Pat Clark

Pat Clark: How do you make a duel dull?

As summer was winding down, Bravo offered up its annual placeholder leading up to the fall season debut of the one, the only, the superior “Top Chef.”

Of course, I tuned in – it’s a “Top Chef” offshoot and, therefore, must-see TV. In the most recent past, the placeholder has been “Top Chef Masters,” a show that became second only to its franchise father. This year, however, there was no “Masters”; instead, we were given “Top Chef Duels.”

As unfathomable as this could be, my opinion of “Duels” is, well, meh.

I know. I’m as shocked as you are. Who could have fathomed that the people behind “Top Chef” could offer up anything that wouldn’t make me obnoxiously ecstatic? Seriously, there should be nauseating gushing spread all across these two pages you’re reading.

But the show just isn’t all that. It’s fine. It’s just not, you know, must-see stuff.

“Top Chef Duels” pits former contestants from both the original and “Masters” reality/cooking competition series in one-on-one face-offs; first, two mini-challenges each worth a $10,000 prize before a full-course-meal duel. The winner of the duel goes on each week, and all 10 will meet up in the finale on Wednesday, when they compete for a $100,000 grand prize.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m watching each week. And it’s fun to see some of the best and most interesting former “Top Chef” competitors return for an hour. But there’s a lack of excitement in the format – especially the mini-challenge judging – that all the quick-cut and slow-mo camera shots can’t generate.

Mostly, I’m just bummed that “Masters” seemingly has gotten the boot. It was a terrific version of the original show. Curtis Stone, who hosted “Masters,” also hosts “Duels,” proving that a good host without a great format is just eye candy.

Of course, all will be forgotten (seriously, “Duels” will be forgotten) come Oct. 15 when the season premiere of the real “Top Chef” returns with at least 16 new chefs battling it out from Boston.


As cooking competitions go – and I consider myself a connoisseur of such – “Top Chef Duels” might not be up to the level of its flagship series, but at least it isn’t unbearable. Trust me, I’ve watched unbearable.

NBC tried to get into the TV food competition race with a summer series called “Food Fighters.” This was a loser from the concept.

In it, one home cook battled five seasoned and celebrity chefs each week at preparing the novice’s signature dishes. For every dish the amateur cook won over the chef’s version, he or she got a set amount of prize money, increasing in amount with each round.

But the show was a recipe for disaster: No one wanted the celebrity chefs to win, because that meant less prize money for the home cooks. And that put the celebrity chefs in the awkward position of taking money away from average Joes.

Add to that that some of the amateur cooks have some sad back stories and really need the cash and you end up with big-name chefs either being big, bad meanies or having to throw their rounds just to be able to sleep at night.

It’s brutal. I stopped watching a couple of episodes in because it was neither interesting nor fair. The season concluded in September, and I’m guessing it won’t return.

Nor should it.

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