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I’m keeping up with Top Chef through iTunes, and it’s been way past time to throw in some armchair commentary–just to add to the gaggle of food bloggers already doing so.  Do I need to say that there will be spoilers in this?  Just stop reading if you haven’t seen the first three episodes of season six yet.

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Episode 1: Sin City Vice

The first episode wasn’t as high pressure as season five’s opening round in New York, where someone was sent home almost right off the plane, before entering the kitchen.  Instead, being Las Vegas, it was high stakes.  They’ve introduced large cash prizes on top of the usual immunity for winning the quick fire round at the beginning of the show.  I’m a fan of the quick fire challenge because I always speculate on what I would do if in that situation.  They’ve been getting more difficult each season, but the caliber of chefs has been increasing also.

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There are always those clues in the first five or so episodes as to who’s going to get eliminated.  If they’re focusing on a particular chef and her life story from the start then count on that chef going home.  They’re trying to squeeze in something about that chef’s character because there ain’t gonna be no future opportunities to do so.  I predicted the cut right away for Jennifer Zavala, the egregiously tattooed young mom, when she talked about not unpacking for fear of going home and how she needed to win so her child can be proud of her.  The editors love playing the giant letdown angle.

Here are my impressions of the other chefs so far:

Ron Duprat – Gotta love his personality.  He started right away with his story of coming to America on a small floating object from Haiti, where people actually were being thrown overboard.  Looking forward to some island flavors that have been missing from Top Chef outside of the Puerto Rico finale of season four.

Robin Leventhal – She’s the mom role this season that was executed successfully last season by “cougar” Ariane.  We haven’t seen much of her after her quickfire win at the top of the first episode.

Preeti Mistry – What’s Top Chef without faux hawks?  Actually, I was hoping to see Preeti cook her style, which I’m sure is interesting.  Yet she looked like she entered the competition too early in her skills development.

Michael Voltaggio – One of two brothers, a sibling rivalry that the editors are milking like a bloated cow in Wisconsin.  Michael is the younger one.  Highly talented.  And they’re making it look like that he hates living under his brother’s shadow.  Way back, I used to fantasize of competing on Top Chef with my brother Chef Ben.  That could have been possible back in seasons two or three, where I think they still had one or two at-home cooks competing.  The backgrounds of all these chefs in season six are formidable.  There’s no way I could ever be on the show.  Yet I still fume at the dunces in season two–coconut panna cotta is KOREAN FOOD????
Michael Isabella – The “villain” this season, or rather, the unbearable asswipe this season.  It’s one thing to have someone come in with some overconfident swagger.  Stefan did it well.  Hung was the master of it–how he turned being a villain to the lovable kid towards the end of season three.  Yet Isabella’s showing some major social retardation.
Mattin Noblia – Big spoiler in episode two–HE’S STRAIGHT!!!  Who’da thunk?  Flamey French chef working in California who loves sporting the red scarf.

Laurine Wickett – I like her because she’s from Rochester, New York, and I used to live there.  I hope she lasts long enough to show off some upstate cuisine. She always looks like she smells something foul.

Kevin Gillespie – Atlanta guy.  Lovin’ him.  Great personality.  Great in the kitchen.  Not a blowhard.  He’s going to be in the top five.

Jesse Sandlin – We’re finding that she can cook some after a couple of episodes of sobbing and wiping her nose on her arm.  Employees must wash hands before returning to work.

Jennifer Carroll – She’s also a peg for the top five.  Her boss is Eric Ripert, and he’s da man.  We haven’t seen much of her personality, but she can cook, and being a Ripert protogee, she knows seafood.

Hector Santiago – Atlanta contestant #2, originally from Puerto Rico.  I’m also rooting for him.  He fucked up in the first episode by deep frying a gorgeous steak.  But he’s mellowed out a bit since and is letting his Latin cuisine flow naturally.  I keep hoping to see him and Haitian Ron team up.  That would be a feast!

Eve Aronoff – Poor girl can’t win by pleasing anyone.  At first her food’s too bland.  Then it’s too much flavor.  She approaches it all with a look that says, “Please walk all over me.”

Eli Kirshtein – Atlanta #3 and the reason I bought the season in iTunes.  Chef Ben has talked about him for a while, and they’re good friends.  I can see why now.  They have the same personality.  GEEZ!  So far, he’s proving to be a good contender.

Bryan Voltaggio – The older of the two brothers, who, I think, is paralyzed from the nose up.  I’ve seen animatronics at Disney World with more facial expression.  He’ll be in the top five too.  I mean, come on, the editors are totally setting this up.

Ashley Merriman – They’ve painted her as the post-punk lesbian.  You know, I’m not a big fan of them throwing the social issues into the show, and she seems uncomfortable with that too.

Ash Fulk – Likable.  Seems to cook well.  Like Robin, he’s sorta blended well into the scenery.  I hope we get to see more of him.

The elimination competition was to cook a dish based on one’s own vices.

“Oh damn.  Expect a lot of alcohol in the food.”

I was right.  I was disappointed that no one had the cajones to try the stunt legendary über chef Thomas Keller played on Tony Bourdain by making a custard infused with Marlboro tobacco.  Haitian Ron made a good dish that totally ignored the theme of the challenge.  That’s one notch for stubbornness.  Jennifer Z. got cut for her giant chile relleno stuffed with seitan, a meat substitute for vegetarians.  She’s not a vegetarian, by the way.

I’ll again let my ADD kick in and tangentially comment that if you need a meat substitute, you’re not ready to be a vegetarian.

It wasn’t the seitan that bugged me about J. Z.’s dish.  It was that it looked like something I produce in the toilet the day after eating chile rellenos.

Now.. on to…

Episode 2

This may be the most ingratingly worst episode of Top Chef ever.  Why?  How about a list?  We all love lists, right?

  • Wedding theme. You can’t see me now, but I’m sticking my finger deep inside to the back of my throat.  I was hoping that Gail’s bachelorette party in season five would be the last of this.  I know it’s an easy way to test the catering skills and test the team effort.  But it has become one of a handful of Top Chef tired cliches.
  • Annoyingly smug beautiful yuppies. Who enjoys watching frat-boy-to-Wall-Street fund managers party?  I guess they’re getting good use out of that government bailout.
  • Battle of the sexes. You know, this works on Survivor, but that’s because the viewers of Survivor haven’t intellectually and emotionally moved beyond the sixth grade.  They’re the people who follow and can make sense of Sarah Palin’s Twitter account.  Top Chef should be above this tired, tired, (one more) TIRED gimmick.  I am totally with Jen Carroll on this.  And of course you’re going to highlight it with some Fred Flinstone type, I think in this case it was obviously Mike Isabella, spewing out the “I’m not gonna lose to no girls” cud.
  • Political issue of the day. Ashley was pissed that she was going to cater a wedding because in Nevada homosexuals can’t get married.  Even though I’m on the same side as Ashley on this issue, the editors were manipulating her tirade into a big production.  No one else was talking, maybe because as chefs they have catered weddings.  It’s part of the gig.  To me, it made Ashley look hypersensitive and petulant.  Like getting angry to cater a Barbie girl’s sweet sixteen because you didn’t get to have a sweet sixteen of your own.  Balls up.  It’s just a fucking gig.

Being the stereotypical straight-out-of-fraternity-row couple, Ken and Barbie wanted their bachelor/bachelorette party to have food to accompany shooters.  SHOOTERS.  One of them was, supposedly, sickeningly sweet.  And who the frak holds a joint bachelor/bachelorette party?

Vegas!

Strippers!

We freakin’ missed our golden opportunity to cater to Vegas strippers.  Did Focus on the Family produce this episode?

This was the first of what will be many catering episodes, and still people are making the same mistakes.  It’s the desert.  It’s outside.  Don’t make shit that wilts or melts.  Think beef jerky.  That’s what they used to live on out in these parts.  Shiso leaves, though tasty, likely weren’t carried by cowboys because of their high perishability in the desert heat.  Just my thought from my limited but existent catering experience.

Honestly, I don’t remember much about what was cooked.  Kevin made something good.  I don’t think he’s yet made something that hasn’t blown away the judges.  One of the Wonder Bros. made this tequila meringue something–it impressed Todd English, though I can’t wrap my mind around what it would taste like.  Eve made some funky dish with popcorn that got her sent home.  Eli made ye olde Atlanta staple, a tuna tartare, which put him in the running for the win.

Even though Eli made what I assume was a great tuna tartare, I spit out my magkeoli when I heard that he was going to do one and laughed.  It’s a cliche dish in Atlanta.  For example, I once checked out a cookbook promoting the recipes of Atlanta’s top chefs at the time.  I counted five tuna tartare dishes in a book that held no more than forty recipes.  Atlanta is the capital of the tuna tartare, and every chef treats it like he’s invented the damn thing for the first time.

Eli didn’t win.  It was one of the Wonder Bros.  In their interviews they keep reminding us of the tally on which brother has the most wins, as if anyone cares to keep track.

Episode 3

Cook for the military.  That’s another well-used card in the Top Chef stack.  Nuttin’ wrong with that.  I’m just surprised when I see that the chefs are surprised at the limited ingredients they have in a military kitchen.  Was particularly turned off when one of the chefs, I think Preeti, turned her nose up at the Spam.  Living in Korea, I have found that Spam can do wonders in skillful hands.  I guess she didn’t have skillful hands.  Man, I would have gone nuts in that kitchen whipping up a kicked up Budae Jjigae.  I know it’s just a stew, but I think it would have been more memorable than a clam chowder, a pasta salad, or a Greek salad.  And on the pasta salad/Greek salad front, did Top Chef somehow travel to 1985?  The next thing you know, the chefs will be introducing their new trendy concoction, ranch dressing.

Come on, Laurine!  You’re from Rochester.  If you’re going to go down, at least make a classic Rochesterian Garbage Plate and go in a blaze of heart clogging glory!

Eli and Kevin teamed up for a Georgian braised pork with potato salad.  A guaranteed hit.  They were in the top four with Asswipe Mike and one of the Wonder Bros.  The Wonder Brother won, and he showed his elation by moving an eyebrow.  And it turned out Monsieur Asswipe was only there by association.  He was part of a winning duo but was by far the weaker of the two, and he was also up for elimination.  I think that’s a Top chef first.

Ooh, twist!

In Mike’s case I really dug the schadenfreude.

Preeti left for her pasta salad.  Jesse had some flavor in her dish, so she stayed to cry another day.

NEXT WEEK

Looks like someone will be eliminated in the quickfire challenge.  So we haven’t done away with that trick.  We just moved it to a different episode.

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