'Top Chef Masters': Neil Patrick Harris masters another TV genre

Bravo to Neil Patrick Harris for proving himself the master of yet another TV genre: the television cooking show. As the special guest hosting a dinner at Los Angeles’ Magic Castle, Harris was more tartly critical than many other celebs have been on the Top Chef shows. Good for him: who needs a wishy-washy diner on a show like this?

The four competing chefs were given their challenge via a card trick performed by magician Max Maven, and you won’t catch me making fun of his pulled-tight ponytail and hocus-pocus airiness: I’m a magic fan, and admire Maven’s skills. (As cornball as it looked, I’d love to get invited into that invitation-only Magic Castle, wouldn’t you?)

Each chef’s playing card revealed his or her theme for the main-competition dish: Surprise, Mystery, Spectacle, and Illusion. This was a tad unimaginative on the part of the producers. I mean, when it comes to cooking, is there really much difference between making something that’s a surprise or an illusion?

Anyway, Harris was as articulate a judge as any of the professional ones surrounding him, pronouncing, for example, chef John Besh’s icky-sounding horseradish and creme fraiche sorbet “executed as [well as] he had probably imagined.”

I have to say that the winner [spoiler alert!] made a dish that looked — well, chef Anita Lo covered up most of her “illusion” with another plate, so it didn’t look like much to me, but Harris and the judges were impressed with her braised daikon with kombu caviar and steak tartare. Lo described it as “a seascape that if you listen really carefully will crackle,” because she’d coated it with something like Rice Krispies. Personally, I think someone in charge of sound on Top Chef Masters should have put a microphone right on that plate, and if it didn’t make a crackling sound, I’d have docked her a few points.

But once again, Top Chef Masters worked its overall charm: the competition brings out the best, not the worst, behavior in the competitors, making this one of the most civilized and pleasant of all summer reality-competition shows. 

What did you think of Harris and the food magic?

Comments (21 total) Add your comment
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  • Wojo

    I liked this episode because much like the first episode, these 4 seemed to really get along and have fun. Douglas Rodriquez was especially jovial, and I was rooting for him since he has a Philly restaurant. I don’t mean to suggest that the other 2 groups didn’t have fun, but Dufresne and Bowles’ pre-existing friendship kind of drowned out any ability for those 4 to fully connect on the second episode, at least from what we saw throughout the hour they aired. And Ludo’s angst and drama kind of overshadowed the comraderie in the third episode.

  • Jennifer

    I’ll preface this by saying that I’m a big NPH fan, but I thought he added little to this episode, being neither particularly insightful nor funny. I’d much rather have watched more of the actual cooking or the interaction between the chefs, as this group was nearly as entertaining as those in the first episodes. And not being a connoiseur of magic, the setting did nothing for me, other than make me think of the ANTM challenge set there. The chefs, however, made this episode my second favorite of the series and was, for me, better than almost anything ever shown on regular Top Chef. Still could do with the horrible Real Housewives of bloody anyplace commercials though.

  • Jennifer

    And I missed the English food critic, too. I’d much rather him snark than that prune-faced Gail Simmons. At least he might’ve realized that the broth/sauce was meant to be poured over the daikon ‘scallop’.

  • Jennifer

    Oops! I meant “watch him snark”, although perhaps “watch his snark” would be better.

  • Mavis

    It took me a minute to recognize the dinner guest/magician Max. And then I realized he was Max from Saved by the Bell! I wonder if Jimmy Fallon has approached him to do the Saved by the Bell reunion?

  • kriska

    since the illusion was the “scallop” that was actually steak tartare, she did not cover it up with another plate. the beachscape on the plate beneath was just to support the faux-scallop presentation.

  • Lyn

    Ho-hum. It was OK. The chef from Calif. (second-place guy) had a great personality. In retrospect — speaking as one who regularly burns microwave popcorn — it was kind of fun to see that even for super-chefs, sometimes things just don’t work out!

  • Wipeout

    Loved seeing Tom Colicchio interact with the chefs. Can’t get enough Tom!

  • Brenda

    I wish Bravo would post the visiting chefs’ names, restos and cities a little more frequently. I missed the intro and had no idea who the chefs were. It was an interesting episode, but TCM lacks the “do or die” atmosphere of TC. These chefs know they’ve got jobs to go back to, so they don’t seem to be as into the show as the youngsters.

  • Kim

    I enjoy this show because of the relaxed, more jovial atmosphere. I got really tired of all the fighting, pettiness, and meanness on the regular Top Chef–I actually like that these chefs don’t really have anything to prove, and their careers aren’t at stake like those of the less established chefs on the other show.

  • Bubbs

    I’ve been invited to the Magic Castle for an evening of food and entertainment and I have to say, as cheesy as it looks, its a lot of fun. The dining room is overpriced and the food is not Top Chef caliber, but the entertainment is amazing. And the castle as a whole is a blast to explore, with secret rooms, twisty passageways, and magic shows big and small going on all the time.
    I loved that NPH is a fan of magic and give the show kudos for coming up with a venue and challenge that hasn’t been done before. I enjoyed the episode.

  • CaroleH

    I enjoyed this episode a lot more than some of the others. Gael Greene fascinates me, so I enjoy watching her as much as the contestants. At least these chefs are trying hard to win money for charities & that tempers their personal feuds. Even the losers win charitable contributions, just not as much as the grand prize winner. Has anybody noticed how all the chefs seem to know each other, like they meet at chef conventions or something? I realize they know each other by reputation, but some of them are obviously good friends as well. I’m a big John Besh fan & I was hoping he would really wow them. But having seen Anita Lo & Besh in prior Food Network competitions, I know what they can do, & she is also very creative. Besh was the runner-up when Michael Symon became an Iron Chef. I get upset with all the snarking on “Top Chef,” but I keep on watching. I slao enjoy “The Fashion Show,” but refuse to get into the Housewives from Helltown USA.

  • Jean

    Funnily enough, there was a magic/circus/dining/entertainment place near where I lived in Tokyo. It was a fun experience – once – but kombu (sea kelp) never was. Too slimy and fishy for me.
    I agree with you that the best thing about this program is the camaraderie the chefs usually reveal – at least the ones who aren’t trying so seriously hard to “win”.

  • Rick

    I’ve been to The Magic Castle twice as an invited friend of a member – that place is just phenomenal! I’d take a trip to L.A. just to go back again…

  • Kris

    LOVE this show so much more than Top Chef. I agree that it’s so nice to see these people actually cooking, with the entire show focused on the food. Personally I tune in to see what these chefs can create, not to get involved in their stupid personal dramas. I usually just change the channel during those segments of the show. Also I agree with Brenda, if you miss the first 2 minutes of the show (happens all the time) then you’ve missed the entire intro and connection to the chefs, who are in this show truly performers. Point being, I love Top Chef Masters even more than Top Chef.

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