Rocco DiSpirito

Chef and guest judge Rocco Dispirito breaks down the season premiere of Top Chef:Chicago dish by dish.

on Mar 12, 2008

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Tasting your way through 16 ├╝ber-creative pizzas isn't as easy as Padma makes it look. Eventually, there is an epic taste bud overload that only a gallon of water and several Bud Lights can fix.

Truthfully, though, almost all of them were good. There was Richard's peach/Taleggio; Stephanie's melon/tomato/prosciutto; Zoi's broccoli/pesto/lamb; Dale's sausage/kohlrabi/Sriracha; Ryan's escarole/ricotta salata/butternut; Nikki's comte/pecorino/mushroom; Andrew's smoked marinara/prosciutto/onion; Jennifer's grape/bacon/fontina; Erik's mushroom/pepper/sausage; Spike's feta/olive/sausage; Nimma's hunter-style/onion/Stracchino; Mark's chicken/zucchini/Marmite (yes, that yeasty, salty British breakfast spread), and more. Only a few gave me pause. Stephanie's was funky and Nimma's was under-salted. (And as you know, it was the salt that spelled doom for Nimma.) Even so, by the end of this challenge, I knew we had some seriously talented chefs in our midst. Dale pickled his own kohlrabi and Richard managed to make peaches, Taleggio, and a sweet-tea syrup on a crust of bread work surprisingly well. Pizza is, after all, a crust of bread -- a plate of bread, actually, that is the ultimate blank slate. Given that starting point, there was ample opportunity for the new batch of hopefuls to show us what they're made of.