Thanks for tuning in for Season 8, our first-ever All-Stars Top Chef! Where better to host this season than NYC, where the best of the best in all fields come to reach for the pinnacle of success. Personally, I was glad to stay put for the month of shooting. A month, after all, is a long time in the life of a baby, and I was glad to be home nights with mine.
This season is going to yield some great cooking. Most of our All-Stars made it to the finales of their seasons; those who didn’t still made it pretty far along in theirs. Having all been through this before, the chefs all know what to expect, though I can’t help but think it’s a good thing that the mind forgets the sensation of pain once it’s ceased! By the second or third episode, you’ll see the moment when each of them says to him or herself, “Oh, yeah, that’s right. This is a competition, not just a reunion…and I want to win.”
The downside for the judges, of course, is that we know these contestants from the get-go. In a typical season, the producers insist that the judges not interact much with the contestants, precisely so that we do not get to know them on a personal level. It is not until the reunion episode of each season that we are permitted to get to know the chefs a bit. And after the season is over, they become our colleagues. Who knew seven seasons ago that one day down the road we’d be doing an “All-Stars” version? So even though the same rules applied this season (i.e. we were not allowed to interact with the chefs beyond my walks through the kitchen and our judging of their food), I think I speak for Gail, Anthony, and myself when I say that it was harder to be critical of this group than it is when we’re giving constructive criticism to young ones coming up in the field, as the contestants usually are. But we reminded ourselves that this is what these contestants signed on for.
I thought that both the Quickfire and Elimination Challenges in this first episode accomplished a lot. Together, they provided a great overview of the prior seven seasons for viewers, bringing return viewers back to salient moments in those seasons while orienting new viewers to the “backstories” of these contestants, their seasons’ highlights, and the program and competition itself. I was glad to see the Quickfire win go to Season 4’s Chicago dish. It shows that we’re not about “highbrow” cooking (whatever you take that to mean!) If the food is good, it’s good. The team put together a really good hot dog with a great topping. If the dish is a great version of what its creator(s) sought to make, a well produced hot dog with good toppings can beat out a poorly-produced blini with caviar.
In the Elimination Challenge, the chefs were able to work individually, to recreate –- but improve upon –- the dishes that sent them packing their first times around. Most accomplished the task, to greater or lesser effect. The only one that was actually worse than it was the first time it was attempted was that of Elia. All three of us judges were in complete accord about that. She did not seem to even try to improve its initial flaws (at least the dish we were given did not indicate so to us), and she should have been able to account for slightly thicker tea leaves so as not to serve raw fish. It was an elementary mistake, far beneath a chef with her knowledge and experience. I know that Anthony was very outspoken in his dislike for Fabio’s dish, but he, too, felt that Elia’s dish was by far the poorer one. Anthony tends to get hyperbolic –- it’s part of his charm! –- and it bothered him that Fabio of all people couldn’t come up with a great pasta dish, which is why he was over-the-top about the fact that Fabio should be able to do pasta in his sleep. The dish was a weird regional dish to begin with, it was poorly presented, and it wasn’t great, but it wasn’t the “inside-out animal” Anthony enjoyed calling it, to Fabio’s great chagrin. Stephen’s dish, similarly, was not a good one. It showed a lack of focus, and he needs to take Dumplings 101, but at least he, too, didn’t serve up raw fish by accident. Of all the chefs, Stephen is likely coming into this season’s competition with the least experience cooking. He’s been running the front of the house lately. He has really good food sense, but he’s out of practice.
Welcome back, Tom, to the blogosphere, and as always, thank you so much for the insight and commentary you provide each week.
I never thought about the whole "interacting with the chefs" thing coming into play as it does here for the first time, where you all already KNOW these people and have naturally done PLENTY of interacting with them after each of their seasons ended. I think that may explain why, as Gail stated in her blog, the chefs seem to be a bit more comfortable giving some back at Judges' Table this go-round. We saw it from Fabio and Elia here tonight. And knowing a few of the others as I do from past seasons, I'm sure there will be more of that coming.
I already want Season 8 on DVD. This is going to be one hell of a ride.
I was so looking forward to this season, but I have to say I really hated the first elimination challenge. I hope this season is not going to revolve around recreating the past - I'd lose interest in no time. My major gripe about the challenge was that it was inherently unfair. To say that Tiffani or Marcel or Angelo were "sent home" for their dishes is really stretching things. They weren't sent home, they went all the way to the end & were beaten. Those who actually were sent home had major errors to overcome, and IMO should have gotten a lot more credit. I'm no fan of Spike's, but I think he or Jamie deserved the win more than Angelo did.
Glad to see you back, and to see some of my all-time favorites back too! Looking forward to the high caliber cooking this season promises.
I am really excited about this season of all stars. It all starts innocent enough and friendly. We soon realize as do the cheftestants that this is a competition and the sparks start to fly. The comming attractions show that this is going to get good, and heated. Can't wait. Ingenous 1st elimination challenge. My only coment is I feel all the season should have a even amount of competitors. Some seasons have two, some three, and Chicago has four. Why?
thanks for taking th time to give us insight into what the judges are thinking and feeling and writing it so well in your blog. Love the concept of both the EC and the QF. Good work. Looking forward to this season. So many favorites and non-favs to root for and hope to get their comeupance.
Great show and great concept for a season! So fun to see all of you back! And loved hearing you say you're treasuring your nights at home with your baby....good for you!
This season is going to be great. I'm really sad to see Elia go as I was very happy to hear she was one of the contestants, I'm a huge fan. What you say is true for the viewers as well, when a new season begins with new chefs there is no emotional attachment with any contestant in particular. Plenty of time has passed and since most of these contestants made to the finals or close we've seen a lot, and have our emotional attachments too, please, be gentle. Watching Elia go in this episode was hard to watch...
So one of the other contestants tattled on Richard. Not very confident about his/her abilities? Certainly not the behavior of an "All-Star".
I wondered about that, too. And why isn't Dave there from season one? He went further along than Stephen. It almost seems like they deliberately picked a few of the weaker contestants from early episodes to serve as fodder early on.
I am so happy that you get to spend more time with your baby. Now, on to the show...I was thrilled to see so many familiar faces! With all those personalities and egos I know this season is going to be the best yet. I agree with how Richard was handled, the fact that he went over the time should not only have been brought to your attention by a contestant but by your own production team who was right there filming it. I know a lot of people did not like Angelo but rarely have I gone in to eat and asked to get to know the chef before I eat. I judge them on their food not their personalities and it sounds like his plate was delicious from what the other contestants and the judges had to say about it while tasting. Looking forward to more!
My husband and I have been looking forward to this season, and I have to say this episode did not disappoint! It was so great to see some of the top talent back from previous seasons. Plenty of 'personality,' too! Our money is on Richard for the win, but it's fun to watch because you just never know what will happen!
So glad to have you back, the news was wearing on me. Mr.C glad to hear you're home with the family. I really wasn't ready for the first elimination, it's hard to watch one of our favorites have to leave. "Elia we know you have what it takes, you have the good stuff. Good luck in all of your future plans." I am not glad to see Mr.Bourdain, his type of entertainment style descriptions do not do your cast & crew any great service. I have no doubt it will bring down, the very high quality content of the show, or maybe I have been desensitized by the very careful, considerate & professional way the judges have handled the competitors up to this point. My first reaction was to put a round through Mr. Bourdains forehead. Oh, but that sounds like a reaction Mr. Bourdain might have. It's a big city you never know what might happen, right. But my comments shouldn't make a difference. It's just a food competition show. Good luck to all of the judges & competitors. See you next season.
Great start to what will be a super season. Would love to send the chefs Alka-Seltzer to get them through the challenges and the judging....Bourdain...EEK! I finally have a reason for turning on my television again.
This is going to be a brutal season. Usually there are about 5 weeks of sorting out the wheat from the chaff. As a viewer you can tell pretty early on which chefs will be pretenders and you don't get too attached to them. But with this group you have at least 15 contestants that could actually win the title and most of them are folks you like.
Elia was one of the 15 that I though could win it, but it was telling that we were saying goodbye to her this early. There was real tension in that final judges table and it's great television. Way to rebound from that blah Season 7.
I thought Tre got sent packing for a bad bread pudding while not being on top of his kitchen in Restaurant Wars. How come he was making a salmon dish last night?
maybe it's the caliber of the chefs, maybe it's that they've been through this before and have matured for the most part and have gained confidence in their ability, maybe all that has to do with a lot less 3rd grade drama that tunes me away from the way TC had seemed to be revolving to as of late.
it was refreshing to see the producers get it back to the cooking and keep away from the high school antics and bringing the focus back to the contestants trying to be known as the best chef, not as the most annoying diva.
i hope the season stays focused in this direction and that the views of those of us that watch the show have had an impact on keeping the show highlighting the creativity, the cooking and the positive interaction that a creative kitchen can produce.
Hmm. From the editing, methinks Tre was the one who tattled, er, alerted the judges.
I'd like to know whether Angelo or Richard had the best-tasting dish.
Glad you're blogging Tom!
As always, thanks for taking the time to blog for us.
The season is off to a great start. I loved the elimination challenge -- especially the looks on the chefs' faces!
I'd like to know who ratted on Richard. I'm not arguing with the judges' decision; I just wish I knew who the tattler was.
I cheered when Elia was eliminated. I consider her to be part of the assault on Marcel in Season 2 (she was there and didn't do anything to try to stop it; that's enough for me). I don't think she deserved a second chance.
As usual, the judges got this one right. Elia's dish was a disaster. If it tasted as bad as it looked, I have a couple of cats that could do better. There was no heart or soul in her dish, or as Art Smith would say, she did not cook with love. It was clear that she did not like her dish the first time she made it, and now it is even clearer that this dish owns her. On the other hand, Jamie was able to take a dish that she did not like, and make an elegant recreation. I will not even get in to the fact that Elia can not cook fish. It does not really matter if this dish was in or out of Elia's comfort zone, she had no passion for it, and it showed in the final product. If I were her, I would go home and make this dish as many times as it took to perfect it, then put it on the menu at my restaurant.
I disagree that it is not All-Star behavior. With this group of talented chefs, I have expectations that they have the highest level of integrity and the desire to compete on an level playing field. It's not an even field if one person takes more time (even a minute) to finish up when everyone else minds the clock. Imagine the controversy if Richard had won $10,000 and it was uncovered later that he went over time.
If anything, I think all the chefs will remember to watch the clock after it was called out.
I'm not connected with the show, obviously, but I do know that Kevin Gillespie was asked to be on TCAS and declined, so maybe that is why some seasons had just a couple of representatives, and some had more.
So far, I am LOVING TCAS. These are phenomenal chefs and I look forward to seeing more.
Loved the first episode - the challenges showed that this would be no relaxed reunion.
FYI - I was glad you disqualified Richard for the win and that the show mentioned checking the footage. After the Pea Pureegate incident in DC, I am relieved to see evidence that the producers are taking the rules seriously. I was also relieved that Alex was cleared in the Season 7 reunion.
i am very surprised that Elia was the one eliminated and NOT Stephen to leave. i do agree with the raw fish part of the decision but i believe, as a viewer, that he should have gone home due to the fact that he could not recreate a dish that he implied was a super easy challenge. o well just glad to c the show back on again!
Bravo to Bravo: I LOVE this version of the show! Sometimes it takes a while to get interested in a season, because you aren't familiar with the chefs' abilities, styles, etc. But this time, we know everybody from the get-go. It's also fun to have those winks and nods to past seasons worked into the challenges. i think most fans have their opinions about which season was the best, and who should have won each one (i know i believe several people were ROBBED) and this gives us a chance to see our beliefs proven (or NOT, perhaps!!) It's basically just a great concept -- although i am glad y'all waited as long as you did to do it, because you need this many seasons to mix, and you needed this much time pass for some of these guys. Lastly, the return of Bourdain as the fourth judge is genius... i frankly do not have that much respect for a critic, certainly not as much as i do for someone who has worked as a chef. Although honestly my favorite part of Bourdain's presence on the show is watching him make Colicchio laugh. that's priceless.
Welcome Back, Top Chef!!!!! Now there is something good on TV again. I really liked your quickfire and elimination challenges last night. Very interesting and good drama. It was like Elia gave up. Sorry to see her go but you made the right choice. I love your blog, Tom. I get real insight to the show. Glad you can spend time with your baby and I am sure your child feels the same way. Welcome back.
Looking forward to this season and reading the blogs explaining the decisions. I, frankly, was surprised to see Stephan and Mike I. as part of the all star show. Neither one were finalists, Spike was just on the edge. True All Stars, they are not. Did you really need to have this many contestants? Or, were some just thrown in to have the early eliminations not hurt so much? I know this is going to become a broken record, but more time on the food and less on the personalities? Please?
Welcome back Top Chef - you've definitely found your rhythm again. Although there was some great food in Season Seven (Angelo and Kenny shined), the season was a huge let down from Season Six. From what I saw last night, the All-Stars may surpass Las Vegas. While it would have been nice to see Brian Voltaggio and Kevin Gillespie (I know Brian turned down the invite while Kevin has so much business at Woodfire Grill (and raising his kid) he doesn't need it), but this is a great matchup of most of the best chefs. Whoever came up with the first challenges is brilliant. Most of all, I think you could tell that the judges are excited about what is to come. I do miss Ted Allen, but I think that you (Tom), Gail, Padma and Tony are as good a judging panel as you could hope for.
Either that, or they recognized that they or other competitors could have used the extra time themselves. People have failed to complete dishes in the past because of the clock, it's not fair to let one person have extra time.
Tom, A few thoughts:
I hope we're going to see more of you in the kitchen with the cheftestants this season; other seasons have suffered when you have been absent.
I generally like the mix this season - the sufferable and the unsufferable!
I am extremely happy that Elia was the first to go as I almost quit watching Top Chef after that debacle of a season. I know you explained at the time why only Cliff went home but for my money, the whole lot of them should have been sent packing for what they did to Marcel. And then to hand the win to Ilan? Oy.......... Elia commented that she thought Marcel was immature and hand't grown up yet; I think she needs to look in the mirror.
Any day with Bourdain is a good day! I have never laughed so hard as when I was reading his recap blog a few years ago.
Thank you Chef Tom for taking a reality show to greater heights. Instead of ever presenting worse and worse "cheftestants" each season, you have brought a better season each year. This is why Top Chef remains the quintessential inspiration behind all television cooking competitions and alwys the best.
Congratulations on Season Eight!
Oh... and the new judge as well.
Way to go Angelo....I'm def'ly rooting for him. I think Steven should have been eliminated not Elia! He seems so lethargic & not the least bit interested!
So really...if Richard hadn't gone over the time would he have won? I hope this question gets answered!
It's looking like a great season! I love Anthony Bourdain and if you keep cracking lines such as "roll up the pasta and smoke it" it is going to be just stellar.
I really enjoyed learning about how Asian food hits the four flavor points, had never heard it before but I will now pay more attention to that balance when I cook Asian.
I want to put Ray Stevens up for elimination. Whatever you think about Bourdain, he does understand food, and the words he uses. I also feel pretty confident he wouldn't consider putting a round through someone's forehead. By the way, who is that quote from?
As for the show, I like a lot of the chefs, not really rooting for anyone in particular. I am hoping to see the Professor, el Sosa, and either Jennifer or Jamie in the final, but wouldn't be surprised if Tre, Marcel, or some of the other top ladies made it. Regardless, for now, I'm looking forward more to journey than the destination.
I am so glad that this season is so promising as D.C. was a let down compared to other seasons. I know it makes the ratings better if there is some drama thrown into the mix but I watch for the food and the chef's creativity. I think punishing Blaise for going over the time limit was the right thing.
However some people's comments about Elia deserving to be eliminated because of the head shaving incident of season 2 is ridiculous. Chefs have strong personalities but that has nothing to do with the food. Her leaving because of her dish is the only reason should deserved to go. Jeeze people if you're only watching for the drama and not the food I suggest you watch some Real Housewives instead.
I could not disagree with you more. Obviously you have never watched his show "No Reservations" and seen how passionate he is about world cuisine.
If I remember correctly, the judges disliked the bread pudding but really hated the salmon dish he made during Restaurant Wars.
Thanks as always for your insights. I cannot tell you how excited for this season! And to have Bourdaine on as a recurring judge is absolutely awesome. I am thrilled to see past heroes and villains competing and look forward to reading you every week once again.
A warm spot for this cold winter for sure!
I agree with the person who pointed out that last season Angelo was not eliminated for making a bad dish; he made it to the finals where every dish was excellent but only one could win; and that turned out to be Kenny. Therefore Angelo's reworking (tweaking) of his final dish from last season was not much of a challenge. Jamie on the other hand was indeed sent home for a bad dish; and her reworking of that dish represented a true chalenge. Same comment is true for Spike. So imo Angelo had a huge head start toward the cash prize of 10K which he won for preparing the best dish of the first elimination challenge.
I did! We rewound it and watched it a couple times. So funny. Although, we thought it was Bourdain's....
Great Show and seeing a great season ahead! It's so nice to actually watch and hear intelligent commentary and fun challenges. Thank you Tom for your thoughts and impressions. Love you and good for you for landing back in NY!!!
Thanks for the info Tom. Someone ratted out Richard??? Do tell! I, like others, am curious as to the choices. I am reading that some people were asked and declined. What about Sam? where is he? I like this season. Frankly the last two seasons the personalities of the chefs have been either boring or petty people. The food may have gotten better but not the show. What has made for compelling tv was the combo of delicious food, teamwork, and intense rivalries. The voltagio's might have cooked well but they were boring and snotty. Heck I am surprised Eli has a blog, I found him to be very juvenile during his time on the show. Restaurant wars with this crowd should be very interesting. Hopefully by then Stephen will be gone.
Elia is a great chef but pride obviously got in the way. She said she thought the dish was good the first time and she didn't know why she went home for it. Not accepting the judges critic, she put no effort into improving it. Ironic that when they did the episode her season based on the seven sins she got pride. Remember the big prideful chicken that she carved tableside?
I'd love more insight about Blais' recreation of his failed dish. Obviously, it got him to the top (would he have won?) and while he went over limit, he was simply garnishing and foaming I believe. Its fair to make him ineligible but we never got insight in how it tasted and how he had redeemed himself. Please add it to this blog post, Tom !!
How great to have Top Chef with the added bonus of Anthony Bourdain's sharp wit! Is it true that you nurse gin cocktails to help you endure judges' table? And to think it looks so fun on the broadcast... Well, pace yourself...
Of course one cannot be certain, but if one reads the credits and disclaimers ALL decisions are made by the judges in concert with the producers.
Cameras are everywhere and it matters not who said something; rather whether the cameras caught it.
Chef Colicchio would certainly review the tapes if there has been a dispute about judging. Chef Blais should have won, but the tapes revealed he violated the rules. Too bad.
Chef Tré does not have to stoop that low to disqualify Chef Blais.
Elia was not the chef she thought she was and deserved to go.