A word about Jen’s seitan dish: This first challenge is a time to put your best foot forward. Doing something “different” is fine, as long as by “different” you mean “more exceptional,” i.e., you can execute something that’s truly different and special. The bottom line is: it still has to be good. In Jen’s dish, it wasn’t the seitan that did her in, underwhelmed by that protein as we were. The dish was poorly done: the breading was falling off because it wasn’t breaded properly, whatever was thrown on the side of it was just a mess, and she garnished the plate with undressed radishes, “just for color” – they had no purpose. The winning dish that Kevin made, by contrast, was smartly realized and perfectly executed. Kevin right away struck me as someone very bright. In fact, he was on his way to MIT on scholarship when he decided to be a chef and changed course. He is very thoughtful – look at his rationale for his dish. That level of thinking set him apart from the onset. And then, as I said, he was able to execute his concept to perfection. The fish was perfectly seasoned, cooked, and balanced. It deserved the win. Jen Carroll’s dish worked beautifully, too. She worked under Eric Ripert, so we figured she’d be able to do fish well, and she didn’t disappoint.
What’s neat about this season is that the cooks come from very different backgrounds, styles, and approaches, but they’re all very, very good. The talent is deep and strong, and they are all serious – they all came ready to cook. In my opinion, this is probably our strongest collective group of chefs to date. They’ve even downplayed some of their strengths, and yet those skills are there and will emerge as the season progresses. Some are wildly creative, others are more grounded, but this season will show that perfectly executed, well seasoned, well thought-out food will always win the day. As we saw in the Quickfire Challenge, in which Jen worried about her presentation yet won the challenge, this is a season in which viewers will see certain dishes and think “wow!” but another, less glitzy dish will not look as good, but will taste sublime and win the day … another reason that Vegas is the perfect backdrop for what’s to come. Get ready for a great season, not only from the cheftestants, but from the guest chefs as well. The talent that has graced us with their participation this season shows that not only is Top Chef recognized as great entertainment, but it has been embraced by our industry as something very worthwhile.
One final word: Recently an article written about the lack of time that people are spending cooking hinted at Top Chef as being part of the reason. With the feedback I’ve received from viewers, including countless nine- and ten-year old boys and girls who watch devotedly and are now in the kitchen cooking away, I have to believe it’s quite the opposite. Your thoughts?