top chef mastersFollowing up on Sandy’s summer TV theme, this summer I’ve watched several different cooking competition shows, and have enjoyed them in varying amounts.

Top Chef Masters.This is an interesting variation on Bravo’s regular Top Chef. Instead of aspiring chefs, this features famous chefs squaring off against each other. Now we’re talking James Beard winners, owners of wildly famous restaurants. What makes it even more fun, is a number of these chefs have appeared as guest judges in the regular Top Chef. It’s fun to see them struggle with some of the challenges from the regular show. For now, I’m pulling for  Rick Bayless and Anita Lo.

Chopped. I try to tune out the host, Ted Allen, who is just way too robotic for me. When I’m able to do that, I find this show  intriguing. Four chefs begin each week, and are given a mystery box containing an odd set of ingredients. They have a short amount of time to make an appetizer. One is eliminated, and the remaining three get another mystery box to make an entrée. Again, one is eliminated, and the remaining two get a third mystery box to make a dessert. To say the boxes contain odd combinations is an understatement. I find myself wondering what I could make with the various combinations, such as an appetizer including beef shoulder, canned pumpkin and fish sauce.

The Next Food Network Star. There seems to be a bit more emphasis on the quality of cooking this season than in the past, but they’re still looking for a personality. Since many past winners seem to disappear from the Food Network, I just can’t get real excited. It doesn’t help that no one has stood out for me this season. We’re now down to Melissa (the cooking mom) and Jeffrey (the zen chef). They’re okay, but I’ll be surprised if either goes far. I’ll have to admit that I’m happy Debbie was eliminated. While she had a very natural manner on TV, I wasn’t overwhelmed with her food, and found her personality – at least as portrayed through the edit – to be a bit off-putting.

Food Network Challenge. I can’t figure this series out. I’ve watched a couple of the cake challenges, and don’t get it. It seems that it doesn’t matter what the cakes taste like (in fact they seem composed of inedible products), as long as they look good. One of the judges – Kerry Vincent — seems to hate everything that’s done. Then, of course, there’s Stevie Famulari a competitor on a couple shows who seems to hate Kerry, makes cakes that will upset Kerry and have no chance of winning. In fact, her cakes are complete disasters (such as the bridge cake that collapsed and the flaming birthday cake)

Anyone else watching one of these shows?