Welcome to The Big Easy, Top Chef fans! New Orleans has reportedly been among the judges favorite locale so far. Being a Seattleite myself, I must admit I was mildly offended at the judges thinly veiled distaste for my hometown when they were here last season, but at least it’ll be nice to see them be actually enthusiastic about their filming location. So, let’s get started!
This season starts out with some New Orleans scenery and few cheftestant intros. Sara Johannes is up first. She’s a self-described rockabilly/”that girl”, but hey, it’s just who she is. She’s been all around the world working for Wolfgang Puck but “nothing compares to New Orleans”. Good call on the locale-brown-nosing Sara, way to make sure your clip gets played! The chefs start arriving at their house. Next we get an intro to Philly’s sexiest chef, Jason Chichonski, who says people think he’s a douchebag until he “throws down” in the kitchen and…proves it? (Does anyone say “throw down” about cooking who isn’t a douchebag?) He proceeds to give his Philly buddy and fellow cheftestant Nick Elmi a bro hug and sip out of his designer water bottle. Up next is this season’s resident hottie, Janine Booth who we see strutting down the street in short-shorts to some bumpin’ background music. She says that it’s tough being a woman chef who is “not so ugly”…somehow this reminds me of Joana Krupa’s Housewives intro “…hate me because I’m beautiful!”. Benedetto Bartolotta is hoping to be the “first Top Gay Chef”. No need to insert joke here, he’s laughing at himself for how that came out. Shirley Chung is “not your typical little Chinese girl” (what does that mean?) but it sounds like she’s got some pretty good cooking credentials. She’s a self-proclaimed loud-mouth so that should make for some good TV. Just when everyone was wondering when the New Orleans natives would arrive, Justin Devillier shows up. He’s one of the Padma’s Picks winners. Aaron Cuschieri and Carlos Gaytan discover they are both from Chicago and Aaron seems a little bit intimidated by Carlos’ Michelin Star. Other than that I’m having some trouble understanding what he’s saying…
Uh oh, Tom and Padma are here! Stephanie Cmar says it best “Shit was real and then shit got really really real”. Janine (who earlier claimed not to be a dumb blonde) says she wants to cry and has to pee. TMI? Tom asks if they’re ready to cook and explains that New Orleans cuisine is all about French, Spanish, Creole, and Native American influences. The chefs are instructed to tap into the spirit of New Orleans and get cooking! And, they mean business. No quick fire this time around. Tom and Padma toss some Mardi Gras beads around which have give the chefs their protein assignments. Some get turtle, some get alligator, and some get frog’s legs. MMMMMM! The rules are explained and the goal is to win the most Mardi Gras beads from the guests. No, you can’t take your shirt off Janine!
Turns out the Padma’s Picks winners are granted immunity (ok?) so Michael Sichel lets us know that he’s “confident” to be cooking in his hometown. Not, cocky, mind you, because that would be egotistical. Confident is just being cool. I’d be confident too if I had immunity, eh Michael?
The chefs head out in their Toyotas to source their special proteins. Confident Michael is playing tour guide to his ungrateful vehicle-mates. After picking up their alligator, turtle (Benedetto is afraid he’s cooking his childhood pet), and frog’s legs, the chefs head to Whole Foods. While there, we get to meet Travis Masar who’s upset that Whole Foods doesn’t carry fish sauce and explains that he only cooks and dates Asian. Carrie Mashaney is from a small town in Iowa and they don’t even mention that she now lives and cooks in Seattle (more Seattle hating??). She’s crossing her fingers not to get cut in the first round. Me too Carrie, I’m rooting for ya!
Back at the Top Chef kitchen, the chefs are given their coveted Top Chef jackets. Stephanie Cmar tells us about how much it sucked not making it last season (I knew she looked familiar!) but that she’s spent the last year retraining herself to find perfection. The atmosphere in the kitchen is a “controlled chaos” as the chefs try to get their dishes prepped. Aaron became a chef after he didn’t make it as a rockstar and now he’s prepping pasta and sauce but “has no plan” for how he’s going to prepare pasta in the swamp. His solution is not to worry about it.Umm…red flag?? Carlos Gaytan give us his history–he’s from Mexico and crossed the boarder illegally in pursuit of the American Dream. He started out as a dishwasher and now he owns his own restaurant, all thanks to his faith in God. Aww, I’m kinda rooting for this guy, too. Nina Compton tells us that her father was the Prime Minister of “Salusha”…I had no idea where she was saying until I looked her up…she’s from St. Lucia. She’s hoping to win so she can be a spokesperson for St. Lucia, like her dad, but for the culinary world. Next, Aaron takes note of Janine’s short-shorts and says that although she is a beautiful girl, it isn’t how to be professional. I agreed when I saw that clip in the preview but now I realize they just took these guys straight from the house as soon as they arrived and told them to cook so everyone wore what they showed up in. Lay off her, man! He’s just mad cause his dish is going nowhere fast and he also can’t enunciate his words properly. Bret Pelaggi chimes in that “if she can cook as good as she looks she’s gonna be at the top” and the editors don’t help her out much either with some cute sound effects and butt shots. Ok, I’m starting to feel your pain Janine.
Tom shows up again to chat with the cheftestants at work. Douchebag cut himself and is mortified. Tom chats everyone up and they pretend not to be afraid of him. Patty Vega explains that she isn’t used to cooking without her head chef’s instructions and that she doesn’t think her dish is going to work. More red flags. Ramon Bojorquez is up next and he explains that he’s making a Thai dashi dish because he used to be a Thai fighter (insert fighting clips here). He’s afraid his dish is going to make people sick so he puts ice in it to cool it down. He knows it’s watered down but is hoping for the best. RED FLAG!!! That’s the end of cooking day one.
The chefs wake up and it’s time to pray for Carlos (hey, it worked last time when it got him a Michelin Star). Then, it’s time to meet Emeril, eat beignets and talk about how great Emeril is. Then, it’s off to the swamp! First, the chefs have to build their own work stations. Sara looks like she’s about to blow hers up. Cooking ensues. Lots of chopping and stirring and a couple more red flags.
Night falls, the judges arrive via pontoon boat and start drinking. Time to serve. The judges make their way through the tables and start tasting. Some of these dishes actually sound pretty tasty. By the way, it’s really hot in this swamp, there are a lot of bugs, and an alligator is about to eat Carrie. The Mardi Gras beads start to pile up on a few of the cheftestants and others, not so much.
Back at the Top Chef studio for judging, a new twist! The chefs get to watch the judges reactions while they wait in the stew room. Judging, judging, judging…this is a little bit anti-climactic since we can actually SEE how many beads each chef has and, therefore, who is at the top and who is at the bottom. Top 3: Sara, Nina and, my hometown girl: Carrie! Time for some gushing from the judges then the winner is announced: it’s Nina! Bottom 3: Patty, Aaron & Ramon. Just as the red flags suggested. Aaron, why did you make pasta in a swamp? Tom and Curtis disagree about where he went wrong but they do agree it was bad. They judges wonder why Ramon’s dish was so bland and he explains about the ice cubes. Tom’s face was like one of those looney toons where the eyes bug out of the character’s head on long springs and the sound effect is “huuuh waaaah??” Patty explains about what happened with her dish and starts to cry. Tom says her dish paled in comparison to the others but Curtis comes to the rescue saying all these dishes would have been great if the competition was just a little less tough.
In the end, Ramon is out. I don’t think you can make Tom make that face and live to tell about it.
Well, now that we’ve met all the chefs and said goodbye to watered down dashi, it’s shaping up to be a great season! What did you think about the premiere?