Top Chef New Orleans Episode 1: Show Us Your Grits!

At the risk of being contrarian, I’ll just go ahead and say that I loathe the Geico commercial with the talking camel.

However, I’d be a filthy liar if I told you I wasn’t just as excited for Wednesdays as that dromedary douchebag is (and I know it’s a commercial and all, but who would hire a camel? And to do what? And are there work visa issues?), because after a season of no local cheftestants and a whole bunch of subpar cooking, I’m ready to accept Top Chef back into my life. And much like the euphoria felt after that first Eagles game, I’m eager to watch this season play out. Hopefully it won’t be as disappointing as the past three Sundays have been.

But enough about the wildlife. Let’s get on with a brief recap and a few predictions for this season of Top Chef New Orleans.
It’s clear that the producers have fired all the people with the stupid ideas and have also decided not to waste anyone’s time (unless you watched Padma’s picks, of course. You’ll never get those minutes of your life back, sucker). Rather than cram hours of shit footage into a sixty-minute time slot and get all gimmicky with things like “standing on the bubble,” this time out Bravo gets right down to business. There’s not even a Quickfire. I love efficiency. Plus, now I don’t have to document dishes that probably would have sucked anyway.
Instead, Bravo uses the time available to introduce the 19 chefs that will be fighting it out this season, including the two guys we’re all actually rooting for. Jason Cichonski blows fire and flexes his muscles, while Nick Elmi lets his pedigree and a photo montage do the talking. This guy has all the Jedi knight qualities of a young Jonathan Waxman, and although he didn’t get a lot of camera time in this first installment (they didn’t even show his elimination dish), he’ll be one to watch. The rest of the field (as if we care) is your standard cast of tattooed/Asian/white but likes to cook Asian/gay/combination of two or all of those things cheftestants, all of whom are ready to get cooking.
First up is an individual challenge with a trio of Bayou proteins: frog legs, alligator, and turtle. To determine who gets what, BEADS! Top Chef is nothing if not cliché. The cheftestants get some time in the Top Chef kitchen, but the main event takes place in a swamp, where they have to assemble their stations from a mess of tables and stove parts while simultaneously avoiding malaria, alligators, the cast of Deliverance, and the cold steely blue gaze of Tom Colicchio.
Of the 19 dishes, we only get to see 12, and before we even get to Judges’ Table, we know who will be at the bottom. Aaron Cuschieri, who made a Duo of Turtle, also made a duo of mistakes–choosing to pre-cook his tagliatelle, and opting to make a duo dish. Those things never win. Patty Vega, a victim of miscalculation, had to scrap her original dish and wound up making something I’d cook using Two Buck Chuck. Ramon Bojorquez, a Muay Thai fighter when he’s not in the kitchen, added ice to his dashi broth to cool it down, diluting it to the point of flavorlessness, and although the dude could probably take on Curtis Stone, Emeril, and Colicchio at the same time in the Octagon*, he gets the boot.
The winner this week was Nina Compton, a native of St. Lucia who calls herself the “Gnocchi Queen.” Which is just stupid and a near-guarantee that she’s going to get eliminated (and soon) for any dish she cooks involving gnocchi. Still, her Curried Turtle Meatball was the clear crowd favorite, even though it looked like an Ikea Swedish Meatball. And was made from turtle.
Overall, this first episode was pretty tame. Nobody appears to be a dick quite yet (although Jason’s working on it), and nobody has really established themselves as the chef to beat. New this year is a “live” camera feed of the Judges’ Table in the stew room–something that is sure to induce tears, fits of jealous rage, and accelerated drinking. I can’t wait.
In addition to that prediction, here’s what else I expect to happen as the season progresses:
  • The guy who prays gets called out for praying and there’s a fight about religion.
  • The guy who beat cancer plays the cancer card.
  • Jason continues to wear pastel shorts/pants. He has a different color for each episode.
  • The Aussie girl who wants to be known for her cooking and not her looks continues to dress slutty.
  • Multiple bromances bloom, but Nick and Jason are the focus (at least for us).
  • Padma drinks. Tom does that disgusted smirk thing that makes the cheftestants feel like they just peed on the living room rug.
  • Jason gets mistaken for Curtis Stone and somehow winds up sitting at Judges Table.
  • Cheftestants cry.
Whatever happens, we’re off to a good start. New Orleans is a great town, and with two hometown heroes on the roster, I’m ready to see it through, dish by dish.
*Note: Fighting success only guaranteed within the limits of the octagon. In a street fight, Emeril wins hands down. He’s a scrappy fucker.