As much as I didn't hate the two qualifying round episodes, it feels good to finally start the true first episode with the top 16 in place. At the beginning of last night's episode, we were reintroduced to cheftestants we already knew. Yes, we knew Keith the James Beard Rising Star went to prison before cooking saved him, and yes, we knew Beverly the 32-year-old mom believes that writing generic mantras on tattered crumples of paper makes good stuff happen. Last week, she wrote, "I can, I must, I will." This week, she quasi-quoted R. Kelly: "If I believe it, I'm gonna achieve it."
With the rehash out of the way, the real season kicked off with a "stunt" Quickfire challenge. The chefs entered the spacious San Antonio kitchen to be greeted by an aquarium full of slithering rattlesnakes and one seductive viperess named Padma. I wonder if one of the producers tried to convince Padma to drape an albino python over her shoulders a la Britney 2001 (I would have) -- but instead, she was dressed like a Stepford Wife and attempted to shock us all by intoning, "get some motherf--ing snakes on some motherf--ing plates." While she was cursing, she somehow managed to come across even more robotic than usual.
Each of the cheftestants had a box that contained their ingredient. Could it possibly be live snakes? Where's a honey badger when you need one? Much to Dakota's relief, the snakes had already been skinned. I was a little disappointed with Ty-lör for being so relieved that he didn't have to chop off a snake head. I'm relying on him to be the angry, cocky douche of the season; a divisive Marcel-like character would have rubbed his hands together and literally twirled his mustache over the thought of molecular-izing or liquid-hydrogenating a fork-tongued, Eve-tempting belly-crawler (sorry, really didn't want to type "snake" again).
The kitchen turned into a sea of flailing limbs and flopping serpent bodies as the chefs competed for immunity in the upcoming elimination challenge and a $5,000 prize. Guest judge Johnny Hernandez, known for cooking wild game, warned the competitors that snake is a delicate protein that requires a gentle touch. I thought Dakota, who expressed the most trepidation about the challenge, was joking when she said that snake made her automatically think of beer. But it must be a real thing, because several chefs used some form of alcohol to prepare their dishes: Keith prepped his snake with "tequila poblano queso fondue," which are four lovely words, but do they belong together? Apparently yes, because it inspired Padma to double-dip her chip. Chris Jones once again asserted himself as my favorite by cheering on his sous-chef-slash-competitor Richie with a not-totally-obvious Return of the Jedi quote. (And by continuing to rock his butt-cut, which he ties up into one of those super-tiny man-ponytails while he's cooking. Blessedly, he doesn't use a scrunchie).
NEXT: Nobody puts snakemeat in a corner