Top Chef season premiere recap: Trimming the Fat

Charismatic cheftestants and a quotable Wolfgang Puck make for a tasty premiere
Ep. 01 | Aired Nov 7, 2012

PUCKISH Austrian culinary superstar Wolfgang Puck doesn't disappoint as judge.

Isabella Vosmikova/Bravo

SECOND BATCH
Location: Las Vegas
Judge: Emeril Lagasse

Emeril Lagasse, who's always a been a little bit too subdued as a judge, challenged his crop of chefs to make the perfect soup, which he said isn't as simple as people think.

Josh Valentine is another proud owner of a mustache, only his looks less ironic and more like the symbol of masculinity and gentility it should be. Josh felt the pressure of the competition because he and his wife were expecting -- if he were to move through to Seattle, he'd miss the birth of his child. Plus he'd be laughed out of his restaurant for failing to make a good soup. For his roasted corn and coconut soup with mussels and lime, he actually finished cooking a bit too early with nine minutes left, leaving him to worry about letting his dish go cold. Emeril thought the mussels were cooked perfectly, but he was waiting to taste the chili come in because the whole thing was too sweet. Luckily, that chili was just being a little shy and it did make its way to Emeril's taste buds. Josh got himself a chef jacket.

With the opposite problem was Jeffrey Jew, an attractive and curious blend of ethnicities. While Josh had too much time to let his soup chill, Emeril doubted Jeffrey could chill his gazpacho enough in the small amount of allotted time, and if it wasn't cold, he'd be going home. But not only was Jeffrey's chilled watermelon and tomato gazpacho with a scallop, salmon belly, and rock shrimp ceviche cold, it had a "lot of great depth." Jeffrey earned his chef jacket on the spot.

Like Chris Jones and Richie last year, we have another pair of close friends in the kitchen in Kristen Kish and Stephanie Cmar (how on earth are you supposed to pronounce that?) — and once again, one appears to outshine the other greatly in skill and charisma: Kristen, a sleek Asian woman with a daring haircut, won a modeling competition in Boston; Stephanie is incapable of facial expression. The two bonded over getting "boob sweat" because they were the only two girls in their kitchen. "It was so hot," Kristen recalled. In more ways than one? They not only live in the same apartment building but got matching tattoos of spoons. My question is, who's the big spoon and who's the little? Kristen denied the inevitable lesbian rumors that swirl around them, but she clearly seems to enjoy the speculation.

But tragically, their hopes of continuing those will-they-or-won't-they rumors throughout the competition were dashed. Kristen sailed through to Seattle with her English pea broth with thrice-poached lemon peel with seared scallop, apple, and creme fraiche. Emeril called it "one of the best soups I've ever had." Stephanie's light cauliflower soup with corn, lobster knuckles, and pea tendrils wasn't quite cauliflowery enough. (Blegh, how could anything not be cauliflowery enough? Cauliflower is the Candy Corn of cruciferous veggies. It's a cruel joke). It was hard to read Stephanie's non-expression after getting eliminated. It either said, "At least I can go back to wearing my cat around my neck as a scarf" or "I'm devastated."

That left forgettable Tina Bourbeau, who decided to forgo the blender like everyone else and instead make a layered soup. Emeril seemed to like her seafood and chorizo soup just fine, just calling it "garlicky" without being overpowering, but it didn't stand up next to the other dishes.

NEXT: Wolfgang Puck dazzled us with his one-liners


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