Photo Credit: Justin Stephens/Bravo
Wow. A lot of unexpected twists and turns in this first episode. This new season of Top Chef really shook things up quickly. First, I have to say, I’m not sure how I feel about this new crew of cheftestants. Except for one or two of them, no one seems to be standing out, either personality-wise or cooking-wise. But hey, it’s still early. We’ll see what happens.
Twist number one: One of the chefs earns immunity right away, without even picking up a knife. Robin draws the lucky gold coin and is the one cheftestant who’s guaranteed to stick around to the next episode, without even competing. Really? Don’t we want to test all the chefs, see what they have to offer, and make them earn the immunity? It seems pretty unfair that Robin gets a free pass without doing a single thing to prove herself. But I guess that’s how things work in Vegas; Robin hits the jackpot right away, while the rest of the chefs have to keep playing the game until they win.
Twist number two: Kicking things off with a team mise en place relay race Quickfire was another big surprise. That’s putting the pressure on super early. The relay race has always one of my favorite Quickfires to watch, as it’s a good way of judging quickly who has basic skills and who doesn’t, but I prefer it to come later in the season. It’s always shocking to see who of the remaining talented group can’t shuck an oyster or dice an onion properly (Casey from season three, I’m looking at you). Brian Isabella, clearly, is going to be the obnoxious, arrogant one of the bunch; he first says that “a girl shouldn’t be the same level I am” during the clam-shucking challenge, then later calls Robin an “old lady” when she declines to give up her immunity. We all know that this kind of sexism is still rampant in many restaurant kitchens, but it’s still a little jarring to see it so blatantly on display. His misogynist comments and arrogant attitude won’t win him any fans, so it’ll be interesting to see how he fares during the rest of the season.
Twist number three: the winning Quickfire team must cook against each other to win, not immunity, but money. That’s right – cold, hard cash. We’re definitely in Vegas!
The slightly kooky Wolfgang Puck, with his quirky accent, makes a pretty good Elimination judge. He’s fun to watch and has some amusing comments. But honestly, I think the judges made the wrong decision – Eve should have been the one to go. Sure, Jen Zavala may have made something utterly bizarre and unappetizing, but at least she had the guts to try something different (and I admit, I was fascinated by her tattoos and earrings). Her dish may not have been the smartest choice (I mean really, seitan? Who actually likes eating that stuff?), but at least she was being creative and going off in a new direction. Eve? Underseasoned, overcooked seafood in a bland curry sauce? No, thanks. When someone screws up basic cooking techniques and neglects to season something properly, they should go home. Someone who takes a risk, but fails – especially in the very first episode – deserves another chance. I’m betting we would have seen some really innovative, delicious things from Jen in future episodes. Eve? I have my doubts.
Here are my predictions for the rest of the contestants:
I love Hector and Ron – I think they both have a lot of passion and heart – but I don’t think they’ll make it to the end. They don’t seem savvy enough to last through all the grueling challenges, though they’ll have some moments of brilliance (Hector, deep-frying a steak because he wants to mimic a chicarron? Come on – that’s awesome!). My favorites so far? Kevin, obviously, considering he won the first challenge; he comes across as serious, thoughtful, intelligent, and talented. Jennifer Caroll didn’t strike me initially as a contender, but after watching her work, I think she’s pretty impressive. She could have what it takes to go all the way. Laurine, with her bacon doughnuts and chocolate beer sauce, also made an impression. It was playful, sounded delicious, and also shows she isn’t afraid to take risks. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
I see Bryan Volataggio making it to the end; like Kevin, he’s thoughtful, smart, and talented. Let’s just hope his mischievous little brother doesn’t get in the way. I’m liking Jesse, too – I think she has good ideas and cooks from the heart, even if she fell a little short on execution during the Elimination.
So there you have it. What’s your take on this first episode? Who do you want to see eliminated, and who should win the whole thing?