“Top Chef” mini-cap: How do you like them apples?


Let me be the first to lead the cheer: Team Rainbow! Team Rainbow! Team Rainbow! Oh, sorry, I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.

Welcome to your Top Chef: New York mini-cap. The fifth season takes a bite out of the Big Apple with 17 cheftestants vying for the title. We begin with three queer contestants who have lovingly named themselves “Team Rainbow.” No, seriously, I couldn’t have made that up if I tried.

Team Rainbow: Richard, Jamie and Patrick

The cheftestants arrive in New York and before they’ve even put their luggage down, host Padma Lakshmi and head judge Tom Colicchio have them peeling apples. Proving that the first cut is the deepest, the Quickfire Challenge is also an Elimination Challenge. The first nine to peel the apples are safe, the next six to successfully brunoise them are safe, and finally, the last two remaining chefs must prepare a dish with them to decide who must pack his/her knives and go.

Finnish chef Stefan is the first to peel his apples and wins immunity. Team Rainbow members Richard from Long Island and Jamie from San Francisco are safe in the peeling round. But poor cutie Patrick, a 21-year-old culinary student, is not so lucky. He makes the bottom two, but his apple slaw saves him from elimination.

Georgia-gal Lauren, whose husband is in the military, is sent packing for her lackluster spinach salad. Damn, she didn’t even get to see the Top Chef kitchen. So long, Lauren. We didn’t know ya at all.

But enough sentimentality; let’s see some cooking. But first the chefs finally get to unload their luggage in their swanky New York pad with a multimillion-dollar view of the city. Italian chef Fabio and Finnish chef Stefan pair off immediately, thanks to their shared culinary cockiness and anti-Americanism. Sheesh, boys, don’t you know anti-Americanism is so pre-Obama?

Elsewhere, Team Rainbow has its first confab and chefbian Jamie Lauren confesses to having brought a rainbow T-shirt with her. In case those viewing at home are a little slow to catch on, she affirms their status with an emphatic, “We are so gay.” Yes, yes you are.

For the real Elimination Challenge the cheftestants are paired off by neighborhoods: Chinatown, Brighton Beach, Astoria and so on. They must cook a dish from their neighborhood’s cultural heritage — ranging from Russian to Italian to Jamaican and Greek. As luck and the gay gods would have it, Richard and his “little lesbian” Jamie are paired off with each other. Except, instead of working together they must compete head-to-head with their dishes. When will the gay-on-gay crime stop?

Jamie and Richard get Astoria and are cooking Greek. Patrick and Fabio get Chinatown. As they shop and get cooking, the chefs’ personalities come out. We have Jeff, the overly-concerned-with-his-hair guy; Gene, the tattooed self-taught cook; Carla, the “spirit guides” consulter; Michelle, the country mouse; and Radhika, the first-generation Indian who doesn’t want to only cook Indian food.

As the challenge goes on, it is clear who has managed their time well and who hasn’t. Ariane, the shy mother-of-two with self-esteem issues (What? You have to handicap people quickly in this game) is having problems with the farro for her Medittereanean dish. Patrick made a tactical error picking black noodles for his Asian dish, and they’ve turned gummy. And Jeff, aka The Blond Fonz, grossly misjudged his timing.

Judge’s Table brings Tom, Padma, Food & Wine ‘s Gail Simmons and celebrated French chef and guest judge Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Most of the food is deemed — surprise, surprise — really good. As Tom himself boasted, “If this is the kind of food we’re going to get all season, then we’re in for a good ride.” Stefan’s, Gene’s and Leah’s dishes are the judges’ favorites, with Stefan winning — again. I detect a trend.

Of course, it’s not all finger licking and yummy noises. As expected, Ariane and Patrick have the dishes the judges are least likely to return to for seconds. The question then boils down to picking the 20-year veteran who undercooked her grain or picking the newbie who lacked imagination. I guess they believed in age before beauty, because Ariane lived to cook another day and adorable little Patrick got PYKAGed. Oh, Patrick, gay boys across America were no doubt crying into their cocktails last night.

All in all, it was an eventful and personality-filled premiere. Already the season’s archetypes have emerged. And, dare I say it, an epic battle between good and evil is afoot. Pick your sides now. Nothing short of the future of the entire culinary world is at stake.

So, who are you rooting for? And is the appearance of Martha Stewart as a guest judge a sign of the coming apocalypse? Discuss.

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