Review: ‘Top Chef Duels’ is a Fast-Paced Joyride

The new Bravo show hits the mark

Richard Blais and Marcel Vigneron faced off in the first episode.

If you’re a fan of Top Chef, you’ll most likely also be a fan of Top Chef Duels, the new Bravo show that premiered on Wednesday and pits two familiar Top Chef faces against each other, with the winner of each episode going on the compete in the finale. It’s a fast-paced, wild ride, and because there are only two competitors, each episode is like a Top Chef finale — on steroids.

Each hour packs in a lot of cooking. There are three rounds: the first two are Quickfire-style challenges, devised by the contestants themselves. In Wednesday’s episode, for example, Marcel Vigneron challenged Richard Blais to make a better dessert than him, with both hot and cold elements, and Blais challenged Vigneron to make a better burger than he could. Judges tried all four of their creations, and preferred Blais’ dessert and Vigneron’s burger.

The third round closely resembles an Elimination Challenge: in the premiere, Blais and Vigneron had to create a three-course meal, with each course playing to a different sense. In the first round the dish had to be visually misleading, in the second judges (including Paul Liebrandt and Homaro Cantu) would be blindfolded, and in the third varying textured needed to come into play.

Because there are only two competing chefs, we get a lot more time with each of them than we would in an episode of Top Chef, which is a good thing. There are loads of confessionals where they walk us through just about everything they’re doing and how they feel about it, and we also get a good sense of their cooking style and leadership skills, especially when their sous chefs are brought in to help with the Elimination Challenge. There are also confessionals from the hosts and guests (including Wolfgang Puck) where we can get their opinions on the proceedings, a nice change from the flagship show.

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Top Chef Duels is one of the most fast-paced competitive cooking shows on television today, but it also doesn’t skimp on the actual cooking. We get thorough descriptions of each dish and its components, and it’s nice to really get inside the chefs’ heads as they’re competing. It’s a joy to watch some of Top Chef’s biggest stars competing again, but in this entirely new format that gives them plenty of individual attention. You’ll definitely be a fan of this show if you’re a Top Chef fan, but there’s something here to please you even if you’re not.