“Top Chef Boston” is the 12th season of Bravo's only remaining talent competition, unless “The Real Housewives” count as competitions for attention and screen time. Its first episode made a number of small changes that appeared designed to keep its contestants guessing. The premiere was also less about Boston and more about “Top Chef,” as the show repeatedly pointed out its own successes.
That started with the addition of new judge Richard Blais and continued with guest appearances from past contestants and one winner, and also included several contestants with ties to the show. For example, the winner of the first elimination challenge, Mei Lin, works with season-six winner Michael Voltaggio; the first person to go home, George, was Mike Isabella's business partner.
Sudden death quickfire. The episode began with the potential for one chef to go home immediately. Teams of four shucked and filleted things in a mis en place relay, and the slowest person on the slowest team was up for elimination. That was George, who was able to choose another chef to compete against, and in a fascinating twist, if George won, both chefs would stay; losing would send George home. In other words, his competition, Greg, wasn't vulnerable. But George was: Richard Blais deemed his dish less successful, and he left the competition immediately.
Sizing up the competition. Greg won the quickfire by using three of the ingredients to make three separate dishes. He told Padma and Richard he was “trying to show as much versatility as possible.” But one of his fellow contestants had a different read on Greg's “ambitious” dishes: Adam said, “Hi, my name is Greg and this is how big my dick is.”
Boston chefs, gather round. The elimination challenge took place at the first-ever “Top Chef” Food Festival, which oddly also featured booths from famous Boston chefs, including Todd English and Barbara Lynch, and also former “Top Chef” contestants Tiffani Faison and Kristen Kish. It was like producers wanted to make sure the festival's guests also had the chance to taste food that didn't suck. Their presence was so odd that famed chef Ming Tsai said, “I so hope I win Top Chef. Oh no, I'm not competing.”
Would you like your seafood drenched in oil? Katsuji made a creative but unappetizing “'Petroleum' shrimp” dish that included a “squid ink fondue.” In case the idea of having shrimp covered in petroleum isn't appetizing enough, the sauce was dark gray. Before tasting it, Padma and Richard looked at him like his dish was an elaborate prank by the producers.
Padma throws up her hands, and food. Aaron didn't have enough of his pork belly left over when Padma and Richard stopped by. “Did you mean for me to have so much of the fat?” Padma asked. “I'm sorry, Padma, not my intention,” he said. Then she spit it out into a napkin.
A big party at judges table. Last season, the chefs got to watch the judges deliberate via a monitor, but this time, Padma called all of the chefs to judges table, making them stand there to watch the winners' be praised and the losers get critiqued. But it mostly felt awkward, especially when the judges had to slip away while everyone said goodbye.
Please pack your knives and go. Michael left the show because of his salmon row, which was too fishy and clashed with his sweet corn soup. He suggested Tom Colicchio needs to be “more open minded” but proved it was he who needed to be more open-minded when he said, “I don't care what you think, Tom.”