Episode 1: Amish Soul Food and Mormon Funeral Potatoes
That’s right, Top Chef is back. 15 seasons and the #content is still as fresh as the microgreens atop your harissa pork belly crudo (always take microgreens and crudo on Top Chef bingo). This season comes to us from Colorado, home of… uh… South Park, and… the Denver Broncos (can there please be a Cartman tie in?). They’re coming out the gate hot this season, because within the first five minutes, one of the chefs informs us that his style is “Amish soul food.”
Minutes later, another chef coins the term “Mormon funeral potatoes.” I’ve missed you, Top Chef. But enough intro, I’ve got power rankings to get through and it’s the first episode so there are way too many cheftestants.
Weirdest Sounding Dish
Carrie’s “Summer Bruschetta,” with a jalapeño blueberry jam and sharp cheddar cheese, tossed in a roasted tomato vinaigrette.
Uh… what? Did Bramucci cook this? Next time just say the ingredients out loud before you cook them and ask yourself if that sounds like a disaster. The best part of this was Tom Collicchio’s criticism: “I think You have to be more focused when you’re doing something that simple.”
Well sure. One thing I always ask myself when I’m making a blueberry jalapeño tomato cheddar cheese crostini is “Is this too simple?”
Best Sounding Dish
Chris’s Potato Waffle with Barbecued Beef and Corn Chow Chow. I still don’t know what chow chow is, but a crispy french fry waffle topped with barbecued meat sounds amazing.
Unsung Hero Award
The judges, who had to sample 15 different dishes this week. I had to sample 20-something tacos for a taco contest once and I almost died. Also me, for having to come up with 15 damned chef nicknames for this post. This isn’t easy, people.
Stupidest Looking Judge Award
Graham Elliot wins again, for the third year running! I can’t help it, I find this guy’s whole visual schtick infuriating. This Tucker Carlson ice cream salesman get up is more obnoxious than all of Guy Fieri’s flame cars put together. Fieri is a punchline but this guy gets a pass? There’s no justice in this world.
1: Joe Sasto — AKA Mustache Joey, aka Rollie Fingerlings, aka Freddy Mercurioli
Power rankings are always tough the first episode, but I’m giving the edge to Mustache Joey, who didn’t win the quickfire or the elimination, but seemed to be near the top in both. I’m not sure we needed an entire editing package dedicated to the fact that he has a mustache, but… it is quite the mustache, I guess. Eets a-mustache so big-a you save-a some scungilli for a midnight a-snack! You make-a you papa so-a proud!
Mustache Joey finished a pasta in the first round and won the battle of the tartares in the second (Top Chef bingo! Is not a tartare just a crudo by another name?) with his fermented seaweed powder yeast crumble something or other. It must’ve been good because that sounds terrible. He also won the Padma double entendre sweepstakes with a special segment dedicated to “Padma can’t fit all of my meat in her mouth.”
Of course, Padma couldn’t let someone else have the last sex pun, she added “I hate warm slimy meat,” winking and nudging Tom in the ribs the whole time in case he didn’t catch the euphemism.
Padma is going to be the first female show host to go down for sexual harassment. Just as soooooon as someone complains. Any minute now…
2. Tyler Anderson — AKA Henry Roll-ins, aka Wooly Willy, aka Matt Pinfield
Tyler the punk rock fat guy got all the good lines this week, from “the bear den” (his room with the other fat guys) to “we’re fat boys with sleep apnea machines.” He also spoke a lot of truth to power, making fun of everything from “farm to table” (“everything is f*ckin’ farm to table”) to chefs with food tattoos (“I have a bucket of fryer oil tattooed on my whole back… not really.”). Come on, man, you’re supposed to leave the Top Chef bingo to me.
He also threw some shade — “It’s Top Chef, so I’m not out here making tartare and crackers” (like the other three chefs who made tartare and crackers). Tyler won the elimination challenge and he would’ve been number one, except he made some kind of overcooked chorizo on top of a potato disc disaster for the quickfire. Is there any less appetizing word than “disc?”
3. Fatima Ali — AKA Chokers, aka Mini-Padma, aka Ally Shadidi
Mostly we learned two things about Fatima this episode, that she idolizes Padma and she loves chokers. She made her mentor proud with a “Pakistani nacho”/deconstructed samosa (check “deconstructed” off your Top Chef bingo card) that Tom said had “lots of flavors, but you can taste all of them.” Padma then praised her for highlighting Southeast Asian street food. Which Padma knows all about because she’s from the streets, yo.
4. Chris Scott — AKA Silky, aka Good Damone, aka Amish Soul Food
Chef Chris is the guy who cooks “Amish Soul Food,” which actually looks delicious, and will presumably be the title of his memoir. We didn’t learn much about this guy other than that he’s from Philly and he seems cool as hell. He reminds me of Damone from Fast Times, if Damone had actually turned out to be a cool guy. Like instead of getting your girlfriend pregnant and selling you bum concert tickets, he’d give you good advice on how to please a woman and then when you’re slow dancing with her at the prom he’d catch your eye from across the room and he’d give you that cool guy nod while taking a drag off his cigarette and leaning up against a wall.
Also he made some dumplings and they looked pretty good. Be my friend, Chef Chris.
5. Tu David Phu — AKA Johnny Football, aka Jake Ryan, aka Tu David Phu Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar
Speaking of cool ass dudes, Chef Tu. A lot of people pointed out that “Brother Luck” is a cool name, but don’t sleep on “Tu David Phu.” Vietnamese chef Tu won the first quickfire with a Vietnamese-style salpicón and just kind of seems like the handsome class president. He did pretty bad in the elimination challenge, but only because he 1) stopped to help Bruce freeze his leeks with liquid nitrogen (classic food prep stuff) and 2) Gave Mustache Joey his burner for some reason, scorching his own stew on the induction burner in the process. Jeez, take one for the team much? Talk about a Ho Chi Mensch (Is that racist? Whatever, it’s wordplay). He seems like a great guy, is what I’m saying.
Anyway, Tu’s going to have to harden up if he wants to win this competition. I recommend looking in the mirror every morning and repeating “I’m not here to make friends” three times.
6. Joseph Flamm — AKA Joey Cheeks, aka Joey Tartare, aka Chicago Beef
Future C-Pap user (according to Tyler, anyway) Joey Cheeks came out hot cooking a whole snapper that the judges loved in the quickfire, then he faded in the elimination challenge, cooking the lesser of two tartares cooked by dudes named Joey (“a true Joe down throwdown,” as Joey Cheeks dubbed it). Get it together, Joey.
7. Bruce Kalman — AKA Arthouse Guy Fieri, The Delegator
Chef Bruce, who still rocks a chain wallet, is apparently the most famous chef in the competition, getting an entire “everyone knows Bruce” editing package dedicated to it. But Bruce was way in the weeds before chef Tu bailed him out and nearly got himself in some serious Gnocchi Trouble (my favorite of the Olsen twin movies).
Despite the name recognition, Bruce landed in neither the top nor the bottom in either challenge. I guess his food was okay?
8. Brother Luck — AKA Barbershop
Brother Luck has an awesome name and his hairline is always perfectly lined up (hence the nickname “Barbershop”), but other than that, we didn’t learn much about him. For the elimination challenge he cooked a “purple potato puree inspired by Columbine” which I thought was problematic until I learned that Columbine is the Colorado state flower and not just the name of a school where kids were shot. Graham Elliot praised his dish as “Easily the most colorful dish we’ve seen today,” because of course the jackass in the Hawaiian shirt with the paisley bow tie and tie dyed sarong wearing white-framed glasses frames appreciates color.
9. Laura Cole — AKA Pioneer Woman, aka Paula Cole, aka Dr. Quinn
Laura is from Alaska. She has seven reindeer going to slaughter, gets her flour shipped up to her on a barge, and one time a moose ate all her cabbage. She was bewildered by the layout of the Whole Foods, a store she’s never been in before, and got dinged by the judges on account of not enough sauce (classic mistake). Laura could be the dark moose of this competition, provided she can navigate these unfamiliar lower 48 luxuries like indoor plumbing and eating with utensils. “Mmm, this is great bear, how’d you strangle it?”
10. Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins — AKA Frames, aka Young Susan Feniger
Chef Claudette won props for making a mole in 45 minutes in the quickfire, but faded in the elimination round when her harissa aioli tartare with ras al hanout ribeye and salad allegedly lacked salt and acid. But hey, that’s like every square of Top Chef bingo in a single dish!
She also gets points for having the coolest frames, which isn’t easy to do on Top Chef, where there’s almost as much competition for distinctive eyewear as there is for man bracelets.
11. Rogelio Garcia — AKA Scholarship, aka Backstory
Rogelio led the field in human interest montages this episode and looked like an early favorite after his “delicious and homey” chorizo stew with candied beans. Then he blew it in the elimination challenge, making steak and potato croquettes in which Graham Elliot could barely taste the meat! Come on, Rogelio, you gotta make sure Graham Elliot can taste your meat, that’s bush league stuff.
Anyway, Rogelio seems nice. His dad also kind of looks like a cross between Kirk Hammett and the Night Stalker.
12. Tanya Holland — AKA The Professor
The jury is still mostly out on Tanya, who looks like a badass gender studies professor. She was the victim of a smash cut in the elimination challenge, when chef Bruce was like “I need to get to the fridge first so I don’t get stuck with chicken wings” SMASH CUT TO: Tanya seasoning some chicken wings. Whatever, Bruce, chicken wings rule. Graham Elliot thought Tanya’s jerk tri tip “would be more flavorful,” but she stayed out of the top or bottom in both rounds.
13. Adrienne Cheatham — AKA Halle Bearnaise, aka Tostones
Chef Adrienne made a “fish caramel” over pork belly with a tostone that landed her in the bottom three on account of it was too sweet. TOM COLLICCHIO HATES SWEET! HE’S SWEET ENOUGH! Even worse, her disappointing tostones left Padma pad-splaining what tostones are supposed to to totaste like. Get it together, Adrienne, look what you’ve done to me.
14. Carrie Baird — AKA Mormon Funeral Potatoes
Carrie had possibly my favorite line of the episode in “Mormon funeral potatoes,” but it was a miracle she didn’t go home for her badly cooked potato chips and blueberry bruschetta abomination.
15 (Eliminated). Melissa Perfit — AKA Tweak, aka Shakes McGee, aka Eliminated
Melissa, who works at Bar Crudo here in San Francisco (does it count for crudo in Top Chef bingo if it’s only the name of her restaurant?) got her own “shaky hands” montage to highlight her nerves, which is never a good thing . She said she prepared for Top Chef by “having two panic attacks.”
It felt like it could’ve been a setup for a future redemption montage, except then she promptly served an uncooked potato chowder, landing on the bottom of the quickfire. Then she revealed “I rarely eat potatoes” while prepping the elimination challenge, which was, you guessed it, meat and potatoes. Come on, Tweak! Just cook a scallop puree and call it “potatoes of the sea” or something! The judges eat that crap up on Top Chef.
She tried to redeem herself with a Yukon potato puree with braised pork shoulder and fennel, which I totally would’ve ordered if this had been a menu. But apparently it sucked enough for her to get kicked off, even ahead of the girl who made blueberry bruschetta. Wild. Oh well. Poor Melissa, she never gave herself a chance. Play her off, Nerf Herder.