Turning Tables

Krista Simmons shares her new experience as a judge.

As a native Angeleno, I spend a lot of time in Las Vegas blowing off steam with girlfriends, cutting loose at pool parties, getting risky at the roulette tables, and indulging some of the unsung culinary gems on and off the Strip. Thankfully, the mayhem, excitement, and excess that make me love Sin City carries over into this season of Top Chef Masters.



As with most good shows, it all starts with a dynamic cast: You've got Clark and Mark, who are in a 26 year-strong relationship and co-own a restaurant, competing against each other for a title; Chris and Art, are already getting into intense power struggles in Episode 1; and second-time contestant Thierry is so hungry for a win that he's willing to clean out the fish counter just to slight his competition.

As a former showtracker of Masters, these dynamics are really exciting. The nature of the series in the past has sometimes shown that the chefs respect each other a little too much to make for high-tensity TV. But this season breaks that mold right off the bat. In addition to the power struggles, you have Missy slicing off her finger on a mandoline because she's digging so deep for a win. Regardless of the extreme severity of her injury, the girl still wanted to keep competing! Now that's hardcore. Pair that with Lorena's extremely stiff horchata and tequila shooters and Chris garnishing his dish with a hardened smoked pig's liver that resembled mine after a night of Vegas-style drinking, and you've got the recipe for success. And I'm not just saying that because I'm on the show.Until last night, I hadn't even seen the other side of the story. That's what fascinates me so much about Top Chef: the judges really do come in blind, and are totally unaware of the character development or what's happened in the Quickfire. It allows us to be unbiased in our opinions about the dishes. Art's bread pudding, for instance, was absolutely stellar, and it's a dish I often fantasize about when my sweet tooth starts panging. There is no way that guy lost 120 pounds eating food like that!

And although the first episode may have portrayed me as a stickler for authenticity, that's not at all the case. I think fusion and development of traditional dishes is what makes American cooking at this point in history so exciting. There is no doubt all of these chefs can cook, and supremely well at that. It was just that the Blue Team simply didn't strategize and adapt, which is what it takes to be a Master. Sadly Sue's dry chicken dish was the least of my favorites, and it was a unanimous decision. She was way out of her element attempting to prepare Indian food considering her Mexican background, and it resulted in her going home.

Regardless of a few missteps, it really was some of the best buffet food that I've ever had. If this sets the tone for the rest of the season, we're in for a real doozy.

You can follow Krista on Twitter @kristasimmons.

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