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Top Chef Fodder

Top Chef: Anything You Can Cook, I Can Cook Better

nimma.jpgIn what was the shortest waiting period between a season finale and premiere of any of my favorite TV shows, Top Chef makes a swift return. They've relocated to Chicago now, expanding the cast (by 1, woowee) and aiming to further Bravo's reign as the most sophisticated reality TV show uterus. Hostess Padma Lakshmi is back, along with head chef Tom Colicchio. And after the previous season, the cuisine is expected to be even more elitist than the chefs' egos.

We get brief introductions to some of our potentials as they arrive at the airport and meet at the Pizzeria Uno. Here begins Bravo's quest to exhume your affection. Ryan was a Chef Boyargenius who outcooked two more experienced chefs when he was only 11 years old. Nimma has domineering parents who intended to imprison her until she gets married. Zoi has a softer side and is from San Francisco...more on her in a moment. Mark is our stock foreigner, from New Zealand (at least he's from someplace more unique--God, how boring are the British already...), who first arrived in America years ago with nothing but $200 in his backpack. At this point, I've yet to be roped in.

Every season, at least one "cheftestant" has a mohawk. This year, we have two: Richard and Jennifer. Such diversity! I'm digging Richard soon enough, as he appears to be our risk-taker, who's not afraid to think outside of the box in his culinary executions. I'm also finding Jennifer to be particularly intriguing (again, more reasons why to come), because she has a very personable, fun aura about her. Erik is shown next and we're immediately led to believe he's our token hothead. This will later prove unfounded. Next up is Andrew. He is a dorkus malorkus from the get-go and I'm in heaven. He's so silly and proud of his food nerdism, but fortunately avoiding true cockiness along the way. (He opts for endearing goofball instead.) And then, we meet Stephanie, who tells us she's a bundle of fun with hidden anxieties. I'm loving her humble demeanor, but trepidacious of getting too invested, as nerves tend to be a sign of weakness...but perhaps she will overcome!

We're soon reminded that Chicago is the haven for deep-dish pizzas, a far-from-subtle foreshadowing of the first Quickfire Challenge. But before that begins, a revelation is made by Jennifer and Zoi that they are a couple. That's right, a Bravo first! A competing lesbian couple (again, Bravo), who were both selected based on their skills (although it is possible that an executive from Big Brother/The Real World escaped and infiltrated Bravo's braintrust to add some flavor). Naturally, this will be a source of some drama (see: ratings) later on this season. Most of the chefs seem unaffected by it--most likely because they don't see it being much of a problem.

Well, except for douchebag Spike. He groans because he's insecure that the lesbians will outlast him, then tries to comfort himself by saying "they can just go home together!" [Cue smug grin.] He's lucky he's suave and Greek (birth name is Evangelos--hella sexy), which might redeem his arrogant attitude.

With that melodramatic segment out of the way--which I applaud the couple for doing, as it shows strength of character and that they're both honest, upfront people who won't be surreptitious competitors to watch out for--the show gets rolling along. Padma and Tom arrive. The Quickfire Challenge folks is--yup, you guessed it--to make your own signature deep-dish pizza within 90 minutes, using all of the Top Chef Kitchen ingredients. They are also permitted to use any items they brought on their own accord, up to $200 worth each.

We learn that Andrew is basically a whore for pressure, because he feels challenged and invigorated by it. Stephanie, on the other hand, is so nervous, she winds up slicing her finger. Now that'd make for a tasty paste--at least for the Transylvanians in the local area.

Next, say hello to Dale, our resident cocky Asian. (I'm sorry, but after the multiple Hung fiascoes of last year, I've had my fill.) However, to his credit, he seems like a watered-down version of Hung...a little more pleasant and reserved. That's definitely a plus...for now. The next few frames zoom right by: Valerie works in fine dining, Manuel is skilled in Mediterranean flavors; Nikki didn't measure her pizza dough, Mark is infusing an Aussie product, Antonia is of Italian descent and clearly confident, Richard's adding a southern flavor, Spike's giving it a Greek touch, and Lisa is a devotee of Latin and Asian components. Phew!

Andrew spent so much time prepping and kneading his dough that he failed to notice Richard had swiped what he assumed was an extra pot. Andrew starts cracking on him, saying what a sneaky competitor he's up against, with an extra dose of some silly white boy speak. (God, I love this guy.) Already at a disadvantage, he grabs a skillet and tries to Tim Gunn it (a.k.a. make it work, for all you noobs). Stephanie's crust falls apart...uh oh. And Dale chimes in--in a very Hung-ian manner, I might add--that he examined some of the other chefs' pizzas "and some are really *beep*". Clearly, that could mean oh, so many things, right?...Like flamboyant, or Canadian.

They all deliver the pizzas to the door of a mystery house. When they ring the doorbell, who else would emerge but Rocco DiSpirito. Thus, 2/3 of the cheftestants begin praising him to the camera. Eh, it's all just really, because Rocco is all kinds of awesome. The chefs make their way inside, passing Padma holding a cue stick at the pool table for no reason whatsoever. She's so game for Bravo's attempted realism, I love it.

And then, one by one, they bring out their pizzas for critiquing. A few were lauded, while many others caused the two judges to grimace and force out "thank you"s. After each were sampled, Rocco divided the sixteen into two groups of eight. The losing group consisted of: Lisa, Nimma, Valerie, Manuel, Zoi, Nikki, Stephanie, and Andrew. The winning group, therefore, was comprised of: Richard, Mark, Jennifer, Erik, Ryan, Dale, Spike, and Antonia. However, no immunity was granted--which is unusual for a Quickfire Challenge.

Then the exhausted chefs were lavished with some wonderful news: This mysterious house will be their Top Chef home! And so began some mingling and socializing for most of the housemates...except for poor Nimma, who was disappointed over her loss and took to her bed early. Oh, and Dale showed signs of Howie last year by stating that he wasn't here for relationships, he was here for the competition and that you have to remove yourself from...oh, who cares? He's the lone wolf.

The next day, the cheftestants arrive in the kitchen and are separated by their winning and losing groups from the previous night. The winners are asked to draw knives...and then Padma explains the first Elimination Challenge of the season. They will select one of the members from the other team to battle head-to-head with them on reinventing one of 8 classic dishes written on the chalkboard. The losing team member gets to select which meal to interpret.

Richard selects Andrew, much to the latter's glee, and he chooses crab cakes. Mark picks Stephanie and she opts for duck à l'orange. Jennifer chooses Nikki, who goes with lasagna. Antonia selects Nimma, who picks shrimp Scampi. Spike and Lisa take eggs Benedict. Dale and Manuel go for steak au poivre. Ryan and Valerie decide on chicken piccata. And that leaves Erik and Zoi, who are stuck with soufflé--which neither has made in YEARS.

More delicious Andrew indulgence ensues when he discovers the kitchen...does not have ANY. MAYONNAISE. IN. STOCK. Seriously, Top Chef, for real? You'll have geoduck reduction honey glaze but no sandwich lubricant?! In any event, Andrew notices his competitor had the foresight to purchase mayonnaise earlier. Oh gee, I wonder who's the victor for this dish...but Andrew doesn't surrender, oh no. He makes his OWN...from scratch! Richard feels guilty and offers his mayo, but Andrew politely refuses...oh pride, you tricky deadly sin, you.

Starting from scratch is also on Nikki's mind when she creates her own pasta for the lasagna...brilliant. My mouth was already watering...as it was when Stephanie decided to use the entire duck for the full experience. Smart move I thought, as opposed to Mark, who took a minimalistic approach. And Stephanie's just finished garnishing her platter, with the unsteadiest hand ever, when...time! "Hands up, utensils down"...approach the judges.

First up are Stephanie and Mark. The judges orgasm over Stephanie's duck dish, while finding Mark's elemental breakdown to be confusing. Anthony Bourdain, taking over Gail Simmons/Ted Allen's usual spot, goes on to say that with Stephanie's dish, he found himself continuing to consume it long after he was supposed to. Yay, Stephanie! She wins this round and is up for winning overall, while Mark is potential cannon fodder.

Richard and Andrew go next. The judges love Richard's and have mild fondness (with a few complaints) for Andrew's. But there can only be one winner, and that's Richard. The decision is even tougher with Jennifer and Nikki, as Tom says both are amazing platters of food. But one uncooked component of Jennifer's dish combined with the genius and gutsy decision to roll her own pasta gets Nikki a win and potential top slot (although clearly, Jennifer's got nothing to worry about).

The challenges roll on, w/ Antonia's shrimp beating Nimma's, Lisa's eggs triumphing over Spike's, and Dale's steak besting Manuel's. When it came to the chicken, the judges were displeased with both, because neither truly grasped the concept of the classic dish. But in the end, Valerie's flavors redeemed her fault while Ryan's foolishly breaded chicken put him in the hot seat. And finally, along came the soufflés.

The judges were critical of their dishes, stating that neither were truly soufflés. However, they felt that Erik's was deflated and his entire dish was sloppy, while Zoi's dish was far more delectable. (No doubt the dessert factor gained her bonus points.) And so, the last pair adjourned to the waiting area as the judges sat at their infamous table, discussing who were their favorites.

Padma emerges in the door frame and requests to see Antonia, Nikki, Richard, and Stephanie. Dale, avoiding even a phony grimace, scowls and curses without hesitance. Oh, how sad for you...guess that means statistics are now against you? (Note: In the previous three seasons, the winner was in the top of the first Elimination Challenge. In the first two seasons, that winner won the entire competition.) Naturally, those four were announced as the favorite dishes in this challenge. Each judge had something to rave about each dish. But when it came time to announce the winner, Rocco declared the victor to be...Stephanie! Our little bundle of nerves managed to make a sumptuous and magnificent meal that tickled everyone's palette to the extreme. This is surely going to be a confidence boost for her and maybe she'll have more faith in herself for weeks to come.

The four, of course, now had to return and send back the four worst: Ryan, Erik, Nimma, and Mark. The judges grilled Nimma on her oversalting, which made her dish inedible. Mark was slammed for his incoherent concept. Erik was bashed for having a mess of a platter. And Ryan was lambasted for being oblivious as to the origins of his dish.

In the end though, of little surprise to no one, Nimma was sent packing her knives to go. She seems like a sweet person who just lacked confidence and conviction, but is still growing and blossoming. Ryan probably feels most relieved, as had it not been her, it would most likely have been him.

During this episode, a poll was conducted: Do you think Jennifer and Zoi have an advantage being in a romantic relationship? 22% said Yes, but 78% wisely said No. Among the preview clips for future episodes, there seems to be drama on the horizon between Jennifer and Spike (ugh), as well as a mishmash of other stuff that I dazed out during. Not much to comment on, really. Nonetheless, I think we have one juicy season on our hands...so check back next week for the next recap!

And a special thanks go out to Rachel and Mac for giving me this opportunity. Let me know what you thought of my first post and share all your thoughts about tonight's contestants and the food they worked with! -- James De Roxtra


Posted by on March 13, 2008 9:00 AM
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i love nikki and andrew, they seem awesome :). stephanie is amazing too tho, i hope you're right that she overcomes her nerves...maybe a girl can finally win!

-- Posted by: Kev at March 13, 2008 3:02 PM

Yeah, Nimma had to go. She wasn't up to this level of competition.

-- Posted by: Lori at March 13, 2008 4:10 PM

I didn't watch YET (but I mean, it's Bravo so . . . it'll only be on 200 more times) but I'm cheering for the Kiwi for no other reason than he's probably adorable. (His picture is)


And I refuse to believe this Nikki girl eats anything.

You would like the nerd ;)

-- Posted by: will at March 13, 2008 6:29 PM

P.S. Rocco DiSpirito is a d-bag

-- Posted by: will at March 13, 2008 6:34 PM

Finally someone that agrees with me when it comes to Top Chef!

So far I love Nikki, Andrew and Stephanie. They are my favorites so far.

I can't stand Dale though. He's like Hung all over again.

Anyway, Great Job on the Article! :)

-- Posted by: Bridget at March 14, 2008 12:21 AM

who really even watches top chef its just a boring show that should be cut

-- Posted by: anonymous at March 14, 2008 12:22 AM

Well then, anonymous, thanks for taking the time to read and comment about stuff you could care less about. Always appreciated =).

-- Posted by: James at March 14, 2008 1:37 AM

As for everyone else, glad we're on the same page. Let's take a poll: Girls' Season or Guys' Season?

-- Posted by: James at March 14, 2008 2:33 AM

Very well written! Keep up the good work! :D

-- Posted by: Nuno at March 14, 2008 3:20 PM

Greetings all, just popped in from posting on the Lost blog.

I LOVE Top Chef.

Anonymous is a goof.

Glad to see there is now a forum to discuss. I was totally shocked that some of the chefs did not know certain classics. Even if they hadn't ever cooked them, maybe they've seen them?

But in the end, it's all food. And when the food is tasted and you ever hear the dreaded word, "inedible", you might as well shake hands, give out hugs and pack your knives, cause if they can't eat it, you obviously can't cook it, or probably most anything else!

It's the same question each season.
"Did you taste it before you plated it?"

"Uh, yeah, of course."

"Then you might want to find another profession."

I like Rocco and Bourdain. And so does Bravo and the Food Network. Because they are not simple, the are blunt and entertaining.

Speaking of Rocco, I miss "THE RESTURAUNT"!!! Wish they'd at least let us know who won between Rocco and the Money man.

Great post, have already saved it to my Favorites List. Will read you again very soon!

Have a great day!

-- Posted by: David at March 14, 2008 3:48 PM

Brilliant. BRILLIANT I SAY. (I can't comment on much more, because I didn't watch the show.) But seriously, this is witty and well-written. Kudos!

Suz

-- Posted by: Suzanne at March 15, 2008 3:35 PM

really well written. I agree with it all.

-- Posted by: Jeff.Say at March 16, 2008 11:58 PM

Poll response:

It's been a male dominated show, but you never know, and I think it's waaaaay to early to pick which side might surprise. I go by passion, and after one episode it's hard to discern passion from just anger.

So, I've said all that to say that if I had to guess right now......

I'll go with the shocker and say that a girl will surprise.

I think Stephanie's win was as much a shock to her as the people that probably know her, and that her shaking hands will one night be her doom. But she does have the girl next door charm and that is bonus points.

But keep an eye on Richard, if he can make friends and keep his hawk up straight, he seems mild mannered enough to surprise some people.

I think Spike and Andrew will both eventually loose their cool and that will be their demise. Harmony seems to work well for those who get to the end. "Seems" to work well.


bon appetit!

-- Posted by: David at March 17, 2008 1:01 PM

Thanks for the great comments everyone, especially David! I agree that it is a bit too soon, but I'm hopeful =P. I think Stephanie could last a while but be a surprise ouster like Tre...but I think she's gaining more confidence from this experience. I can see Richard lasting until much later on, too. And like last year, somebody like Casey could swoop in and steal the frontrunner slot out of nowhere.

-- Posted by: James De Roxtra at March 20, 2008 11:08 AM

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