Top Chef Masters Season 5 Episode 1: Such Great Heights

By Kelly Dobkin  |  July 25, 2013

Top Chef Masters is back and trying desperately to keep your attention. It's season 5 and Bravo has assembled one of the better casts in recent memory including heavy hitters like Sang Yoon, Bryan Voltaggio (first time a TC competitor has returned to do Masters), David Burke and Jenn Louis. They've pulled out all the stops on episode one, including one of the most insane challenges to date. From the picture above, you can deduce that sky-diving is involved. Yup. But let's start from the beginning.

As the cast slowly files in, we learn some tidbits about each chef. Doug Keane "doesn't mean to be cocky, but he's really good." Lynn Crawford is "a good old Canadian chef" and Sang Yoon of Father's Office describes Bryan Voltaggio as an "8.0 earthquake" and "a methodical stone cold killer." Subtle.

First up, we're made aware of a format change this season - all chefs will have a corresponding sous chef that will compete weekly in an online challenge. Hugh Acheson aka Hughnibrow is dubbed lord judge of the sous chefs. Then...twist alert! The first challenge has the sous chefs competing against each other in order to help out their bosses later on. They have to make a dish that represents the food of their chef and the winner will give their chef immunity in the elimination challenge. Then we find out that the challenge will take place in a field and any chef who skydives onto the site will be given a full two hours to cook as opposed to one. ZOMG.

Everyone agrees to skydive except Douglas Keane, but we quickly find out that his sous chef won the challenge which gives Doug immunity. Neal Fraser remarks, "of course the guy that pussed out gets immunity." Oh sweet irony. Lynn Crawford cannot believe she agreed to this and proceeds to freak out up until the moment of truth. But immediately after jumping, she's a convert. "I highly recommend it, " she gushes.

Onto the cooking: the chefs have to prepare a family-style meal for a sky-diving team using the same ingredients their sous chefs used in their challenge. We find out that David Burke and Richard Sandoval's sous chefs were in the bottom two in the previous challenge and hence, David and Richie don't get to use actual knives. Instead they get a table setting that includes a butter knife, spoon and fork. Yikes. Panic ensues as the chefs try to finish their dishes despite high winds, tumbleweeds and other hazards. (A rogue tumbleweed almost grinds cooking to a halt.) Herb Wilson (SushiSamba) a self-proclaimed "underground legend" (mentioned in some Bourdain books and ex-boyfriend of Star Jones) is having trouble frying his oysters with the crappy burners. He doesn't get the oysters on the plate and the judges are left to taste his oyster shells filled with gazpacho. Oh dear.

The judges arrive on the scene and there's some familiar faces. James Oseland of Saveur is back. Gail Simmons is now a regular judge and Curtis Stone and his "swimming pool eyes" (Jenn Louis wants to skinny-dip in them) are all at the table. Lesley Suter of LA Magazine is new to the roster with her hipster-y glasses and lack of understanding of "fancy Japanese words." Foodwise, David Burke's shrimp and hummus dish is "too shrimpy" for James and there's "way too much hummus" for Gail. Richard Sandoval's meat is ragged and thick (since he didn't have a proper knife) and the and Dave are seemingly in the bottom. The quirky Odette Fada wins the judges over with cold lamb chops and cauliflower and is announced to be the winner. Also Gail is "in love with her." Awkward. The bottom three are Richard, David and Herb Wilson for not finishing. Herb declares that he should be sent home for not getting the protein on the plate and the judges don't disagree. He's history. Until next week.