It's here at last: TC3 premiere night! First, I have to thank the "TC" fans for their kind comments in this space about me coming to the show -- it really means a lot to me! In particular I was touched by all the lovely people at Blogging Top Chef; they were so sweet as to start a petition to get me onto the show, if you can imagine that! (Hey, Andy, is that how I got the job?) Also, let me apologize for promising in my previous post to give you behind-the-scenes dish from the All-Star Preview episode last week, and then not delivering; I wrote wayyyy too long, and the good people at BravoTV.com made me cut the post in half!
So here's the missing half: In April we arrived in a not-overly steamy South Florida, got nicely lodged in the swank, historic Fontainebleau Hotel, stirred up a G&T on the balcony, and settled in for a month of hot, chef-on-chef action. My first order of business was to persuade our Key PA, Damien (speaking of hot!) on a few hair-and-makeup policies: Namely, that it takes me 15 minutes, max, to achieve the level of grooming excellence for which you know me so well, whereas it takes the staggeringly gorgeous Padma and Gail approximately 7 hours of curling, teasing, and whatever else female-types do with all that hair. (The similarly gorgeous Tom Collichio is even faster than I am, also for a hair-related reason.) What this means is I do not need to be dragged out of bed until Padma and Gail are about 6 hours and 45 minutes through the works. Thanks, Damien!
First order of biz: Shooting the promo stuff -- all those still images you see in the ads and on billboards, with the cast, host, and judges standing in the ocean and fooling around on that white, futuristic set. (Actually, we were standing in a swimming pool in a tough part of town -- Bravo's marketing whizzes photoshopped it to look like we were in the Atlantic.)
I've always found photo shoots to be a blast, especially with really talented shooters like the one Bravo hired, here: Matthias Klamen, who also shot the QE guys for Entertainment Weekly back in the day. No heavy lifting, nice snacks, people referring to you as "The Talent," and free shoes. What's not to like? And then, the All-Star episode begins! The Season 3 cast and judges were seated at tables in a lovely outdoor setting, when who is it that should walk into frame but our fave finalists from seasons past! On the bill: a team-versus-team cook-off, with $20,000 going to the charity of the winners' choice.
In this corner: Season 1 winner Harold, talented if sometimes undiplomatic Tiffani, Stephen, the highly polished but cocky necktie-wearing sommelier, and Dave the Weeper. In the other corner: Fortunate season two winner Ilan, "kinda cute" fan favorite Sam ("fan favorite" being Bravo's way of acknowledging that they, too, wish he had won), the beautiful with-or-without hair Elia, and the elaborately coifed wannabe rapper/gastronomist, Marcel. And who was the diva of the day? Wait for it... (Okay, I'm gonna promise never again to say, "wait for it.")
First off, several of the past contestants seemed a bit less than thrilled to be there, much more so than you could detect in the episode (good job, editors). It's understandable, in a way: these guys have already been put through the wringer of "Top Chef" once, which is plenty, believe me. And here they are, being called on the carpet at judges' table again, without a chance to win anything but bragging rights. (They could have consoled themselves with the PR value of staying visible to Bravo's bazillion viewers -- but, still, it's more fun to be paid!) They also seemed a little miffed at having to serve their food to the newbies, which was, of course, silly.
On Team 1: Tiffani looked poised and professional, confident in and proud of her magnificent Kobe beef dish -- as she deserved to be. Ditto Stephen, whose poached lobster was very popular (one plate at my table appeared to have undercooked bug on it, but the consensus was that he did beautifully). Harold's duck meatballs were flavorful and soulful, but unimaginatively dumped in a bowl with three or four mint gnocchi; it needed some textural contrast and some energy in the presentation. I thought Dave's scallop course had a very sophisticated combination of flavors, yet, with its subtle hint of smokiness, the dish still felt personal to him. And he didn't cry! On Team 2: Sam was gracious, as always, although I found his beef a bit overcooked.
Elia's duo of scallops showed ambition, which I always appreciate, although many felt the marmalade overpowered the seafood rather than showcasing it. But the real problems came -- predictably -- from Season 2 nemeses Marcel and Ilan. For Marcel, when he's not working on that wolverine hairstyle, life is * still* one big foam party. Duuude (as he might say), scented and flavored foams were a new idea about five years ago. To use this stuff on every dish, which he seems unable to resist, makes him look like a one-trick pony. And in this case, he couldn't get the * one* trick right: First, the foam had little flavor, and after it instantly melted into a puddle in the heat, it looked so awful you didn't *want* to taste it. And what about Ilan? I have to say, for being the winner of last season's competition Ilan didn't look like a leader in this one. He looked confused -- and I'm not even talking about his teenager hairdos or his funky glasses. And I like Ilan -- I think he's fun and nice, I think he's talented, and I think he's cool to not say mean things when bloggers write that he looks like me (which he doesn't, of course, and lucky him). But at this point, Ilan should know how to cook a duck, deep-fried or otherwise, which is to say, not well done, and not with half an inch of un-rendered fat still beneath the skin. He also should rethink cracking a raw egg over wild rice when he's serving it outdoors in 85-degree weather. Not appetizing (Ilan redeemed himself somewhat yesterday, when he beat Sam in a cook off at the "TC" launch event in NYC).
The diva award, by the way, goes to Dave -- it even made it into the episode, with him whining to the judges, "I don't miss this." I don't blame him. But is it true he ran up a big room-service bill to express his irritation with the show?
Finally, my shirt: When you're a TV producer, and you're shooting in Miami, you are legally required to dress your cast in pink, white, or teal, and, when on the beach, a banana hammock. Floral is good, too, as are Scarface references. Personally, I thought Tom should wear a white suit, gold chains and aviators, and should always be smoking a cigar. But since Tom chose instead to go with his signature John Varvatos suits in dark, chic, New York-y colors, Bravo and "TC" execs were hoping they could talk me into wearing brighter hues, which are not my thing. I relented on the preview episode with that shirt (which, it should be noted, is from Dolce & Gabbana, and cost somebody a fortune). However, when it came to wearing a bikini, I put my foot down...