Thursday, June 17, 2010

Top Chef: Season 7, Episode 1

Plate Your State

Top Chef is back! And so are my recaps! I can’t believe it’s been so long since we saw little Mikey beat up his brother Bryan to take the Top Chef title. I mean, we had to sit through two seasons of Top Chef: Masters before we even got to this new season. But no worries, we’re in the nation’s capitol because now that the Republicans are out it’s OK to feature D.C. again.

Momma Lakshmi gives us the rundown on the season, with 17 cheftestants running all over and a new silver master chef/judge Eric Ripert. And the prizes are pretty much the same, except I think the prize is higher, no? Wasn’t it $100,000 before? Now it’s $125,000 and it’s from Dial Nutriskin, which says food to me. [Sarcasm]

Oh, no, Padma just said “Hail to the Chef.” Kill. Me. Now.

Strike up the theme song. You know, these 17 cheftestants look like the typical cheftestants from seasons’ past. In fact, some of them look like they’re showing their photos twice, they all look alike! Wait, no one winked. Damn it, there always has to be one person winking to the camera! That ain't right.

Scenes of D.C. So did I tell you how excited I am that they’re in D.C.? Mostly because my sister lives in Alexandria and I was just there visiting her last summer, so I’m looking forward to seeing places I roamed around when I was there. Hey wait, there’s Columbus Circle! I was there! Ah, memories.

So this is where all the cheftestants come walking in and we get very little snippets of who they are and where they’re from. They show this woman Tiffany walking along with someone who’s apparently another cheftestant because why would Tiffany be walking with some stranger so consistently parallel to each other? Tiffany is from Dallas and she used to work at the IHOP and of course being African American she makes the token Obama comment. But who is the hottie walking next to her? They don’t even introduce him.

There’s the cheftestant who made the sacrifice and left his family behind, a cheftestant with some really scary matted hair like you’d find a marijuana farm in there, and a few blonds. They start gathering at the rooftop of the Newseum (fact: it’s one of the few museums in D.C. that charges an admission because it’s not publicly funded) and it looks like a beautifully hot spring day.

There’s an instructor from the Culinary Institute, which I think is kind of unfair, and a gay guy from Nashville. If it’s not obvious girlfriend’s a big ole’ nellie, he makes sure to mention that he consulted a wardrobe stylist before arriving and got a facial. Ding ding ding, we’ve got a winner.

Of course, there are a lot of cocky cheftestants saying how they’re here to win it all, as opposed to Arnold (the gay guy) who thinks he’s on Project Runway. There’s that cute guy in the blue shirt again. Who the hell is he? And why are they introducing everyone around him but not him?

There’s another cheftestant who’s wife just died, aka the Gokey effect. (What? Too soon?) And yes, they finally introduce the cutie and no wonder they kept him for last. It’s Angelo Sosa, the cheftestants who has gotten much ink prior to the premiere because of the fact that he comes from the one Michelin star restaurant, Xie Xie, in Connecticut. (I love how this Latin guy has a Chinese fusion restaurant.)

The Washington Post questioned whether Angelo really should be a cheftestant with his caliber of experience, but I say this is Top Chef, not Top Chef Right Out of Culinary School so I say any chef who wants the extra money to invest in his restaurant, even if he already has one, should feel free to compete. And hey, he’s cute. This is TV. We want to watch the pretty people.

Padma and head judge Tom Colicchio walks in and reminds the cheftestant that D.C. is where history is made. Tom, I think if you’re going to make a statement like that, you need to walk in dressed like George Washington. If not, then stop with the obvious.

Quickfire challenge. Their first quickfire is a fancy sounding “mise en place” tournament where they’ll compete in rounds doing different culinary and knife skills. Faithful fans of the series will recall they did this a couple of seasons ago, also outdoors. But fans with poor memories like myself can’t recall which season that was. I think it was the New York season?

And even though they’re not in Las Vegas anymore, they still have the “high stakes” quickfire reward, and Tom tells them that the winner of this challenge gets $20,000.

The cheftestants put on their white chef coats and line up to start the first round, which is peeling potatoes. You know, none of them are using vegetable peelers. They’re just using a short knife and peeling like that. I’m sure we’ll see blood soon … oh, there we go. I didn’t even finish typing that sentence and the girl sliced her palm. Yuck.

Kenny is first and Angelo looks envious, but he’s second and so on. Then the next round is finely dicing onions. Kenny is first again. That guy is amazing. He doesn’t necessarily look like he’s moving fast, but he keeps coming out first. Amazing.

In the third round, they have to break down chicken. Only four cheftestants come out of this round first, and they’re Kenny again (that guy’s a machine), Angelo, Timothy and Kevin.

Commercials. Stouffer’s sub sandwich will stuff you like a pig. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. And that woman is probably sleeping in her Sienna minivan because she likely lost her home because of the mortgage crisis.

We’re back at the rooftop and the four leading cheftestants have 30 minutes to make a dish using the ingredients they just prepped. I’m amazed that they’re cooking outside with just burners, but some of them really have fancy plated end results.

Padma and Tom go around for the tasting, heading to Angelo first. He made a roasted chicken wing and thigh with curried noodles. Padma just says nice. In fact, the two don’t say much in this first quickfire tasting.

Kevin did a boneless chicken wing, but it really just looks it’s drowned in broth. Tim did a potato galette, and Kenny has a very fancy plate of all kinds of stuff.

Tom says he felt Tim had too much cream in his dish and Kevin had too much salt. He liked Kenny’s roasted potato, and Angelo’s flavors, but Angelo is the ultimate winner. Dang it, Comcast! Stop fucking up my programming. My digital TV from Comcast is sticking, so I’m getting a black screen right now. Oh, now it’s back. No thanks to you Comcast Cable, the new evil empire (thanks for making Microsoft look good).

Anyway, Kenny is upset that Angelo won, so I think the editors are trying to make a storyline pitting these two against each other.

For their elimination challenge, Padma says every part of the country is represented in D.C. (again, stating the obvious), so they all have to make a dish representative of where they’re from. And they’ll be cooking for 300 “young successful professionals” (aka interns) at the Andrew Mellon auditorium.

Tom says that the four finalists in the mise en place tournament will have to pick who they want to compete with because each group will have a winner and a loser from the group, and one of the four losers will be eliminated. So they go and pick who they want to compete with, and it’s a bit confusing because they’re really picking who they think are the weakest cheftestants who will likely lose against them. In this case, it’s good if you’re the last one picked for the team.

After they’re done with the picking, they get $300 to buy ingredients from Whole Foods. In the meantime, they get to see their home during the show and it looks like a mansion in Georgetown. Everyone’s jumping on beds, snacking on food, and the cheftestant with the matted hair is named John and did you know he was nominated for a James Beard Award in 2009? Anywho, looks like he’s writing in his journal.

“Dear Journal, today in my first day on Top Chef: DC I had to peel potatoes and chop onions. Just another day at work. Got rejected in my request to meet Michelle Obama. Will try again later in the season. Peace out, John.”

Commercials. Those Twizzlers look wild. I don’t eat candy but I’m totally mesmerized. I hope I don’t choke on one. Ciroc, I so don’t care about a “smooth off” with Sean Johns and Aziz Ansari.

The cheftestants arrive at Whole Foods. Oh, I wonder if it’s the one near my sister? Because I know there’s no Whole Foods right in downtown. Then after buying their food (boring), they arrive at what looks like the Hilton Watergate. And this is where the Top Chef kitchen is. Why did Arnold buy a potted orchid?

They start prepping and we learn a little bit about what they’re cooking. But at this point, there are so many of them, thus so many dishes, that I’m going to save going into details until the tasting. What I can say I learned from this prepping period is that Alex is Russian and the girl Amanda reminds me of Rosie O’Donnell.

Another thing I notice is that the camera seems to spend a lot of time on cheftestant Jacqueline from New York who is making a chicken liver pate. She says she decides not to strain the liver mousse that she’s made and she says she hopes that’s OK, and of course, we know it won’t be because the camera wouldn’t focus so much on that if it did turn out well.

When time runs out, they head to the Andrew Mellon auditorium, which really isn’t an auditorium but some grand room with these huge columns. Everyone starts setting up and we’re back on Jacqueline and her grainy chicken liver pate. She tries to cook it again to smoothen it out some more.

Guests start to arrive and they go straight for the food, and then the four judges arrive: Padma, Tom, Gail of Food and Wine and silver-haired hunk Eric Ripert.

They go to the first group, which includes Amanda and her red snapper carpaccio, Arnold with his Thai and Tennessee dish, Kevin and his lamb, and Jacqueline with her duo of chicken liver mousse.

The judges start eating and from the get go, grumpy Tom is back. He’s really harsh with his comments so early in the season. I notice Ellen, er, I mean Eric, is a bit reserved, maybe scouting out his role as the new judge. Gail definitely doesn’t like the pate, which is, of course, grainy.

Commercials. Black screen of death! Curses Comcast! I hate you like eggplant! Hey, that Soul Sister song from Train is already on a Samsung commercial. Aww, I love Train. I don’t love sell outs. Boo.

It must be spring in D.C. because they keep showing these beautiful shots of the cherry blossoms around the monuments on the mall. It looks so pretty. Ah-choo! Allergies. Hey, was that two guys walking into the event holding hands? Oooh, the editors thought we wouldn’t notice their hidden liberal agenda! But I have a really good eye, plus a DVR.

They judge the next group that includes Stephen from Ohio and his ribeye with potatoes, Ed from Boston and his baked beans, Lynne with waffles, and Tracey with shrimp and grits, and Kenny with his black bean mole and cod.

The judges seem to not like the deep frying effort of Stephen’s ribeye and potatoes (see, not all deep fried foods taste good).

Next group: Alex the Russian who did a deconstructed borscht, Tamesha from Barbados who made jerked chicken, Andrea from Florida who made gnocchi and Tim who made a pan-seared rock fish.

Ripert, who’s known for seafood, seems to harp on the fact that Tim’s fish still had the skin on. I like fish with the skin on, but only when it’s pan-fried and I guess the skin wasn’t that crispy and instead was too thick. Not a good sign that everyone’s talking about it. Tom like the deconstructed borscht, and Padma is still wondering how gnocchi says Miami.

Final group: Tiffany from Texas makes chicken with fried tomatillos, Kelly made a New York strip steak, Angelo made a smoked artic char which says Connecticut to him, and John from Michigan, which is apparently the land of the maple, made a maple mousse napolean.

Tom loves Angelo’s artic char, but Gail says it had too much dill. Then I got distracted on what the judges said about the other dishes because they showed a clip of the hottie Angelo talking to some guests, and he tells one guest, “you can lick your bowl” but I have to admit that in my head I heard “you can lick your balls” and yes, that’s where my mind went for the next two minutes and it’s hard to recover from that. Especially when you think a hot guy like Angelo saying that. Too much information? Moving on.

The judges didn’t like the texture of John’s maple napolean, and Gail doesn’t even taste maple, just lots of sugar.

Everyone packs up and leaves, their first elimination challenge complete. And not one sign of the Secret Service.

The cheftestants assemble in the stew room, which looks big this season, but probably because there are 17 cheftestants right now. Padma comes in and asks for Kevin, Alex, Kenny and Angelo (sans “balls”).

Judgment time. Padma tells the four that they’re the top of each group, and Gail tells Kenny that he lacked editing but everything was well balanced. Tom tells Kevin his dish was simple but complex (never really know what that means). Eric as the new judge (so does this mean there won’t be any guest judges? Oh, maybe when Gail goes to host her Top Chef: Just Dessert show) gets to name the winner, and he picks, surprise, Angelo, who must have made history (in D.C.) by taking the quickfire and elimination challenge on the first episode. He’s definitely the front-runner and the guy with the target on his back.

Then the bottom four is Stephen, John, Jacqueline and Tim. Tim doesn’t believe that he’s in the bottom for, and somehow it almost looks like he’s blaming Angelo.

Tom asks Stephen why his ribeye was slice so thin and then deep-fried? He really doesn’t have an answer, and Eric chimes in that the ribeye was more like chicken nuggets. Hey, Eric, that’s a nice snippet. “It was like chicken nuggets!” Wait, I should do it with a French accent. “Ets waz like ze chicken noogets!”

Gail focused on Jacqueline’s grainy chicken liver mousse, and Jacqueline says she made this dish more than 100 times but she never made it without a recipe. So Tom, the master chef, schools her about how she should know the recipe if she really did make it 100 times. Maybe she has a bad memory like me? Tom is grumpy.

Natty hair John talks about his napolean and he stupidly tells the judges that he bought puff pastry to make the napolean, and really napolean is pretty much puff pastry with just some sauce and cream. So Gail’s like, what did you make? And John stupidly says out loud that it was a stupid mistake.

Tim talks about letting himself down with his fish skin, and I’m so tired about hearing about that let’s just move on to the elimination.

Commercials. Kelly Ripa. You are no Nigella Lawson.

Decision time. Tom goes over again why everyone is there and why their dishes sucked, and it doesn’t look good for John, who Tom calls his dish something a first-year pastry student would make. Padma must not like pastry students because she sends John packing with his knives, which I’m starting to think he stores in his hair. I mean, that’s a whole lot of hair.

John looks pretty sad to be the first one gone. He’s rubbing his eyes, which I guess means he’s trying to cry, but at one point he looks into the camera a bit too close and then I get spooked. So actually even though he probably would have made good television because we like our crazies, he was kind of creepy right then and there so I’m glad he’s gone. Even walking out the door he walks out creepy like. I hope he’s not on the Top Chef tour because I’m not going if he is.

This season on Top Chef: D.C. we see a lot of running as usual, Angelo says he’s a sniper, they go to the CIA, NASA, and all sorts of agencies with alphabets. I mean, we’re in DC, come on!

Top Chef airs every Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Bravo. Check your local listings. Photo courtesy of the Bravo TV website.


Carolyn Jung said...

I can't read this yet, as I have it Tivo'd since I was out at the Rising Star Chefs event last night. But just from a glance, can I say how nice it is to see Eric Ripert was on. Ahh, even more to look forward to. ;)

Carolyn Jung said...

OK, I finally saw it. Interesting cast of characters this season. And whoa, Padma sure has gotten curvy, hasn't she? And is she really dating David Spade? Isn't she like twice his height??

Single Guy Ben said...

I think Padma has that post-pregnancy curve. ;-) I feel like David Spade dates all these beautiful women for just a few months and then the women realizes that funny only goes so far. :)

Hungry Dog said...

I read this the other day and it cracked me up. I agree with everything you said. I'm happy TC is back on and it really gets better once they get rid of the first few people. At the beginning there are just too many people to keep track of.

Toni said...

Woohoo! Loved your recap. I'm glad I'm not the only one who found John creepy.

Nothing beats last season, I think, but let's see how this goes. Angelo looks like he's the most driven of the bunch. He's our Mike Voltaggio of the season.

Nate @ House of Annie said...

Your recaps are the best. Keep up the snark! :-)