TOP CHEF: 12.01: “Sudden Death”
As I mentioned the other day, I’m very happy to see Top Chef return to the tube, not only because it’s my favorite reality show (albeit, perhaps also the only one I watch), and not because I’ve been watching it since the second (or third, I forget) season, but also because this year it’s set in the Boston area, the region that I currently call home.
It was exciting to see places I’ve been on the show, even if they didn’t throw in too much local color in the first episode. The most we saw, really, was the Whole Foods (which I think is in the Fenway?) and the “Top Chef Food Festival” at the Museum of Science; we didn’t even see the house the chefs will be staying in yet. But I’ll say, the guest list at the Museum was pretty impressive, full of Boston culinary superstars like Barbara Lynch, Ming Tsai, Jasper White, Jamie Bissonnette, Todd English, and others.
This early in the competition, it’s tough to get a sense of all the chefs because the field is so big. Right now, I’ll be rooting for the Boston girl (I forget her name, but she’s from Regal Beagle in Brookline; unfortunately, I think I moved out of that neighborhood before it opened so I’ve never been). I have to feel for George, who got eliminated in the new-look Elimination Quickfire (which I’m not sure I like; it seems too abrupt), and who seemed like an earnest and likeable sort of guy. I also like Joy, who’s pretty humble and self-effacing, but who I suspect has some serious skills regardless, at least judging by the response to her food in the elimination. She didn’t make it in the top, but her simple grits, greens, and crispy chicken skin looked really good. Least likeable is Adam, who not only comes off as incredibly arrogant but also disgustingly retrograde when he refers to Keriann as a “beautiful blonde thoroughbred”; sure, she’s good looking, but comparing her to a race horse is thoughtless at best and misogynistic at worst and immediately left a bad taste in my mouth. Also in the running for early villain is Aaron (I think that’s his name), who comes across as completely full of himself and totally dismissive of his competition, despite the fact that he serves such a fatty piece of pork to Padma that she spits it out in front of him and tells him to get his shit together, though in a slightly nicer tone; he tends to wear a black hat (appropriate) in his face-to-face interviews, so I think I’ll be calling him DoucheHat from now on. Katsuji has an interesting backstory (Japanese, Kosher, and Mexican all together?) but his “petroleum shrimp” looked bizarre, and based on the reactions of the judges, it probably tasted bizarre too; I’d avoid adding the word “petroleum” to anything edible. Katie’s broccoli dish sounded like a bad idea from the start, and it was. Too simple, and ugly to look at.
When it gets down to judging, it looks like this year all the chefs are going to be called into the same room at once, and they’ll all get to hear who succeed, who failed, and why. I like this approach a lot better than last year, when they simply piped the judge deliberations into the waiting room via TV. Mei wins, for making some kind of traditional rice porridge, and Michael goes home for putting fish eggs in a cold soup (eww). I have to say, I love that two-time former contestant and one-time winner Richard Blais is back as a judge. I hope he’s around for most of the season; he was my favorite competitor in both of the seasons he was in, and I like seeing him on the other side of the table. He gave some pointed criticisms to a few folks (in particular he was critical of some of the molecular gastronomy approaches that he was known for during his time on the show), but I wonder if he went a little easier on the chefs in general, since he’s been there before and knows what it’s like.
Anyway, it’s great that the show is back, and I can’t wait to see more locations around Boston. As I said above, it’s a bit too early to get a sense of the strongest and weakest links, and all the personalities, but I’m looking forward to trying to figure it all out in the upcoming episodes.