The season begins in DC with seventeen cheftestants, and as has been the case with the recent seasons, they start with a Mise en Place tournament for the Quickfire Challenge. They change it up a little bit and make the last round one in which the final four have to use the prepped ingredients to create a dish and the winner gets $20,000. Kenny from Colorado impresses early with his speed, winning the first three rounds handily. But the cocky Angelo wins with his dish of roasted chicken wing and thigh, chilled potato onion jam and potato noodles.
Elimination Challenge: Create a dish that reflects where you are from for three hundred people at the kickoff party for the Cherry Blossom Festival. They divide into four groups, with the winner of each group being up for the win and the loser being up for elimination. The four finalists from the Quickfire get to choose the groups, and the judges are Padma, Tom, Gail, and Eric Ripert. Here are the groups and their dishes:
Amanda, California: red snapper Carpaccio, clementines, sencha oil, daikon, and caraway gelee, which the judges find messy and underseasoned
Arnold, Thailand and Tennessee: Kaffir lime and Thai basil cake, palm sugar anglaise, and "myint" (his last name) julep, and gets no comment from the judges that we see
Kevin, Mid-Atlantic: Pennsylvania lamb, Meyer lemon and pistachio marmalade, and spring onions, which the judges like, flavor-wise
Jacqueline, New York: Duo of Hudson Valley chicken liver and port wine mousse, which is grainy and she knows it
Stephen, Ohio: potato-crusted ribeye, celery root puree, scarlet stadium mustard vinaigrette (for the Buckeyes), but the judges don't like that the meat is deep-fried
Ed, New England: sautéed cod cakes with Boston baked beans and shaved fennel salad, but the judges think there's not enough cod
Lynne, Hudson Valley: corn-camembert ice cream on waffles, bacon praline and caramel sauce
Tracey, Atlanta: stone ground grits, maple cheddar, Port Royal rock shrimp, which the judges find bland
Kenny, Colorado: cinnamon-coffee rubbed trout, black bean mole, goat cheese polenta, and quinoa, and the judges like the seasoning and the texture.
Alex, Russia and California: deconstructed short rib borscht with crème fraiche, which they think is well cooked.
Tamesha, Caribbean: jerked chicken sphere, soft polenta, tamarind, mango, and cilantro, which gets no judge commentary.
Andrea, South Florida and Italy: pork with chorizo potato gnocchi, calabaza, and orange gremolata, which the judges find tasty if not from Miami
Tim, Maryland: pan-seared Maryland rockfish with pickled leek, dill, and grilled crostini, which the judges aren't super pleased with.
Tiffany, Texas: Cajun shrimp and crawfish salad, chicken-fried tomatillos which gets no judge commentary.
Kelly, Rocky Mountains: spice crusted NY strip steak, fiddlehead fern, and wild mushroom sauté, which the judges think is well-seasoned and well-cooked.
Angelo, rural Connecticut: Arctic char with pickled shallots, tapioca, and smoked bacon froth, which Tom loves but Gail thinks has too much dill.
John, Michigan: maple mousse Napoleon with crisp macadamia nuts and vanilla sauce, which the judges think is too sweet and they can't taste the maple.
The four winners are Kevin, Alex, Kenny, and Angelo, and the overall winner is Angelo, which certainly doesn't make him any less cocky. The four losers are Stephen, John, Jacqueline, and Tim. John is ultimately let go because his puff pastry was mushy and the dish was overall too sweet, and he was trying to highlight maple and the judges couldn't taste the maple. And also possibly because he had really gross-looking ratty dreads and who wants to eat food created by someone who probably smells of patchouli and unwashed hair? I'm just saying.
Hope you were ready because this episode starts right away since there's no "Previously On" to fill time. After multiple shots of Washington monuments (including, but not limited to, the actual Washington Monument), we move on to a flurry of cheftestants telling us why they wanted to be on the show. It's all mostly about proving something to someone, and they don't tell us anyone's names yet, so it doesn't have much impact. I really think seventeen cheftestants is too many to start out with. Twelve would be good. It's enough for a decent length season (and they could even split the finale into two parts if they want) and yet it's a reasonable number of people to keep in your head from week to week. But no one asked me. Then there's a preview of the season featuring a refusal to let someone use a foam gun (I think?) and someone yelling in the Stew Room. New judge: Eric Ripert. New challenges: Featuring NASA and Nancy Pelosi. New sponsors: Dial Nutriskin. And then Padma actually says with a straight face, "Hail to the Chef!" Wah wah.
So let's begin meeting the cheftestants! First up is Tiffany, from Texas. She started working at IHOP in high school, and she decided to always work harder than her co-workers and see what happened, and now she's an executive chef. She whoops that she wants to be the first African-American to win in "Barack Obama city." I already like her. She seems fun, but she's also a hard worker. Let's hope she can cook.
Next chef is Stephen from Ohio. He has a wife and thirteen-month-old twins at home. Speaking as the mother of four-month-old twins, if my husband left me to go live the life in DC while I stayed home, I might throttle him. I hope she has family nearby. Anyway, he thinks being on the show will change his life, and maybe he's right.
Tracey was voted one of the top 25 chefs in Atlanta. I was kind of skeptical of that honor, because was it like an online poll? But I looked it up, and it was done by a food critic, and the chef listed just above her was Richard Blais, so it's legit. She reminds me of Sookie from Gilmore Girls. Hopefully she doesn't burn herself quite as often.
Kenny claims that he scrambled his first egg when he was three years old. He's also apparently from parts unknown, weight unknown, as they don't tell us any information other than that he's confident in his abilities.
Quick break from the cavalcade of cheftestants to plug DC and all of the great chefs that live there, for those who were wondering why they were setting the season in DC this year. Look, I know nothing about the culinary world. I know there are great chefs in NYC and that's about it. You don't have to sell me on DC.