I remember vividly getting off work early to go home and watch the first episode ever of Top Chef. I was excited to see a competition based on what I did everyday. I was exhilarated to see young chefs battle it out with food to see who would be the best chef overall. The episode took place at Hubert Keller’s Fleur de Lys, with Gail and a much younger Tom and the beautiful, but briefly-tenured Katie Lee. We saw the tension, the pressure, the fails and the attempts. We were hooked, and I still am.
But sometimes I hear this on the street, or from friends and fans: “These chefs just aren’t that good.” Sometimes you may be right, but that’s a red herring; it’s supposed to be about who’s the best in the group, not who is the best chef in the galaxy.
What I do know is that this is a great season that we’re just getting into, full of really good food, interesting social dynamics, and it fulfills what I think Top Chef strives for. If you say that these chefs are not good enough, you are kind of missing the point. Granted their omelet skills left me wondering about the state of food in America, but that was only a quarter of our lot and we have some culling still to do, on a weekly basis actually.
Last season we were very lucky to have a very gifted group who could really cook in the highest rung of the culinary world in America. I would say half of them are really going to be players in the restaurant world in the next decade, like really important culinary superstars. Paul ended up winning and I can’t think of a more just recipient of the title. He earned it over the course of a season doing what he does best: not strategizing, not creating drama, not finding faults and weaknesses with others -- he just cooked in the way he knows how. He rocked it. We were lucky to see him cook. In a similar vein, the past has shown us the Voltaggios, Stephanie Izard, Harold Dieterle, and Kevin Sbraga, gifted chefs all of them. Some seasons have had nobody ascending to be the next Paul Bocuse, but still we get great food entertainment. We get the purity of the competition and anxieties of putting all of what you know on the table.