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Too Many Top Chefs In the Kitchen

Top chef vegas 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?)

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Rebecca (Bearca)

I was happy to see Crazy Ears Seitan Lady go home. Perhaps she can sign up when Top Chef Vegan Edition takes place. Which means: approximately never.


My only regret about seeing sad chile relleno of sadness girl get the boot was that we'll now miss the opportunity to see her slowly descend into madness, culminating in her getting a full-on Mike Tyson-style Maori facial tattoo and then killing and eating at least two of her competitors in another fit of "It's a different kind of protein! I'm being bold" delusional mania.


I thought miss seitan would be fun to watch, but couldn't help but be annoyed that she didn't realize that they were more upset that the food tasted gross than the fact that she used seitan.
Maybe her fiery temper kept her from getting that?


Did I hear Hector correctly after Judging, but before the verdict? Did he say "I cook the way I cook, with heart and balls." If so, I LOVE HIM. Cook with your balls damnit!


I adore Top Chef. It may be my favorite show. However I couldn't catch a single name, which doesn't matter yet.

I am so glad you mentioned the arguing at judges table. I despise that. Every single time someone does, I cover my face. They just never learn.

Best recap evah!


Is she the one who would not unpack at the beginning? Did she ever unpack? If not, then she should have unpacked. If so, she should have followed her instincts and not unpacked. See it was bad karma that got her kicked off, not her sad chile relleno of sadness. Seitan, my ass.


This makes me miss our old open threads of Top Chef on MamaPop Talk. When we used to talk about how Tall Guy was totally banging Padma.

Ahhh, the good old days.

Also, I really enjoyed Top Chef Masters. Kelly Choi REALLY needs to go, but I liked that it was just about good cooking. And I would have been happy with any of them winning, but am excited my Chi-town guy Rick won! Plus! He was at BlogHer!


I figured it would come down to Neck Tatoo Jen and bland-as-her-food Eve based on how they edited in the beginning. Jen talking about her kid and how she needs the money is a sure fire signal that she's going to get cut soon, and Eve was all "We're in Vegas. Oohhhhh ahhh! You're all from big cities. I like wearing too many clips in my hair!" and that just seemed like a recipe for bad TV. I'm guessing she won't be around much longer.


I totally agree with you that Top Chef Masters was pretty boring until the Champions rounds, but have to disagree on the judges. I loved these judges! You never knew what strange things they'd say next. Not one of them could ever just give their score without saying something "profound." They were the most entertaining part for me.

Backpacking Dad

I took them sending Jen home instead of Ben-Folds-Looking-Girl as a sign that the producers are less involved in elimination decisions this early on than I'd feared. Because the one you want for drama is crazy neck tattoo lady who thinks seitan is awesome and she's Hot Tempered. You do not want the boring flapjack of a woman to be a boring flapjack every week and also cook bad food.


She was the one who refused to unpack because she was so superstitious.


I guess the judges' shtick or whatever it was got really old for me, after awhile. Less profound and quirky and more contrived and eye-rolly, like they were all sitting around smirking over how clever they were. Or thought they were. Or something.

They were better than Toby though, THAT'S for sure.

Suzy Q

Glad Rick Bayless won Masters. Hate Kelly Choi. Chiarello's an asshat but I want his short ribs. I want everything Keller makes. Hate Gail Greene, no matter that she's a legend. Saveur guy needs to stop sucking on lemons so much; what was with that face he kept making?

Still don't like Padma, but after Choi, I'll relent.

All I could think of about Tattoo Neck Girl (besides that I would never, EVER eat that hideous seitan-filled monstrosity) is, What is that tattoo going to look like in 25 years when her neck is all wrinkly?

Also, those donuts reminded me of a Bourdain show where he found Maple Bacon Donuts at Voodoo Donuts in Seattle and that's the main reason I want to visit Seattle. Like, NOW.

So far, I'm rooting for Philly Jen and French Scarf Guy, because she makes awesome-looking food and he's simply entertaining.


So my husband and I always pick a favorite Top Chef contestant before we know anything about them at all. Sort of to see if we're like crazy physic or something. ANYWAY, I picked Kevin! And Mike picked Jen C. who should really write in to the Advice Smackdown for some product suggestions for her hair. Obviously, we are totally missing our calling as Reality Show Winner Guessers.

Also, god I missed Tom more than is probably healthy. I kept saying, "Oh, Tom. You're hilarious! Tom ... make that annoyed expression again!"

atheists eat fish

I wanted Anita Lo to win. Women never win on this show. Also, she got kicked off for preparing an awesome raw fish menu and then having the twist of changing the location to the rooftop of a building in the middle of the summer. WTF???? I also liked Hubert. He seemed to have the most talent. Oh well. Bayless seems nice and takes shows that Mexican food isn't just what is served at Taco Bell. So yeah for him.


I loved Anita. She seemed so...deflated during her entire final ep, like she already KNEW the producers were going fuck with her like that.


I just watched Top Chef and I am so glad to see Tattoo-Neck-Girl go. I was so distracted by the giant gauges I couldn't focus on the food. If you are going to get gauges that big at least make them practical. Use them to measure spaghetti or dry age some beef tenderloin.

Fairly Odd Mother

That is a great line but remind me to never, ever eat at his restaurant. If I found a hair in my food, I'd never be able to eat again.


I would have been fine with the neck tattoo because some people obviously just don't ever want to teach preschool. But the hula hoop ear gauges? I wanted to stick my fist through them and pull them down so she could know DON'T DO THAT TO YOUR EARS. Plus, the seitan? I've tried to make it when I was going through a vegan phase and it was enough to send me into the loving arms of a meatlovers pizza.

Snarky Amber

I dunno, I think I hate the lady with her weird hats more than Toby, and that's saying a lot, because I think I could easily and happily pass the time in prison for murder one if it meant a world without that Toby dude.


The seitan dish looked like a huge turd. Honey, there's a reason no one ever "dared to be as bold" as you to use it on Top Chef. It's because it sucks (and this is coming from a former vegetarian).

I peg Philly Jen to be the winner. She's a chef for Eric Ripert? She's got to be great. Did that Mike I. obnoxious dude really ask her if she was the pastry chef at Ripert's restaurant? Way to be a sexist pig on tv, dude. I suspect he knows his a-hole comments get him screen time, and I hate that.

I also really like indie rocker-style-beard dude that won the elimination challenge (even though he has beady eyes).

As I've said on here before, I really liked Top Chef Masters. Great food porn. And oh man, that final challenge was some of the best food porn I've seen. *drooling*

Hate Choi. Don't care what you all say, Gael Greene is an ICON. Saveur dude was so obviously playing favorites thru the whole season. Wasn't sure how I felt about Jay Rayner til I picked up his book "The Man Who Ate the World" and LOVE it.

So glad Padma is back. I'm straight, but she is yummy....


1.) WTF with the chefs not getting the conept of "vice"?

2.) Go kevin!!!


I didn't even notice the neck tattoo. I've been in Hampden too long. But also, those crazy=ass stretched to hell earlobes made me so nauseous I had to keep looking away. GAH.


I think seitan is delicious. A person has to work pretty hard to make seitan taste bad, so I'm not surprised she went home.

Re Top Chef Masters, I also really started enjoying it after they got to the champions rounds. Hubert Keller is just too adorable, but I was happy that Bayless won. I'd have been happy with anyone except Chiarello, honestly. As he would say "I found [him] off-putting."

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