M: As we mentioned in our prep post yesterday, Top Chef is invading Washington DC this season. The show started fast, with a really quick quickfire. Yes, they sprinkled in some intros to the contestants before it started, but many of them weren’t introduced until either during or after the quickfire (if at all!). So, we’ll check out the contestants in a bit, instead we’ll do what the show did, and jump right in… after the jump.
So the quickfire was a combination of a mise en place race and a basic quickfire where the contestants have to cook something quickly with only a few ingredients. For those not in the know, as I was not the first time I saw this on Top Chef, mise en place is breaking down of the ingredients, putting them into place. In this case, they were peeling potatoes, dicing onions and butchering chickens. Unlike previous seasons where it has been done as a relay between two teams, this was done as a step by step elimination, with 5 chefs being eliminated after the potatoes, four after the onions, and four more after the chicken, leaving the final four to make a dish from the now prepared ingredients.
E: Tell me, did you think it was odd they continued the Vegas tradition of high stakes Quickfires? I was a bit shocked to see bundles of cash under the last dome. Would it have been more appropriate if they’d put it in an envelope, as if it were being used as a bribe?
M: Yes, I was surprised, and it would have absolutely been more appropriate if it had been made to look like a bribe. Maybe they could have had a lobbyist deliver it. Things we would do if we were in charge. Anyway, one thing I found interesting in the challenge was that they all peeled the potatoes with knives, not peelers.
E: I thought that was weird, too. Is that a typical chef thing, or was it some sort of macho crap? Like they’re too cool to use the basic implement invented for this task?
M: I think it must be a chef thing, but it makes no sense to me. you waste more of the potato the way they did it, it appeared to make them all slower, and led to one contestant (Amanda) slicing her palm open! Unless someone can explain to me why the knife would be preferable, I’m voting “ridiculous” on this one.
That aside, in the mise en place portion of the challenge, Kenny destroyed everyone, finishing first in each stage, and by a lot. Tim, Kevin and Angelo (who was quite the name dropper in the intro portion) joined him in the final portion of the challenge, where he and Angelo created the top two dishes. However, in the end, Angelo took the win, and $20,o00, and promptly announced that he intends on winning EVERY challenge on his way to the title. Hmmm, at least he’s not lacking confidence!
E: No, he’s certainly not. Neither is Kenny, the frustrated alpha male. I have to jump in here and say I’m not as impressed by this group of contestants as I expected to be. After Bryan, Michael, Kevin and Jen last season, how could a new group compare? I wondered if they could repeat the high quality of last season, and I think I have my answer. Granted that there’s a James Beard nominee (Kelly, was it?) and Angelo with his Michilin star, I still feel a bit let down. Once we got into the elimination challenge, I thought the proportion of dishes the judges actively disliked was disheartening.
M: I think that one episode is too early to tell. Kenny and Angelo both appear to be pretty solid, and we’ll see who else might be able to step up into the top. However, I agree with you that it will be hard for them to match the top contestants from last season, they were all really good.
E: And to make things worse, there doesn’t seem to be anyone hilariously funny and clever or kooky yet endearing to make up for what seems like a lack of culinary chops. I felt like I was rooting for different people solely because of their home town, or their 13 months old twins or pregnant wives. But maybe it’s just too early to tell. I’m hopeful that I’ll like Kelly and Ed, anyway.
M: Agreed, no one really stood out in the personality department, but it’s tough with one hour, 17 contestants and two challenges, there’s just not that much time to see much of their personalities. This will give away the ending, but I was actually pretty sad to see John, the granola-hippie guy who looked like he hadn’t washed his hair in 20 years, leave. He looked like he might be legitimately crazy, and that can be fun. Well, now that I’ve given away the end, lets dig into the elimination challenge.
E: I’m mistrustful of challenges that put the contestants in groups and only judge some of them. The 4 top performers in the Quickfire chose ‘teams’ against whom they’d be judged. Each team would produce one winner, who would be up for the overall win, and one loser, who would be eligible for elimination. This left some contestants, like Kelly, out in the cold despite having a dish they judges liked a lot – not to mention giving a free pass to teams with more than one bum dish. That said, I think the strangest thing about this challenge (show us where you’re from) is some of the dishes that resulted. California short ribs borscht? Salmon with bacon foam to represent stream fishing in small town Connecticut? I’m very confused.
M: I agree with you on that, some of the things made no connection at all to where people were from. Then there was caterer Jacqueline Lombard, who the Bravo site claimed grew up in Boston, but said she grew up in the Hudson Valley, which is NOT Boston in case you’re not familiar with Boston… or New York, where the Hudson Valley is.
E: Yeah, that’s confusing. And I don’t really associate chicken livers with New York, although perhaps that’s because I’m actually from the Boston area? I was rather relieved she didn’t go home for her attempt to lighten chicken liver mousse. She seemed nice, and I’m frankly sick of all the women going home first. And the apple cups looked cool. We do have Ed, however, who worked for Todd English and is clearly Bostonian. Not that he did much better with his cod and baked beans.
M: I thought he seemed to do ok, middle of the pack, maybe, but certainly not horrible. The liver, though, you knew was doomed from the start when Jacqueline said first that she wasn’t going to add butter, and second that she didn’t have time to strain it and so it was really grainy. I’m not exactly a pate connoisseur, but when I have had it it was very smooth.
E: Now, who was it – Tamekah? – that came up with a jerk flavored “chicken sphere”? Call a meatball a meatball, people. Ridiculous.
M: That cracked me up. Sphere… was it empty?
E: Nice. Anyway, the top? Angelo, Kenny, Kevin and Alex.
M: I loved that Alex, the Russian Californian, and his short rib deconstructed borscht, were in the top group. Loved that he went for it, and showed skill. And all his name dropping and braggadocio aside, Angelo’s food looked really good.
E: You think? I don’t know. Didn’t look appetizing to me – raw-ish fish? Yack. The bottom? Jacqueline, Tim, Stephen and John.
M: It was probably impacted by the editing, and only having one hour (it really felt like they needed two for the first episode), but it felt like a bunch of other people could have been in here. I think they probably just didn’t have the time to show us more commentary on their dishes, but the little clips were mostly negative on so many people’s dishes.
E: I thought they sent the right person home in alarmingly toothy John Somerville.
M: Like I said above, I would have liked him to stay for the craziness aspect, and I always hate seeing someone on a reality competition leave after one challenge, I feel like they need to do at least two to really start to get a feel for who’s who. That aside, I think it was the right call, too.
E: Yeah, I wish they’d do that too! Health hazard dreads aside, the man made a maple mousse with puff pastry. He used prepackaged pastry dough, and his mousse didn’t taste like maple. You have to applaud him for trying a dessert, but when you take that kind of a risk, dude, you have to bring it.
M: Actually, I do NOT applaud him for trying a dessert. People get the boot on Top Chef because of desserts all the time! Why on God’s green earth would you do a dessert before the judges have a feel for your food, unless you’re a Susur Lee-level brilliant pastry chef? And using a packaged pastry that you’ve never even tried? Even if the NY Times said it was good (leaving out their plagiarism issues, the food section is reputable), in the biggest opportunity of your life, don’t you have to go with what you know? I can’t defend that.
E: I like that he took the risk, just not the result. Last, we got an interesting look at upcoming episodes. There are the requisite stew room fights. We see the White House Chef, a challenge where they must design “out of this world” cuisine for NASA (yay!), something to do with the CIA, last season’s Mike Isabella (boo), and Nancy Pelosi (ack – and yet weirdly cool at the same time). That could be some fun stuff.