Two episodes in one week? Back to back nights? Give us our culinary asses a chance to breathe, Top Chef. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Some thoughts on season 13’s second episode.
- The chefs head up to the roof to meet Padma and LA's marble-mouthed pop-up impresario Ludo Lefebvre. Ludo’s talent as a chef is rivaled only by his disinterest in learning that English verbs have a past tense.
- It being LA and Ludo being Ludo, the chefs are splitting into teams to open four pop-ups across LA. Ludo spent eight years doing a pop-up; Chef Kwame is also a seasoned pop-up restaurateur. I truly did not like how often the word “pop-up” was said in this opening segment. Does someone who works on this show secretly hold the copyright to the word “pop-up” because if so they just got paaaaaaid.
- A truly wonderful moment is when Team Westwood’s van drives by Phillip’s LA restaurant and they see that he’s got a photo of his face on the sign. El Oh El. They joke that that’s an LA thing, but it isn’t? No matter how photogenic or well-known a chef may be, a picture of someone’s head rarely gets butts in the seats. I can’t imagine driving by a restaurant and thinking, “Hmm, I’m not into the name. BUT, the person cooking the food has a beard and a ponytail. He’s got good teeth. I’m intrigued.”
- Team Koreatown learns that the Korean food in LA is so good it only compares to Korean food in Korean. Carl smirks, “There they just call it food.” No one else laughs and it’s a little racist but I’ll give you a pass, Carl. This time. You’re trying to keep it light.
- Giselle volunteers to make Korean wings, which she has eaten before, but never cooked. She’s got no filter and talks out her thought process while she reverse engineers the ingredients. “Something makes them red, and something makes them spicy.” Damn, you are like the Sherlock Holmes of chicken wings. Maybe check out the “Red” aisle in Whole Foods for your next clue.
- Later, Giselle asks a stranger at the grocery store she guesses to be Korean whether she makes wings at home and how she does it. This sort of works out for her, but getting recipes from a possibly crazy stranger is also a great way to get poisoned. “OK, slow down, lemme write this down. You just put some push pins and half a bottle of Liquid Plumber in a cereal bowl then eat it with a spoon real fast? Sounds good. Thank you so much, I really respect your culture.”
- Philip, Frances, Grayson, and Renee head to Venice for their pop-up. Phillip points out that Venice doesn’t exactly have an ethnic identity. “The core flavors of this neighborhood’s cuisine are European tourists, $400 fedoras, face wash stores, and 24-year olds that work at Snapchat.”
- Renee says that fitness and health are big parts of her life now, so she’s all about seasonal vegetables. For some reason, we then see a cheesecake shot of her in her underwear wearing what I think is a lab coat. Is she also a super sassy biochemist?
- Frances is going to make an Indian dish she once cooked for the royal family of Dubai, because if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for the judges. I don’t know, Frances. Tom, Padma, and Gail, to their credit, have a much better record than Dubai on migrant workers’ rights. Just look at Fabio!
- Appropriately, their team is at Seed Kitchen, and the owner and chef, Eric LeChasseur, tells them they will be cooking vegan. Phillip, with a big smile on his face, says that he has a mostly vegan restaurant in Studio City. Eric, speaking for us all, deadpans, “Wow.”
- Phillip doesn’t mean to brag, but he lets the audience know that his wife is an actress and a model, so naturally raw vegan is something he feels very comfortable with. I bet they are fun.
- Grayson is so furious at getting vegan. She likes putting meatballs on everything! “This salad would be a lot better if it was covered in some of my famous meatballs. And sparkles.” Grayson’s strategy for her second go around at Top Chef seems to be “Get a lot more time on screen by snorting and making faces and seeming annoyed at everything.” To be honest, it’s working. She makes a green bean salad yet still manages to make this episode about her. “How can they not have my beans?” she yells in Whole Foods.
- This challenge is hard for Grayson because she gets a lot of inspiration through the people who are closest to her, like her family and her boyfriend. I’m not sure what she means by that. I guess if one of them were here with her they might whisper, “Make the salad better?”
- Chad, Kwame, Jeremy, and Wes are cooking Mexican food, and neither Kwame nor Wes know anything about it. Kwame says he’s never even cooked Mexican. Really? You’ve never had a taco night? I find all of this hard to believe. A LOT is made out of how none of them ask any questions of their pop-up’s owner, Ray Garcia, of Broken Spanish in Downtown LA. Ray was just waiting for you guys to ask him how to make great Mexican food. He would have easily laid it all out for you in five to ten minutes. Ray seems heartbroken nobody wanted to ask him any questions.
- Team Westwood cooks Persian food and had basically zero problems. Angelina’s chicken was super crusty, Amar’s carrots rocked, Isaac pulled out a great kebab, and Marjorie escaped the dessert kiss of death with a spongecake that Chef Saghar of Taste of Tehran wants to put on her menu. It wins Marjorie this challenge.
- The vegan team ends up on the bottom. Grayson pouts about her salad and how vegetarian food is impossible. Phillip seems shell-shocked that his world-famous cauliflower wasn’t better appreciated. He says someone once said he’d kill him if he ever took it off his menu. That death threat seems to be about something more than just the cauliflower, Phillip.
- But it’s Renee that gets sent home. She stuffed a dry beat with, according to Tom, “baker’s yeast,” which legit made me laugh out loud. As Renee leaves, she holds her head up high and says, “I still love food. I still love being a chef.” I would hope so? You were only here for 36 hours. It’d be pretty crazy if you got eliminated and said, “I quit the business, and I hate food. Bye.”
Until next week. I still love Top Chef. I still love writing about it.