Too Many Top Chefs In the Kitchen
It was a dark and stormy night of beginnings and endings on Bravo. The new season of Top Chef: Las Vegas kicked off with a lot of booze-sauces and approximately 138 cheftestants, half of which are named Michael or Jen. And the surprisingly good-in-the-end Top Chef Masters picked a winner, although pretty much any one of the top three deserved to win.
My not-quite-a-recap jumble of impressions after the jump.
First, let's go out of order and talk Top Chef Masters. I almost lost interest in this show after a few early episodes, since I didn't particularly like meeting a whole new cast every week, and I REALLY didn't like the judging panel of Not-Padma, Not-Tom, Not-Gail and Not-Uh...The-Other-Guy. Not-Toby? That can't be right, since I hate Toby. Whatever. If this show comes back, I would suggest some re-casting. Preferably some people who can actually just flipping TALK about food instead of delivering an endless stream of clever "I-wrote-this-in-the-green-room-and-am-overly-delighted-with-myself" bon mots. Anyway!
- The Masters Round ended up being pretty great, thanks to the chefs who made it through. Talented, professional and competitive in a good-natured, non-asshole way. I've watched both Rick Bayless and Michael Chiarello on TV before (Chiarello has a winter minestrone recipe that is TO DIE) and it was cool to see that they are, in fact, really good chefs.
- Speaking of Chiarello, I thought last week's lame villain edit of him really reflected worse on the previous Top Chef contestants who disliked being treated like, oh, you know, his staff. Hey, you guys? You were runners-up on a reality show once and all of the Masters pretty much have the right to pull rank on you and boss you around if they feel like it. Shut up, Dale.
- I still hate Ilan.
- Chiarello was right -- that dude from Saveur really didn't like him. Everybody else at the table was describing Sexy Naked Polenta Baths and he's all, "over seasoned! meh!"
- While all three deserved to win, I was surprised by the final ranking. Rick's final dish seemed to be the most disliked, while Keller and Chiarello had more minor problems.
- I would not mind seeing Top Chef adopt the stars rating system, though -- the diners and judges each giving an individual rating, instead of the judges having to come to some kind of mysterious consensus. I guess that would mean the judges can't just boot off chefs they dislike for reasons beyond the food, but for, say the finale? I don't think it's a bad idea.
And now! The main event! Top Chef, Original Flavor! Now with more extreme seitan power!
There are at least four dozen hundred cheftestants this season, but overall, they seem like a pretty talented bunch. Early standouts include Brother Bryan, Philly Jen and the baby of the group, Kevin.
Apologies for this not really being a true recap, but honestly I'd spend most of my time getting everybody mixed up or giving them overly-complicated nicknames, like Girl-Who-Looks-Like-Ben-Folds and Jaunty-Scarf-French-Guy. To be honest, I STILL WILL.
Showgirls + feathers + GE appliances = fire hazard.
In the mise-en-place Quickfire, Robin (who I have pegged as this season's Free Spirit Crazy Basket Hat Person) wins the right to sit out AND immunity from elimination, before anyone has even fired up a burner. And then one team leaves clam-shucking to a girl who has never done it before. This goes...not well. THEN they make the winning team do a cook-off to determine an individual winner. Philly Jen wins with a clam citrus ceviche.
The elimination challenge is to create a dish around your personal vices, and the results are mostly pretty solid and creative. (My favorite takes were Mike "Girls Can't Shuck Clams!" I.'s halibut as a bar of soap for cursing and Girl-Who-Looks-Like-Ben-Folds, who drinks too much and made one of many booze-sauces poured over ravioli stuffed with chicken liver and thighs, GEDDIT?)
Whole Foods does not generally come off well on Top Chef, as they never have anything the cheftestants need. Also: CHILEAN SEA BASS IS NOT SUSTAINABLE STOP USING IT GAH.
Bacon donuts. With beer. They weren't perfect, but they exist. And I must have them.
Ron clearly didn't know what a "vice" was and technically didn't follow the challenge rules. But he escaped from Haiti on a raft so everybody was like, oooooh damn, don't worry about it, it's cool. He actually makes the top four, but I think it's mostly because they presented their dishes in teams and he was simply the best of a pretty lousy team. His sea bass dish was one of those "there's too much going on here" sort of things.
Rounding out the top four are Kevin, Philly Jen and Mike I. Kevin wins for his innovative cooking techniques of Arctic Char and turnips. He's frankly, kind of adorable. Like a heavily tattooed teddy bear.
The bottom feeders include Hector from Puerto Rico for deep-frying a steak, Eve from Michigan for serving a plate of overall terrible bland badness, Neck Tattoo Jen for a chile relleno stuffed with fucking WHEAT GLUTEN, and Jesse for dried-out chicken.
Did Wolfgang Puck really tell Hector from Puerto Rico to change his cultural culinary traditions to suit American tastes? Yeah, take that advice and then maybe you too can sell out and have your own line of mediocre frozen foods! Hector's Cha-Cha-Chicharrones! It'll be GREAT!
Eve from Michigan: "I use big flavors! I'm complicated! I'm over the top!" Judges: "Uhhh...your food tastes like paste served up at Applebee's."
Jesse messed up her chicken by taking it out of the braising liquid too soon and knew it, and she admitted it. This won points with the judges, especially after listening to...
Neck Tattoo Jen, MY LANDS. You do. Not. Argue. At. Judges' Table. You do NOT get mouthy and aggressive and tell them they're just flat-out wrong because your sad chile relleno of sadness was totally delicious and you've made it a million times. Your neck tattoo does not mean you are the Second Coming of Jeffrey Sebelia. It does not impede your vocal cords' ability to STFU when appropriate.
She is eliminated, with probably a good touch of prejudice from the thoroughly-annoyed judges.
(Plus. Honey. Seitan. It's like fetch. You're never gonna make it happen, okay?)