mistakes. All in all, it bodes extremely well for the rest of the season: the chefs were shockingly good straight out of the gate. In previous seasons of Top Chef Masters, I've been struck by how much of a learning curve there's been for these great chefs who need to acclimate themselves to a new kitchen. Especially on the first day of production, when you're running around a entirely unfamiliar cooking space swarming with other chefs and a camera crew, watching an oversized clock count down the seconds — to me, that's a greater challenge than the various restrictions and last-minute curveballs the chefs are given each week.