Place your bets. Double down if you dare. It’s Top Chef: Las Vegas, baby. Seventeen new, confident, tattoo-covered cheftestants have come to test their luck. And before we even make it past the opening credits we know one chef has cancer, one chef has a same-sex boyfriend and two are brothers. Welcome to Bravo, never mind TNT, we know drama.
At the house, Philly-based, tattoo enthusiast/chef Jennifer Zavala decides not to unpack out of superstition. Hey, Bravo, your foreshadowing is showing. We meet the brother chefs, Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, learn that the same-sex boyfriended chef, Ash Fulk, is the only New Yorker and are introduced to our chefbians, Preeti Mistry and Ashley Merriman.
But enough with the getting to know yous, bring on the food. The chefs head to the kitchen where host Padma Lakshmi and head judge Tom Colicchio await. As do showgirls. Did anyone else have a terrible flashback to Elizabeth Berkeley French kissing a stripper pole?
The Quickfire Challenge is a mise en place relay race. The chefs split into groups of four, but math being what it is that means one chef is left out. As they draw poker chips for teams, lucky chef Robin Leventhal, who we learn is perhaps not so lucky because she has lymphoma, draws the golden chip and is given immunity. And then they’re off to clean — in order — clams, prawns, lobster and prime rib chops.
Preeti pulls one of the classic “How to Get PYKAGed”-moves and gets an ingredient she is unfamiliar with. She has never shucked a clam before but now has to finish 15 quickly. Yeah, this should end well.
In the midst of all the shucking, we meet a real schmuck. Michael Isabella, a New Jersey bred, Washington D.C. based chef, notes that fellow chef Jennifer Carroll is neck-and-neck with him on the clams. And then he says: “There’s no way, no offense, a girl shouldn’t be at the same level that I am.”
What? No really, what? Who let the male chauvinist pig in the kitchen? Our Asshat Terror Alert Level has been elevated to red.
Turn out, though, that the team with the girl beats the team with the asshat, so there. As they’re declaring victory poor Preeti is still struggling with the clams. Oh, honey. You owe all of your teammates a beer, possibly many.
The winning team members then have to battle each other to see who wins the Quickfire. And here comes the twist: the winner gets $15,000. Whoa, think about all the former cheftestants who are now fuming because all they won was a stupid cookbook. Robin is given the choice of giving up immunity and competing for the loot, but wisely declines.
And then, of course, our resident asshat Michael I says that that shows she isn’t confident in her cooking, saying: “To me it’s just one less old lady I have to worry about.”
Wow, is there an Asshat Terror Alert Level above red? Because his misogyny is off the charts. We have our season villain, people. He shall from heretofore be known only as Mike The Pig. Oink, oink, little piggy.
In the end Jennifer C, the “girl,” wins with her simple clam ceviche. Suck it, Mike The Pig. But there is no time to gloat because the chefs now face the Elimination Challenge. Padma tells them they must create a dish based on their vices.
This challenge reveals something rather telling about our chefs: They’re apparently all alcoholics. Seven of the them makes dishes involving their over-imbibing of alcohol. In contrast, half of the brother team Michael V makes a dish about women coming to Vegas to get big “racks.” Yes, really. He makes rack of lamb with a sauce from “two juicy coconuts.” You stay classy, every contestant named Mike.
On the plus side, San Francisco chef Laurine Wickett makes bacon doughnuts with a chocolate beer sauce. Let me repeat that: bacon doughnuts with a chocolate beer sauce. Talk amongst yourselves, I am going to need a moment alone with my fantasies.
The chefs cook up a storm and then it’s time to get all judgmental. The guest judge is none of other than Wolfgang Puck, joined by Padma, Tom and Gail Simmons. The chefs serve up their food in their Quickfire groups. The best and worst from each group will be eligible to win or be eliminated, respectively.
Mike The Pig tells the judges his vices are being hot-tempered and foul-mouthed. Somehow he fails to mention also being a repugnant sexist. Then Ashley says her vices are red wine and bourbon and Preeti says hers is a Maker’s Mark Manhattan. Gosh, I like those gals already, especially Ashley with her Rachel Maddow glasses. But the editors neglect to tell us what the judges thought of either of their dishes.
In the end Mike The Pig’s halibut, bearded chef Kevin Gillespie’s slow-poached Arctic char (vice: procrastination), “Girl” chef Jennifer C’s halibut in a whiskey, bourbon and scotch sauce (vice: whiskey, bourbon, scotch — duh) and Haitian chef Ron Duprat’s fish dish (vice: I’m not really sure, something involving a boat). And the winner is Kevin.
Then it’s the losers’ turns. The judges call in Jennifer Z (vice: fiery temper), Puerto Rican chef Hector Santiago (vice: smoking), Michigan chef Eve Aronoff (vice: over complicating things) and Baltimore chef Jesse Sandlin (vice: whiskey and excess).
Hector is taken to task for his deep-fried steak, Eve for her sad shrimp and Jesse for her dry drunken chicken. Then poor Jennifer Z’s chile relleno with seitan, which sounds like snooty way of saying “satan” but is actually a kind of wheat gluten, is called clunky and looks even worse. Padma calls it a “vegan bar midnight special.” I think that’s being generous. Tell me that doesn’t look like a fried turd.
But which sin was unforgivable? Jennifer Z’s and her
satan seitan chili. She at first defiantly says she at least tried something different and then weeps when she laments not being able to make her son proud. Though, the real tragedy is that we’ll never get the story behind her huge neck tattoo. Good call on the not unpacking, though.
Coming This Season: Anger, arrogance, a never-ending sea of tattoos and my fascination with French chef Mattin Noblia’s jaunty red neck scarf. [Follow my live tweets (West Coast time) of each new episode @dorothysnarker.]
So, what did you think? Who stands out? And how much can’t you stand Mike The Pig? Discuss.