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'Top Chef' Season 5, Episode 1

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All right, Top Chef junkies. Listen up. Your jonesin' days are over for the time being. Tom, Padma, Gail, and the rest of the resident and guest experts have been joined by 17 aspiring top toques in New York City. Based on tonight's first episode, it's going to be a doozy of a season. My favorite introductory quote came from Daniel, a twenty-something chef from Babylon, New York: "I was so unnoticed for the longest time."

You're 25, dude, how long could you have gone unnoticed?

What's interesting to me is how quickly casual viewers like me immediately find people to root for in the very first show. Jaime the tattooed lesbian chef from where else—San Francisco—I'm with you. It looks like you have cooking chops and soul. Eugene the tattooed Hawaiian who started as a dishwasher without any kind of culinary school training? You're the little chef who could. My God, what's going on here? I may have a bias in favor of chefs with tattoos. On the flip side, I already have a visceral dislike of the two patronizing European chefs, Stefan the Finn, and Fabio, the Italian dude from Florence.

The show is populated with archetypes galore: gay and tatooed lesbian chefs ("we are so gay"), snobbish Europeans ("you think a vinaigrette is an emulsion?"); and the seasoned journeyman cooks, Carla, the African American woman from Chicago in her forties (there are just too many names to remember in the first few episodes) and Ariane, the 41-year-old woman with two noninfant children who owns a restaurant with her husband in Montclair, New Jersey.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.

There were no elimination surprises in the first show. Hey, it's the first show, how could we be shocked by the results when we have only seen these cooks in action for an hour or less? Patrick, the 20 year-old CIA student, went home. No surprise. His Chinese-inspired dish looked and tasted terrible. Why did he pick black rice noodles to cook with when he didn't know anything about them. He went home because of bad judgment AND questionable skills.

After one episode I can already see why Top Chef is the gold standard for skills-based reality competitions. We are watching a real competition with hyper-competent, really credible judges, and talented, motivated contestants. I don't watch all that many of these shows (the drama and tension are just a little manufactured for my taste), but after watching this first episode of Top Chef I must tell you I'm hooked already. There goes my Wednesday nights for the foreseeable future.

One more thing before I go. Stefan, don't get too cocky. This show is more like braised pot roast rather than seared tuna. And Ariane, you may have survived this week, but I have a feeling you'll be back in Montclair with your husband and children before too long. I would like to see you stick around for awhile, but based on the first show and the coming attractions, it doesn't look good.

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