And we're back—to a regular season of Top Chef. Uppity sous chefs, big personalities, cuddly Tom. After a summer of Kelly Choi, I'd never been so happy to see Padma strut onto the kitchen floor.
But we're here for the contestants, and this season's pool looks like a tattoo-heavy, talent-heavy, fierce group of cooks. The line-up AND SPOILERS appear below, after the jump.
Michael Isabella: If this episode is any indication, a horrible human being—but the olive oil–poached halibut with eggplant purée was focused, beautifully plated, and technically flawless.
Kevin Gillespie: The bearded Beard nominee pulled out a slow-cooked char with a turnip salsa verde that none of the chefs could stop eating. Creative with obvious skill.
Michael Voltaggio: Padma looked delighted with this rack of lamb. (Tom: It’s a rack! Gail: Yeah, we get it.)
Jennifer Carroll: She won $15,000 in the Quickfire; she wowed Wolfgang Puck with a halibut so perfectly done, he’d use it in his training manual. And this girl is ruthless. (Amber from Season 4 of House came to mind.)
Ron Duprat: This Haitian force of nature survived 27 days at sea and could easily take Tom in a cagefight. The judges didn’t quite get his dish but conceded that it was flavorful and well-cooked.
Bryan Voltaggio: His strip steak over parsnip purée was a visual stunner—but the sibling rivalry with brother Michael might be even more fun to watch.
Mattin Noblia: The kerchief. The accent. This French caricature leaves Fabio in the dust.
Jesse Sandlin: All the right ideas—focused cooking, fried eggs, and potatoes in chicken fat. Nothing can save dry chicken, but she knew just what went wrong.
Hector Santiago: A smoked rib-eye should be smoked—not deep-fried. Still, he’s got a clear culinary perspective and, he won’t let you forget, the cojones.
Eli Kirshtein: Tom liked his "buttered scotch" scallops, but Wolfgang objected to all the "stuff" on his plate.
Robin Leventhal: Accepted immunity rather than competing for the Quickfire win, though her "Bad Jew" dish—pork tenderloin stuffed with chorizo bread pudding—was pretty brilliant.
Preeti Mistry: Pork tenderloin with sweet potato purée looked pretty good, but watching her shuck (rather, not shuck) those clams was pretty painful.
Ash Fulk: Poached halibut with ratatouille and parsley coulis—pretty, but gritty, and not quite perfect. Clearly some skill, but any imagination?
Ashley Merriman: Her chicken ravioli didn’t get much airtime. Solid middle of the pack.
Laurine Wickett: Gail lunged for this plate of bacon doughnuts with chocolate and beer sauces. Dips: awesome. Doughnuts: too dense. And dessert for her only dish—cop-out, trend-monkey, or just plain gutsy?
Eve Aronoff: Overcooked seafood in a weak curry sauce with no cohesion and no defense. Not thinking she’ll get a lot better.
Jennifer Zavala: Chile relleno stuffed with seitan. Enough said. And she’s gone.