After the new Season of Top Chef kicked off, AwK writers Citizen Chef and Miss Macchiato converse on the new season and what went down in Episode 1: Anything You Can Cook, I Can Cook Better.
Miss Macchiato: I’m a huge fan of the show so of course I was very excited for the first episode to air. Unfortunately I had been reading some of the blogs that had a sneak peek at the first episode, all saying there was a big, surprising twist. By the time I sat down and watched it, I was happy with the first episode, but it didn’t lead up to the hype. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t disappointed in the new season at all, just irritated that I had been reading other blogs who had a sneak preview and didn’t talk about any of the things that actually made this season different.
Citizen Chef: Yeah it was a great first episode, but nothing to differentiate it from the other seasons. We actually seem to be falling into some archetypes in the show. We have the “Asian chef with mad cooking skills but no social ones”, the “goofy hair molecular gastronomy guy”, and the “big burly guy who cries all the time”.
MM: This season the notable differences are the chefs – more cursing edited out and, for some crazy reason, more frou-frou fine dining chefs who act and talk as if they think they’re 50 Cent. Otherwise, I wasn’t shocked at the challenges. They were invited to a get together and BAM, the Quick Fire immediately followed. As for having Rocco diSpirito as the surprise judge – he’s been a judge before, so I can’t say I was shocked. They also brought Anthony Bourdain back as a guest judge in the Elimination Challenge, and that was actually a little disappointing because he was so tame.
CC: Yeah I would agree. I love Bourdain, but it’s hard to know if Bravo took the piss out of him or if he was behaving himself. To have him on the same panel as Rocco, whom Bourdain has eviscerated in his writing, and even named a Golden Clog Award for “Worst Career Move” after, was a bit odd.
MM: While they were doing the judging, I couldn’t help but notice they had Rocco at one end and Bourdain at the other. I have no idea if that was intentional or not, but I kept thinking about the Clogs, and I felt socially awkward for everyone. That may have been all editing to make the judging portion seem as polite as possible, but it came off as awkward.
CC: Let’s talk about the challenges. I would rate the Pizza Quick Fire as almost as stupid as the Ice Cream Quick Fire from the previous season. The dough was premade, so is throwing some toppings on a pizza really a challenge?
MM: The dough surprised me as well, although in their defense, making good dough takes more than 30 – 60 minutes. It has to rise, you punch it down, let it rise again… I’ve made dough before and it isn’t hard, just time consuming. Still, I can’t figure out why so many chefs had a hard time making a pizza. Maybe it was nerves.
CC: I will say Richard did take the “signature” part of the challenge to heart with the peaches and I thought the sweet tea reduction was a really nice idea.
MM: Yes, absolutely. This competition is called “Top Chef” and that means being inventive and taking risks. It’s not about making a safe pizza you would get from Domino’s. Show me something new!
CC: The other weird part about that challenge, apart from the amount of chefs who can’t make a damn deep dish pizza, was that the losing group ended up getting more of an advantage in the next challenge. I’d rather pick the dish I’m making, than have the person I’m competing against pick it, especially when it’s the first day and you haven’t had a chance to size up the competition. Wouldn’t you?
MM: Yeah, and what’s up with the spiky hair guy who took the K-Fed wannabe’s pan?
If that was me, I would have asked that he give one back.
CC: Marcel 2 and Guywhodidntknowwhatanamusebouchewas 2?
MM: The smoky technique guy with the spiky hair who went up against Marcel 2.
CC: the smoky technique guy IS Marcel 2
MM: Except that he seems like a nice guy.
CC: Yeah, I admit like him already.
MM: The whining K-Fed wannabe guy is too much like Marcel – to me, anyway.
CC: Well he whines like Marcel, but that’s about it.
MM: Remember when Marcel did the rap? I wanted to reach through my screen and throttle him.
CC: Oh god, the rapping. I forgot about that.
MM: I want to say that the Marcel/Hung carryover would be the new Asian guy on the show; the one who didn’t win anything but kept talking trash. He’s one to watch out for, I think.
CC: So this season we have a Marcel doppelganger: One with the hair and cooking techniques, and one with the attitude and poor musical judgement. Lecram 1 and Lecram 2. I also think it’s odd that there were at least two chefs taking the “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to win” route, which NEVER works because being a chef is about inspiring people. That makes you a great line cook, but I’m not going to your restaurant because everyone who works for you will hate your guts.
MM: Well, that doesn’t mean your food is bad, it just means you’re a jerk.
CC: Yeah, but being a chef is about being a leader. Let me go off on a tangent here for a second. Brett Favre —
MM: Oh, let him retire already!
CC: No wait, I have a point here.
MM: Unless Brett Favre can make a soufflé, let’s move on!
CC: Fine, grumble grumble… best QB ever… grumble…
MM: Let’s talk about the Elimination Challenge. Two chefs went head-to-head, each cooking a classic dish against the other. In the end, we said goodbye to the chef who over-salted her shrimp.
CC: Yeah that was a close call I think. You could say the chicken picatta guy and both the soufflé people failed because none of them made what they were supposed to.
MM: I disagree that it was a close call. Chef Colicchio has crucified people in previous seasons over this one thing because, as he always says, knowing how to properly season your food is fundamental. So I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she would be out.
CC: Well here’s my question: How do you not look up how to make a soufflé, or what chicken picatta is while you are shopping? Or do you think they have them under radio silence while they are on the show?
MM: I think it’s probably the same as Project Runway and they aren’t allowed to have cooking books, technique books, etc. Remember the drama around whether Tiffany’s final challenge dessert was hers or Dale’s? Dale memorized the recipe because he knew they couldn’t have recipes brought in with them. Tiffany claimed she had a lot to do with Dale’s dessert that he made for her final challenge, but that was a lie. He memorized it, knowing he couldn’t look up recipes or bring any recipes with him.
CC: Ok, so if we assume that you can’t look stuff up, then we have the question “should an aspiring chef know how to make ‘classic dish X'”. I don’t think they can be expected to make everything, but a soufflé seems pretty basic to me.
MM: Executing a soufflé can be difficult. All that the contestants were saying about slamming doors too hard, loud noises, breathing on it wrong – I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea. The slightest things can make your soufflé collapse. Chef Colicchio did have a good point about needing to know the classic dishes, and that is, chefs need to know the classics, otherwise how can you know the newer stuff?
CC: I bet I could make a soufflé in 90 minutes without breaking a sweat – and I certainly know what chicken picatta is. I suppose it’s easy to armchair quarterback (BRETT FAVRE) but then again I’m not under the illusion that I could run my own restaurant either.
MM: So what you’re saying is if Brett Favre were a contestant on Top Chef, he would have won both the Quick Fire and Elimination challenges and would have retired to a penthouse suite with Padma at the end of the day?
CC: I’ve actually looked at Brett Favre’s cookbook and it all looks pretty horrible. But I’m saying if Brett Favre was a contestant, he would inspire everyone else to cook for him and he would win, yes.
MM: He has a cookbook? I don’t know what to say about that. At least he has never been caught doing the Superbowl Shuffle.
MM (continued): Anyway, the bottom dishes came as no surprise to anyone, so let’s talk about the winning dishes.
CC: The crab cake, lasagna, duck a l’orange, and something else.
MM: The Bravo website is broken so I couldn’t tell you, but those three were the ones who stood out the most to me. It’s hard to say what should win, because I agree that unless we’re there to actually taste the dishes, there’s no way to really know the winner.
CC: Yeah, although I have to say I was really impressed with the crab cake. The smoky technique he used was inventive. But I am not surprised about the duck winning, because the spring roll was a nice touch.
MM: Before we close, do we want to say anything about the lesbian couple who came out in the open? I think this will come back later on in the season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were both chosen to compete just to create tension and drama. Other than that, I don’t have much to say.
CC: They’re hot.
MM: No, they aren’t.
CC: One of them is.
CC: Hopefully the couple will be talking about it more as the season progresses… in the hot tub. With Padma.
MM: Oh, God.