Before I get into this, I want to link to this Slate article by Troy Patterson. I love his TV criticism - here he takes on Top Chef and Cooking with Coolio (which Cooper watched online a couple of weeks ago...laughing all the way. Baggies for spices???). I read the article before watching the episode, which maybe I shouldn't have, since it definitely informed my viewing. But it's a good article anyway and well worth the read.
Also, Cail sent me this article the other day. It's an interview with Damon Wise, the executive chef of the Craft restaurant empire. He's, like, my age. And from Baltimore!
Finally, I may have mentioned this a while ago, but around Christmas, my sister's friend Lis saw Colicchio in a Brookstone (or maybe Sharper Image?) in Manhattan. I think she was a little intimidated by him. And this, from a girl who was not intimidated by Lance Bass and Reichen when she sat behind them at the US Open (and someone in the group - which also included LC from Laguna/The Hills - left their cell phone behind, so she had to run after them).
Done with the name dropping.
On to the recap. The first episode in every season sort of seems the same to me: here are a WHOLE bunch of chefs, don't get too attached to most of them because you won't really care about them after a week or two. Everyone wants to show off, and many chefs somehow forget that the judges value simple food that's well-prepared over mediocre fancy food. Everyone has passion and everybody's afraid they'll go home before they prove to America that they really can cook. The house is amazing, drinks are poured (but a couple abstain because...it's a competition) and the kitchen energy is amazing. Oh yeah, and somebody's into molecular gastronomy. Bring on the foams!
The episode begins in the hallowed halls of Pizzeria Uno, the deep dish restaurant that my friends and I tried to studiously avoid - thanks to its chain-i-ness - during my last trip to Chicago. (I was 7 weeks pregnant with severe nausea, and it was February. That's what that trip was like.)
There's some talking and some introducing and - Oh. My. God. - Jennifer and Zoi aren't just both from San Francisco - they're a couple! I got the impression that the producers were hoping for a little more of a dramatic reaction at that point. I'm sure we'll see some fireworks related to their relationship at some point, but for now, everyone was kind of just, "oh, well, ok." Honestly, I can't figure out if it would be a benefit - you've got someone to complain to, you're not missing your girlfriend - or a drawback - that's a special kind of competition I wouldn't need.
Then Padma arrives and everyone is all "it's real! it's real!" Just like they are every season. And I am all "Padma's dress is awesome!"
The Quickfire Challenge is all Chicago - deep dish pizza - and half the contestants don't know how to balance the dough and the ingredients. The only drama involves Richard using two pizza pans, so Andrew doesn't have one. Oh no! Somehow, it all works out. There's no one winner or loser, but the judges (Rocco di Spirito and Padma) divide the chefs into two equal groups of winners and losers. To be honest, I barely paid attention to who was in each group. At this point, nobody has THAT much personality (except Andrew - he's like Rob from Rob and Big, only on more speed, and Mark - he's got an accent. And I guess Richard. He reminds me of someone, but it might take me a few episodes to put my finger on it.)
On to the Eliminiation Challenge. The winners each get to pick a knife, then they choose one of the losers to compete with, head to head, on the same dish. But the loser gets to pick the dish, from a list of classics, like lasagna, chicken piccata and crab cakes. And souffle. The dreaded souffle.
Everyone picks, then they do their shopping thing. Again, I didn't pay all that much attention at this point - there are too many chefs this early on for me to keep it super straight, and the shopping scenes end up feeling like a montage anyway.
More of the same for cooking. There's energy! Things are crazy! Stephanie cuts herself. Nimma second-guesses and doesn't time things very well. Ryan "grew up in a kitchen" and he's all "I remember...I remember..." - apparently he wants us to know that he's got family pedigree. Andrew and Richard (paired up on this one) have a little more drama, when Andrew realizes there's no mayonnaise in the kitchen, but Richard planned ahead and bought some at the store. Richard's all "well, there are eggs and oil here" and Andrew says to the camera "so I'll make some. I didn't know how before."
Seriously? You're on Top Chef and you don't know how to make mayonnaise? Wow.
Anyway, in the end, nervous and shaky (but sweet) Stephanie wins big with Bourdain for her duck a l'orange and Debbie Downer Nimma goes home for serving her salt with a side of shrimp and cauliflower baby food (that's scampi?). Seemed about right to me, and I wasn't sorry to see the back of Nimma, who spent much of her time looking like Doug Dorsey just before he got on the ice - like she was about to vomit. Her words conveyed a slight range of emotions, but her expression and tone of voice...not so much. Her backstory - Muslim father who's very traditional, but supported her decision to go on the show - was somewhat interesting, but I don't think we'll miss much without her.
But she exits gracefully, as is the standard on the Bravo shows, and everyone else goes home relieved.
And I currently have 20 points on Fafarrazi. I'd chosen Stephanie (I thought she looked nice - I was right!), Dale and Ryan. I'm going to drop Ryan for next week, in favor of Andrew. He just gets bleeped a lot more. I thought Ryan was sort of cute...but all of his "I was 11 when I started!" bragging is more than a little annoying.
Don't forget to check out Black Coffee and a Donut, too!
UPDATE: Everybody's excited about the return of TC. Here's Best Week Ever on the 10 best foie-hawks in Top Chef history (number one is NO surprise to me...love him!). And here's David Dust's "Douchebag or Lesbian" recap (love him too! Except that I'm a little torn because Stephanie, who I kind of liked, reminds him of Rachael Ray. And I kind of, well, my feelings on Ray-Ray are pretty well-documented.)
Ah. It feels so good to be back.
P.S. There are two things I've recently been reminded of that I can't believe I forgot to mention in the recap (they're in my notes): 1. Richard's CRAB LEG crabcakes - for real? (thanks for the reminder, Dani) and 2. TC's product placement is as alive and well as ever. Anyone else like the awkward shot of Glad products behind Mark's head as he whined about his crappy duck dish?