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It happens relatively quickly. You get a phone call. Then, in a few hours, a list of things you can bring. Followed by a longer list of things you can’t. And then a few hundred papers to sign. You receive flight information and contact info for people you’ve never met. They will be “handling you,” whatever that means. In a few days, you’re off to be a contestant on Top Chef. At the time you don’t know it, but that Wired magazine with Brad Pitt on the cover and that pretty awful hot dog at the airport will be your last taste of freedom for a while.
Upon arrival, you will be stripped of your belongings. Your Red Sox cap, gone — it’s branded. (Why do you think you see so many home-printed t-shirts?) Cell phone, wallet, money, ID, notebook with recipes. Gone. Even that magazine. Confiscated, for six weeks, you can hope at least. At this point, I’m sure they are checking toothpaste tubes for illegally transported methyl cellulose. It’s serious.
There is a part to the first few days of being on Top Chef that's like prison, I expect. There’s bad food, blood being spilled, and alliances being made. For as long as you’re filming, you will never even go to the bathroom alone. You won’t need a shank of course, unless it's lamb.
You get to meet your fellow competitors now. At a house that I’m guessing is a good upgrade from where most of the cast usually resides. I remember our house in Chicago had a toilet seat warmer. That was nice. There will be a scramble for bunk beds (not sure why). And there’s so much chatter and name-dropping going on that the prison-like atmosphere becomes more summer camp-ish, or since there’s alcohol in abundance, maybe college.
I’ve worked for him, or her. I’ve got this nomination, or this award. I’ve been on that TV show. At my restaurant this, at my restaurant that. My style is this. I grow my own food, etc. etc. This casual social mixer seems harmless and fun. Hair starts to come down. Neckerchiefs start to loosen.
But in an hour’s time, half of the pack will have been virtually eliminated.
That is a bold statement but one I can make with certainty. Of course there is maybe one contestant each year who finishes way beyond everyone’s expectations. But the first true accomplishment during the competition is getting half-way through. The contestants can lay odds (see what I did there?) on who will be in the game very easily. All it takes is this first gathering.
Kevin will be there at the end. I thought so from the get-go. Ditto Jennifer. My two front-runners, out of the gate.
The brothers seem strong, both of them.
There are a few obvious weak spots, but Eve has to top that list.
Also residing in the ATL, I was disappointed that Hector didn't get off to a stronger start. That said, I imagine he'll be showing off his considerable skill soon enough. Thanks for blogging again this season Richard (and keep the comments coming over on the SD blog!)
Jennifer is my girl pick; I have a feeling she's going to kick some ass.
Something stood out about Michael Isabella to me. Thinking he'll be around for a while. (and I also really liked him until he made his girl comment)
All the ATL chefs represented us well! Disappointed that Hector didn't make a better showing, but he did cook with cajones!
I can't wait to see more Eli-that little snippet of him complaining about Robin using cancer to win a quickfire now that is some ruthless stuff, love it.
i am surprised Ron Duprat won out of his group, they said his food was good but not great, and i completely agree, you can all ready tell who's going to stick around, my guess for the top six will be Michael Isabella, Kevin Gillespie, Eli Kirshtein, Jennifer Carroll and both Voltaggio brothers
I'm rooting for the Michigan girl, Eve! I'm a fellow "Michigander" and we know how to cook. Ok, well I don't really know how to cook but some do.
Welcome back Syndrome! Looking forward to the blogs.
The brothers will do well. Preeta will not. Mike Isabella probably will because he's a total ass. Beyond that, I need another week to really form opinions on the group. Yes, even Eve. For some reason, I have a vibe from her that she could be this season's Ariane Duarte (started realllllly slow and badly, turned things around big time).
Great to have you back on the blogs, Richard!
So glad you are blogging again!! For me it's like that litle bit of raspberry sauce left over after i've devoured the lava cake for dessert. I take my time and lovingly savor the last few bits of the latest show by getting your take on things. Anyhow... i digress. The loser last night -no big surprise. While vegan dishes aren't destined to fail all the time, they will definitely fail if done poorly. Ballsy to try and use the seitan but again -it's all about the final product. I have been watching TC since it started... no one has ever said, "This looks like hell and tastes worse than that, but boy what moxie!! You are tonight's top chef!" The blonde Jen will go far. Though i'm not big into the idea that having to be a bitch is the only way to get ahead. I understand that the culinary world is a man's world - trust me, i am female and the fire chief in my town, i know all about men's domains - i wouldn't ever say with pride that i've made grown men cry with my leadership skills - that's not assertive.
Did I miss a blog? I'm still waiting for two apologies from you:
One to Stephanie for claiming (on "Top Chef Masters") that you should have won.
One to Chef Chiarillo for bad-mouthing him on the same show.
I used to think you were professional and smart.
Richard I am still disappointed that you didn't win. I was a fan of yours from the first episode. I have a friend in Chicago and he and his wife are also huge fans of yours. We would chat everyday after the show. Needless to say after you didn't win it was a somber conversation. Hope this season is a good as the past ones.
I have to agree with you Richard. At the beginning of the show, a whole bunch of folks should just start wearing red shirts (referencing the Star Trek truism, the guy in the red shirt always gets killed). Watching the episode, I get a sense that several folks who are clearly in over their heads as opposed to people who simply made bad choices. My wife and I are pulling for Kevin. In the intro he said he had a full ride scholarship to MIT, which says a lot for his level of intelligence, and turned it down to go to cooking school. That says the guy has some big brass ones to toss aside that kind of opportunity to go after his dreams. That is a great combination for a chef - brains, and heart.
The early-in-the-season shows are kinda frustrating, usually you can tell there are several people out-of-their-league and sometimes you wish they'd eliminate 2 or 3 or 4 right off the bat. I loved TC Masters... they were all on such a different level. Richard, your contribution Chef Bayless' win was awesome by-the-way. =D
So great to see you blogging on this season since you are so "seasoned" as to what really goes on.. Wished you would have won on your season.. but, you seem to be doing fine and you are a great role model to the rest!! Hope your family is well and your new baby!!!!!!!!! We all love you!!
This was a very interesting read, Richard.
Now man up an apologize to Stephanie so that I can continue to read you all season long.
Kevin really stands out. It's tough, though, because we haven't seen if he has any weak spots. I'm a fan, though. Gotta love the smart ones.
Hi Richard - or do you prefer Blais?
Thanks for a wonderfully well-written blog. You are so talented in both cooking and with words. I am still pissed off that you didn't win Season 4. Also I loved what you said about Michael "Chyrello" on TC Masters!
Enjoyed your comments on the first few days...to answer your question, it seems to me Kevin, Jennifer, the Volltaggio bros. and a couple of chefs -- I didn't catch their names yet -- will go far. The reason I think the latter is their faces were shown at the same time famous chefs' faces were shown around a table that looked a lot like a finale.
Great job on TC Masters, Richard! ICAM about Michael Chiarello's behavior during the finale. I didn't expect him to be so obnoxious. Love your blogs! Kevin and Jen C. look strong so far, as do the Voltaggio brothers. Eli shows some promise. Eve and Jesse better step it up, or they'll be gone in the first few weeks. I already detest Mike Isabella and can't wait for his arrogance and misogyny to get him dismissed.
Really wanted you to win Top Chef. You and Tre were two I felt should have won.
This season I am picking Kevin out of the gate. I picked him before it was announced he would win. There are others that are good but not many that seem to exude that extra quality. We will see as the season plays out.
Richard, Why does TC virtually sequester chefs during filming? Also how long do you have to wait between filming and when it airs? Seems like it would be very difficult to not share the results with loved ones and friends. And do the contestants make money for being on the show? Thanks.
You definitely owe Chef Michael C an apology..he had his reasons for asking the questions he did..remember?? This was not about him. He was playing for alot of $$ for his charity. You should be half the gentleman he is..but that will never happen
This season looks like a great cast of chefs. I really enjoyed Top Chef Masters. It was very nice to see how kind and mature the chefs were..and no cursing.. They were the Masters and all 3 finalists deserved to be there.. They were all winners. I was surprised to hear You state that you "should have won" on your season. You were my favorite all season, but, have a little humility?? You won a lot of media attention and a lot of fame, even by being "second"..
I think you are a talented chef, but lost alot of respect for you after your behavior and comments on Top Chef Masters. I thought you were a class act. You sure didn't show it there.
You owe No One an apology....I agree that when you ask someone to pronounce a name that doesn't follow English phonemic rules in order to qualify for a postion you are asking something totally unrelated to the task at hand What does that have to do with anything? Michael C might have done better had he spent a few minutes to find the strengths of the team he picked. He said he didn't have time, but the other chefs did in the same amount of time. Rock on, Richard.
Great to read you here. Your perspective, both witty and insightful, is a pleasure to read.
I think you should have won, so why would you not think you should have won? What else would you say? "I don't think I deserved to win." What kind of competent chef would say that??? It's about subjective opinion, mostly, and in my opinion, your food seemed just as on par with Stephanie's. It takes nothing from Stephanie for you to say what you did. (And trust me. . .I was glad to see a female winner, finally, but from a non-gender point of view, I felt it should have been you as the winner).
Also, Chiarello was being a total jerk. Even his fellow Top Chef Masters seemed a bit taken aback at his behavior. Keller and Bayless were the smart professionals among the finalists, not Chiarello. And it's not even that he was wanting the others to chop and show skill for him. It was this whole business about how does he pronounce his name and such! Ego trip!!!! I wish people would stop calling for your apology of stating the obvious facts. ;-)
Peace to you and yours, Traci
twitter - piccolo3nj
I quite wonder who these people you refer to are. Looking forward to your blogs; quite enjoyed the writing in this one.
You are and always will remain a class act. I hope more aspiring chefs learn the nuances of cooking, class and behaviorial ethics from you or at least try to emulate you. Keep up all the good work and I enjoyed this blog.
Richard, You were always one of my favs! I live in Atlanta and love Flip. Everyone is always talking about how great it is. Congrats!
Agree with tortle. Kevin is too smart to not at least make the second half of the season. Jennifer has to go far - she worked under Ripert! Voltaggio brothers are strong.
I grudgingly admit Mike Isabella might go far - if he makes the finale his comments during the show might come back to bite him.
Richard, Why won't they even let you go to the bathroom alone during filming? Is there always a camera person or some kind of Top Chef police? That's crazy! Also how much time passes between filming and airing?
I agree that you owe Stephanie an apology. Your comments were classless. And throughout your season, it was Stephanie's food that I always wanted to try. Everyone thinking that you were the one to beat and "should" have one to me is more about good ol boy politics than who's food really was better in the end.