Top Chef is back, baby! This season — season 16, for those of you keeping track — is set in Kentucky, and you know what that means: horses, bourbon, funny hats, maybe a splash of obesity. Oh, and fried chicken. Sprinkle some special herbs and spices on Colonel Sanders’ grave on the way to the baseball bat museum, friends.
It was a Kentucky Derby challenge this week, which was great for Graham Eliot, who finally had a chance to wear some loud clothes. Usually so understated, that guy. I admit, this could be a “me” thing, but I have a scab on my brain that makes me instantly hate anyone with white-framed glasses. Should I see a shrink? Pair some white glasses and a polka dot bow tie and you have a sure-fire recipe for “please don’t talk to me.”
In spite of Graham’s basic visual offensiveness (bring back Gail!), it was a pretty good episode. We already have a villain, a human interest story, comic relief, and a mildly tragic elimination. Not bad for episode one.
Oh, and did I mention that we already had TWO CRUDOS in the top three? If there’s one thing I know about the Top Chef judges, it’s that they f*ckin’ looove crudos. One of which was made with tilapia, which I always thought was a no-no for some reason? Take a note, y’all, hot food is passé. Whip me up a dirt fish tartar or get the hell out of my face.
Now then. To the rankings! We don’t have too much to go on after just one episode, but when has that ever stopped us from making wild assumptions?
1. Natalie Maronski — AKA: Backstory. Shaolin.
Natalie is an early favorite in this competition, soaking up both screen time and the win. We discovered that she’s been out of the game for a while, taking care of her mom, who has Parkinson’s, and wondering if she even belongs in the kitchen. Everyone loves a redemption story, and so Natalie emerged from her monastery, rocking tied-back hair and a utilitarian t-shirt, proverbially shadow boxing in the corner in a grey hoodie (Natalie is the Eminem in 8 Mile of this competition). She ended up vanquishing the opposition with, you guessed it, a god damned crudo.
Natalie’s halibut ceviche with laksa curry sauce blew away a couple tough competitors who had also made crudos. Cru-don’t mess with this lady.
2. Pablo Lamon — AKA: Smooth Pablo. Ol’ One Plug. New Fabio. Brint.
Smooth Pablo, the handsome foreign man, and his one ear plug showed up looking like one of Derek Zoolander’s roommates. I bet he wears only the finest sample size designer garments. I would have nicknamed him “Eurotrash” if only he hadn’t turned out to be from Argentina. Pablo is the only chef in this episode who finished in the top three in both the quickfire and the elimination challenge, meaning you could certainly make a case for him being ranked number one. But his Tilapia crudo ultimately lost to Natalie’s halibut ceviche. Live by the crudo, die by the crudo.
That said, I’m more interested in this one ear plug thing. Is that a fashion statement? Are we sure he’s not secretly getting advice from that thing? “Oye, Pablo, it’s jour ear ploge. Make Padma some feesh!”