For some reason, and after stints in LA, Las Vegas and Chicago, the Top Chef crew decided this season to decamp in the nation’s capital. As we can see from scenes that are coming up, the city plays host to a number of venues like the Goddard Space Center and politicians like Nancy Pelosi (yes, that Nancy Pelosi). The crew has also added Le Bernardin chef extraordinaire Eric Ripert to the lineup of judges, including Padma Lakshmi, Tom Collichio and Gail Simmons.
Let’s get to the contestants and our initial impressions:
*Tiffany is 27, and as an African American woman, wants to be the first one to win in “Barack Obama’s city”
*Stephen, 40, is a father of twins, and away from his family, is here to “kick ass”
*Tracey, 34, is a chef from Atlanta. She looks like many of the fierce and sometimes angry female chefs of before, and yes, you know what we mean. She will threaten to kill someone by the end of the episode.
*Tamesha, 24, is the youngest chef and hails from Barbados.
*Kenneth, 36, is also African American and has been cooking for as long as he remembers.
*Amanda, 27, is from LA
*Alex, 33, is an executive chef, living in Hollywood and is of Russian descent.
*Kelly, 33, is a James Beard award winner and is from Vail, CO
*Lynne, 51, is a chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, also known as the CIA
*Arnold Myint, 33 (hey, is EVERYONE born in 1977?) is of Burmese and Thai extraction, wears frilly scarves and owns a hospitality company and three restaurants in Nashville. Cue to wacky waving arms dancing in his kitchen in his audition tape. Yeah.
*Kevin, 31, is from Hamilton NJ and is a chef thee. Another brotha.
*Jacqueline, also born in 1977, is a caterer
*Tim, 40, is a chef in DC (Steakhouse) and is a widower.
*Angelo, 35, is dropping names like Jean-Georges and Alain Ducasse and was awarded a Michelin star for his restaurant in NYC’s West Village. Tim is already pegging Angelo as a bullshitter, what with his talk of having just returned from “amazing” Monte Carlo.
*Andrea, 39, is from Vero Beach, FLA
*John, 42, with wlld hair and gonzo bandanna, looks to be the wacky one this season.
*Ed, 30, a chef from NYC who didn’t appear in this original cavalcade of contestants. He was more or less tacked on at the end of the quickfire challenge.
*Quickfire Challenge: Contestants have to complete three cooking tasks that show their speed and technique: peel potatoes in the first round, the fastest ones move on to the second, where they must brunois onions (means a mean and tiny chop), and then the third, they have to cut up fryers into eight pieces. The final four have to then prepare a dish in 30 minutes using all the ingredients.
For this, Kenny was the undisputed champ, totally overpowering everyone with his speed. It seems that Angelo, his neighbor, was right along with him, alternately impressed by his skill but also a little jealous of him. And in the cooking challenge, it was Angelo and Kenny who were the final two –Angelo prevailing with a Roasted Chicken with a Curried Onion Jam.
*The main challenge was to have the chefs create a dish that represents where they’re from, and with this diverse group, this could be quite interesting. The familiar running around and screaming the times, the insolent comments and rude asides that these types of high-powered chefs are known for was all on display. This is becoming a bit overdone by now: chefs that are a bit full of themselves, acting out and chiding others and just being plain rude sometimes. This was true of Marcel in season 2, and passive aggressive Ilan, the eventual winner that season. Every season has its villains, or surly types whom you understand completely why they’re in the food business and not, say, lecturing to college freshmen or filling test tubes in a cancer lab somewhere.
*With Angelo identified as the ego-in-question thus far, we can compare him to Stefan from Season 5 in his cockiness and get-in-your-face attitude. But like Stefan, he can cook very well and shows great skill in his techniques. That said, some of the other chefs seem more silent and self-assured, like Kenny and Tim. Others, well, it’s hard to get a handle on some of them. It’s like watching “Survivor” for the first 3 or 4 weeks: you have no idea who everyone is because the camera or the producers have decided not to focus on them. All TC can do at the moment is see who rises to the top, who gets peeved at whomever, and whose egos or self-esteem issues seem to be flaring up.
*Tracey, for example, seems odious already, as when she seemed to put down Stephen just because he is from the “sticks” of Ohio. I guess being from the center-of-the-universe Atlanta tends to do that to you. Plus she seems to not be all that sociable, and bears a snarky resemblance to nasty Jennifer Carroll in Season 6, only add 100 or so pounds.
*For a moment last night, we also got a sense of what happens when grown adults get to act like children. After the QC, the four finalists got to choose team members and proceed to the main challenge: cook something that comes from your region and that defines you. Oh, and then serve it to 300+ people who are attending DC’s famed cherry blossom festival. The strategy was this: since only one dish from each would be selected as the best, and the worst, it made sense for the captains to select “weaker” chefs. That left the better chefs to be chosen last. Which is interesting –how do these chefs know who is good or not? It’s all about initial impressions, or not, since this also seemed a bit awkward, as if we were choosing kickball teams.
As it turned out, the chefs were really out to impress the judges and some just took this challenge too far. Why wacky John decided to make a maple mousse napoleon and then decide this was from Michigan, his home state, we will never know. He was tossed out, probably a little prematurely since I do think he had some stuff in him. But it was a huge risk for him to break out of the starting gates with a dessert anyways. I was actually more shocked that Jacqueline’s chicken liver mousse looked like it was raw and unappetizing and again, why even do an appetizer? I liked the deconstructed borscht that Alex made, really colorful and creative, and it showed his Russian heritage too. But in the end it was Angelo who once again prevailed, with (again) an arctic char, that standby of TC challenges from a long time now. It was an impressive dish by all accounts, and his apparent rival Kenny was right behind him as well.
Angelo mentioned that he’d like to be the first TC chef to win ALL the challenges; isn’t that quite a boast! Impossible –that just couldn’t happen, but he could certainly be among the finalists for some time to come, or not. All we know is that his ego is firmly intact, inflated, and the others will somehow pick on him, be irked by him, find a way to get under his skin, etc., and according to “this season, on Top Chef”, there’s some excitement that is awaiting all of us every Wednesday night on Bravo.