The tenth season of Top Chef premiered last night, and on the night of this special and momentous anniversary I awkwardly found myself without a gift to give. What to get for the guy that has everything's the same each season? Internet research tells me that the customary tenth marriage anniversary material is aluminum, which the Internet also says is easy to remember because "tenth" sounds so much like "tin." Yes, that sure is easy to remember. I can't wait to get my hypothetical future wife something made of Reynolds wrap on our tenth marriage anniversary. The institution of marriage is so chill, and I'm so glad so many old white people go bananas trying to protect it. In many ways, a season of Top Chef is like a marriage: people argue in the kitchen, everyone's tired, a lot of time is spent stewing in the pantry, and I'd take one with Padma over Katie Lee Joel 100 times out of a 100. Also, after every marriage is a new episode of LOLwork. What did you guys think of the new LOLwork? I know that everyone watched and took notes so please share your thoughts on LOLwork in the comments.
Bravo will be taking us to Seattle on this season of Top Chef, but we are not there yet. Worthy chefsticles must be chosen first. Our season begins with little fanfare and only the slurred, lilting tones of Padma's voice to guide us. It felt odd to be thrown so suddenly into cooking and judgment on this show, but it's a feeling I enjoyed, just not one I expected. Where were Tom and Padma pulling into the Seattle harbor on a tugboat dressed like longshoremen, tossing the chefs a giant fish with their team assignments stuffed into its mouth, while Irene from Real World: Seattle tells each of them that they are gay and that their secret ingredient is limes, in honor of her Lyme disease, all set to a Nirvana cover band playing "Crepe Me" on a stage behind them? I can only assume that comes later.
Joining Tom Colicchio, Hugh Acheson, and Emeril Lagasse as a celebrity chef judge this season is Wolfgang Puck, who personally makes $45,000 a minute by putting little slices of orange in the salads at airports. God only knows what Chef Puck spends that money on, but it is certainly not on lessons perfecting his American accent. He's been in this country forty years and he has learned just enough English to playfully belittle women in the kitchen. I think he's a cool guy and a great cook, but I predict that he will be a one season judge.
Here's how this first episode works: all four judges must select from a crop of five potential contestants. Each judge has up to five Top Chef aprons to hand out, but it's at their discretion how many get to claim it. They can decide to let everybody go to Seattle, or nobody, or somewhere in between. Each group of chefs will compete in a challenge decided by their chef judge at one of the judge's restaurants. Padma, meanwhile, is heard only in voiceover, guiding us, soothing us, her voice the road on which we must walk to our salvation.
Chef Tom greets the five hopefuls at Craft in Los Angeles. Lizzie Binder has a thick South African accent and an even thicker desire to crack open Tom's head like a coconut and suck the milk out from inside of him. She is into him in a big way. She is a full-time mom and a full-time executive chef, so she's probably doing a bad job at both. She says, "if I win Top Chef, my kids can do whatever they want to do." She must think Healthy Choice is paying a much bigger grand prize than it actually is, because $125,000 won't even cover one of her children going to a decent four year college. Micah Fields has very disgusting plugs in his ears and lots of confidence; he cooks at the Standard, meaning he makes hamburgers that models don't finish, and he skipped right from line cook to executive chef. Anthony Gray is large and nervous about being in charge; he breaks into an immediate sweat, with giant beads on his forehead like he's a comic strip character caught in a lie.
I'm sure Jorel Pierce is a fascinating guy with tons of interesting hobbies, but I can't really get past his waxed mustache. You cook your mother with that mouth?
Lastly, there is John Tesar, who was named by some local magazine the most hated chef in Dallas. He clearly relishes his reputation. Anthony Bourdain once said of John Tesar, "he's the most natural chef I've ever worked with." Bourdain famously loves big naturals. Tesar owned a hot restaurant in the Hamptons in the 80's, and he did a lot of drugs, because he says it was the age of disco. That tells you how many drugs he did, because disco had been dead for years. Tesar has that ropey ex-drug person look, like David Carr. He looks kind of like Courtney Stodden's husband.
Tom puts them to work prepping at Craft, butchering poultry, making tortellini, and filleting and portioning fish. Even the good ones seem like amateurs. They then get on the line at an actual service at Craft, with real food going out to real customers. Tom watches them like a hawk, or more accurately like a bald eagle, as he won't let crappy TV food get served to real people at his restaurant. Tesar immediately impresses by cooking Craft's fish the right way, and Tom sends him on to Seattle. Micah operates in the kitchen like he belongs there, and he gets an apron as well. Tom compliments Lizzie on the graceful way she moved through the kitchen, and she shudders. She'll also compete in Seattle. Anthony and Jorel are sent packing. All the judges keep stressing that it's not just about who is good enough to compete, but who is good enough to win. At least Denver chef Jorel Pierce has Colorado's recently passed marijuana law to soothe his pain when he returns home.
Five more chefs meet Emeril Lagasse in Las Vegas. To Emeril, a real test of a chef is soup. Emeril loves soup so much he wishes he could marry it and also take it as his mistress, to get even more soup on the side. Over the course of the challenge, these are things Emeril says cooking soup is about: structure, depth, seasoning, passion, flavor, balance, hand eye coordination, spoon weight, fundamentals, clock management, aerobic health, and Navajo code talking. Stephanie Cmar says her "brain is like a million butterflies taking off," because like most young women her age she has taken a spoonful of MDMA some time in the last hour. Stephanie's coworker and neighbor is Kristen Kish, a former model who first bonded with Stephanie over the boob sweat they got working as the only women on the line. I'm sure there is already some creepy fan fiction about these two available for download on the darknet. Stephanie and Kristen have matching tattoos, a spoon on each of their forearms, which I assume is a reference to the tool they use to get MDMA into their mouths as quickly as possible.
It's worth noting that though she is beautiful, Kristen brags that she won Model Boston. I am from Boston, and that's not that impressive. That contest is lucky if the runner up had more than half their molars. The prize for that modeling contest was probably a contract promoting Rosacea medicine on cable access.
Jeffrey Jew is a well-traveled chef who enjoys taking pictures on his vacation and also doesn't mind sharing those pictures with the producers of this show. He is here to win this for his partner, who has been intensely supportive. He does not say in what way his partner has been supportive, but it definitely involves wearing nice blazers and designer sunglasses on the beach.
Josh Valentine is probably chill, but like Jorel, I am only focused on his mustache wax. Each day you put wax on your mustache? Is all the time wasted doing that why you don't have time to shave your neck? These are just questions I have for Josh, who does seem like a great chef and good competitor, but who also looks like a guy who rolls into an old west town with a wagon full of tinctures and bottled leeches claiming he can cure baldness and impotence and then gets run out of the state for trying to sneak a kiss from the minister's 15 year old daughter. Josh says that if he gets sent to Seattle, he will be missing the birth of his child. That is one of the many things he is willing to sacrifice to be on Top Chef. His mustache wax is not one of those things.
There's also a chef named Tina Boradeau. She makes a seafood soup with chorizo. I don't remember anything about her except that she gets sent home, as does Stephanie. Jeffrey's miraculously chilled gazpacho, Josh's roasted corn and coconut soup with mussels and Kristen's English pea broth all get their aprons and tickets to Seattle. Somewhere, Josh's wife gives birth.
Chef Wolfgang Puck auditions his pack of young bucks at his restaurant Cut in Beverly Hills to see who makes the "cut." Oh man, that is extremely clever, but I am afraid I cannot take credit for that. Bravo is responsible for that graceful and subtle bit of juxtaposition. I was excited by Chef Puck's challenge, as he asks everyone to make an omelet, and you always hear how many great chefs consider a well-made omelet the mark of a worthy cook. I make some pretty solid eggs, and I was eager to see how these presumably professional chefs tackled the challenge. The answer is terribly. All of these bozos make a bunch of clown omelets. Their omelets look like compost piles. "My dish is finished with a touch of coffee grinds and garnished with pieces of shell." Compared to how slick the competition looked for Tom and Emeril, these guys are an embarrassment.
Tyler Wiard looks like such a frat boy dad, like he was just crushed when his wife had a daughter instead of a son and he now coaches her soccer team with an unseemly intensity. Carla Pellegrino was the chef at Rao's, and married to its owner, and she now runs her own place in Vegas. She is flashy and loopy and has a thick accent and is a lot to handle; I enjoy her already.
Chrissy Cambra is from Chicago, and Eliza Gavin is the chef and owner of 221 South Oak. That is all I wrote down about them. Kuniko Yagi wants to win Top Chef to impress her parents, but she'll spend most of this challenge being insulted by her peers. Wolfgang's first remark to her is, "Are you going to make a Japanese omelet or what?" Don't choose "what," Kuniko! You might disappoint this small Aryan millionaire. Daniel O'Brien, another chef, says, "I knew I should have set up next to Origami." Wow. "Origami." I am flustered that O'Brien can simultaneously be so racist and so 80's. He boasts in his testimonial that his three month old restaurant is "#1 on Yelp. Not bad." Yeah, not bad at all, you pencil-armed dipshit. His duck grease omelet looks like it was dropped on the floor, and he gets sent home, thankfully. He's the only one of the five that doesn't make it to Seattle. He is furious about it. I bet if you run into Daniel O'Brien in a bar anytime in the next fifteen years, he will give you an earful about how those "homos at Bravo fucking robbed me, man."
The other four are relieved to make it, even though their omelets were uniformly gross. I did not taste the food, but it seems strange these four get to go while seemingly better chefs get a tougher deal in other heats. Wolfgang sneaks in a few other weird comments about women. "This stove is like a woman, it never does what it's supposed to do." If I was a woman, I would not do what he told me to do either.
At Empire State South in Atlanta, Hugh Acheson explains that he wants a salad as beautiful as his unibrow is not. I am immediately won over by the smile and positivity of Sheldon Simeon, a chef in Hawaii and 2011 James Beard Rising Star chef. I like his vibe. Also, it is interesting to note he's the only chef that mentioned any James Beard anything. Remember a few seasons ago when seemingly every contestant had something from Food & Wine or James Beard? Bart Vandaele is a Belgian knight. "Do you wear a suit of armor in the kitchen?" Hugh asks. "How about you relax, Hugh?" I ask back. Bart is tall. Gina Keatley is the sort of person who would call herself "high energy" but others would call "annoying". She says, "I'm a crazy competitive person!" She's the founder of a community food program, and she hates that Danyele McPherson is flaring her tomatoes on the gas. Danyele has two Ph.D's and some intense red bangs. Odds are she really likes "memes" and saying the word "memes." She does not have braces, but she feels like the sort of person that does.
Brooke Williamson has tattoos and a kid. She says of the reason she's on Top Chef, "I've got a four year old son, so I don't get a lot of opportunities to do exciting things." That's a great way of looking at motherhood! Her kale salad impresses Hugh, who loves salads. He says, "I live on salad! Look at me!" Don't tell me what to do, Acheson. He gives Brooke an apron and sends her to Seattle. Gina introduces her salad to him as "delicious." He asks her to let him taste it first. She immediately says, "you're gonna make me cry!" Chef Acheson does us all a favor and mercy kills Gina's future on television. Everyone else is going to Seattle, and Gina's sent packing. She bitterly remarks, "Top Chef's missing out. I'm not just a chef and nutritionist, I'm a movement." That's a great choice of words, Gina. You, and your food, definitely both seemed like giant movements. Top Chef already feels lighter after this movement left the ol' building.
And there we have it. Presumably, next week we begin our adventures in Seattle. Seattle is a beautiful and cool town filled with good food, and I've got high hopes for this season. And as much as it might have bored some, the no-nonsense premiere left me with positive feelings about the season. Interesting characters cooking and interacting and being judged for their food sounds like fun. Add Padma to the mix and this shit's can't miss. Up next: LOLwork!