Top Chef is back! And possibly way better than ever, since this season we've got tried-and-tested "all-star" chefs. Of course, fame doesn't get you everything — our cheftestants still have to share rooms, have awkward encounters on stairs (even though they're living in an elevator building ?), and sleep on bunk beds (except for Fabio, who "squashed his balls" on a bunk bed in season five and will never do so again).
Naturally, everyone kicked off the season by remarking that they were "that close" to winning their season, that they are going to kick everyone's ass, and that they're angry they lost — everyone except our girls Carla (who's going to cook from her heart) and Tiffany (who's just happy to be there). Hooty-hoo, Carla. Hooty-hoo.
The Quickfire asked the chefs (donning hilarious aprons with their names on them), who are always complaining that their season was the best, to work as a team with their season-mates to make a dish that best represented their edition of the show. Despite everyone (a) having done this before, and (b) being established chefs now, the usual bugging out and mad running ensued. The judges didn't love L.A.'s bland shrimp tacos, San Francisco's cioppino gazpacho, New York's apple trio, or D.C.'s crab-cake essence (yeah, we'd rather have a crab cake minus the essence too), but gave the win (and the immunity) to Chicago's pork-and-black-pepper sausage with mustard ice cream.
The elimination challenge, for once, was actually interesting, requiring the chefs to remake and improve upon the dish that sent each of them home. The contestants were basically split down the middle in thinking that their dish was just fine the first time or thinking that they still hate that dish, though Tre just thought that Stephen didn't come "out of the trenches, but out of the Macy's [Thanksgiving] Day Parade." What part of the parade involved people wearing vests and ties at all times, exactly? But, fair point.
The chefs were split during their cooking time, allowing the non-cooking chefs to eat, and comment on, the other chefs' food. Since there were eighteen chefs (please, Bravo, start with the double-eliminations), the show breezed through this part pretty fast, but don't think we didn't notice that Antonia made pea purée, which we will always think of as a dramatic food after last season. New judge Anthony Bourdain squeezed in some good one-liners, too, the best being when he said that Asian Dale "un-fucked up" his dish very well. (Side note: Does Bourdain's presence have anyone else hoping for a return of his obvious man-crush, Eric Ripert?)
Spike, Jamie, Richard, and Angelo were the judges' favorites, but Richard was deemed ineligible for the win after a look at the tapes showed that he plated after cooking time had stopped. Top Chef, just as intense as the NFL. Jamie said she still wouldn't serve her pan-seared black bass with celery hash even with the improvements, though both Spike and the judges were impressed with the way he hid his frozen scallops in his seviche with pickled mushrooms. Unfortunately for both of them, the win went to Angelo's (Asian) dish of homemade ramen with glazed pork belly and watermelon.
Fabio, Stephen, and Elia got called in as the bottom three, and Fabio immediately started arguing with Bourdain. Fabio was fine with constructive criticism, you see, but he would not let anyone make fun of him or his pasta and crawfish and crab stew. He's got a long season ahead of him if he expects Bourdain to stop teasing, though, because our pal Anthony then proceeded to remark that Stephen's appetizer trio reminded him of his last colonoscopy. Despite Elia's demand to the judges not to send her home because she has "a lot more to do," they sent her, her knives, and her bright-green shoes packing. We didn't watch her season, so to be honest we weren't that sad.
So, how did we do with our predictions? Richard brought out the liquid nitrogen as soon as possible to make his mustard ice cream, and Elia definitely hit the mini-breakdown quota despite lasting only one episode. Sadly, the first blatant product placement didn't occur until Padma pointed out the GE appliances a whopping sixteen minutes in — though did everyone else notice the Fiji water everywhere? Maybe they could have used that sponsorship money to pay the tax increase that's putting them out of business in Fiji.
Later this season: Chopping with two knives at once! It's not called Top Chef Mediocre (or Top Scallops)! The U.S. Open! Paula Deen! The Museum of Natural History! Elmo! Screaming children! Cooking head-to-head with Tom! Hospitals! A very angry old Asian lady! Someone insults veal! Jen sasses the judges!