“Top Chef Duels,” which premieres Wednesday, Aug. 6, on Bravo, presents an entertaining new slant on the network’s Emmy-winning “Top Chef.”
“The show is sort of a hybrid of ‘Top Chef’ … crossed with a format we started a few years ago online for our ‘Last Chance Kitchen,’ which brings back eliminated chefs,” explains Gail Simmons to Zap2it, who anchors the judges’ table along with host Curtis Stone. “What we’ve done on ‘Top Chef Duels’ is, every episode stands alone. Each episode has two chefs facing off in three cooking segments.”
The first two segments are “mini-duels” between the two chefs, each of whom gets to pick the nature of one mini-duel, ideally designed to play up to his own strengths and exploit his opponent’s weakness. The winner of each mini-duel wins $10,000 on the spot.
In the main duel that follows, both chefs are required to cook a three-course meal for Simmons, Stone and the guest judges of that episode. The winner of that duel moves on to compete with 9 other winners in the season finale.
But wait, there’s more! The losing chef each week gets a chance to claim a spot in the finale via “The Knockout,” an online competition hosted by Wolfgang Puck, similar in concept to “Last Chance Kitchen,” the online component of “Top Chef.”
The ultimate winner of the season finale wins the $100,000 grand prize and a “culinary adventure” featured in Food and Wine Magazine.
“That really depends on who the winner is,” Simmons says of the culinary adventure. “The magazine is working out what that will be, but it will be a very exciting trip that then will become a story in the magazine.”
Is there a logic behind how the chefs were paired up for “Top Chef Duels”?
“Absolutely, all of them were matched up very specifically, either because they cook very similar styles or they had a rivalry when they were on the show together, or they could even be related. Our first episode has Richard Blais and Marcel Vigneron, both of whom were known in their individual seasons as the ‘mad scientists.’ They’re both very modernist chefs and employ a lot of modern techniques.”
How do you think you would fare in a cooking competition with your fellow judges?
“That’s kind of a ridiculous question, because I am not a professional chef. I haven’t been working in a professional kitchen for 14 years. It would be senseless for me to go up against someone like Tom. I’m a trained cook, though, so I probably could go up against people who are in that same vein.”
A few years ago you hosted a show called “Top Chef: Just Desserts.” Was that fun?
“It was an amazing show, and what I loved most about it was how totally cultish its following was. I don’t think a week goes by, literally, when someone doesn’t ask me about the show, and you realize it had a deep, dedicated fan base.”