James Oseland

The critic explains why he wouldn't have skydived for an extra hour of cooking.

on Jul 24, 20130

Let's start with the answer to the important question: no, I don’t think I would’ve jumped. Given the choice that these contestants faced in their very first challenge—to skydive or not to skydive—I’d have chosen the path that allowed me to remain firmly on the ground. Let me be clear: this isn't a decision driven by fear—I’m not afraid of jumping out of a plane; in fact, I really want to do it!—it's about competition and control. I can't begin to imagine the rush of adrenaline that comes with a stunt like that, both the high and then the crash, and so I'd have no idea how my reaction would affect the real point of this challenge: how well I'd cook. Would my blood pressure be up to the ceiling? Would my sense of balance—both literal and metaphorical—be so thrown that I wouldn’t be as good a cook as I’d want to be on the very first episode of the season? I don't think I'd have risked that degree of awareness and control, not for the payoff of one extra hour of cooking time.

But I guess there's a reason I'm a critic on Top Chef Masters and not a contestant: all but one of our chefs chose to take the plunge (Douglas Keane, the lone holdout, gained immunity during the sous chef challenge, so his lost hour of prep time was moot), and my hat goes off to them, not just for skydiving, but for getting their crap together as soon as they hit the ground and cooking a truly magnificent dinner.

To my mind, those chefs who jumped got more than the extra hour; they also developed a sense of camaraderie, of belonging, of being on a team. (I guess the shared trauma of falling out of an airplane is as good as anything else when it comes to bringing people together.) Team spirit is a useful thing to have up one’s sleeves on Top Chef Masters.

This season of the show is its fifth—and mine, too, as a judge. It's always a pleasure to return to the Critics' Table; I've seen a lot in my years with this series, and whenever I think there can't possibly be anything else out there to surprise me, a new group of extraordinary chefs comes up with dishes and techniques that widen my eyes and make me feel reinvigorated about food. For every wonderful dish, though, there's generally a clunker—or a few. 


Great to have you back James!  I am looking forward to these chefs.  It's a shame that someone always has to go on the first show.  Maybe they could do a practice round so we could get to know the chefs better. 


Was glad to see you were back this season, James. Thought last night's show was a great beginning!