Top Chef New York: Melting Pot

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cast-New York

Starting in San Francisco, and then moving on through Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago, Top Chef has finally found its way back to “reality” in one of the world’s greatest food meccas – New York City. I think that many will agree that this has been a long time coming. And, if last night’s season premiere was any indication, I think we’re in for an interesting ride!

Since the episode starts out with seventeen cheftestants. That should have been my first clue that something was up. Bravo really amped up the drama quotient in this season’s first episode with an unprecedented twist. For the first time ever, a cheftestant was eliminated in the Quickfire Challenge! The challenge was to peel 15 apples using a knife (no peelers here). The first nine to accomplish this task to Chef Tom’s standards were automatically safe. The rest had to brunoise (a fancy name for small dice) two cups of apples. The first four to finish successfully were safe. The remaining four had to wow Chef Tom with a dish they prepared using the diced apples – outside, in sweltering heat – with a hot plate and a saute pan! WTF?


I don’t even remember who won! I was too busy having an empathetic anxiety attack for the poor slobs that were the bottom four! In the end, “fresh out of the CIA, didn’t even get to unpack her suitcase” Lauren got diced. That’s gotta hurt, people! Can you imagine making it all the way through the audition process, telling all of your family and friends, buying a whole new hot wardrobe for TV (that’s what I would do), and then getting cut within the first 17 minutes into the season? I’m with Gail on this one. It was heartless. Good bye, Lauren. We hardly knew ye!


For the Elimination Challenge, the old knife block was brought out, and the cheftestants were paired up and sent off to randomly assigned ethnic neighborhoods around the city to soak up local color and shop for ingredients. They then returned to the Top Chef kitchen to create a dish inspired by the neighborhood they visited. Each pair would compete head to head. I thought it was a great challenge to kick off the season. New York is a true melting pot of ethnicities and cultures. What better way to experience it than through its food.

Now is probably a good time to give you a rundown on who exactly these cheftestants are.

Team Astoria has Richard and Jamie cooking Greek food. Richard wants to make sure that no one forgets he is gay, gay, GAY, so he announces it about ten times during the course of the episode. Jamie is from San Francisco, doesn’t like to chat while she cooks and also is… guessed it, gay. I don’t know what relevance this has to the show, but they made a big point of putting it out there. I’m just sayin’. Richard serves overcooked lamb sliders with an orzo salad and Jamie serves a Greek salad with eggplant and sea bass. Jamie wins.

Team Brighton Beach has Hosea and Carla, cooking Russian food. The only thing I remember about Carla is that she’s very tall and has big hair. The only thing I remember about Hosea is that he’s bald. Hosea serves a smoked fish plate with caviar, creme fraiche and apple chutney. Hosea wins.

Team Jamaica has Radhika, an Indian chef and Jill who cook Caribbean food. Radhika is worried about being stereotyped as someone who only cooks Indian food. That’s probably why the dish she prepared in the Quickfire challenge featured chutney. And, Jill………Jill who? Radhika serves a jerk rubbed halibut with some kind of a rice cake underneath, while Jill comes up with jerk seasoned scallops with plantain fritters. Jill wins.

Team Little Italy is Leah (from New York) and Melissa. Obviously, they are dishing up some Italian food. Luckily, Leah works in an Italian restaurant already, so we know she’s in. Melissa not only doesn’t work in an Italian restaurant, but she says she is unfamiliar with Italian food altogether. Huh? Oh boy! Quick! Somebody call Pizza Hut! Leah serves farro risotto with red snapper, topped with mushrooms and Melissa serves a ribeye steak with tomato sauce, arugula salad and fried mushrooms. Leah wins.

Team Ozone Park had “Pretty Boy” Jeff from Miami and Firenze-born Fabio bringing some Latin food. Jeff is pretty confident about Latin cuisine seeing that he is from Miami and all. He frolics around the Top Chef kitchen at a leisurely pace until he realizes that that he has about 30 seconds to plate all twenty elements of his dish. Then, he turns into Speedy Gonzalez, but still doesn’t get half of his components on the plate. Fabio’s English iza notta so gooda, so he reads the description of his dish from a cheat sheet. Jeff serves Cuban coffee seared tenderloin and smoked plantain with black beans and rice. Fabio serves pork with a mango jalapeno demi glace, roasted mushrooms and avocado salad. Jeff wins.


Team Long Island City churns out some Middle Eastern grub by Stefan from Finland, who seems just a teensie bit full of himself, and Ariane from Montclair, New Jersey, who isn’t. I was actually kind of hoping that a smidge of Stephan’s excess of confidence would rub off on Ariane, goddess of low self-esteem, but it didn’t. Stephan prepares a lamb chop with tabouli and beef skewer with onions over hummus. Ariane prepares a crusted rack of lamb and an undercooked farro risotto with dates and chick peas. Stephan wins.

Alex and Eugene end up in Little India gathering goodies for – you guessed it – Indian food. Alex is another one I barely remember. Thank goodness Bravo has all of the cheftestants’ pictures up on their site! Eugene is from Hawaii, (How cool is that!), and has never been to culinary school. He started as a dishwasher and worked his way up. Eugene kind of scares me at first. But, I think he’s growing on me. Alex serves a lamb chop with curry stew topped with basmati rice. Eugene intends to serve a masala-rubbed lamb and basmati rice with a tandoori glaze and tzatziki. He missed the mark on the tzatziki, but inadvertently made a popular Indian dish, curds and rice. Padma is way impressed. Eugene wins.


Last, but not least, we have Team Chinatown. Well, actually…… was least. Patrick and Daniel, with the wonders of Chinatown at their feet ended up with baked salmon and chicken salad. Don’t get me started! Daniel wins.

At the Judges’ Table, we find that the guest judge this week is über great Jean-George Vongerichten. The judges pick Stefan, Eugene and Leah as the top three, and give Stefan the win.


Patrick and Ariane find themselves on the chopping block. The judges debate over which is worse – lack of imagination or lack of technique. Fortunately for Ariane, they think lack of imagination is the bigger sin and Patrick is sent to pack his knives and go.

So, what did you think about last night’s episode? How do you feel about the new crop of cheftestants? Who did you love? Who did you hate? Who did you love to hate? Here is the place to let it all hang out! Be as snarky as you want. I swear, I won’t tell a soul.

Let’s dish!!!

I have to tell you, I was really torn about doing these recaps again. That’s why this one is so late. They really take a lot of time to write and my blogging time is limited! I’m going to try to keep up with them as best I can. I will have to miss a few during the Holidays because I’ll be out of town. I’m also hoping to do some giveaways this go-round as well.

I would really appreciate your feedback on this. Do you want the recaps? Or, would you rather stick to the regular format of food, recipes and my crazy stories about what a klutz I am? You readers are the best ever, and I want you all to enjoy visiting SGCC. So, please take a few seconds and let me know what you think. I’d rather not spend hours and hours to post something that only a few care about.


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Hello and welcome to SGCC! I’m Susan, a professional writer, food columnist, recipe developer, wife, mother, daughter and sister, who used to be a lawyer in a previous life. My love of food comes from a long line of wonderful and creative Italian home cooks who didn’t always have a lot, but knew how to make a lot out of what they had. I hope that you enjoy yourself while you’re here, and visit often! read more >>

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