Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bust Out The Chef Knives!

Tomorrow night is the long awaited premiere of Top Chef Chicago. (Isn’t it funny how they add the name of the city into the title now, instead of calling it Top Chef, Season 4?) Anywho, I say long-awaited because I’ve been waiting so long for these promos for Top Chef Chicago to end! Didn’t they start these promos, like, late last year?

I may regret this decision, but I decided to do recaps of Top Chef. When I was doing recaps of “The Next Food Network Star” last year, people kept asking me why I wasn’t recapping Top Chef? And that was because the two shows overlapped last season so I couldn’t do both. But doesn’t look like TNFNS is airing anytime soon (I bet the poor response to Amy’s show might have cooled the network on the franchise) so that means I can dedicated my Wednesday nights to Top Chef.

So as a primer, here’s a rundown of the contestants in Season 4. Of course, all my views on these people may change after I get a first glimpse of them in action tomorrow night. I’ll be posting my recaps on Thursday nights, so come back then to see what happens.

Andrew, 30, sous chef in New York City. First thing I think when I see Andrew is that he needs to clean up. He just seems gritty to me, you know, like leeks that needs some soaking before you cook them. Still, I like his varied background in cuisines—his bio’s says he’s interested in African, Spanish, French, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Latino and Indian. Andrew could be the dark horse in the competition because he seems to be very nebulous, but I don’t give him much odds in winning. He’s too jittery.

Antonia, 31, executive chef at Foxtail in L.A. Antonia’s a single Italian mama and already I think she’s too nice to win. She’s already an executive chef of a major trendy restaurant so her talent (which one can’t tell from reading the bios) will be the only way for her to gain any lead. She also focuses on comfort food (she’s going to grow up to be a nice Italian grandmother!), which I think puts her at a disadvantage for some Top Chef challenges that’ll require a lot of creativity and innovation.

Dale, 29, sous chef at New York’s Buddakan. I’ve already pegged this guy as this year’s Hung of last season. Not that I think he’s going to win, but he has that same smug confidence. Maybe it’s that smirk pasted on his bio photo. His ethnic background is Filipino (via Chicago so he might have home field advantage). I’m hoping he’ll show more about this cuisine because I know very little of Filipino cooking of all the Asian cuisines. Mabuhay!

Erik, 38, executive chef of Circa Restaurant in San Francisco. Here’s one of four contestants with Bay Area connections and I have to say I’ve never been to Circa so can’t really vouch for the food. Erik has a kick-ass attitude, and not just because he said that on his bio video, but he has major tattoos, a bald head and piercings. Need I say more?

Jennifer, 35, executive chef of Coco500 in San Francisco. Another Bay Area resident and another Bay Area restaurant I haven’t tried. (I think all the San Francisco entrants come from really fancy restaurants that I just don’t have the budget for right now.) She has a real Brooklyn attitude (where she was born) and looks like she can handle anything in the kitchen. The only weird thing is in her video she says she doesn’t like wild rice, because it’s more like grass. Um, then it would be called wild grass? I don’t get it, and now I’m nervous about what dishes she comes up with at her restaurant.

Lisa, 27, unemployed chef in New York. Lisa’s one of the yunggin’s, and I think she’s already a long shot because she wears a bandana in the kitchen. I’ve found people who wear bandanas don’t seem to go very far in kitchen competitions. Sorry, I know it’s a bias I have about bandanas but I have to be honest. Anywho, Lisa quit her last job at Public, so not sure what that’s all about. She says she favors Asian cuisine, so I give her points for that. But like Simon says, I think her personality’s forgettable.

Manuel, 33, executive chef of Dos Caminos in New York. Wow, seems like we have a lot of chefs from the Big Apple. But Manuel’s our Latino cuisine contestant so you know he’ll go for bold flavors and lots of spice. It’s hard to really get much from his personality, so again, I think he might fall in the middle of the pack. He just seems meh to me.

Mark, 29, sous chef at Public restaurant in New York. Yep, another guy from New York, and he comes from the same restaurant where Lisa just quit from. What? Did they apply together? And what’s with this restaurant Public where everyone’s so dying to leave the kitchen? Anyway, he’s originally from New Zealand so I bet he’ll have a cute accent, but I think he’s also a long shot because he’s self-taught. While that’s good for a cooking show on the Food Network, it might be tougher on Top Chef that really looks for someone with good restaurant chops. He looks like he really should be a band member with, like, Iggy Pop. I peg him as the one to be cut in the first or second week.

Nikki, 35, chef and co-owner of 24 Prince in (where else?) New York City. I think Nikki’s a ringer in this competition because why would you have someone who owns a restaurant in a competition where the top prize is to give you cash to help you start a restaurant? I think the producers fell for Nikki’s hot looks. She does look like a model, doesn’t she? But she’s pretty smart, having worked in the front and back of the house of a restaurant and being certified as a sommelier. Again, why does she need Top Chef?

Nimma, 26, chef at Repast in Atlanta, Georgia. Hey, doesn’t she look like Padma’s sister? She seems very unstructured, which could be her downfall when she might go overboard with the saffron or salt in one of the challenges. And yes, she has a bandana! (Although it is a bit more like a scarf.) My guess is she’ll be like Mark and will be eliminated either in the first or second round.

Richard, 35, chef at Element restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia. I think this guy may be among the top three contestants, mostly because he sounds like he’s creative and innovative (ala Marcel of Season 2) and because he has a faux hawk. Have you noticed that the last two winners of Top Chef (Ilan and Hung) both have faux hawks? Even though I’m so tired of the faux hawks (I tried it once in 2001), I think this guy has a chance.

Ryan, 28, formerly of Myth Café in San Francisco. Another Bay Area contestant, Ryan has been getting a lot of pre-buzz on the food blogging pages. A lot of people have been speculating about what he’s been up to since Top Chef filmed (he reportedly spent some time as a waiter, a red herring maybe?) but his last real chef gig was with the popular Myth Café, which was next door to the even more popular Myth restaurant, which is unfortunately going through a lot of changes right now and lost its famous chef (not Ryan). I think Ryan will be fun to watch because he seems to have a bit of the bad boy in him (he kind of reminds me of Sam from Season 2) and I peg him to be in the top 3. A sad trivia of his past, he’s from Los Banos in Central California, which is Spanish for The Toilet.

Spike, 27, chef de cuisine at Mai House in New York City. Spike looks just like Ryan, except he has a hat. He’s working at one of the hottest new restaurants in Manhattan’s TriBeCA neighborhood, so that’ll give him an extra boost of confidence, I think. He might be a sleeper in the competition because his style is not very clear upfront, but I bet he might surprise us.

Stephanie, 31, restaurant owner in Chicago. Another person with home field advantage is Stephanie, who most recently owned her own restaurant in Chicago called Scylla. Not sure if it was good or what, but I guess she did well enough so she could be traveling a bit before deciding what to do next. Nice gig if you can get it, huh? I don’t get the sense, though, that Stephanie has the chops to go long in this competition. My guess is she’ll be out in the mid rounds. Then she can get back to her travels.

Valerie, 32, personal chef in Chicago. Hmm, another Chicago native with home field advantage. I don’t really know what to think of Valerie. But watching her video, I get this sense that she’s going to be in some fights with other chefs in the suites. I don’t know why, she just seems scrappy.

Zoi, 30, restaurant consultant in San Francisco. The last contestant and the last of the four from the Bay Area, Zoi seems like another long shot to me. She doesn’t have any formal training nor much restaurant experience, it seems. I mean, how often are you in the kitchen when you’re consulting? Oh, I just watched her video and she says she’s the chef de cuisine at San Francisco’s Presidio Social Club. (Um, nice work updating the bios Bravo!) Anywho, Zoi still seems like a long shot because she seems young and a bit inexperienced. But who knows.

Top Chef airs on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on Bravo TV and repeats at 11 p.m. (Note: The premiere episode is 75 minutes long so if you’re taping it, be sure to add another 15 minutes to the typical one hour segment.)


Harland Crom said...

love Top Chef and can't wait for it to come back.

I'm all set in my Last 2 office pool. Anyone else playing this season?


Anonymous said...

Chef Ben, wow that's so cool you are posting all of this information. The bravo site has too many ads and distractions, so I'll be checking here for the details!

Anonymous said...

Love that your reviewing Top Chef! Always enjoy your recaps of the cooking stuff.