Top Chef starts a wicked awesome new season in Boston. What twists are in store for the new crop of cheftestants in episode 1?
It’s a new season of Top Chef! We’re in Boston this season, and I’m excited to talk about the food culture in my adopted home city as this year’s crop of cheftestants gets tested by its many, many sides. We open with lots of dramatic narration and B-roll of Boston landmarks. Fenway Park! The State House! The North End! That One Bridge Whose Name I Don’t Know1! As much as I love Boston, I’m hoping we the chefs get a chance to check out the other parts of the larger Boston area, including Cambridge/Somerville, my neighborhood.
As the 16 cheftestants file in, there’s another familiar face besides Tom and Padma waiting to greet them – it’s Richard Blais! Despite having no discernible connection to Boston, he’ll be alongside Tom and the panel for some reason! His haircut is awful. He asks the chefs to introduce themselves, but since there are TOO MANY cooks in this kitchen, we really race through the introductions. Once we cut a few of these 16 down, we’l start to get a better handle on who’s who. In the meantime, here’s who I caught in the rapid-fire introductions:
- Mexican-Japanese Kosher Restaurant Guy
- Arrogant Jean-Georges Guy With Tattoos
- World’s Greatest Young Chef Award Winner Lady2
- Joy Crump, who runs a farm-to-table restaurant and has a name that you can perform as an action should she win a challenge.
Introductions aside, it’s now time for a SUDDEN DEATH Quickfire. Yes, as part of this season, there’s a chance a chef could go home before that week’s elimination challenge. I am all for this – 16 chefs is way too many to keep track of at this part of the game, so any means of dropping some dead weight is welcome.
For their first quickfire, the chefs are separated into four-person teams (Red, Blue, Yellow, and Green) for a Boston-themed mise-en-place relay. Technically, this is a seafood-themed relay, which disappoints me a little bit. Boston food to me is so much more than seafood, and that’s not just because I grew up in the midwest where the most frequent place I had fish was Friday-night VFW fish frys. Teams will have to extract the meat from 3 lobsters, shuck oysters, filet mackerel and prep littleneck clams.
After arguing amongst themselves as to who will do what, the teams get in position and start the relay. Blue quickly smokes their competition in extracting the lobster meat and gets to start on their oysters first. The red and green teams follow, with yellow struggling to extract all their meat. The blue team continues their dominance through the oysters and mackerel, with yellow catching up on the mackerel round and overtaking the green and red teams, who bring up the rear.
Katsugi (our Japanese/Mexican/Kosher chef) agreed to do the clams for the blue team, and realizes only as it becomes time for him to start that he doesn’t know how to open littleneck clams. His “slam the clam against the prep table” approach is as noisy as it is ineffective, and he slows the blue team down enough to let the green team slide past them for the win, and the yellow team slide past to get 2nd. They manage to finish before the red team, who really struggled on the mackerel and clams.
The slowest individual member of the red team was George (who dealt with the clams). As loser, he has the power to choose one chef to compete against in the sudden death portion of this quickfire. If George wins, both he and the chef he challenged stay. If not, he will go home. George, who had wanted to work on the mackerel, challenges his teammate who insisted on the task only to butcher it, Gregory.
With 20 minutes to make use of any of the mise-en-place ingredients and the rest of the pantry, there’s a flurry of chopping, slicing, and running around in the kitchen. George creates a seared mackerel filet with a fennel/orange/olive salad and some clam meat. His approach was to keep it simple and do on thing well. Gregory used this as a chance to show his versatility and creates a chilled seafood trio that uses the mackerel, oyster, and lobster. There’s a lot of flavors going on, but they seem well balanced. After some deliberation, Tom chooses Gregory as winner. George is out before the first real elimination challenge3.