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Ode to My Freshman Class

Kelly Choi talks about her first experiences on the set.

To my Top Chef Masters Freshman Class:

Dear Michael, Art, Roy, and Jonathan:

I will always have a huge mushy spot in my heart for you four.

Though our episode is the last of the preliminary rounds to air before the Champions Round begins next week (they obv saved the best group for last), you all were the first crew of fresh-faced culinary badasses I met during taping.

And what a premiere day. I was nervous! Here I was, about to tell Oprah’s once personal chef Art, Godfather of Italian cooking Jonathan, King of Asian Fusion Roy, and Fish Whisperer Whiz kid Michael what conditions they were about to cook in, and with what. Say whahh??

When the PA walked me from the green room to the sprawling Masters Kitchen set that morning, I thought my heart was gonna pound out of my chest. ‘Wow, this is Hollywood!’ I thought. Bright lights, big expectations, tricked-up downtown studio in the City of Angels! My jitters, however, started mellowing as soon as you four walked in toward your stations oozing your confident dispositions. You guys laid down your knives and looked up at me in eager anticipation — like freshmen! Cameras roll!

Hungry readers, you know what the outcome was for these kitchen cook-a-lots: Aisle Trial Quickfire Challenge surprises master chefs, Michael takes that contest with his whipped chocolate parfait, and the Mystery Box challenge sets the stage for the finale of this episode.
What stands out the most for me was how much love and admiration these four had for each other. Each of them mentions it throughout the show, but that camaraderie was truly sincere, built on decades of friendship for some of these men. It made the dinner party at “my apartment” magical. You remember that bit that aired between the Quickfire and Elimination
contests? That’s what our intimate soiree got boiled down to for TV, but for the five of us, the
cameras seemed to disappear and we were lost in our feel-good time and savory delights. Roy grilled the steaks, Michael dressed the shrimp, Jonathan tossed a salad, and Art (aka Honeybear) baked a berry pie. I can honestly tell you that it was one of the best meals I had had during the past year. It was so much fun that even the camera crew wanted to stop working and play with us. If only we could throw a dinner party like that with each group of chefs every single time!The chipper culinary students who judged the Elimination meal were, of course, incredibly psyched to eat our four maestros' fare. Everyone loved Art’s generous plate of fried chicken two ways, and his petite bowl of mango pie with the simple sugar crust was a spot-on dessert. It was Southern perfection, y’all.

Jonathan’s pork chop and sausage with creamy celery root puree was, indeed, ugly as hell, but as crude as it looked, it tasted equally as good. It cracked me up how much he was pining about the days when he could see better. Jonathan, I have a good lasik doctor to tell you about, call me.

And Roy, your slower-paced yet thoughtful method wasn’t best suited for this challenge, but your lemongrass kalbi was tasty, and your chivalrous elegance impressed us all.

As for Michael, next time I’m in LA, I am so all over Providence for the catch of the day. People, if you live in southern Cali and haven’t been, just GO.

Since shooting TC Masters, I’ve seen Jonathan and Michael at various foodie events, and my heart instantly melted each time. Just can’t help it. My freshman class didn’t bring me an apple on our first day, but they left a taste in my mouth that was sweeter than any forbidden

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