Next comes Zoi Antonitsas (San Francisco, 30, Chef/Consultant) -- that's Zo-E to you and me. According to her audition tape, Zoi enjoys making spicy pig's head soup and, according to her first talk-to-the-camera bit, she plans to bring a "softer style to the competition." I'm not sure how those two details work together, but there you go. Pig's heads must be pretty soft, come to think of it. I really cannot stand the way she spells her name, or pronounces it, or whatever, but I will gracefully assume that's not her doing and will try not to let it cloud my judgment. Oh, never mind, she also thinks food is "about experience, about community," which she believes is unique. I do not.
Mark Simmons (New Zealand, 29, Sous Chef, Public) sports a mop of curly hair, an accent, and that happy-go-lucky demeanor so typical of our English-speaking Southern-hemisphere brethren. Well-traveled, he arrived in New York with "$200 and a backpack" and is living the American Dream -- well, since he's now on TV, he totally is.
These and other as-yet unfamiliar folks are dumped at an abandoned Pizzeria Uno by the trusty Toyotas (seriously, there appears to be no one else in the place -- I hope somebody thought to go for the cash register, which may well already be empty). Those who fled did leave behind a lovely, still-steaming smorgasbord of deep dish pizzas, and, in a moment that's clearly not at all staged, the newbies dig in and make small talk.
This year's recipient of the coveted sponsorship from the Fauxhawk Institute is Richard Blais (Atlanta, 35, Chef/Consultant, Trail-Blais), who pronounces all the letters in his last name, so reread the name of his business and see if it doesn't make you gag, just a little. He's pumped to be in Chicago because it offers the best of both worlds -- phenomenal street food and lots of cutting-edge stuff, which is clearly his thing. Good Christ, is that a beer he's pouring? More like a vat -- yes, please. Anyway, Richard espouses better eating through chemistry and loves ingredients like liquid nitrogen. It's a kind of cooking, says Richard, that "a lot of people refer to as 'molecular gastronomy'" (complete with finger quotes). What do you call it, Richard? ["I like to think the finger-quoting is his attempt to distance himself from the Marcels of the world. And who can blame him, really?" -- Joe R]
Jennifer Biesty (San Francisco, 35, Coco500), first runner-up in the Fauxhawk-off, also expresses pleasure at being in Chicago and standing in the hallowed halls of Pizzeria Uno, which, great as the place may be, just sounds funny since all I know of Pizzeria Uno are the far-flung outposts that put it on par with Round Table. Erik Hopfinger (San Francisco, 38, Circa) looks like he could kill easily with his thumb but probably wouldn't, says he has high standards, and curses like a sailor.