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

Location: Beverly Hills
Judge: Wolfgang Puck

This was the main event of the evening in my mind, as we saw Wolfgang Puck in action as a regular judge — and he killed it, quashing the culinary world's doubts about his performance. (By the way, I don't think anyone doubted or cared, just wanted to raise the stakes a little). In addition to spouting great quotables -- "When it comes to judging, I think I'm an easy guy as long as they do it exactly the way I want it" -- he seemed to care for the chefs, and also, thank goodness, he eliminated someone who might have annoyed us all season.

Wolfgang presented another deceptively simple challenge: the perfect omelet. He told a story from his youth, when an early mentor said his olive oil-drenched omelet was "like shitting in your own bed." He would bring those same standards to the contestants' eggs. Those better be damn good omelets.

Carla Pellegrino, ex-wife of Frank Pellegrino and chef/owner of Bacio, looked as though she took a wrong turn in the Bravo offices on the way to a Real Housewives of New Jersey audition. She declared out of her puckered mouth, "I am loud. I'm pretty sure if you ask some people they would call me a bitch when I turn my back. I would call me a bitch, too, sometimes." I'm pretty sure Teresa Giudice has been heard saying the exactly same thing at least 37 times over the course of Real Housewives. Her Mediterranean omelet got a little messed up, but she covered it with an arugula salad, prompting Wolfgang to say, "It looks like a woman with a lot of makeup on." Actually, Carla was the sole target of Wolfgang's borderline misogynistic comments all night, including, "This stove is like a woman, it never does what it's supposed to do." Carla looks like she could cut a bitch, so tread lightly, Wolfgang. You may have saved yourself by letting her through.

Another character arose in Wolfgang's group: Kumiko Yagi may be my favorite so far. She looks as though she's seen many a terrifying ghost children in her haunted Japanese house, but the cutest moment of the night was when Kumiko told Wolfgang, "I want to drink the coffee in Seattle." I'm rooting for her to prove her disapproving parents wrong. Her chamomile-infused morel and ham omelet looked a little too elaborate, but Wolfgang approved. You go, Kumiko!

I also loved handsome chatty gay Tyler Wiard, who also hid the flaws in his eggs with a salad garnish. The resulting bacon, shallot, and asparagus omelet looked a little sad to me, but Wolfgang thought the crispy fingerling potatoes saved the day.

Eliza Gavin also had a couple of make-it-work moments. First, Wolfgang told her he was craving red meat, so Eliza had to deliver. Then, she'd used all her ingredients in her test omelet, which seemed like a silly mistake, and had to dump the egg-covered veggies into a new omelet. That looked like it could be a disaster, but Wolfgang liked the "complicated" and "tasty" results.

Chrissy Camba seemed to have more serious issues. Her Filipino torta omelet with lobster claw, bacon, and caramelized (Bravo seems to think it's "carmelized" -- I expect a lively debate in the comments) onions "needed more salt," according to Wolfgang. Salt levels are make-it-or-break-it on Top Chef, but Wolfgang appreciated seeing Chrissy's heritage in her eggs.

Last and perhaps least was Daniel O'Brien of Seasonal Pantry in Washington, D.C. Even before he opened his mouth, I could tell he was super arrogant, but I didn't mind that much if he could bring the goods. But when he called Kumiko "origami," he was dead to me. Daniel made a misstep by leaving a residue of bacon grease on his omelet. Wolfgang said if he'd eaten the omelet in the dark he would have liked it, but the presentation alone was enough to send him home. Ouch.

NEXT: Hugh Acheson tosses some salads (in the trash) in the ATL

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