I always find the first episode a little like a meet and greet for lost souls, or in this case, chefs. The masters wander in like old camp friends, but at camp at least you had care packages and that really progressive counselor to talk to. Here you just have a lot of chefs, little time, lots of hybrid autos, and some very nervous sous chefs who have no idea what they are in for.
First, to our fine list of competitors. I will explain, in no particular order, something about them.
There is the rotund mastermind in David Burke , a man who may have invented the term lamb lollipop, and thus single-handedly solved the impending crisis of what to call a cocktail lamb chop. He is not to be confused with David Bouley or Daniel Boulud. (How many famous chefs have the initials D.B.?)
There is the Michelin man in the shape of Douglas Keane (full disclaimer here: I like him a lot and we worked together years ago.), who has been without his Mauviel copper pots and fancy range since closing the iconic Cyrus.
Need chefs with some TV experience? Oh, we have those in the much lauded and verified Top Chef veteran, Bryan V. and also the NOLA chef Sue Zemanick, who is looking for redemption from a very stressful service in Season 3 of Top Chef Masters.
There are cherished indie chefs like Neal Fraser and Jenn Louis, so we will probably be seeing some bespoke aprons and knives forged in artistic communities. There will be gnudi. There is always gnudi.
There are also chefs who are more in the business of food and who own millions of plates. Representing that sect is the pan-Latin guru, Richard Sandoval, who owns, operates, or runs about three gazillion restaurants. He is a mastermind in the kitchen, but has probably not been the guy to push through the tickets at 9:30 p.m. on a Saturday night, unless that Saturday night was in 1992. This is in no way a slight to his cooking ability as the man has built an empire.
Herb Wilson is the chef at the Las Vegas Sushi Samba and is also the most elegant looking man on the show. I am trying not to pronounce his name with a silent "h," something I am prone to do. He is not a culinary plant.
There is a Canadian who laughs a lot, which makes me feel like watching Strange Brew again. Lynn Crawford was at the Four Seasons in Toronto for a long time. She will make poutine sometime, as it is an obligation of citizenship. Lynn in her first five minutes seems to be the most Canadian person I have ever seen.
Sang Yoon is the esteemed L.A. chef at Father’s Office. They make great food. He also has an über-talented sous chef, who is more like a ringer than a sous chef.
Franklin Becker tells us that he is the godfather to many Top Chef alums. He is in NYC and has a very serious sous chef named Vinson who likes to look at me like he wants to either hug me or kill me throughout the whole season. He does neither in the end. I am unloved and still alive.