Trouble With Toast

Top Chef Las Vegas: Let the Sin Begin! | August 20, 2009

I have wanted to incorporate Top Chef recaps/reviews into my blog repetoire for quite some time, as I am a huge fan of the show and have been since its inception.  Up until this point, I haven’t gone through with it, largely because there are so many great TC recappers out there in the blogosphere–Jordan Baker and Chef Biatch are my two favorites, though there are also great posts on Serious Eats and on the Bravo site itself.

This year, I decided to blog my thoughts about Top Chef for two main reasons.  First, the show takes place in Las Vegas, which is one of my favorite places (despite the fact that I’ve only been there once).  Second, and more importantly, there are THREE Atlanta chefs in this season’s competition, so I thought it would be fun to track their progress and give them a little virtual love.  So GOOOOOOO Hector, Kevin, and Eli!!!  It should be noted that Hector comes first because he is the chef at Pura Vida, which is where my fiance and I got engaged.   Awwww…

On with the show!  My first thought: are they going to eliminate, like, six people tonight???  Sheesh, 17 chefs is a lot to start with.  Don’t expect me to learn any of their names (excepting the ATL peeps, of course) until at least week 3.  Their house in the desert looks pretty swanky, and the TC kitchen is in the even swankier M Resort, which wasn’t even built when I was in Vegas in late 2007.  Padma and Tommy-poo say hello and then deliver the news about the first quickfire challenge, which is the mise en place relay.  Fun!  They all draw chips to decide teams, and the lady with lymphoma draws the lucky gold chip that grants her immunity without even participating in the quickfire.  The four teams have to shuck 15 clams, peel a bunch of spot prawns, take apart 5 lobsters, and butcher two ribeye steaks from a massive side of beef.  There are so many chefs and so much food a-flyin’, but the focal points of the challenge for me are a) that the lady with the fauxhawk is REALLY bad at shucking clams, and b) that Mike (not Voltaggio, the other one) is a sexist asshole.  I hope that girl who works with my boyfriend Eric Ripert makes Mike cry.

Well, the team with that girl who works with my boyfriend Eric Ripert wins the quickfire, and Padma announces that they will each have 30 minutes to cook a dish with the ingredient that they massacred in the relay race.  At stake?  A $15,000 chip from the M casino.  Lymphoma lady is offered the opportunity to trade immunity for a chance to cook for the money, but she wisely (in my opinion) declines.  That girl who works with my boyfriend Eric Ripert ends up winning with her clam ceviche (which she pronounced “say-veetch,” which made ME want to cry).  She’s kind of badass.

I must say, I was totally distracted during the cook-off by the French dude’s kerchief.  Our couch conversation went something like this:

Betty: What is that ridiculous red thing that guy is wearing???

Jason: Well, he IS French…

Betty: Uh, my boyfriend Eric Ripert is French, and he doesn’t wear a douchey neckerchief!

You can probably guess what my fiance’s reaction was.  Moving on…

For the elimination challenge, the chefs each have to create a dish inspired by one of their vices.  Now, I know that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and I shouldn’t judge these folks on their vocabulary (or lack thereof), because goodness knows I can’t shuck clams or pull off a kerchief.  But dammit, half of those chefs had no idea what vice even meant.  For the record, a vice is a practice or a habit considered immoral, depraved, and/or degrading in the associated society.  Think sin, people.  Sheesh.  Thank goodness we’re dealing with restaurant professionals here, so most everyone has an alcohol problem they can tap into for inspiration.

Wolfgang Puck is the guest judge, and he is precious.  Well, actually, he’s kind of horrible–he talks about throwing one of his chefs in the fryer, and he chucks donuts around, and he likens someone’s puree to baby food–but his accent makes even his negative commentary adorable.  Not as adorable as Fabio or my boyfriend Eric Ripert, but still pretty adorable.

There are too many dishes to sum up, so I’ll just cover the Atlanta chefs.  Kevin wins the challenge with his slow-cooked Arctic char with turnip salsa verde, which sounds really yummy.  Yay for Kevin!  Eli’s dish lands in the middle group (though he was complimented on his scallops being cooked nicely), meaning that he is safe for the time being.  Hector is the only male chef in the bottom four, thanks to his deep-fried steak that did not live up to its promise of smokiness.  Luckily for him, the judges gave Hector credit for his creativity, if not for his execution, and spared him for this round.  The first chef to be axed was the mega-tattooed mom who made a ghastly-looking chile relleno filled with a weirdo protein.

The “this season on Top Chef” teaser shows lots of drama and lots of heavy hitters, as you would expect in Las Vegas.  What say you about the premiere?  Any early faves?  Who are you gunning for next week?



  1. This season has no shortage of cheftestants with obnoxious attitudes, but I am seriously impressed by the credentials of this crew: A few James Beard Nominees, a Micheline Starred Chef, more than a couple of 3+ starred chefs from their respective newspapers of record.

    I also really want to like your boyfriend’s chef de cuisine, but she is so focused on her ability to be as big an asshole as her male counterparts that I just can’t be a fan.

    p.s. Next time you’re in DC it is worth it to take a drive to Volt.

    Comment by restaurant refugee — August 20, 2009 @ 4:43 pm

  2. I, too, am impressed by the credentials of the cast. Should make for a very interesting season, though as per usual, the challenges don’t always allow the chefs to truly showcase their talents. And just you wait–my boyfriend’s chef will show her soft and cuddly side. 😉 I will definitely keep Volt in mind for my next trek to DC.

    Comment by bettyjoan — August 20, 2009 @ 6:38 pm

  3. I think that this article will explain the red handkerchief:

    I thought it was a fucking travesty that lymphoma woman didn’t give up immunity. It’s the first episode. You have a 1 in 17 chance of going home, e.g. it’s very unlikely. If you are not confident enough to give that up, we can assume that you aren’t confident about winning Top Chef. So, if you are not a winner (or at least aren’t in the top four or so), you leave with nothing. Better to go for the $15,000 than count on your chances of winning the whole thing. 1/5 chance for $15,000 and 16/17 of staying, versus just being safe… not a tough choice for me.

    Comment by Barzelay — August 20, 2009 @ 9:26 pm

  4. Wow, a travesty? Goodness. I thought it was a good decision because a) the winning foursome were pretty darn talented, and were “warm” from participating in the quickfire; and b) she had no idea what the elimination challenge was going to be. What if it was something crazy hard, like cooking for vegans (something that even the Masters had trouble with)? Even great chefs have bad days, and the nerves/attitudes were probably SUPER intense given that this was the first set of challenges. Granted, if she had known that that tattooed mama was going to serve that awful looking chile relleno, she might have changed her mind–but I think I would have done exactly the same thing if presented with those options. Plus, it’s not like she had time to ponder it and calculate the odds–she just went with her gut. Self-preservation (versus ego) can be helpful in these sorts of competitions.

    Comment by bettyjoan — August 20, 2009 @ 9:49 pm

  5. Wolfgang Puck was out of control. So was the cleavage by Padma and Gail, but that’s another story. Puck seemed to try too hard to be “TV” instead of actually judging. Prior guest judges, like my man-crush Anthony Bourdain seemed genuinely critical, whereas Puck was playing up the cameras.

    17 cheftestants was too much. Last season I think they eliminated 2 in the first hour. Should have done the same here.

    Comment by Big Money Tony — August 20, 2009 @ 10:58 pm

  6. Yeah, Tony, I wouldn’t have been sad if that blonde girl with the grating midwestern accent had been sent packing along with chile relleno girl. I was hoping for a multiple elimination, but maybe they’ll surprise us in a subsequent episode.

    Who DOESN’T have a crush on Anthony Bourdain???

    Comment by bettyjoan — August 21, 2009 @ 12:36 pm

  7. Love the guy who won, and LOVE how many DC/B’more area chefs there are!

    And the chick’s pronunciation of “ceviche” made me want to hate her.

    Comment by Wendy — August 21, 2009 @ 2:17 pm

  8. Apparently it is the French way of pronouncing the dish…but it still sounded like nails on a chalkboard to me. And yay, there are so many people for me to root for, between ATL and DC!

    Comment by bettyjoan — August 25, 2009 @ 12:50 pm

  9. I attempted to explain it away like that as well. But even the French way of pronouncing it would would have the final “che” sound like “shh.” So I’m pretty sure she screwed it up either way. It might be Eric Ripert’s fault.

    Comment by Barzelay — August 25, 2009 @ 8:27 pm

  10. Oh, no you didn’t…my boyfriend Eric Ripert pronounces EVERYTHING beautifully and, surely, instructs his staff to do the same. 😉

    Comment by bettyjoan — August 25, 2009 @ 9:20 pm

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