So here's the premise: each week, four chefs will compete in challenges. The winner of each week's competition will go on to compete in the Champions Round, where there will be a total of six chefs competing. The one winner gets a bunch of prizes, a donation to the charity of his or her choice, and the honor (?) of being the Top Chef Master. So let's get started with this week's contestants. I'm not even going to bother listing all the awards each has won or the restaurants they own, but trust that there are many.
Michael Schlow of Boston, MA, an expert in authentic Italian food
Hubert Keller of San Francisco, CA, French-trained chef and former judge on Top Chef
Christopher Lee of New York, NY, who promises us excitement and bold flavors.
Tim Love of Fort Worth, TX, who is considered a cowboy cook with big Texas flavors.
Host Kelly Choi is no Padma, but she introduces the Quickfire Challenge, and explains that each one will be a retread of one from Top Chef. This week, the chefs have to make a creative dessert in sixty minutes for a group of Girl Scouts. Michael's cake goes horribly wrong, so it's nice to see that even professionals screw up sometimes. The chefs get to sit in the kitchen and watch the girls sample their food via closed circuit TV, and the girls are kind of brutal, but the chefs can laugh about it. Hubert Keller wins with a cookie and fruit-based dessert where he created animal shapes. The girls dug the presentation and the flavors.
Elimination Challenge: The chefs have to create a three-course meal for the critics and a group of college students using just a microwave, a toaster oven, and a hot plate, as if they were in a dorm room. They'll also have a limited pantry, and they'll be cooking in actual dorm rooms.
The chefs have problems during prep. Hubert Keller has apparently never been in a grocery store, and Tim Love accidentally puts all his ingredients in the freezer, thinking it's a cooler. In the dorm, Hubert Keller uses the shower to cool his cooked pasta and then reheats it with hot water. It's impressive, but I've been in dorm showers and they are grody. Especially on the weekends. Anyway, here are the menus:
Tim Love: scallop Carpaccio with lime and chili, squash and corn pozole, and skirt steak with braised kale
Michael Schlow: salmon crudo, cabbage soup with smoked bacon, fennel, and white bean, and pork a la apicius with broccolini and mushrooms.
Christopher Lee: red snapper ceviche with citrus juices, avocado and popcorn, creamy risotto with prosciutto and parmesan, and pork chop with piperade, crushed potatoes, mache and fennel salad.
Humber Kelley: Fresh Scottish salmon mui cuit over creamy whole grain mustard, hearty carrot and petit pea soup with cinnamon croutons, and creamy mac and cheese with prawns, mushrooms, and fresh herbs.
At Critics' Table (not Judges' Table?), the chefs talk about the challenges of the equipment as well as take responsibility for their own goofs. After a long, looooong sequence where each chef is awarded stars, the critics announce that Hubert Keller is moving on to the Championships.
The host of the show (and we'll get back to her in a minute) introduces the series. Twenty-four professional chefs are going to compete against one another for the title of Top Chef Master. They'll be judged by Gael Greene, New York restaurant critic, James Oseland, editor-in-chief of Saveur, our old buddy Gail Simmons, and Jay Rayner, restaurant critic of the London Observer. The chefs could win lots of prizes as well as a donation to their charity of choice. I wonder if some of them wish they could just keep the money for themselves, or to open another restaurant or something. Doesn't seem like they had a choice.
Los Angeles. The familiar Top Chef kitchen has been revamped with a new sign for this competition, and in walks Michael Schlow, the co-owner of Radius in Boston. He has like a million other credentials, and Colicchio lets us know that Michael likes to travel around Italy and bring back authentic Italian flavors to use in his menus. His charity is the Cam Neely Foundation.
The second contestant is Hubert Keller, owner of Fleur de Lis restaurant in San Francisco and Las Vegas, and the Burger Bar in Las Vegas. He helped train the cooking staff in the White House. He's French, and had classical French training. And he served as a judge on the first season of Top Chef! So now he wants to see what it feels like to be a contestant.
The third contestant is Christopher Lee, executive chef at Aureole in New York. [Oh, how I wish this was Sir Christopher Lee, who played Dracula. - Zach] He's won numerous awards as well. Gael Greene comments that Christopher worked with some great chefs in New York, and he adds that his charity is Autism Speaks. He's young, but he has respect for the generation that came before him.
The fourth contestant is Tim Love, from Fort Worth, Texas. As you'd expect from his home state, he cooks a lot of meat and uses big flavors. His charity is March of Dimes. He thinks that he's the underdog because he doesn't have formal training and he didn't train under anyone famous.
The chefs prepare for their first challenge by sharpening their knives and giving each other the business. It's nice to see the collegiality. I wonder if every group will have that. There have got to be a few chefs in the contest that are just assholes, right? Although they might be media-savvy enough to know they shouldn't show that on national television.
Anyway, host Kelly Choi comes strolling into the kitchen and... there's something kind of off about her. First, her head is like ten times too big for her body, and her hair isn't helping matters. Her hair has secrets. She also way over-enunciates every word and talks with her eyebrows a lot, like she's auditioning for the lead in the junior high production of "Our Town." And I think she's short. All in all, she definitely has more vim and vigor than Padma, but she's not nearly as cool. She seems like she should be hosting a show on HGTV. Anyway, she explains that the four chefs will be competing for a spot in the champions round, and they will complete a Quickfire and an Elimination Challenge.