Sunday, August 23, 2009

"I started with a nice rack."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Yes, it is Saturday Sunday evening, a full three four days since the premiere of Top Chef: Las Vegas. One might wonder that I can be taken seriously as a faithful writer of recaps. I wasn't especially spectacular with my timing last season, either, but this time around, it's going to be even more challenging, being that I'll have to be up at the crack of dawn the next day for MY JOB, which will no longer be "student." I've just discovered, however, that Top Chef airs on our Bravo HD channel at 6 o'clock, which gives me ample time to watch, maybe even rewind a few scenes, and throw together my thoughts. Perhaps my efforts at finishing a recap on the very eve of the show's airing will be good practice for my everlasting attempts to improve my time management skills.

Okay, I've gotten all my excuses out of the way. On to my reunion with my beloved Tom Colicchio, the delightfully silly and occasionally vapid Padma Lakshmi, and the wild bunch of new chefs! Top Chef Masters simply doesn't hold a candle to the original (I'm sorry, Hubert!), and has barely sustained me all summer!

The show began with the typical montage of various airport arrivals, snippets of chefs meeting their fellow competitors, obligatory shots of various casinos, hotels, and waterworks, and personal interviews which are remarkably insightful and illustrative of character. Standing out immediately is Jen C.-vain intro, flippant attitude, entitled behavior...she's a vicious wench, and I'm really not looking forward to having to deal with her all season.

My other immediate impressions?

I immediately feel good about my initial vibes towards Kevin Gillespie. He "always felt in his heart that he was meant to be a chef," and he gave up a chance to go to MIT in order to follow that sweet lovable heart. What a guy.

I'm loving Ron Desprat, the Haitian. His voice is soothing, and he's like a teddy bear. Eve is cute-as-a-button. It's okay that you're the only chef from Michigan, Eve. There is probably some great food there.

I love the name Eli. Plus, he wore a t-shirt emblazoned with a ham, proclaimed he was a fat kid and liked to cook fat kid food, and then proceeded to be interviewed in a shirt that said one simple, lovely word on the front: "bacon." Be still my heart.

Is Mattin going to be wearing the red scarf always? Is that a French thing? I don't think Hubert or Eric Ripert would do that.

Apparently, tattoos are quite the popular in the food industry. These guys are COVERED in ink. Jen Z. has one on her neck! OUCH! I was won over, though, by her quiet profession of her two loves: her son and cooking.

My best friend Pretty Cheap Dress sent me a text informing me that she was more than impressed with the aesthetic appeal of the Voltaggio brothers, Michael and Bryan. I'd initially expressed more interest in Bryan, the older, James Beard trained, Mr. Clean brother. Turns out tattooed, tanned, spiky-haired and sunglass-wearing Michael was rather charming, and I became quickly endeared to him because of his obvious following in his older brother's footsteps.

I'd barely begun to notice the other chefs and dwell on the fact that Atlanta is clearly a culinary hotspot when the whole group collectively decided it was time to don the white chef coats (thus covering up all the tattoos) and head to the Top Chef Kitchen for their first quickfire.

As the cheftestants reel from the vision of the best GE equipment EVER ON THE HISTORY OF TOP CHEF, I eagerly search for Tom and Padma. As usual, Padma looks lovely. And significantly, refreshingly, heavier than Kelly Choi. Tom looks suspiciously pleased. That would be because the first quickfire is the infamous mise en place relay. "Mise en place" is literally translated as "putting in place", and in the culinary world, it refers to the preparation of ingredients before cooking begins. The relay has always been eagerly anticipated on the show-a few memorable moments have included Hung's terrifying ability to break down a chicken (Season 3) and Dale's meltdown when his teammate Nikki wasn't able to whip her egg whites fast enough to win (Season 4). It's kind of a hardcore choice for the first quickfire, and I think the chefs were probably fairly shocked by it.

Wait-what is that I see? Is there a caberet in the Top Chef kitchen? Oh no, that's only the Stardust Showgirls, welcoming viewers and chefs to Vegas. What else did we expect?

After the gratuitous display, Padma informs the chefs that they'll be drawing chips to determine their teams, green, black, blue or red. Robin is confused when she pulls a gold chip, but quickly brightens when she realizes the chip gives her immunity from the challenge. I completely understand her sentiments.

The tasks for the mise en place relay are, in order: Shuck clams, peel prawns, clean lobster, and butcher two chops from a prime rib. The teams whisper frantically to each other, and I immediately anticipate problems. At least when the relay occurs later in a season, the chefs know each other and can play to their strengths more effectively. Preeti is not assertive, and ends up with the clams, a task that she doesn't know how to perform. Say what you want, girl! That's the only way to get ahead in this game. Her teammates learn their lesson the hard way-it was painfully embarrassing to watch.

Jen Z. isn't so great with the clams either, and finds herself impeded further when she cuts herself. Lovely, another gushing wound. Just what we all want to see in the kitchen. Mike Isabella is crazy-fast, on the other hand, rapidly going through his clams. Jesse is speedy quick with her prawns, and Mattin, to Jen C.'s chagrin, decimates his lobster, ripping off the heads like they were pencil erasers.

By the way, is it wrong that all the lobster-cleaning made me hungry? For lobster? The dealings with the chops, however, make me not want to be a chef. Ever.

The black and blue teams KILL the red and green teams. Poor, poor Preeti. It came down to the wire, but the blue team had the edge, and after a few raucous but subdued cheers, turn to face Padma to discover that...

What what what?!?! The winner of the quickfire is not only guaranteed immunity, but wins $15,000! THIS IS A TOP CHEF FIRST! Of course, it's a chip worth that much, being that we're in Vegas, BUT STILL! Robin is told she has the opportunity to give up immunity to participate in the challenge, but she doesn't go for it. This leads to Mike Isabella (I think I'm always going to write out his full name) criticizing her in his interview, which tells me that his eye is on the cash prize, not just the title. What is better, Mike Isabella? A guaranteed shot at the next round of the competition or extra gambling money? How serious are you as a chef, buddy?

In order to determine who wins the cash cow and immunity, the four chefs on the blue team (Mattin, Jen C., Bryan, and Jesse) have to each prepare a dish based on the ingredient they prepared during the race. I would've wanted the lobster. Just throwing my two cents in...

I decide during the quickfire that I like Mattin in spite of his red scarf. He's an okay guy. Jen C., on the other hand, is getting worse as the show goes on. She refers to her clam ceviche as a "cevich"-who does she think she is? Can I write Eric Ripert and ask him to fire her? Much to my dismay, Tom loved the "cevich", even though Jesse's take on shrimp and grits was like a big bite of the ocean, and Jen C. was declared the winner. Ugh. The chef I already hate.

The announcement of the elimination challenge was unsurprising and rather unimaginative: Cook a dish based on one of your own personal vices. Showgirls, chips worth $15,000, and a stereotypical reminder that we're in Sin City-it's beyond irritating. I am cheered, however, as I begin to imagine how Jen C. will be able to craft a dish based on arrogance. This shouldn't be hard for her. The chefs are told they will be preparing their food at Cut, Wolfgang Puck's steak restaurant (Interesting side note: Tom and Katie Cruise are photographed at the Beverly Hills location on a regular basis-it's their fave).

The first outing to Whole Foods was a predictable mad dash. Michael Voltaggio struggled with the nut dispenser, as though he'd never used one before. Mike Isabella was utterly annoying. My beloved Kevin Gillespie was irritated with Eli for buying all the scallops. What if scallops are Eli's vice, Kev? We know they're Jamie's!

A red flag reared its ugly head when Jen Z. said she would be using a strange gluten product to make chile rellenos. Also problematic was her confession that hot peppers are a vice. I think she might have missed the point.

Back in the kitchen, Kevin begins to prepare his arctic char, based on his vice of procrastination. At least he understands the task. Jen who I hate makes a drunken lobster stock, because she mistakenly believes her vice has something to do with drinking various forms of alcohol every night followed by poor decision-making. Jesse is adorably ruddy-faced when cooking, and I worry as she worries about making dry chicken. Please don't make dry chicken, Jesse! It's the kiss of death at judge's table! Mike Voltaggio has apparently confused Vegas with L.A. as he references plastic surgery and speaks suggestively about his rack of lamb.

All initial poor impressions of Preeti flew out the window when she described her dish, fennel-crusted pork tenderloin with Maker's Mark-scented mashed sweet potatoes. I almost fell out of my seat as Laurine decribed her bacon doughnuts accompanied by a Belgian beer sauce. I might die (of happiness) if I had a perfectly executed dish like that. Hector decides to make (deep-fried) steak and potato, Latino way. Kevin worries that he slowed himself down too much.

As usual, I was beside myself with happiness to see Gail at judge's table. She is wonderful, always generous with compliments, happy to see the contestants, and astute about the food. Wolfgang Puck is there, with his remarkably blue eyes. Padma is wearing some sort of garment that looks as it were made from cast-off Stardust Showgirls costumes.

The parade of dishes is almost exclusively inspired by the vices of alcohol and general excess. Yet another characteristic to add to the list of chef stereotypes: tattoos, a tendency to curse like a sailor, and drunkenness. Wolfgang and crew hate Hector's deep-fried steak, but they admire the Haitian's jerk bass with collard greens. Jesse DID overcook her chicken breast, unfortunately, but Mike V's rack of lamb was a winner-Wolfgang said that he'd have to be a professional in order to put a plate like that together. I'm liking him more and more. I can barely understand Mattin as he explains his dish-did he say biffalo?

Jennifer's chile rellenos made with seitan are a colossal failure, and Laurine's bacon doughnuts were compared to golf balls. Ash's parsley coulis was a lovely shade of green, and much to my tremendous disappointment, Jen C.'s poached halibut was a big favorite. In the end, Ron (the Haitian), Mike V., Kevin, and Jen C. were victorious, though I rolled my eyes when they dubiously left the stew room. Don't they know the winners are always called back to judge's table first?

Kevin is this season's Humble Hosea-he was extremely appealing as he talked about his dish-and he was declared the winner! Gosh, I sure know how to pick 'em. Jesse, Hector, Jen Z., and Eve were the first losers of the season, and even though I had hoped to discover how Italian and Mexican heritages might mix, I was glad to see Jen go. She deserved it, after all. Who uses seitan when they don't have to?

I think it's going to turn out to be an interesting season. Unlike the last one, there are already a few chefs to whom I feel attached. And at least one I can't stand. I can't wait until next week!

1 comment:

Sunglasses Display said...

I recently tweeted and stumbled upon your post. Really your post is very informative and I enjoyed your opinions. Do you use twitter or stumbleupon? So I can follow you there. I am hoping you post again soon.

Here you can pay attention to my site.
Thank you for coming
Sunglass Display