The First Episode
Padma Lakshmi on what she's learned...so far.
The filming of the first episode was a lot like the first day of school. And of course I felt a lot like the contestants, since I was the new girl in class. I was lucky to find Tom and Gail were very welcoming and made me feel like I belonged there from the start. It was hard at first to remember everyone's name and then came the first Quickfire challenge: flambe. While I understand the visual "wow" factor, I didn't think it had anything to do with how good a cook is, but then when one dish didn't light I thought that part of being a good cook is understanding the materials you're working with; I've never heard of anyone flambeeing with red wine. Now I know why.
I was also just getting to know my hair and make-up woman, who was very good natured and in her quest to do her job well and keep my hair in place probably used almost a whole can of hair spray, something I hadn't really thought about until I entered that sweltering kitchen with 15 people about to set fire to their pans; all this while I was standing very nearby.
The next challenge proved to be a grueling first day at the office for me in other ways. With the heat rising by the minute in our Top Chef kitchen (we filmed during LA's heat wave), the elimination challenge put forth was a mystery box of ingredients, which I had not myself seen until the contestants flipped their lids, and soon began to pray for mercy. That day I tasted frogs legs, chicken liver, and peanut butter, at times all in one bite, and also snails with American cheese. I've never been one to shy away from trying new foods, but I was a vegetarian until well into high school, this was testing my limits ... but I had to taste everything, and I did. It was my job. The frog legs were pretty good, and yes, they do taste like chicken I am happy to report. The snails when seasoned well and not overcooked, tasted like tough mushrooms, or grey calamari. I liked them and would have them again I think. Luckily the liver was used sparingly.
It's a long exciting day, and one I am very glad to be a part of. I am lucky, my colleagues have already paved the way and done such a good job last season, that they tell me it can only get better. And so I wait, with bold knife and fork, poised to take the next unknown, interesting bite.