Top Chef is BACK!
Finally. New Orleans.
It only took the good people at Bravo 10 seasons before finally setting the show in one of the greatest food cities on earth. Hey, better late than never right?
Right away we’re introduced to the cheftestants. Although we see them arriving one by one, there’s obviously a pecking order on who gets a little personal profile and who doesn’t. Yes, quirky or beautiful people get to be in the front of the line.
Hipster chef? Check. Sara Johannes has traveled around the world and was a sous chef for Wolfgang Puck. She now works at Shoyu, an airport restaurant in Minnesota. Hey, travelers gotta eat well too!
Wait. Is that Eric Northman doing a cameo appearance? Nope. It’s Jason Cichonski, who tells us he was voted Philly’s Sexiest Chef, “I know that there’s a lot of people who has the first impression that I’m a douchebag...and until I like throw down in the kitchen...”
|I'm too sexy for this kitchen.|
Hey bro-dawg, if you’re gonna submit shirtless pics of you flexing and a clip of how you check yourself out in the mirror because you want the people out the dining room to “like what they see as well as what they eat,” chances are you’re kinda douchey. #ProTip
Next up. Barbie Chef from Australia! Janine Booth, complete with that killer sexy accent, confesses that because she’s “not so ugly,” that she usually have to get people to respect her for her skills. Perhaps it’ll help if she didn’t shows up wearing a skimpy red halter top with cutoff short shorts and sandals because you know, that’s what people wear to a cooking competition. (shakes head) #ProTip again.
Bene Bartolotta tells us he’s gay. Because’s that really important in cooking.
TIme to meet some local chefs. Justin Devillier and Michael Sichel got here by winning “Padma’s Picks,” an online prequel if you will, where 10 chefs from New Orleans compete for 2 spots to play with the big boys on the main stage.
|All the pretty people.|
We’ve got two chefs from Chicago who doesn’t know each other. Carlos Gaytan has a Michelin star, Aaron Cuschieri doesn’t. From the look on Aaron’s face he probably should just go ahead and pack his knives. Talk about being intimidated. (To Aaron’s defense, Slurping Turtle, the restaurant where he’s the executive chef did win a “Bib Gourmand,” the “Cheap Eats” award from Michelin Guide.) So chin up Aaron!
Finally! It’s Papa Bear Colicchio and our princess hostess Padma!
Unlike the past few seasons, there’s no “amuse” challenge where chefs do some mundane basic tasks. Hell, there isn’t even a Quickfire! It’s straight into elimination mode.
It totally makes sense. At this stage of the series, we’ve got Michelin star winners, multiple James Beard Award nominees, and cooks who’ve worked for legendary master chefs. Asking them to make an omelette to get on the show would seem silly. Sorry, too soon? #Season9
The challenge? Turtles and gators and frogs oh my!
Wow. I thought they’d hold gators til at least 5 episodes in. Nope. This really sets the tone. It’s gonna be a tough season.
Hey, it’s not New Orleans without beads right? Padma and Tom randomly throw beads at the cooks. Each one is marked with one of the three proteins.
|Want beads? You know what to do.|
Our cheftestants have 2 hours to cook in the Top Chef Kitchen then, the following day, another 2 hours to set up, finish, and serve a 100 guests...in a swamp. That’s right. Right off the bat they’re to prep for service outdoors, where conditions will be unknown and full of variables.
Off they go to shop for their exotic meats. In the car ride we find out that an overwhelmingly amount of chefs have never worked with these proteins before. Honestly people? You didn’t expect something like alligator to show up in a cooking competition in New Orleans? (Shakes head) C’mon! #ProTip Do your research.
Uncomfortable moment of the episode: Travis Masar decides to share some intimidate details about his cooking and dating preference. He not only cooks Asian food, he also only dates Asians. Awkward.
Ok. Ingredients gathered. Let’s get to cooking.
19 chefs working in a kitchen they’ve never worked before. It’s a madhouse. They’re cramped, tools are limited, chaos ensues.
You know what two phrases you don’t want to hear yourself say on Top Chef? “I don’t have a plan,” and “I’m just not going to worry about it.” Aaron Cuschieri’s going to make pasta and he’s not sure about the execution tomorrow. Good luck buddy. I’ll leave the cellar door open for you.
Apparently we’ve got royalty in the house! Nina Compton’s father was the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia and he led them to independence from the Brits in the 70’s. More importantly, for our purposes, she’s making curried turtle meatballs. Now that’s thinking. Take a tough cut of meat, grind it down so you can mix it with some other fat and flavor for a meatball.
Meanwhile, everybody’s ogling and flirting with Barbie Chef (Janine Booth). I a have feeling her weekly outfit is going to be something we’ll be monitoring very carefully.
|Cook 'n Chat|
Here comes Tom for the cook ‘n chat. For you newbies out there, each week Chef Tom Colicchio checks on the cheftestants’ progress midway through cooking. Not so much to give pointers as to see what’s going on. It makes for great television because Tom is terrifying and it’s always fun to see the cooks unnerved.
Speaking of unnerved. Right away Tom spots some blood on True Blood Chef’s (Jason Cichonski) coat. Yup. The handsome devil manages to cut himself right before Tom’s visit. Dubious first impression. “Good luck,” Tom says as he walks away. Exactly.
You know who else needs luck? Patty Vega, a sous chef working under Top Chef Master David Burke at Fishtail in New York. She tells us that while she very used to receiving Chef Burke’s instructions, now she feels like she’s working on her own. Um yeah. You do know there’s another Bravo show called “Battle of the Sous Chefs” right? Perhaps that’s more your speed? Because that thing you’re calling a roulade ain’t looking so hot.
Ramon Bojorquez, who specializes in Thai flavors because he spent time in Thailand beating people up competitively, is making turtle soup. With time running out and not wanting to stick really hot broth in a cold fridge, he decides to throw some ice into it. Way to go Einstein. Now you're sticking watered-down lukewarm soup into the fridge. Let me introduce you to Patty. You two will probably spend some time in the bottom tomorrow.
Two hours fly by. Time to use all the Saran Wrap in the world and get ready for tomorrow.
Next morning the chefs get a surprise visitor - New Orleans’ own Emeril Legasse! Poor Emeril, each season the producers downgrade his status, from “Legend,” to “Superstar,” and now just a “Chef/Restauranteur.” Give the man some respect in his hometown Bravo!
|Happy Emeril. Finally props for his hometown.|
Emeril brought the chefs boxes of beignets as a breakfast treat. We’re not sure if they’re from that certain famous “Cafe” (du Monde) or not. Either way, expect a challenge to take place there at some point.
Emeril’s doling out advice on the ingredients and chatting away. The rest of the subdued chefs are just kinda taking it in. Actually, I’m not sure if everyone’s really starstruck or just shocked that Emeril’s having a what appears to be a glass of wine that early in the morning! Hey, that’s New Orleans for ya! #ProTip
Ok. Time to head to the swamp. Hope everyone brought their bug spray.
When the chefs arrive on location, they find out that the kitchen hasn’t even been built.
Burners and prep tables are all just piled up in the corner. It was as if the production team was playing a prank. The chefs have two hours to assemble them and finish cooking. Yes. Their entire schedule has just been turned upside down because nobody accounted for “construction of kitchen” as part of the two hours.
Meanwhile, on board the “Swamp Queen,” a pontoon boat, we meet our judges for the week. There’s of course Head Judge Tom Colicchio, “how-many-different-ways-can-we-describe-her-as-beautiful” Padma Lakshmi, Emeril Legasse, and Curtis Stone, Host of Top Chef Masters. They’re mingling with the chosen few from the private dining society, The Dinner Lab. For the membership price of $100 a year and around $50 per event, you too can attend private dinners such as this. They’ve expanded to 10 cities around the country so check their website if you wanna be a elite diner.
|Who loves ya, baby!|
Back at the camp, everyone else is still scrambling. Everyone except “I’m-too-sexy-for-this-competition” Jason Cichonski. “I thought this was supposed to be f*#king hard?” Right. Not douchey at all.
The guests arrive on their party boat, ready to eat. Each guests will give their beads to their favorite dishes. The three chefs with the most beads are on top, the least on the bottom. Flashing for beads is not allowed. Ok maybe if you’re the Sexiest Chef in Philadelphia.
Maybe it’s the first episode or perhaps it’s just the magic of New Orleans, because Tom and Emeril are having a great time. They’re both loose and for once Tom isn’t that terrifying when he walks up to a table.
Here are the highlighted dishes:
Turtle Croquette with Cauliflower Puree & Shiitake Mushrooms
Curried Turtle Meatball, Chayote Slaw & Chutney with Raisins
Bacon & Alligator Confit with Tomato Jam & Lemon Frisee
|When in doubt, add bacon.|
Pickled Eggplant with Turtle Confit & Turtle Ragout with Tagliatelle
Turtle Soup with Goji Berry & Chinese Broth
Poached Frog Legs with Oyster Emulsion & Cold Zucchini Salad
|"General Tso's Gator." Didn't know there were gators in China.|
Alligator Rillettes with Fennel & Pickled Red Onion Relish
Fried Alligator with Sauce Piquant & Slaw
Deep Fried Alligator with Smoked Chilis, Sweet & Sour Sauce & Pickled Vegetables
Braised Turtle with Thai Dashi
|Cold Frog. Hm. Who'd thunk?|
Cajun Style Alligator with Yuca Puree
Frog Leg Croquette with Roasted Eggplant, Fennel Salad & Pickled Cherry Puree
Frog Leg Confit with Spinach & Watercress Puree
|This is what the winners see - smiles.|
Service is winding down and it’s pretty apparent who’s got the beads and who doesn’t. Nina Compton with her curried meat balls looks like Mrs. T, while you can count the beads on people like Ramon and Patty with one hand. The writing’s pretty much on the wall.
Hey they’ve upgraded the stew room! There are actual seats and a bar with rows of lovely beverages. There’s even a TV! What happened to the tiny supply closets with those metal folding chairs?
For the first time, the chefs actually get to see a clip of the judges’ overall critique. In a way it’s good too get some instant feedback before walking before the judges’ table blind. On the other hand, it’s kinda embarrassing for people who didn’t do so well. Everyone knows you’ve screwed up. I’m sure the TV on the wall will provide further surprises down the line.
The consensus. Judges loved the big flavors brought by Nina’s curried meat balls and Sara’s spicy “General Tso’s” gator. They were also impressed by Shirley’s intensely flavored turtle soup and Australian Janine’s ability to adapt to southern tastes.
Meanwhile, here are the children of lesser beads: Aaron with his pasta that sat around too long, Patty’s mess of a alligator dish, Carlos’ soggy toast, Ramon’s watered down dashi, and lastly Bene who failed to cook mushrooms properly.
|Winning dish. Curried turtle meat ball.|
The winner? Nina! From the get go it was obvious she had a plan and executed it perfectly. The judges and the guests are on the same page here. It’s no surprised she had the most beads. Hey wait. What’s this? No prize for the first win? I guess that’s why we didn’t see any big product placement this episode huh?
Some of the best moments of this series happens right here, where fallen chefs plead for their Top Chef lives at all cost. Some will give all the excuses in the world, some will throw others under the bus, and some will be honorable and own up to their mistakes.
|Looks like Fluffy had an accident...|
Today’s hall of shame? Aaron, Patty, and Ramon. Throughout the episode it was pretty clear that this trio will end up here in this particular circle of culinary hell.
Aaron’s pretty contrite. He realizes that making pasta was a big mistake and he utters those famous words that everyone has said at one time or another, “I didn’t think…”
Tom agrees, “These are the things you have to think about in this competition.”
Then the unthinkable happened. Curtis Stone disagreed with Tom Colicchio.
Yes. You read that correctly. Curtis says that (unlike Tom) he would never make homemade pasta in a swamp for 150 people.
Not surprisingly, Tom Colicchio, James Beard Award winner, gave Curtis the stink eye. That’s right Curtis. Let’s not forget who put you here. It wasn’t but a few years ago you were stalking lonely housewives in groceries stores, asking to cook their dinner for them! (Take Home Chef on TLC.) Seesh.
|It's so watered down, I don't even see soup.|
Luckily, any annoyance Tom might have had with Curtis will be completely wiped away, replaced by what Ramon just confessed to, “I was worried about cooling down my dashi in time, so I actually added ice to my dashi, from my original base…”
Let’s put it this way. In 10 seasons I have never seen Tom display such a look of shock. Who can blame him? He literally served watered down soup. Ramon concedes failure.
Speaking of failure, Patty can’t even really get through her “process,” before breaking down into tears. She admits that she basically just “put food on a plate.” Right. I don’t even think that’s the motto for Battle of the Sous Chefs, let alone Top Chef.
Upon seeing the tears, Curtis tried to console the damned, “You all put out, you know, really quite decent dishes. In another competition yours would have sail through right there in the middle there...so don’t be too hard on yourselves.”
That’s the equivalent of an awkward hug after a break up. #ItsNotYouItsYourFood
In the end, you just cannot serve watered down dashi. It’s a simple choice. Ramon drowns in his watered down soup. Pack your knives and see you in Last Chance Kitchen, where you’ll likely see Patty next week.
|It's going to be a great season!|
And with that, Top Chef kicks off its season in New Orleans!
This season, expect a lot of jazz, a gumbo competition, celebrity guest judges, and of course, David Chang. It’s not Top Chef without a David Chang appearance.
Thanks for joining us and we’ll see you next week!
[Written by: Mykl Wu]