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. They shop, and it’s pretty basic Whole Foods and fishmonger stuff. They all seem pretty amazed as they enter the kitchen which has been bedazzled in purple, green, and gold. Who Dat?
Bad foreshadowing for Aaron and pasta cooked to order on-site. Yeah, that’s probably won’t work out, and inevitably it doesn’t.
Aussie Daisy Duke is causing people to lose focus.
Tom comes in to wander around and make people nervous. Philly guys have to answer his prodding. Casanova has already cut himself.
Turtle, gator, or frog are the proteins that were dangling from the necklaces, and all are a little testy to cook if you have never cooked them before. The smartest move was Nina grinding them into turtle balls. Smart chef that one. She’s a really interesting story too.
These chefs have so many different stories. Carlos is a Michelin-starred chef who almost shut his place down. His success is a wonderful immigrant story, one we need to show to the folks in charge of immigration reform. This is how America gets stronger. The way he says “the Lord” also reminds me of Nacho Libre, a classic comedy. You should watch dat.
Bret loves Daisy Dukes. Enough said.
Ramon and Patricia have some errors happening, and the swamp is looking a bit daunting for their dishes. Thai boxing skillz are not going to help right now unless Ramon decides to attack a gator with a roundhouse kick.
Back to the villa, and Emeril comes in to bring the ruckus -- I mean, the breakfast.
On to the swamp. They have to build their kitchens. And they are not army engineers… more like a collection of Mr Magoos. Curtis Stone in the house. I am not on for another couple of episodes.
Food for 110 is never easy. I did an event for 1000 recently in Portland, and that was like moderately enjoyable purgatory. It ain’t easy. But I didn’t choose to do a roulade of gator, thank god. Stephanie is not falling for Casanova’s ways.
Tom doesn’t like okra. I could change his mind, but I have never cooked okra for him. Tom, let’s plan that okra dinner. Bene was on Battle of the Sous Chefs and is still happy to do reality TV. Good man that one. Makes me proud.
The food come out and everyone eats. Too much to document as this is early in the hoedown. Shirley’s soup gets raves, Nina’s meatballs are loved, and Sara’s spicy Asian delights are revered. There is a lot of middle ground, and the bottom is pretty obviously Patricia, with her gator surprise, Ramon, with his water broth, and Aaron, with al dente gone awry.
Winner is Nina. She is a force to reckon with. Packing knives is Ramon who did it all for food safety. Kudos to his not wanting to ruin the swamp fest with a bacterial punch, but you have to plan very carefully in these things.
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