Recap: Top Chef DC, Episode 1

Another year, another season of Top Chef! It's hard to believe it's been six whole months since the Voltaggio brothers' scripted totally believable, not-at-all-producer-influenced sibling rivalry played out before our eyes on the Las Vegas finale! This season, Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons set up shop in Washington D.C., and brought master chef Eric Ripert with them on their quest to weed through the crazies and find someone worthy of being crowned the next Top Chef.

[Warning: there are tons of episode spoilers ahead. Seriously. I can't even count them all. There are also some photos of a guy with a pony-tail dreadlock, so proceed at your own risk.]

Meet The Chefs!

The first 15 minutes of the show were all about introducing us to the "eccentric" chefs we'll all be watching this season (and by "eccentric", I mean "a few of these people are totally out of their freaking minds"). Arnold Myint, a chef/owner of three restaurants in Nashville, proudly announced that he got a facial and hired a wardrobe stylist before coming on the show. Um, chill out, Arnold. It's Top Chef, not Top Complexion. And by the way, Frosty called. He wants his scarf back.

In other news, contestant Kevin Sbraga is the executive chef of a place named RAT'S. Seriously? I don't even want to know what the special of the day is. That has to be one of the worst restaurant names of all time, right behind Sewage King and Salmonella Palace.

Rounding out this season's cast of "eccentric" chefs is John Somerville, a guy who sports one over-sized ponytail dreadlock, and thinks his ingredients "sing" to him. I think he's right. Just tonight, I heard an onion melodiously begging him to cut his hair.

The Quickfire

For their first quickfire, the 17 chefs competed in a mise en place tournament. They had to peel potatoes, brunoise onions, and break down chickens while Tom Colicchio ran around in circles blowing a loud whistle in their ears. Wow. I haven't been that annoyed by a whistle since that horrible Ace Hardware commercial back in 2007. Shudder.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Top Chef mise en place tournament without blood! This season, Amanda sliced her palm open while peeling potatoes. She was fine, but she didn't make it through to the next round.

Kenny, Angelo, Timothy, and Kevin were the top four contestants, and had 30 minutes to create a dish out of the ingredients they had just prepped. Padma and Tom showed up, tasted everything, and declared Angelo's chicken with curried onion jam and potato noodles the winner.

Angelo took a moment to talk about how totally awesome he thinks he is before setting a very lofty goal for himself: "I want to be the first contestant to win every single challenge," he said. Coincidentally, he also wants to be the first man to walk on Mars, and perhaps most difficult of all, to be able to listen to a Stevie Wonder song without tapping his foot.

The Elimination Challenge

This week, the chefs were asked to create a dish that reflected where they're from. They split up into groups, and then headed to the Top Chef house to plan their menus. Many of the chefs took the opportunity to explore the house, but not John. He instead chose to write in his journal, and to show the world he's not afraid to wear loafers without socks. Please pass the Odor Eaters!

"I want to give the judges a piece of who I am," John said. Well, John, as long as it's not something that's been rotting in your hair for the last 11 years, I'm sure you'll be fine.

The next day (or "whenever" in the world of Bravo editing), the contestants served their food to 300 Washingtonians at the annual cherry blossom festival. Before long, Padma, Tom, Gail, and new judge Eric Ripert showed up to taste their creations. So far, Eric's been entertaining to watch. The guy doesn't even need to open his mouth for you to know what he thinks of the dish. It's written all over his face:

The Judges' Table

The top performers were Kevin, Alex, Kenny, and Angelo. Without much fanfare at all, ANGELO was named the winner of the elimination challenge; the judges loved his Connecticut-inspired arctic char with smoked bacon froth. As a Connecticut resident, I just didn't get how his dish was supposed to represent the state. We're not exactly known for arctic char or bacon. But now that I think about it, there is a lot of froth on the disgusting Long Island Sound—so maybe that's what he was going for.

Stephen, John, Jacqueline, and Timothy were the worst performers of the evening. Ripert said Stephen's ribeye looked like a "chicken nugget" (it totally did), and hated that Tim left the skin on his fish. Meanwhile, Jacqueline's low-fat chicken liver mousse was a total failure. She tried to blame her poor performance on the fact that she "didn't have the recipe memorized"—even though she's made it "hundreds of times." I understand, Jacqueline. I like to forget disappointing things too. In fact, I can hardly recall the plot of Sex and the City 2.

Finally, John took a page from the Sandra Lee handbook and used frozen puffed pastry as the main ingredient in his maple syrup mousse dessert. "I guess it was just me being stupid, but it was just supposed to be an instrument to bring the mousse to your mouth," he explained. Sorry, John. We have those fancy instruments already. They're called spoons. You used frozen pastry. I'm sorry, but you are the weakest link.

In the end, the judges couldn't look past John's nasty maple mousse, and he was the first chef to be eliminated. Don't worry, John. If all else fails, you can always just try out for Next Food Network Star. I hear they'll take anyone these days.

What did you think of the premiere episode, Serious Eaters? Was the right person sent home? Who are your early favorites?

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