Top Chef Masters: Chiarello, thou art a villain

Posted by Dan August 19th, 2009 at 09:32am In Top Chef

topchefI really had no hopes for Top Chef: Masters. As with most competitive reality shows, for me, the human drama always takes center stage over whatever the actual competition is. That is, while Project Runway is allegedly about dresses or whatever, I’m really only interested in allegations of cheating and bitchy in-fighting.

So, when I found out that this show would essentially be a showdown between established chefs who wouldn’t be living/fighting together (just competing in a tournament of high caliber cooks), I can’t say I was counting the days to the premiere. To a certain extent, I’ve been proven wrong as the show is consistently entertaining, albeit not as addictive as the original. A slightly more grown up version of its predecessor, Top Chef: Masters really emphasizes the food, and it’s actually pretty interesting to hear about the chef’s careers and why they are so obsessed with food.

This week’s episode featured the final four contestants utilizing the help of former Top Chef contestants to create a buffet for 200. The chefs had to interview the potential staffers and select who would assist them playground-style.

During the course of the episode, Michael Chiarello emerged as a surprise villain — evolving from humble TV chef to sneering egomaniac.

At the beginning of the series, Chiarello oozed insecurity — clearly uncomfortable being surrounded by “real” restaurant chefs while he remained best known for hosting a show on Food Network. It was sort of painful to watch him desperately vie for the approval of the other chefs, but at least he seemed to really focus on creating a great product and want to prove that he deserved his spot in the competition. But after winning his first competition, he moved from trying to be respected to trying to be liked — out-nicing all the other chefs with effusive compliments and copious smiles.

Now, in this most recent episode, not only did he get into a dust-up with former contestant Dale (the Asian one, not the gay one) and badger the contestants by asking them how to pronounce his last name — but he generally treated the incoming staff in a bossy and unfriendly manner. Before you say it, I know — chefs are supposed to be larger-than-life, ego-driven lunatics. But I don’t like to think that treating people badly is acceptable as an industry standard (especially when the other chefs didn’t seem to find it all that hard to treat their staff as peers).

I was a bit disappointed at the elimination of Anita Lo last week. Anita wasn’t exactly a firecracker of personality, but I liked the fact that she clearly had little interest in being on television — it made her seem more authentic. In fact, she sort of seemed embarassed to be on the show at all (while Rick Bayless and Hubert Keller are taking it in good spirit and enjoying themselves).

At this point, I’m rooting for Hubert because he is adorable and French. He is my French grandfather who makes me fresh croissants and delights me with tales of the old country by the fire.


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