Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Summertime means Top Chef! (Even if it doesn't feel like summer...)

So a couple of years ago (back in those early, giddy-with-blogging days) I blogged about Top Chef every week. Then last year, didn't. I am on the fence about how committed I could be to it this year, but I'm going to start off as if that's the plan and see how it goes...

(I'm also thinking that part of my reticence to commit is our general "meh" reaction to all things "reality TV" lately--Seth stated a lack of interest in watching So You Think You Can Dance this season and at first I thought he was joshin' me... HIM, not want to watch the b-boys and hip-hop and his favorite choreographers? We sat down together to watch the first night of real competition, just to see, and by the third dance, we were both a little bored. I know. That sounds downright scandalous. But it just seemed like more of the same old same old. Now, we didn't actually delete it from our dvr, so it's possible that on some really pathetically bored day later this summer we could get back into it, but I'm thinking the prospects are looking a wee bit grim...)

But back to Top Chef... I didn't approach seeing it on my dvr line up with great anticipation. More like, we'll see. And I was immediately swept into the season, happily. Partly, I think I was just so excited to see that Eric Ripert is now at the judges table each week. I got giddy and reached for my lap top. Silly girl. What can I say? The guy is amazing. AND seems like a decent person. In chefdom, as in life? So rare. And I was glad to see Tom and Gail back too, of course. But Eric! That's something.

After the introductions, before heading into the quickfire, I had a couple of early favorites: Arnold (the dancing in his audition video, not really a good way to judge cooking but he seems like he has a great  personality), Jacqueline (I know, I'm a sucker for the self-taught caterer, what can I say?), and Lynn (the CIA instructor). And I had an immediate "must go home NOW" reaction to John, the dredlocked one. Hmmm. Why do they have to bring the nutty ones (and I'm not judging just based on looks here, really... there was a vibe, I swear)? I get the arrogant and drama-filled, but bringing the crazy-eyed just seems kinda mean.

Speaking of mean, I need to get this out of the way: Cleavage much, Padma? I get that if you haven't ever had the "visible girls" thing working for you in the past and postpartum it's like a gift has been dropped in your lap (literally) you just might want to show it off. But it couldn't pass without a comment, that's all I'm saying. Maybe I'll have a special section this year called "Cleavage Watch" each week... That'll get the blog readership up, don't you think?

On to the quickfire: They did that really great mise en place challenge where you really have to bring tha skillz:
1. Peel 10 potatoes. Top 12 chefs to do this move on.
2. Brunoise (1/8 x 1/8 x 1/8 inch dice. EVEN dice.) 10 cups of onions. Top 8 chefs move on.
3. Break down 4 whole chickens. Top 4 chefs move on.

One guy won ALL of those challenges: Kenny. He was fast. Amazingly fast. Like no one else was even close. I loved it. His nearest competitor, Angelo, did not. This is going to be an interesting competition between the two of them. After the quickfire, it almost seemed like it was just the two of them competing... but it's early. Sometimes those early hotshots can flame out and get sent packing... and sometimes they last the whole way.

Next, the top 4 compete to make a dish using their chicken, onion and potatoes from the mise en place.
Angelo: roasted wing and thigh with curry potato noodles
Kevin: wings with hot and sour broth
Tim: potato galette
Kenny: duo of chicken

Kevin and Tim were deemed too salty and too creamy respectively, and Angelo came over Kenny. Normally I'm not really put off by confident, even overly confident, contestants, but there's something about Angelo I'm not so into. We'll see. He might grow on me, but right now I'd much rather see Kenny whup 'em.

Moving on to the elimination challenge: Angelo and Kenny were captains; they chose teams of the group and each chef competed in groups of four/five. They served a regional dish to a crowd of 300, cocktail-room style, something that reflects who they are as a chef, where they come from. There were lots of great looking/sounding dishes, but it all went a little too quick for me to get notes down... suffice it to say that I was hungry by the end of watching the judges get to chow on 17 different appetizers!

And, my heart gets a little bunny thump just watching them get ready for the event on site. Takes me back to those catering days... minutes before guests arrive and it’s all rush and hustle before the calm that takes over during the actual event.

(Another side note: Gail’s going to do Top Chef: Just Desserts, according to Padma. Finally, a Top Chef I’d be interested in participating in! And judging!)

When all is said and done, here's how it shakes out:
Winners from each group: Kenny, Kevin, Angelo, Alex = Angelo wins.
Losers from each group: John, Jacqueline, Steven, Tim = John goes home. Thank goodness.

As always, there were cheftestants who got next to zero camera time, and those who were immediate front runners in terms of standing out for their food and/or personality. It will be intriguing to see how that all shakes out in the coming weeks...

And now that the first episode is over, my top picks are Kenny, still Lynne (I think she's got some potential), Arnold (hopeful...), and maybe Ed. I also like Kelly and Andrea.

Onward to the competition! 

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