Curtis Stone, going for his Masters

Hungry for more Top Chef? You asked for it, you got it. Bravo’s Top Chef Masters returns Wednesday in a new format, pitting 12 chefs against each other for the $100,000 grand prize going to a charity of their choice. Masters will no longer be judged on a scale, but in elimination-style challenges. Guest celebs will enter the fray, and a new palate has been added – legendary food critic Ruth Reichl.

We spoke to the host, Australian chef Curtis Stone, on a recent conference call. The soft-spoken hunk, 35, is no stranger to reality TV, having done Take Home Chef as well as Celebrity Apprentice and most recently, America’s Next Great Restaurant.

How has your experience been on “TC?’’

My entire world revolves around food and I love cooking and whenever I can, I’m in a kitchen. I got asked to not only be involved in a show with some of the world’s best chefs, but also sit at a table with some of the world’s leading food critics. I got to eat some fantastic food and get a real insight into how these guys judge their foods. It was wonderful all around.

We hear you have a kind of Fear Factor element on the show.

I tell everybody this was the best job of my life; that was one of the worst days of the best job of my life. The chefs had a challenge. We had guests from [Discovery Channel’s] Man, Woman, Wild on and these guys get dumped in the middle of nowhere and have to survive on whatever they can find. So we went and found our chefs everything from night crawlers and beetles and bugs and they had to cook with it. I still have a memory of biting on a worm omelet and feeling the grit in the worm and wanting to wretch.

Who are the celebrity judges?

We had [Mad Men’s] Christina Henricks on with her husband and we had the chefs cook this incredible cocktail party for them. It was so interesting to listen to their experience on set and, you know, what the food of the ’60s was like. We also had [Milkshake singer] Kelis. She is actually a trade-qualified chef. She’d gone to the Cordon Bleu. Another episode we had Maroon 5, and we got a real look into their life and how they travel and what sort of food they like.