'Top Chef' 11 Premiere: Swamp Things

Is Jason really as cocky as he seems?

Well, hello my little beignets! Welcome to Top Chef Season 11 in New Orleans. I'm Monica, Senior Producer at Bravo Digital and your recapper for the season.

I couldn't be happier that Season 11 is in New Orleans. There are very few cities that I truly felt sad leaving, but New Orleans is one of them. It's honestly another world down there and one of the few cities in the United States that has its own distinct cuisine, completely unshared by any other city.

So, after probably the best season of Top Chef Masters yet, I hope you're ready to dive into a new season of Top Chef with 19 -- yes, 19 -- cheftestants. The chefs enter their beautiful home and share a little bit about themselves, and instantly, a reluctant villain emerges -- Jason. Full disclosure: Jason's restaurant ELA is actually the only restaurant I've dined in among all the chefs' restaurants. It was a recommendation for brunch, and the brunch was quite tasty, so I'll be interested to see how Jason does. He already has a bit of a hometown rivalry with Nicholas, who is just adorable. OK, that's enough of that. 

Some familiar faces include Stephanie Cmar, Kristen Kish's former roommate, who didn't quite make it to the Season 10 kitchen. Bene Bartolotta, who recently competed in Battle of the Sous Chefs for Top Chef Master Odette Fada. There's also Michael and Justin who both -- surprise! -- won Padma's Picks. If you haven't watch the prequel series yet, watch it HERE.

Shirley worked for Thomas Keller. Carlos has a Michelin star. Aaron works for Top Chef Master and all-around adorable chef Takashi Yagihashi. He was also maybe in a mildly successful punk band? We see a photo of Janine with Season 5's Jeff McInnis. And if you haven't heard, they're opening a restaurant together in NYC! Can't wait to try that one. After some pleasantries and s--t-talking, s--- got real, and then s--- got really really really really real. Thanks, Stephanie!

Padma and Tom walk in and present the chefs with their first challenge, not a Quickfire challenge mind you, but an Elimination Challenge. They're not effing around. The challenge is to create a dish using one of three New Orleans delicacies… in a swamp. The three options are turtle, alligator, and frog. I actually had alligator cheesecake at Jacques Imo's (a must-visit!) and fried alligator on a stick at the Creole Tomato festival in New Orleans, but I somehow drew the line at turtle soup at Brennan's. The only turtle I ate in New Orleans was filled with chocolate and caramel!

And with proteins in hand from local utters, the chefs get to the Top Chef kitchen. The pride the chefs feel putting on their coats for the first time is palpable. Aaron doesn't have a plan for his pasta, but he's not worried. Well, that's good because I am.

Hold up -- Nina's father was the prime minister of St. Lucia. Whaaat?! I just want her to say "diplomatic immunity" a la Lethal Weapon just once. Just once!

Aaand pause for a Janine ogling break. Get it together, guys! Seriously! Bret's mouth is watering, and it ain't over the gumbo he's cooking. Bret, your heart and sauces will only get broken.

Unpause.

Wait, pause.

Jason cut himself! Nothing brings a chef's confidence down to Earth like cutting yourself in front of Tom Colicchio. Whoops!

Unpause.

Carrie is nervous. Like, so nervous she's running away from Tom. Hope those nerves don't get the best of her because I kind of want to be friends with her. Is it just me or does she jsut seem like the nicest person?


Patty, who works for David Burke at Fishtail,  hasn't made enough food. Sooo, I'm worried for Patty and Aaron. 

And then there's Ramon who has to water down his dash so as not to make people sick. Not a good sign, either, and not surprisingly -- spoiler alert! -- Ramon, Aaron, and Patty ultimately comprise our bottom three. 

After the first day of prep, the chefs are chilling at home and the Mayor of New Orleans (not really), Emeril Lagasse, brings them beignets. I mean, even if you get kicked off in the fist episode, you were just served beignets by Emeril Lagasse, so I'm thinking everyone's going home happy. Emeril offers some sage advice to Travis about his tough alligator.: "You gotta do something about that." Travis responds, "Where were you yesterday?" Travis, if you didn't know you had to something about the toughness, not even Emeril Lagasse can help you.

Full of beignets, the chefs head to the swamp to set up their own kitchens! Man, we're so cruel sometimes. 

Checking back in on Patty who has come to the conclusion she needs to start from scratch. Oy. We see her ripping apart her rillettes. 

Jason, on the other hand, is done. And just when you think, "Yeah maybe he's a douchebag, he tells Nick, "I'm going to go pick some shrubberies." Maybe I'm too eager to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I think he has fun with arrogance and he's not so bad. I look forward to once again defending the cockiest cheftestant of the season. 

But sorry, Jason, you're not the hottest chef at the swamp because Curtis Stone is guest judging! Hi, Curtis! He joins "Swamp Queen" Padma, Tom, and Emeril.After a "really delicious" comment from Tom regarding Nina's food, which is a win in itself, we see who starts getting the beads, and yeah, Nina's kiling it. "Rockabilly" Sara offers an "unapologettically hot" dish. It doesn't hurt that Curtis and Padma love spicy food. 

Time for Judges' Table! But there's a twist! The chefs can hear the judges deliberating. Being critiqued like that in front of your competitors adds a really interesting element to the competition. Let me know what you think about it in the Comments section below.

Tops are Sara, who "blew Padma's socks away," Nina, and Carrie. Nina wins. Now, usually the first Qickfire winner either wins the whole thing or fares pretty well in the competition, but we didn't have a Quickfire Challenge, so it will be fun to see how far Nina goes and if the tradition holds up.

The bottom three were a sad sight if only for the fact that Patty cried. Tom even tried consoling her! (I think.) That never happens! There's no crying in fine dining! Quick: who remembers which cheftestant said that? Answer in the Comments below! Dry those eyes, Patty -- you're safe. As is Aaron who was at the root of a little tiff between Curtis and Tom, who disagreed on the very concept of making homemade pasta at a swamp.

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In the end, Ramon is the first chef to go home. Apparently the judges don't take too kindly to almost being made sick.

Phew! We made it! I'm shvitzing already!

Tell me: Who's your front-runner to win it all?

Until next week, Have a Nosh!

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