Top Chef Starts Tonight! 11/12/08

Ooooh, so they eliminated someone at the Quickfire. Interesting.

I am not reading this thread, although sorely tempted, because I recorded it on my DVR and have not gotten to watch it yet.

NOOOO, stop me!

Ah, I didn’t realize they were from CIA. The way they talked about being from the same school (just class, I guess?) made it seem like a smaller program somewhere to me.

Did Josie and Carlos teach them nothing? You don’t win on Top Chef with salad!

This early in the season there are too many of them for me to feel any special affinity for anyone. The very tall caterer seems likely to be the house mother, everyone’s friend type. It’ll be interesting to see if she ends up with any frienemies.

I have this cookbook. It’s worth getting. It doesn’t have the martini recipes, unfortunately.

I thought all of the food in the elimination challenge was at least worthy of being there, unlike the initial episode in some of the past seasons.

I also had a feeling that the way the editing had been done, the episode wasn’t going to end well for one of the “gay & lesbian section” members. My only point being that their typical episode editing usually hints at the loser.

Still I’m glad the new season has started. I was a little surprised that it was this soon. Thanks to my DVR for catching it for me.

Finally saw it - I’m fairly intrigued by the food I’ve seen so far! Well, except for Failifer Beals’ basic ass salad and Redface’s “er, what’s Chinese? Noodles and bok choy!” dish. So, the two eliminated were just right! Bet that school is pretty red-faced right now.

I think I’m rooting for Hawaiian guy.

Exactly. At this point, I am watching for two reasons:

First, I am mentally sorting the contestants, differentiating between the don’t-have-a-chance people who are there because they either meet a demographic or have an interesting personality (e.g. Ariane) versus those who we can already tell will be in the final five or six (e.g. Stefan). I don’t “like” or “dislike” anyone this early, because I don’t trust reality-show editing enough to feel like I have an accurate perception of anyone’s personalities. At this point, it’s just about experience and skill level: this one’s a goner, that one’s gonna stick around.

And second, I watch to think about the food. I mean, I watch this show primarily for the food anyway; the reality stuff is at best modestly entertaining, at worst enormously irritating, but most of the time it’s just an ignorable distraction. It’s not until the final seven or eight people, when half the competitors have been eliminated, that the episodes aren’t an overstuffed blinding rush trying to cover everything. By then, we can actually spend time with the storylines, and we’ve had a chance to get a real handle on the various chefs’ personal approaches to the food, and that’s when I start to feel loyal to one or more of the competitors, and allow myself to choose sides.

In this show, for example, I mostly thought about how I would have done during the quickfire (middle of the first pack, I expect: I have made a point of honing my paring skills), and what I might have cooked during the elimination round, in each of the ethnic categories. The only cuisines that might have stumped me were Russian (I can make borsht, and that’s about it) and Jamaican. Everything else, I would have had at least a handful of go-to dishes in my head. (And man, did I feel a twinge of jealousy at the opportunity to go shopping in New York’s ethnic markets on someone else’s dime. Wow.)

I was also curious at the overt competitiveness being displayed at this early juncture. Had I been one of the contestants, my impulse would have been to take my partner aside and suggest that we cooperate: not collaborate, exactly, but watch each other’s backs, and comment on one another’s dishes, to prevent either of us from going home. If both dishes are as strong as possible, it doesn’t matter that one is the winner and one is the loser, because whichever way it falls, both will be safe. It’s early in the contest, there’s no point trying to throw somebody under the bus; the losers will fall out quickly, all by themselves, and low-key self-preservation, and observation, is advised. Plus, I’m just a big fan of opening myself to criticism and letting somebody challenge me, because that’s how I improve. It would have been invaluable to have somebody looking over my shoulder, checking my seasoning (once again, the “not enough salt” problem raises itself on the show) and otherwise pushing me to make the dish as good as it can be. Puzzling, I thought, that none of the teams seemed to take this approach. Or if any did, that they were excised in the editing, in favor of the burly dude’s gum-flapping about competition, which I suppose makes for more compelling television, or something.

And finally, I strongly, strongly agree with Colicchio’s admonition to the contestants that they can’t really consider themselves worthy of the Top Chef title unless they’ve gone out and experienced the world’s cuisines firsthand. I was torn between embarrassment and derisive laughter when Ariane said the thing about cooking ethnic food out of books. Epic fail, lady. You live in Jersey. There’s no reason you can’t have tried pho and keftethakia and dim sum and tagine and Persian kebabs and everything else within a half-hour’s drive, except for some combination of laziness and unthinking insular arrogance. You’re a cook. Eat.

No objections to the ejections. Both were doomed. The show always builds in some cannon fodder and then mows through them in the early weeks. Onward.

I thought Ariane was going to get the Auf just on the “Well if I was normally asked to cook foreign food I’d have books!” comment. The look between the judges just said “she has no business calling herself a chef”. I liked the quickfire challange and the way the elimination was handled. Too many cooks at this point for me to have any favorites, but the lanky woman saying she liked to let her “spirit guides” tell her what to prepare sort of raised my eyebrows. She reminded me of the loopy woman on Project Runway that spit-marked her fabric, saying it imbued it with her essence, or some such tripe.


I’m still stunned that a contestant thought a spinach salad was appropriate. WTF?

And another thing–wouldn’t you maybe work on knife skills, or read up on other cuisines, or classic cooking techniques before going on Top Chef? It’s like the idiots on Survivor who don’t have any actual survival skills…

This comment really came across as stupid, but it’s not really a bad thing if you think about it (and Collichio agrees in his Top Chef blog.) Sure, you should go sample unfamiliar food if you have the ability to do so. But what do you do after you sample it? Assuming you don’t have a Mexican/Indian/Jamaican/Whatever chef at your beck and call, the next step would be to get a really good book on the subject and educate yourself.

Having lived most of my life in the Great Flyover where ethnic food is rare, I’ve taught myself how to cook a lot of it from books. And I’m usually pleasantly surprised when I go on vacation and figure out I’ve done pretty well at it. Cooking ain’t rocket science, it’s not overly hard to figure out the basic techniques and spices of a particular cuisine and do a couple dishes pretty well.