It seems like only yesterday Atlanta watched with bated breath as Richard Blais finally took home prize in Top Chef All-Stars, but here we go again! Thats right, the new season of Top Chef is underway.
This season takes us to one of the biggest culinary towns in the country, the Mecca that is driving all of the great chefs from New York, London, and Chicago: San Antonio, Texas. Yipee-ki-yay!
Ok, so Top Chef Texas will also visit Dallas and Austin, but the majority of the episodes film in the home of the Alamo. I’m sure that it seemed like the most appropriate and logical choice to the producers….
The show opens with Padma greeting the swarm of cheftestants in front of the San Antonio landmark. Instead of the usual 16 contenders, this season starts with a dizzying 29 young chefs. Since this seems to be a recurring theme for this season, I’m just going to get this out of the way now: “Everything’s bigger in Texas!”
There, that will be the last time you read that from me all season. If I slip up, you have full permission to crush me in the comments.
In addition to Hugh Acheson joining the judge’s table this season, replacing Anthony Bourdain as the “will he be there this episode?” judge is culinary behemoth Emeril Lagasse. We all know that Hugh has some lip on him and will make for an entertaining judge, but I’m looking forward to hearing the surprisingly gruff Emeril drop the hammer on some fools this season. Queue the BAM! jokes.
With so many faces in the crowd, it will take a few episodes to feel out the players and personalities. There is a lot of pedigree and nominations to go around this group, and I’m impressed they could still maneuver around the kitchen with all of the names they dropped scattered around the floor.
Knowing that 13 of them will get the axe in the first two episodes isn’t helping me to get invested in any of them at this point, but I’m obviously keeping my eye on the Georgia crew. Janine Falvo of Briza Restaurant in Atlanta and Whitney Otawka, recently named executive chef of Farm 255 in Athens, represent the Peach State this season. Go home team!
Not surprisingly, most of the chefs – who, it seems, up until this point were under the impression that they had already “made it.” – aren’t terribly thrilled to discover that they still have to fight it out for a spot on the house.
Thankfully, even the massive new Top Chef kitchen couldn’t handle 29 bumbling chefs running all over each other, so the herd is split into three groups, each with their own challenge (we only see the first two groups, group three is saved for part 2 of the opener next week.)
The first group enters the kitchen to find a whole hog broken down into the primal cuts, and each chef gets a different cut with which to create their dish. I wonder if it was pure chance that landed bearded-vegan Colin Patterson in the whole hog group? (Spoiler alert….he doesn’t do very well.)
Group 2 gets an array of ingredients to choose from, and they must settle on one for all of the chefs to use as the focal point for their dishes. If two of the three judges think the food is up to snuff, the chefs earn a blue jacket and a spot in the house. Similarly, it only takes two thumbs down and knives get packed. And just to keep the drama going a little, the third option is “the bubble” (seriously…couldn’t think of a better name than the bubble?), where chefs on the cusp of greatness get a second chance to get it right and claim their spot on the roster.
However, 13 contestants is a lot of fat to trim, and who wants to wait until judges table? I can think of one guy that doesn’t have that kind of patience. (Hint: He’s bald)
Within the first five minutes of the episode, I was already giddy about one contestant: Stone….Chef Tyler Stone. This 22-year old chef displayed delusions of grandeur, lack of humility, and complete lack of self-awareness. I couldn’t wait to see what happened next, because I’m sure it would be priceless recap fodder. Seriously, watch his audition tape. Pure gold.
And 12 minutes into the episode, he was gone. Dude didn’t have time to pre-heat an oven. Apparently, Tom Colicchio doesn’t take too kindly to self-promoting, fame-seeking celebu-chef wannabes that can’t butcher their way out of a paper bag. Weird.
You’ll be slightly missed, Tyler.
Alas, there are too many dishes and chefs to recount, so here are the stats and some highlights:
Chris Jones – Moto (Chicago)
Sarah Grueneberg – Spiaggia (Chicago)
Nyesha Arrington – Wilshire restaurant (Los Angeles)
Richie Frieda – Moto (Chicago)
Heather Terhune – Sable kitchen and bar (Chicago)
Whitney Otawka – Farm 255 (Athens,Ga) WOOT!
Keith Rhodes – Catch Restaurants (Wilmington, NC)
Dakota Weiss – W Hotel (Los Angeles)
Ty-LöR Boring – Spasso (New York)
Chris Crary – Whist Restaurant (Los Angeles)
Chuy Valencia – Chilam Bilam (Chicago)
Stone…Tyler Stone – cooking for many celebrities, politicians, and media personalities (National level)
Simon Pantet – Twenty-Two Doors (Seattle)
Colin Patterson – Sutra (Seattle)
Nina Vicente – Spur Gastropub (Seattle)
Molly Brandt – Allure of the Seas (Royal Caribbean)
Grayson Schmitz – between gigs (New York)
Edward Lee – 610 Magnolia (Louisville, KY)
Janine Falvo – Briza Restaurant (Atlanta)
-Was Molly seriously that surprised and mad that she had to actually compete for her spot on this COMPETITION SHOW?
-Someone tell Chris Crary not to name drop Blais and Voltaggio when describing his style. It just makes him seem like a fanboy. A pompous fanboy.
-“I think you should just leave now” – Tom C.
-By Jon Watson, AJC Food & More