Warning: This post contains the winner and loser of last night's episode.
MEET THE CHEFS:
So, I caught the first episode of Top Chef last night. At first I was a little worried. As I clickity-clacked during a dinner party my sister, Dorothy, made that included a delicious flaky white-fish with a sort of basil/garlic/pineapple jam mixture, finished under the broiler, I kept my eye out for the familiar signs of TV show decline. I was so into it that I had to be reproached by the hostess. "Are you going to type all night like that?"
I told her that my audience of about four people might be interested. There is nothing sadder than a self-important blogger.
At first there were some bad signs: the opening had that requisite bikini bottom Miami shot, the mansion was gorgeous in an ominous Real World way, and I saw an alarming number of signature/statement hats. My Parisian friend, who says that they have reality TV in Paris but so far no reality cooking show, asks if the contestants will sleep in the same bedrooms. So naive!
"They will," we assured him, checking out the young cast. It's true: I don't see anyone even close to old. On season one and season two we had some oldsters. Not a good sign.
But wait! Lia, from Brooklyn, is the executive sous-chef at Jean-Georges. And she's from Brooklyn! My borough! I should root for her, but she's very attractive and that makes it hard. I decide it's too early to commit to anyone. Lia, I have my eye on you.
There is also another chef from Brooklyn, Camille, who is the owner of a place in Greenpoint called Paloma, that I've heard about. She has that sultry, side-swept hair brunette hipster Greenpoint/ Gibson girl hair going.
We meet Clay, a chef from Mississippi who exudes earnestness. He's like a baby bird. Seriously, I want to protect him. But after he divulges that his father basically killed himself over cooking, and Clay says that he's here to kind of avenge that death, I decide the producers would never show that clip to the viewers and then make him pack his knives.
As the chefs are standing around meeting each other, talking and eating, Padma and Tom surprise them.
Hello, Padma and Tom. I do love that Tom Colicchio. Tom, my birthday is coming up. It's high time I went to Craft. See you soon. Tom points out he is here NOT as a mentor, but as a judge. I like that.
It's kind of hard for me to watch Padma without wondering if she seems stoned. I read on a blog somewhere (yes, I know, not reliable) a comment from someone on or near the set and they said she likes you-know-what. And honestly, watching her eat the food with pie-eyed wonder, she really does seem it. Does Mr. Rushdie know about this?
So Tom and Padma really surprise the chefs with the quickfire challenge happening right then: the chefs have to create an amuse bouche (in France, I guess it's more common to refer to it as an amuse-gueule) with the food from welcoming spread on the table. They are very, very surprised by this. Am I the only one not surprised? Have they seen a reality TV show? Ever? I guess not. That's a good sign.
Anyway it's at the quickfire that I start to worry about Clay -- he make a sort of fruit gazpacho inside a gigantic, clunky cored apple.
Now, imagine depressing leftover buffet fruit. You know, that cantaloupe that's left over at the convention center and been touched by a thousand pen-stained paws. Then mash it up, shove it inside a gigantic cored apple, and serve it to Tom Colicchio. Tom actually says the gazpacho isn't so bad, but it's not even close to an amuse bouche, it's more like a first course.
Micah wins the quickfire challenge. She vows it "won't change her cooking." Thank you, Micah. Stay humble.
FIRST ELIMINATION CHALLENGE:
The challenge: create surf and turf from an exotic list of ingredients, things like rattlesnake, black chicken, something frightening called geoduck, etc.
Tre, who I will henceforth refer to as "Mr. Hottie-Hot Chef" steps his game up and chooses rattlesnake and eel (I think -- feel free to correct me). Tom gives him a bemused look and says, "You don't seem like a chef used to losing." (Tre was in the bottom three of the quickfire challenge). I swear, the air between Tom and Mr. HH Chef crackles. I suppose the air would crackle between anyone and Tre. One contestant named Hung is cooking "black chicken and geoduck." He actually serves the geoduck raw. Apparently geoduck is a giant clam. I thought it was a really strange looking duck. I'm an idiot. Clay chooses a wild boar and some type of fish.
At first I was upset when Anthony Bourdain was one of the guest judges. It seems a little hokey. After all, he's noted for eating exotic foods and has a show based on that. But then I get a few quotes from him and I never want him to leave. Some of these cruel bon mots include:
"It's kind of like home cooking....from a home I wouldn't want to live in."
"This is an egregious food crime."
"This is like prison chow...like food on economy class of Cambodia Airlines."
He also chastises a chef about "dithering" and calls something "fairly neutral" and then "lame."
Padma points out, kind of wittily, that everything fried tastes good: "You could fry my toe!"
The winners were down to Tre and Hung (sophisticated, flawless, say the judges). I really like both of them.
Clay shares his highly original cooking philosophy: "Bottom line, it's gotta taste good first.'" Except, apparently it doesn't. The judges rip him apart. And send him home! We all gasp watching this. "Oh my god," says my Parisian friend, "don't kill yourself." We're all worried. I can't believe it! The producers really invested me in Clay and then sent him home. Sneaky. I guess they have a few tricks up their sleeves.
And yet paradoxically the departure of Clay does seem to prove that this season might NOT be typical reality slop. I read an interview with Tom Colicchio in Newsweek yesterday, where he says that Judges know nothing about what goes on behind the scenes, and it is just about the food. With this episode I kind of believe him.
Tre wins. Swoon! Anthony Bourdain tells him he wants to take him out and get him "savage drunk." Is no one safe from Tre's charms?