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Top Chef: New York, Episode 1 – Nothing Tastes Better Than a Bloody Apple


Hello fellow Chef Fans! Like it or not, I am back for another go as your friendly neighborhood Top Chef recapper. Just a couple of notes before I get into the first episode for Season Five:

1. To remind last season’s readers and to instruct any newbies, I cannot cook to save my life. In fact, my cooking may in fact put lives at risk. Any food related criticism that I make take with a, ahem, grain of salt. My other criticisms? Totally brilliant and on the mark, of course.

2. Due to a change in schedule, full recaps may not be something that I can regularly do. When I can, I will. If not, I will post a truncated version with commentary and full description of the various dishes.

3. Just a quick note or two about Top Chef: Chicago before putting that season to rest. I’d like to thank the various Chefs that responded to my questionnaire, they were quite generous. I also thank them for adding me to their Facebook friends, it is fascinating to hear what they are all up to. Richard is especially interesting as he keeps almost a daily commentary about his life. Also, I was rather hard on Spike last year – and I still say rightfully so – but I have a bit of a mea culpa to make.

It seems that Spike has opened up a restaurant in my new location, Washington, DC. It is called Good Stuff Eatery and it makes perhaps the best hamburgers I have ever had. And some of the most delicious and wildly fattening milkshakes as well. Spike himself will occasionally appear and work the line (he did the last time I went). And yes, he was wearing one of his famous – or infamous – hats. So, Spike, I am publicly saying that you are a really good chef no matter what I may have said last year. But I am standing by the hats.

Anyway, New Season!

Padma explains that we are heading to New York. Gotham. The Boogie Down. The City so nice, they named it twice. We have 17 contestants in what is the “toughest season yet.” May I add that while I miss the Padma opening from last year and the Amazing Blue Dress of Dirty Thoughts, this yellow one is a close rival.

No, my Padma love has not subsided. Sue me.

More Food and Wine, more Glad, more $100,000 to the winner. Top Chef is back.
Credits. Daniel is wearing a “Trust Me, I’m Perfect” t-shirt. Lovely.

Let me say here that 17 people, 17 new names, I will not be able to follow, so there may be some nicknames in this article. They may stick like Frodo did last year, they may not. Just bear with me.

[b]Fabio[/b] is from Café Firenze and is from Florence, Italy. I wonder if that café serves only centaurs. That joke is for the Harry Potter fans. [b]Jamie[/b] is from Absinthe in San Francisco and is covered in tattoos. [b]Eugene[/b] is another tattoo with legs and he is a personal chef and hails from Hawaii. Hawaiian natives have had a good year this year, so maybe Eugene will do his “little rock in the Pacific” proud. I assume they don’t want to be the Little Rock of the Pacific, although I hear Arkansas is nice this time of year.

[b]Jeff[/b] works at the Ritz-Carlton and is the pretty boy of the season. [b]Radhika[/b] is from the Between Boutique Café and is of Indian descent. She wants to show that she is more than just curry and rice. [b]Lauren[/b] is from Savannah, GA and works at Jag’s Steak and Seafood. Her husband is in Iraq. Best of wishes for them.

We see [b]Alex[/b] but learn nothing (or I may have missed it, whatever. I think he’s wearing plaid.) [b]Ariane[/b] owns CulinAriane and is from Montclair, NJ, the culinary capital of… well, nowhere. [b]Daniel[/b] of the cheesy t-shirt is from the Babylon Carriage House and is this season’s token stereotypical New Yorker. He adds the fascinating insight that “winning would mean everything.” Thanks, for that pearl of wisdom.

[b]Stefan[/b] owns Stefan’s Catering and is from Finland. Let me just say that my wife and I have an ongoing inside joke that I hate Finland and Finns. It is based on a party that friends of ours had and a Finnish couple that was there. To be honest, I have no memory of the story that spawned my fake hatred of Finns. But let me just say that Stefan has one strike against him. Damn Finns. Although, having spent two hours in the Helsinki airport, I must say that it may be the cleanest place on the planet. Perhaps only trailing Howie Mandel’s dressing room.

The Chefs arrive on Governor’s Island and we meet [b]Richard[/b] – no not, our friend Mr. Blais back for another go. This Richard is from Confidential Restaurant and Loft. He says his inner queen is dying to see Padma. It is strange that his inner queen and my inner teenage boy are on the same page with that one.

[b]Leah[/b] is from Centro Vinoteca and wants to avoid crying and wants to avoid being considered a bitch. Uh oh – I hope that’s not foreshadowing.

There’s Padma and Tom! Yeah! Padma calls New York the Culinary Capital of the world. Fabio just threw up a little in his mouth. Tom says that there are no second prizes in New York and I wonder if he has ever met the Steinbrenners, because that sounds familiar.

We are starting in with a Quickfire already. Padma says that only 16 coats are in the kitchen so the last place person here will be sent home. I saw that coming when the odd number of contestants was announced. Let me say that I hated it when Survivor and The Amazing Race did this, and I hate it here. It really, really sucks for that person to go through the whole process in getting on the show, getting the time off from work, being apart from their family, to be kicked off in a gimmick. I think that whenever that happens, the person or team eliminated should be invited back for a second go around.

Lauren does not want to go home early and she is rocking a tight tank top out there on Governor’s Island, I must say. Sorry. I couldn’t let that go.

The 17 are instructed that they must peel 15 apples with a knife. Get it? Apple, New York? Yeah, I know. May I add that as someone who must peel apples for his kid, this is not easy, especially when going quickly. The first nine to finish to Tom’s liking will be safe. Alex thinks it will be tough since he is spoiled and used to a peeler.

[b]Hosea[/b] from Jax Restaurant has won every cooking competition in the last two years. Someone has been training. [b]Carla[/b] is the owner of Alchemy Caterers and is apparently an escaped mental patient. Alex has sliced open his hand and is bleeding all over his apples. Yummy. Tattoo Girl is determined to not be eliminated – while I am sure the others could care less.

Finn finishes first and is safe. Nemesis! Basically, one by one they finish and it is rather boring. The slow eight are told to brunoise two cups of apples. Or in layman’s’ terms, they must dice the apples. Lauren calls this the hardest knife skill. The first four to finish properly are safe. Bloody Alex feels bad for them. Really Gay [b]Patrick[/b] is a student at the Culinary Institute and a former classmate of Lauren’s – he can’t believe how good the knife skills are for the others. Pretty Boy is in. [b]Jill[/b] from Red Maple doesn’t do it properly. Flannel shirt is in. Hawaii is in. Jill manages to recover and she is in.

Lastly, the bottom four must create a dish with apples in 20 minutes using one pan and the ingredients provided. Radhika is trying not to freak out. She thinks 20 minutes is just enough time to lay out your spices. She is on the wrong show. She is making apple chutney, a dish she has made since she was 11. Smart move.

Leah sees that Radhika is making pork and moves on to make scallops instead. Lauren is putting together a salad of apple, orange, bleu cheese, almonds and bacon. She says that everything is better with bacon – and previous readers know that I wholeheartedly agree. That theory takes a hit here though. RGP is making an apple salad with yogurt dressing. He prefers to be perfect rather than fast. Again, has he ever seen this show? This segment is called QUICKfire.

Tom starts to judge. Lauren gives him her “cool refreshing salad” and he moves on. RGP has an apple slaw salad with yogurt, mint, cinnamon and honey and that sounds really awful. Radhika has made pan seared pork, apple chutney, raisins and chili powder. Leah has seared scallops, apple hash, with vinegar and apple juice. None of them sound all that good to me.

We get our first Elimination Gong of the season. Tom declares Leah to be safe with her “perfect scallop.” Radhika is also safe with her “well balanced” dish. She gives a Sarah Palin wink to the others. The two buddies are on the chopping block – who will it be?

Commercials. I have seen many bad movies in the name of my long time love of Nicole Kidman. I don’t think I can go to Australia with you, Nic.

Lauren and her tank top are sent home by Tom. Oh well. Padma gives her the “please pack your knives and go.” Lauren and her tank top never even got to unpack her knives. She says she hates going down on apples – and I am leaving that one alone – and is sad that she didn’t even get to see the kitchen. I feel bad for you, Lauren. I hope your husband comes home really soon.

Elimination challenge. Padma breaks out the knife block and each one comes over to draw a knife. There are eight places written on the knives: Chinatown, Long Island City, Ozone Park, Jamaica, Astoria, Little Italy, Little India and Brighton Beach. Hosea has never heard of Brighton Beach. Hosea Rosenberg has never heard of Brighton Beach. That may be one rough Passover this year in the Rosenberg house. Hosea, perhaps you can pick up a Neil Simon play and do some research.

The teams of two must design a dish inspired by their region and will be going head to head with each other like last year’s opening episode. The Top 8 will be in line to win, the Bottom 8 will be in line to keep Lauren company.

The apartment is really nice. Rent would normally be equivalent to the GNP of Finland, but in this market, it is probably about $20 a month. Finn had no idea New York was so beautiful. He has apparently never seen a Woody Allen movie. Nemesis!!

The gay people have formed a useless alliance. The Rainbow Alliance (clever) consists of Tattoo Girl, RGP and Richard. We get our first product placement of Korbel. Get used to many more, folks.

Fabio claims to make 200 pounds of pasta daily. Sounds like Christmas at my extended family. Fabio will be subtitled this season because he has a really thick accent. Not as bad as our guest judge later on, but still. He thinks that Europe consists of “Italians and people who want to be Italian.” Finn and Hosea get into it over whether vinaigrette is an emulsion or not. If I only had a dollar for every time I got into that argument in a bar.

Daniel says that the European Duo thinks that Americans are below them. “Listen bro, you’re in my backyard,” he says. Sigh. After The Mole’s Paul and America’s Toughest Jobs’ Chris I have had my fill of New Yorkers that think they are on the Sopranos backlot.

Commercials. You want to play the Top Chef Fantasy Game? Maybe it’ll become as popular as fantasy football…

RGP has made everyone coffee. Very nice. He’s like a pledge. Eugene from Hawaii (I got his name down) has never cooked Indian before. I assume he means food. Ariane wants to see if she is as good as people say she is.

In Astoria, Richard and Jamie (ah, Tattoo Girl) are looking for Greek food. Richard calls her his “little lesbian.” I thought that was Tila Tequila.

Hosea is learning that Brighton Beach is full of Russian people and he is not familiar with Russian cuisine. Carla is calling on her spirit guides to help her. I hope they can cook.


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