As it happens, the debut of Top Chef: All-Stars coincides almost perfectly with the end of my Ph.D career (I got it, BTW), leaving me free and unburdened by work-related guilt for the first time in many years. So welcome all to the triumphant return of Procrastiblog, now with 50% less Procrasti- and 100% more -blog. The plan is to cover this season of Top Chef on a weekly or near-weekly basis. Since I don’t have cable anymore and have to depend on the kindness of strangers for my Top Chef fix, expect the posts to go up over the weekends.
I’m looking forward to this season of Top Chef. There’s a good half dozen contestants I’d be happy to see win. We can expect the level of competition to be generally high—I’d be surprised if any of these old pros falls afoul of the rules. And we can count on Anthony Bourdain to be likeably dickish and amusing each week at Judges Table (Toby Young should take some notes on how to make forced pop culture references without coming off as congenitally unlikeable. I will miss Eric Ripert, though; he really classed up the joint).
But the All-Stars format doesn’t entirely change the normal course of a Top Chef season too much. We’d normally expect at least a half dozen hopeless caterers, moms, and seafood chefs to get slowly weeded out through the first half of the season. Instead, we have a eight chefs who are better than the average contestant, but not finalist material: Stephen (Season 1); Elia (Season 2); Antonia, Dale T., and Spike (Season 4); Jamie and Fabio (Season 5); and Mike (Season 6). It’s a shame that most of these contestants could have been replaced by stronger contestants from their respective seasons: Dave and Lee Anne (Season 1); Sam (Season 2); Stefan (Season 5); and Bryan and Kevin (Season 6). (The last three in particular could have been strong All-Stars contenders.) Of the non-finalist contestants, I’d say only Tre (Season 3), Jennifer (Season 6), and Tiffany (Season 7)—all upset eliminations—have any chance at all.
Some of the former finalists are looking surprisingly weak: it turns out Marcel (Season 2), Dale L. and Casey (Season 3) all had the good fortune to be better than average in weak seasons—even within his avant-garde niche, Marcel pales in comparison to chefs like Richard and the Voltaggios. Can there be any doubt that Jennifer, Richard, or Angelo could have disemboweled Season 2 winner Ilan Hall and served his guts in an ambitious but not overly fussy trio of offal?
- Isn’t a bit unfair and not all that surprising that the Quickfire win went to the only team with four chefs?
- It’s also a little unfair that the second group being served got to know they were being piped into the kitchen when it came time to criticize the food. They were far less harsh. Is it a coincidence that the bottom three dishes came from the first group?
- The rules of the Elimination challenge were somewhat unclear. Elia seemed to fall into the trap of sticking closely to her original preparation, whereas other contestants reproduced little more than the key ingredients. For example, Angelo jettisoned one of the key components of his original dish. And didn’t Tre get to rework the least problematic of his multiple losing dishes?
- It remains astonishing the immediacy with which everybody who ever meets Marcel dislikes him. Even so, can we stop replaying the head shaving incident now? Especially if it’s going to be accompanied by self serving and not entirely regretful blather from the likes of Elia?
- It was especially fun to see Bourdain make former fan favorite Fabio show his less genial side. (The prickly, aggressive version of Fabio should be familiar to anybody who watched last year’s Reunion Dinner.)
- Have you noticed that the immersion circulators Marcel was mocked for wanting six seasons ago are now bog standard Top Chef equipment, used indiscriminately by everyone?
- I wonder if Richard knows how to cook anything without using liquid nitrogen?