Top Chef Premiere: Beware Ripert, Desserts, and Mousse

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Photo: Courtesy of Bravo

The first episode of Top Chef: D.C. didn't feature any of the many political guest stars we've been promised, but politics reared its head almost immediately as the cheftestants vied to establish themselves as front-runners. The battle lines were established between cocky Angelo (of Xie Xie) and speedy Kenny during the Quickfire, a typical Top Chef opener of a three-legged race to prep food (a mise en place, if you want to get fancy like Tom). Watching people peel potatoes isn't the least bit exciting, even with dramatic music and people slicing their hands open in the background, but Kenny really was a machine. The four fastest chefs prepared their chopped potatoes, onions, and chicken. Flavor trumped speediness, and Angelo won the Quickfire (and $20,000, since high-stakes Quickfires didn't stay in Vegas). He vowed to be the first contestant to win every single challenge. Looking for the out-of-control ego? You just found it.

In the elimination challenge, chefs created a dish reflecting their own community (their constituency) and served them to 300 yuppies celebrating D.C.'s famous cherry-blossom festival. (If it's so famous, why not make the challenge relate to the event? Just a thought.) The four top chefs from the Quickfire selected teammates from among the other contestants in reverse gym-class style, from worst chef to best. The best was New York's hometown boy, Ed Cotton, representing our home borough of Queens. Angelo dispatched him to Kenny's team and developed the narrative for a season-long battle. Both chefs landed in the top four, but Angelo's smoked Arctic char–and-bacon mousse won. "I will set the presidence [sic]," he said.

L.A.'s Alex channeled Michael Voltaggio with a judge-pleasing deconstruction of borscht that recalled his Russian roots. Expect him to clash with Angelo, as they both spent the meet-and-greet with the other chefs name-dropping. Tracey's a great candidate to provide snippy asides like Vegas's Mike I., such as "Stephen's a little hick from some country town. I'm sure he has no idea how to cook." Laughs will definitely come from Arnold, who spends his introduction dancing and explaining that he got a stylist and a facial before coming to the show.

The minute kooky hippie John announced he would make a dessert, we knew he was a goner. His no-maple-flavor mousse made the first elimination easy. Much like Fight Club, Top Chef only has one rule: Don't make a dessert in the first episode if you don't want to go home. Other low-scoring chefs were four-nippled Jacqueline, who made a low-fat chicken-liver mousse (you didn't read wrong; it doesn't make sense); Stephen, who overcooked his potato-crusted rib eye until it looked like "chicken nuggets," according to new regular judge Eric Ripert; and Tim, who messed up his fish so badly that Ripert commented on how terrible his technique was three times. Beware, all ye who cook seafood; Kenny wasn't kidding when he called Ripert the Seafood God. We're sorry, Toby, but you are not missed.

Later this season: fireworks! The other CIA! Aliens! Baseball! Schoolchildren! Joe Scarborough! Also, Dial is the lead sponsor this time around, so don't be surprised if a future Quickfire involves speed-washing dishes with a new product of theirs. Plus, look out for mousse to be D.C.'s seviche — we saw three versions of it in the premiere alone.