The third season of the American reality competition show Top Chef Masters was announced on March 2, 2011. In addition to the announcement, it was announced that celebrity chef Curtis Stone would serve as the new host. Food critic and author Ruth Reichl also joined as a new series judge. The season premiered on April 6, 2011 with 12 award-winning chefs competing against each other in weekly challenges. Unlike previous seasons, the chefs were not judged on a five-star rating system, but in elimination-style challenges similar to the format of the original Top Chef series.
In each episode, the chefs compete to win money for their charity. The Elimination Round winners are awarded cash donations ($10,000) for their charities. Each episode consists of a Quickfire and an Elimination challenge. The Quickfire is a short, simple challenge that can vary from cooking, tasting or a food-related task (e.g., peeling a certain amount of apples to certain quality standard in a limited amount of time). The winner(s) of the Quickfire Challenge receive $5,000 for their charity. During the initial episodes of the season, the winner is usually guaranteed immunity from being sent home that week. The Elimination challenge is a more complex challenge which usually requires cooking a meal for many people with certain requirements. Unlike previous seasons of Top Chef Masters, the dishes are no longer rated out of a possible five stars. The star scoring system is replaced with the elimination format of the original Top Chef series. Each week, one or more guest judges join the show to evaluate both the Quickfire and Elimination challenges. Each week's elimination is announced in a segment called the "Critics' Table." One or more contestants are eliminated in each episode until the finale where one chef is crowned Top Chef Master. The winning chef receives $100,000 for his or her designated charity.
Quickfire Challenge: The chefs are split into pairs, and both select a box containing a secret ingredient off of a shelf. Each chef must make a dish with both of the ingredients. A top and a bottom is chosen from each pair, and one overall winner is chosen. The overall winner receives immunity from elimination.
Top: Floyd, George, Hugh, Mary Sue, Suvir, Traci
Bottom: Alex, Celina, John C., John S., Naomi, Sue
WINNER: Traci (Celery Salad with Peanut Butter Vinaigrette; Licorice and Orange Salad)
Elimination Challenge: Following the standard Top Chef Restaurant Wars format, the 12 chefs split into two teams; the chefs on the top for the Quickfire Challenge forms one team (Team "Mosaic"), while the chefs on the bottom forms the other (Team "Leela"). Each team must create a restaurant name, concept, and menu. The best restaurant is selected by the diners.
WINNING TEAM: Leela
WINNER: Alex (Celery Root, Potato and Spinach Fricassée)
ELIMINATED: Hugh (Scallops with Grits, Leeks, Scallions, Peppers and Pancetta)
Elimination Challenge: Working as one group, the chefs must cook a 10-course dinner to raise money for their charities. During preparation, three challenges are added: water to the kitchen is shut off, time is reduced by 30 minutes, and the chefs must act as their own waitstaff.
WINNER: Naomi (Celery Velouté with Salsa Verde and Lemon Oil)
ELIMINATED: John C. (Roasted Shiitake and Prosciutto Risotto with Pine Nuts and Paprika)
Quickfire Challenge: In an updated version of the blindfolded taste challenge, the chefs compete in a four-round competition using their senses. First, the chefs must identify five ingredients through taste while wearing a blindfold, nose clip, and headphones. The next rounds involve identification through smell, touch, and hearing.
Elimination Challenge: The chefs must create a six-course meal that corresponds to moments in a couple's relationship as the man prepares to propose.
WINNER: Naomi (Porcini-Braised Chicken Thigh with Sweet Potatoes Two Ways)
ELIMINATED: Celina (Soft Pretzel with Pale Ale Cheese Sauce, Frisée Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette)
Quickfire Challenge: The chefs were required to use a microwave oven to create a breakfast dish.
Top: Floyd, Hugh
Bottom: Mary Sue, Traci
WINNER: Hugh (Baked Egg, Chanterelles, Bacon and Tomato)
Elimination Challenge: The chefs must prepare a dish that demonstrates a scientific principle (e.g. elasticity, acidity) and present their creations at an edible science fair. The chefs' cooking utensils were replaced with traditional lab equipment, such as Bunsen burners, test tubes, and laboratory flasks.
WINNER: Mary Sue (Viscosity - Dulce de Leche Churros, Chocolate Mousse and Spiced Café de Olla)
ELIMINATED: Hugh (Emulsion - Fried Okra Salad with Tomato, Fennel, Bacon and Green Goddess Dressing)
Quickfire Challenge: The chefs were challenged to cook a dish alongside a "stranger" while separated by a screen; not knowing that the stranger was a relative. The dishes were judged on how similar the dishes looked and tasted.
Bottom: Floyd,Mary Sue
WINNER: Traci (Halibut with Asparagus in Brown Butter Balsamic Vinaigrette)
Elimination Challenge: The chefs must create a homecoming meal for military servicemen returning from overseas.
WINNER: Mary Sue (Tomatillo Barbecue Ribs and Avocado Corn Relish with Potato and Rajas; Apple and Cream Cheese Bread Pudding with Crema)
ELIMINATED: Naomi (Barbecue Pork, Prawn and Cucumber Rice Salad, Iceberg Wedge with Tuna Poke; Panna Cotta with Caramelized Pineapple and Ginger Tuile)
Final Challenge: Create a three-course meal representing their life as a chef. The first course should be inspired by their first food memory. The next should be the experience that made them decide to become a chef. The third course is the favorite food memory of one of the critics, selected by random draw. For the third course, Floyd drew James, Mary Sue drew Ruth, and Traci drew Gael.
Wild Mushroom Upma Polenta with Kokum and Coconut Milk
Rice Flaked Snapper and Tomato-Fennel Broth with Carrots
Rendang 2 Ways: Oxtail and Short Ribs, Tapioca Pilaf with Diced Potato and Peanuts
Asian Steak Tartare
Shrimp and Chervil Mousse Stuffed Rigatoni, Crab and Shrimp Salpicon
Lemon Soufflé with Rhubarb Compote, Lemon Hazelnut Meringue and Ice Cream
Roasted Quail Salad with Sweetbreads, Mushrooms and Pancetta
Duo of Duck: Crisp Duck Béarnaise and Braised Duck Leg Salad