We had heard that this season of Top Chef was going to be more about the food, and yup, that would seem to be the case. The intro roll had a smidge of human interest care of Ash Fulk (“being gay in the kitchen is tough … ”), but it mostly pimped out the James Beard nominees (Kevin, Bryan), and with a few exceptions, everyone seemed to be cooking at a much higher caliber than last year. We’ve already pointed out that Eric Ripert’s chef de cuisine, Jen C., is the front-runner here, so our first two questions were: What’s up with Padma’s sexy-raspy voice (it was never explained — apparently what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas) and who’s going to be the biggest douche bag? So far, “Jersey Mike” Isabella seems to be this year’s Howie. Dude uses words like “stoked,” and during the Quickfire’s relay race, he didn’t take kindly to being neck-and-thick-neck with Jennifer (“No offense, but a girl shouldn’t be at the same level I am”) and he also said Robin (diagnosed with two types of lymphoma) was “one less old lady I have to worry about,” since she got immunity. And then of course his the other Michael’s dish: a tribute to boob jobs via a “rack” (har har) of lamb. After a relay race that was kind of a mess because there were so many people competing, the chefs were told to cook dishes inspired by their vices, and Mike’s was his temper and foul mouth.
So who are the other hotheads? Well, we can definitely rule out Mattin the Frenchman, who will heretofore be called the Little Prince because of his ridiculous Running of the Bulls outfit. Jen C. admitted she could be a “freakin bitch in the kitchen,” but nobody who uses the word “freaking” can be that bad, and she also seems like a sweetheart — she totally caught Tom off guard by giving him a peck on the cheek after winning $15,000 in the Quickfire with her citron vinegar clam seviche (or “seveech,” as she pronounced it). Eli’s vices were arrogance, drinking, bitterness, and jadedness (case in point: “I think I should win because I’m the best fucking cook here”), and as we know from watching Hosea last season, the guy who wears the “Bacon” shirt is usually the dick. But there’s also Michael and Bryan, the dysfunctional-seeming brothers (you can just feel the love when one of them tells the other “shut up, go fuck yourself”). The one to watch seems to be Michael, whom we’ll call Slim Shady owing to his backward-fitted cap.
And then, of course, there are all the chefs who outed themselves as boozers with their alcohol-laced dishes — Laurine, Bryan, Eli, Ashley, Preeti, Jennifer, and Jackie. Okay okay, we get the idea, you’re chefs—you’re down with the brown. Luckily the hilarious Wolfgang Puck was there to cut through the ridiculousness with lines like “looks like chicken testicles” (about Michael’s rack of lamb with coconut sauce and gnocchi), “people think we need some steak and then you need some baby food on it” (about the parsnip purée under Bryan’s NY strip), and “I would throw him with the steak in the fryer too” (on cooks who fry steak). He loved Jennifer’s poached halibut (shocker: Ripert’s chef is good with fish!) but advised her to cook with white wine instead of going crazy with scotch, bourbon, and cognac. (By the way, Ash and Mike also did poached halibut, which would lead us to wonder whether halibut is the new scallops, except that Eve and Eli did scallop dishes). Of course, the dish that stuck out like a sore thumb was Jen Z.’s chile relleno with seitan, which was so blah it even drew a one-liner out of Padma: “It’s like a vegan-bar midnight special.”
Let’s face it, though cooking with seitan was basically a plea to be eliminated (which she was), we wanted Jen Z. to stay because she was a self-confessed hothead and she seemed even more feisty and tatted up than Eugene from last season. but, as with last season, the mom immediately got sent home to be with her kids. Another fun fact, care of Bryan: Three out of the last five chefs who’ve won the Quickfire in previous seasons have gone on to win the whole shebang, which means very good things for Jen C. As for who’s in trouble: Well, there’s Eve, the Midwesterner who looks like she’s in a little over her head and whose shrimp and scallops in curry cream sauce looked like ass on a plate, and there’s Hector, who, though he cooks “with heart and balls” (not literally) also admits that, as a Puerto Rican, he fries everything (uh-oh). We’re a little worried that Ash didn’t get much face time in the first episode — certainly nowhere near as much as Kevin, who looks like Conan O’Brian with a biker beard and who can cook, to boot. Chances are, it’ll come down to Ashley (who also got a lot of camera time and seems to have her act together), Kevin, and Jennifer. Either way, it looks like this season might just redeem the last one?