Eighteen cheftestants return to the kitchen; fan-fave Fabio and Anthony Bourdain face off

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Top Chef
Credit: David Giesbrecht/Bravo
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S8 E1
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  • TV Show
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  • Bravo

Welcome to Season 8 of Top Chef, where everyone is an All-Star! They’re in New York, where people constantly eat apples. I’m eating one in my apartment right now! How did they know? Duh, they’re professionals. As Spike said, “Now I’ve kind of bloomed, and I have a career.” Well, perfect. Let’s get going.

I love how the editors didn’t even mess around and just got right into the re-introductions featuring commentary from the chefs’ rivals about what terrible people they all are. Meet season 1’s Tiffani, “a snake.” There’s Stephen, who is “obviously a tool and a douchebag.” You remember Marcel, right? That “selfish, self-centered, egotistical bastard”? Of course you do! Many of the series’ best and most polarizing personalities are back in action and, as Carla said, will not be intimidated by your food. Or take it from Tre: “I ain’t playin’ around with this motherf—er.” Okay! These people are in it to win it. Professor Richard! Gorgeous yet impossibly smug Jamie! Feisty Jen Carroll! And best of all: Fabio, who now has a bit of a mullet.

I can’t help it: I love Fabio. He seems like such a faker baker (as my mom, and I guess now I, would say) much of the time, but my heart goes on. I love the accent, I love how he says whatever he wants, and I love that my delusional mind always finds some way to convince itself that whatever Fabio says just made perfect sense. Sure, maybe not objectively, but it definitely always makes sense to him. “That’s just, like, Fabio’s opinion, man,” I find myself arguing. Is it because he really does make sense, or do I love him because he increasingly reminds me of Maksim Chmerkovskiy from Dancing With the Stars, particularly in season 1 when Maks had a ponytail? (This is especially insane because Maks is Russian. They have a similar cadence, I swear!)

The slate/cutting board has been wiped clean, but obviously intense rivalries still exist in the Top Chef kitchen, which Top Chef will have you know is outfitted with the LATEST G.E. MONOGRAM EQUIPMENT. The first Quickfire Challenge gave each season’s contestants the chance to work together so they could claim bragging rights about having participated in “the best season of Top Chef” once and for all. Tons of people kept coming up to the contestants on the street and telling them they were the best — and some, like season 3’s Dale and season 6’s Jen, believed the hype. From mere mortals. Fools! Luckily, deities Tom and Padma had floated down to deliver an official verdict. And the winners were….Season 4: Chicago. Antonia, Dale, Richard, and Spike won the Quickfire with their pork and black pepper sausage. Bragged Richard, who had of course used the disappointingly low-pressure nitrogen tank to make a special mustard: “Can’t do Chicago without representing the avant garde.” Right. Mike from season 6 wasn’t buying it. “Sausage with mustard. BIG WHOOP.”

NEXT: A fine reason for enthusiastic expletives.

Elimination Challenge: “Make the dish that sent you packing, but this time, make it great.” Ewwwwww. You’re really going to make Jamie whip up Eric Ripert’s black bass and (shriek!) celery against her will? How dare you. This challenge was pretty laughable in that, for a second time, the judges were basically force-feeding themselves food they’d previously hated. I loved how horrified most of the contestants were about facing the ingredient combinations they’d likely avoided for years. Dale was so horrified at having to cook his “melted candy bar” butterscotch scallops that he promptly baked cornbread for everyone. What did he care? He had immunity!

Out of nowhere, we were treated to one of those little stand-alone segments about season 2’s Elia and that time she shaved her head. “You had a good head for that, though,” Carla assured the emotionally fragile young woman with the perfectly round skull. I don’t really mind these segments, but they better not get in the habit of foreshadowing who will be eliminated….

After two hours of prep time the next day at the Russian Tea Room, the 18 chefs split into two groups so that they could sample each other’s food…and helplessly watch each other rip apart said food on a big-ass TV! Blonde Dale was particularly cute here, excitedly sitting down with the judges in his blue sweater and crisp collared shirt. Dale!

Speaking of the judges: ANTHONY BOURDAIN AS A FULL-TIME JUDGE. YES. YES. F— YES.

In round 1, Richard’s porkbelly, Angelo’s homemade ramen, and Dale’s butterscotch scallops were hits. Dale “unf—ed this dish,” said Bourdain. I’m so f—ing glad he’ll be swearing so much. Tiffany’s halibut, snobby Stephen’s muddled mess, Elia’s steamed snapper, and Fabio’s pasta(/stew?) all disappointed. Pardon me, I understated. “I really, really, really hate it,” said Bourdain about Fabio’s dish. “It looks like an inside-out animal. It’s appalling.” Tom Colicchio just “didn’t get” the paper packaging. “You just want to roll it up and smoke it,” he complained/wished. You and me both, Tom. Despite all of the above hilarity, I think my favorite part of round 1 was at the very end, when Padma sprang back to life and gave an emphatic diva snap. “We need you to go back to the kitchen,” said the boss lady. Yeah, get out of here, you plebes!

The night’s best hidden gem occurred right at the start of round 2: Bourdain’s white wine totally sloshed out of his glass and he didn’t even care. If anything, his smirk intensified for a split second. He meant for that to happen. And why shouldn’t it? F— you!

Antonia’s sausage with cilantro went over well, except with Tiffany, who had to return Antonia’s bitch-slap based on what she’d just seen from the kitchen. Spike was able to mask the taste of his dreaded frozen scallops so well that the scallops may as well have disintegrated into the ether. “Is this the craftiest motherf—er who’s ever been on the show?” asked Tony Wine Slosh. Probably!

NEXT: Yikes! The bottom three!

Richard thought Jamie’s pickled black bass was excellent, and Mike’s leeks melted in Tiffany’s mouth. Angry Dale couldn’t get past the dumplings alongside Blonde Dale’s curry poached lobster, and Angelo’s first bite of Carla’s meat “was nerve endings.” Gross. (I keep changing my mind about how hungry I am after each sentence in this paragraph. What a mindf—!) Casey and Marcel redeemed themselves, but Jen’s duck struck season 1’s Tiffani as a failure. “There were a few technical errors I was surprised by,” she fake-lamented. So bitchy. I love it!

JUDGES TABLE. Backstage in the damp wine cellar of doom, season 7’s Tiffany blinded her competition with a silver-sequined bustier that appeared to be part of a regular shirt. “Regular” is a real stretch here. The judges called Richard, Spike, Jamie, and Angelo in, then sent Richard out because he’d clearly been plating after the clock ran out and was therefore not eligible for the win. Dale was aghast. “Richard being disqualified is bulls—. He obviously had the best dish.” Whatever, Dale. The real winner: Angelo! Ironically, the pasta-maker won a hefty cash prize from Buitoni. He should feel free to buy $10,000 worth of pre-packaged tortellini just to burn it to the ground!

Bottom three: Stephen, Fabio, Elia. All of Stephen’s portions were off, and who was he kidding with that soup dumpling, wondered Bourdain? “My mind was drifting off to my last colonoscopy; it was that bad,” Tony Wine Slosh claimed. Suuuuuuure. Fabio defended his “peasant food” and paper-based presentation, but after a lengthy tirade from Bourdain (mmmm, I can’t wait to see these two bicker all season), Tom laid down the bottom line: the nuances weren’t there. Meanwhile, Elia’s fish was just a disaster — Gail’s piece was nearly raw, and Elia hadn’t even tested one out to see if it had cooked correctly. “You didn’t have to steam it,” Gail pointed out, simultaneously questioning Elia’s intelligence and crushing her dreams. “Don’t eliminate me. I have a lot more to do. I mean it,” Elia warned the judges in a rare moment of reverse psychology. Tom and Gail shared a silent scoff using only their eyes. It was magical.

Her orders had been futile. Goodbye, Elia! Surely we’ll see no more chic green heels during judging or adorable head-bumps between her and Marcel, and for that, I weep.

Next week: Paula Deen at the museum! I can’t wait (to stuff myself with butter while watching). Coming up this season: Jimmy Fallon! Elmo and Cookie Monster! Roosevelt Hospital! Fabio fantasizing about choking someone! And my favorite line of the night, from Tony Wine Slosh: “This was a terrible thing to do to a beautiful piece of veal.” Get ready for a great season, folks.

Did the Top Chef All-Stars premiere satisfy your cravings? Which returning contestant has you most excited? “DOES ANYBODY HAVE CILANTRO?” Discuss last night’s show below! And don’t forget to check out a brand new column from our guest blogger Gail Simmons. The woman knows her food — so go forth and read what she has to say!

WINE SLOSH UPDATE: Thanks to some eagle-eyed readers, I investigated and have confirmed: the wine slosh was Tom’s! Check out the ‘Top Chef’ Hidden Truffle of the Week over at PopWatch.

Annie on Twitter: @EWAnnieBarrett

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Top Chef

Tom, Padma, and Gail tell the cheftestants to pack their knives and go.
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