7/26/2012 10:13:00 AM

Party Report: Top Chef Masters Premiere Bash at the Cosmopolitan in Vegas

A 105-degree day mercifully dropped to a breezy 84 last night for the al fresco premiere of Top Chef Masters Season 4 at the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, where the show debuted on a 65-foot marquee overlooking The Strip. We were on the scene of course and rest assured what happened last night in Vegas will not stay in Vegas.

Warning: spoilers ahead!

The gala event was a parade of pomp and culinary circumstances. First came the gluttons for punishment - chefs of seasons past who, despite having previously experienced crazy culinary antics and the agony of defeat, returned for more flagellation anyway; after all, it was for charity. Season 1 vet and Oprah-confidant Art Smith said he “learned from last time to get in shape because it’s a hot-ass kitchen and I knew I had to do a lot of running around” as he sported his newly svelte physique. Season 2’s Debbie Gold admitted, “I don’t know if I learned anything from the first time. I just hope I would be better at it the second time around.” She’s already there, having not been eliminated in the first round. That honor went to NYC chef Sue Torres who despite packing her knives said that she “liked competing more than judging,” as she often does on Chopped.

Newbie Kerry Heffernan, who had never previously competed on a reality TV show, had no idea what he was in for. “I started to dream about the challenges. It’s crazy, it gets in your blood. The only thing I did to prepare was talk to some past contestants. They said it’s really intense and they were right.” Patricia Yeo had tried her hand once at Iron Chef but also walked in somewhat clueless. “I haven’t owned a television for 15 or 20 years,” she said. Perhaps now is the time to pick one up, chef Yeo?

We can’t wait, however, to see the drama that unfolds between blonde bookends Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier. Clark n’ Mark are not only co-chefs and co-owners of Arrows in Ogunquit, ME, they have been a couple for 27 years. “It was very odd,” Frasier admitted, “But we helped each other. Sometimes we’d sneak off into corners and say to each other, ‘you should do this. You should do that.’“ Sin City temptations didn’t test the relationship at all, they were proud to say. Mark claims his biggest sin was “having a few drinks, because I don’t drink! But I didn’t do any gambling or whoring around. I was a good boy.” Clark says his biggest sin was “going to bed too early.”

Then, here came da judges: Curtis Stone, in his own competition, it seems, with Bobby Flay for most air time on a food channel, admitted to “spending one too many nights at the craps table.” Saveur’s Editor-in-Chief, James Oseland, was completely star-struck as he raved about his favorite guest judge of the season: Sugar Ray Leonard. “When I was a kid he loomed very large in my own imagination and then to actually spend a whole afternoon with the guy was a treat unlike any other I could think of. He was so smart, so fabulous and so beautiful. I love love love Sugar Ray Leonard!” New arbiter Krista Simmons credited Oseland and Ruth Reichl with helping her prepare for the big-time, while Gilt Taste’s Francis Lam earnestly told us, “I think of my mother and the guidance she always gave me. My mother always said if you follow your heart and follow your dreams, one day you might be on television crushing someone else’s.” Wise words, Mrs. Lam!

Past season contestants on the scene included Mary Sue Milliken, Rick Moonen, Hugh Acheson and Jonathan Waxman, who spread his Obi-wan like wisdom. “I don’t gamble at all. I got all of that stuff out of my system when I was young. I think that you are just as likely to lose your money investing in a restaurant as in blackjack. All my hedge fund buddies are all now dying to get in the restaurant business, because now we make money and they don’t.” He also shared a few tales from the good old days. “I went to school at University of Nevada in Reno. I used to play trombone in the pit orchestras. I played for Sammy Davis Jr. and a bunch of different people. And then I changed careers. I love coming here because it reminds me of those days.”

When we asked about the whereabouts of the rest of the cast, a rep said simply, “They had to work.” Wonders never cease: many of these television-friendly masters are still servants to their own restaurant kitchens. Top Chef Masters airs on Bravo, Wednesdays 10 PM ET/PT.


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