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Las Vegas chefs to light up the kitchen on Top Chef Masters

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Rick Moonen of RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay said the culinary competition was challenging even for a kitchen veteran like himself.

Think of it in sports terms. Top Chef has been playing college ball. Now, they're stepping up to the big leagues and two of Las Vegas’ top chefs are set to appear on an enhanced version of the popular series Top Chef.

Top Chef Masters will feature 24 of the nation’s most well-known and well-respected chefs, including Las Vegas’ own Rick Moonen and Hubert Keller. Moonen is best known as the driving force behind RM Seafood, while Keller is has made a name for himself with both Fleur de Lys and Burger Bar.

Both chefs had to leave their Mandalay Place eateries for the filming, which took place in LA several weeks ago.

Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lys and Burger Bar.

Las Vegas was close to having three chefs in the competition, but cast member Ludo Lefebvre recently left his post as executive chef at Lavo to pursue other culinary ventures in LA.

Audiences will get their first taste of Top Chef Masters on June 10.

The first six of the series’ 10 episodes will feature four chefs competing against each other in hopes of advancing to the next round.

Similar to Bravo’s popular cooking competition, each installment will feature a “quickfire challenge.” The difference is, however, that the winner of the Top Chef Masters quickfire challenge will be determined by a blind taste test and a five-star rating system. Charm and reputation will get you nowhere; it’s all about the food.

The quickfires will be followed by a main challenge that could involve unusual and exotic foods, extreme restrictions or other extenuating circumstances designed to test each chef’s culinary might.

The winning chefs from the first six episodes will be featured in the final four weeks of programming, with one chef being eliminated each week.

The series will culminate with the crowning the “Top Chef Master,” likely on Aug. 12. The champion chef will be awarded $100,000 for the charity of his or her choice.

While Moonen admitted he was “crazy nervous,” he said he said the show was a thrilling, “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

“I enjoyed the entire process and I was very flattered that they actually chose me,” he said. “I had never done anything quite like in my career. It was exciting, it was a blast, I’m glad I did it.”

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Still, he admitted, “It was very challenging. It was tiring! I have a lot more respect for those guys who are on Top Chef, for example, let me tell you.”

Moonen plans to watch his Top Chef Masters debut at his restaurant.

“I just might do a viewing party,” he said. “I know what I made on the show, I’ll probably pass that (around) … just to make it more fun at my restaurant.”

Interactive tasting television? Sounds delicious.

“We’ll have smell-o-vision at RM Seafood,” he mused.

In addition to an all-star cast of chefs, Top Chef Masters will also feature appearances by all of the previous “Top Chef” season winners, as well as Top Chef judges Padma Lakshmi, Gail Simmons and Tom Colicchio. (Colicchio also serves as consulting producer on Top Chef Masters.)

Top Chef Masters will be judged by the show’s creator, legendary New York-based food writer Kelly Choi; New York Magazine’s esteemed food critic Gael Greene; Saveur magazine’s editor-in-chief and culinary expert James Oseland; and British food writer and broadcaster Jay Rayner.

The “Top Chef Masters” contestants are as follows:

Rick Bayless – Frontera Grill, Chicago, Ill.

Wilo Benet – Pikayo, San Juan, Puerto Rico

John Besh – Restaurant August, New Orleans, LA

Graham Elliot Bowles – Graham Elliot Restaurant, Chicago, Ill.

Michael Chiarello – Bottega Restaurant, Yountville, Calif.

Michael Cimarusti – Providence, Los Angeles, Calif.

Wylie Dufresne – wd~50, New York, N.Y.

Elizabeth Falkner – Orson, San Francisco, Calif.

Hubert Keller – Fleur de Lys, San Francisco, Calif./Las Vegas, Nev.

Christopher Lee – Aureole, New York, N.Y.

Ludo Lefebvre – Ludo Bites, Los Angeles, Calif.

Anita Lo – Annisa, New York, N.Y.

Tim Love – The Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, Fort Worth, Texas

Rick Moonen – Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, Nev.

Nils Noren – French Culinary Institute, New York, N.Y.

Lachlan McKinnon Patterson – Frasca Food & Wine, Boulder, Colo.

Cindy Pawlcyn – Mustards Grill, Napa Valley, Calif.

Mark Peel – Campanile, Los Angeles, Calif.

Douglas Rodriguez – Alma de Cuba, Philadelphia, PA

Michael Schlow – Radius Restaurant, Boston, Mass.

Art Smith – Table Fifty-Two, Chicago, Ill.

Suzanne Tracht – Jar, Los Angeles, Calif.

Jonathan Waxman – Barbuto, New York, N.Y.

Roy Yamaguchi – Roy's Restaurants, San Diego, Calif.

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Melissa Arseniuk

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