Welcome. First let me talk briefly about what I think this season means, and then I will crack jokes and make fun of things.
It’s Season 11. That’s a long time for a show. I can still remember getting out of work early to watch the first episode of Top Chef way back when. We, as industry people, were excited about a show that would depict our craft: the drama, the hours, the craziness of getting great food on a plate. From the get-go we were hooked. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have a place at that Judges' Table speaking my mind. I live in a world that has been very good to me, and for that I give thanks.
So now, we find ourselves in a city that gives thanks to millions of visitors each year. New Orleans has been through hell and still greets every morning with a smile on its absolutely wonderful face. It is a diverse town of great culinary heritage that has emerged from the horror of Katrina more daring than ever. They treated us like royalty and fed us like kings. From the po’boy at the bar to the 10-course lunch to the late-night taco, this is a city that loves food of all shapes and sizes. All I can say is go and enjoy. NOLA will never let you down. Let the good times roll in a city that has no equal.
So here we go. The chefs assemble at a little pied-a-terre that looks pretty luxe. “It has 19 beds”, says Rainwoman, a chef named Shirley from the left coast who has cooked for a veritable who’s who of superstar chefs. There are a lot of good hairdos happening and a lot of good genes, but rule No. 1 will always apply: if the first impression that people have of you is that you are a douchebag, then you are probably a douchebag. Jason will no doubt take umbrage with my statement, at which point he will have to look up the term umbrage.
Tom and Padma enter when the critical mass of chefs has been reached, and they throw beads at the chefs. No one even has to flash their boobs for this to happen, though I do as I watch. Truth is that that whole beads and boobs thing only happens on Bourbon Street which is, from most locals' opinions, the worst place to watch Mardi Gras festivities. More to the point is that Mardi Gras parades are actually awesome family fun and very interesting, so keep those boobs covered.
Well, the beads have protein symbols on them, and we are heading right into the first Elimination Challenge. The only curveball is that the two NOLA chefs who competed through Padma’s stoic glare to get here are given immunity, and those two are Justin and Michael. Michael is a strange man with great hair, and Justin is, frankly, a cooking badass, and is immediately perceived as a frontrunner in the season. He has two James Beard nominations, and true finalist nominations, not that long list that gets released to tease people a couple of months before the gala ceremony.
Michael is giving a tour guide drive to the other chefs and lulling them into his strange world. They are mesmerized by his local flare. We learn interesting personal preferences about Travis who says that, “I love Asia… I love Asians.” Bene had a turtle and may become the first gay Top Chef. This is all news to me.