Top Chef Week One: Big hair, big flames, big breakdown

October 19, 2006


Top Chef is back! There’s no impressions like first impressions — and you gotta love how they edit to make you biased from the start. First, who are all these people? I couldn’t keep them all straight, which forces me to resort to handles like “weird-hair guy” (Marcel), “big-hair guy” (Otto), and “glasses guy” (Ilan). What weird names they have anyway… Marcel, Otto and Ilan? Are the other contestants Pinocchio, Fabio and Chuck? Is there a Chuck?

And why am I so focused on the guys? My main impressions of the women were of “the Mexican woman” (Elia), “tight-clothes woman” (Betty) and the “basket case woman” (Suyai). So 1/3 of the women I recognize have been kicked off. This is poor. Plus, my nicknames are offensive.

I’m eager for the field to be winnowed down so I can digest the contestants and stop succumbing to typical reality-show snarkiness. (Who am I kidding? Why else watch reality shows!)


Seeing as how my wife has covered all the “important” things — hair, attire and nicknames — I’ll recap the, ahem, food happenings on the show. The first QuickFire challenge was flambe. I was highly impressed by the diversity and presentation of dishes — they ranged from savory to sweet, each of them seemingly restaurant quality and inviting. The elimination challenge was fascinating. Contestants were given a box of incongrous ingredients — things like artichokes, peanuts, escargot, potatoes and American cheese — that they had to use to make one dish. The offerings ran the gamut, from gourmet to unappetizing, to say the least. (I was intrigued, despite the fact that consuming peanuts or peanut butter — ingredients in both boxes — would kill me, since I’m allergic.)

My constant dissecting of the dishes, including musings about what I would cook with such ingredients, annoyed my wife. She, caught up in the more important aspects of the show (such as “how much product does Marcel use in his hair?”) impatiently paused the show to glower at me as I expounded. Ah, reality show viewing at its finest.

Our Favorite?

Wife: Ilan (aka glasses guy). Yes, he won a challenge. But I called him as a favorite when the credits were rolling. It’s the smart, cool -guy glasses. I fall for it every time. Plus, he’s that mixture of confident and capable. We’ll see if my affection lasts.

Husband: Betty. While I agree with my wife’s assessment of her attire, she was the only challenger to show up twice for recognition. She also has her own restaurant and much more experience than the 24-year-old Ilan.

Person we think is going to be next Top Chef:

W: Ilan. Why not? It’s only been one episode… how much insight can I have? I save my genius for my March Madness picks.

H: Sam. I went for a non-drama candidate (at least, so far). On both of his dishes he had great plating and many compliments; he won the QuickFire challenge and has a quiet focus to him that I like.

Next to get kicked off?

W: Hmmm. Considering I can’t remember all their names, I’m not yet invested in many of their fates. Otto needs to step it up, as does Carlos (obviously — since they, like, were in the bottom four.) Next week, the pointed editing may direct me to other candiates.

H: This is tough because there are no clear disasters like last year. I’m picking Michael, not because I think he doesn’t make tasty food, but because I think he has a more parochial culinary perspective than others. (Fancy bar food, not gourmet cuisine. Not that I don’t love bar food.)

Biggest Surprise?

W: In true reality TV form, the first thing I noticed about Betty is her tight clothes. And I’m a woman. (And therefore more critical of other women.) She seemed fruity at first, but apparently she can really cook. In a chef’s jacket and a ponytail, I saw she seemed to have real talent. Color me impressed and chastised.

H: I concur. Kudos to my wife on that.

Other First impressions:

Do you like flock of seagulls?W: What’s the deal with Marcel’s hair? (Do you like “Flock of Seagulls”? No, but I can tell you do.) Should he be required to wear a hairnet? Are his hair products flammable? Will they do one of those close-in product placement shots that reveals him using “Tresseme” mousse? Is he hiding seasoning in there?

And you gotta love Tom Calicchio, chef-owner of the Craft Restaurants, clarifying that he’s a judge “not your mentor or a friend.” (Read: “I am not Tim Gunn.”–which we later discovered he discussed on his Top Chef Blog) Does this mean he won’t be saying, “Make it work”? Too bad.

H: There’s much more experience than last year. The QuickFire dishes this season are better than most of the dishes served last year. And Michael is an Artie Lange look alike.


  1. I love the point-counterpoint rundown. Also, this will keep me from having to actually watch the show. The wife got sucked into Project Runway and frankly, I don’t like what it did to her…

  2. Well, I’m embracing it. My wife loved Project Runway as well…. so I’m using her enthusiasm to my advantage.

  3. […] Review Comments about Past Weeks: Week 1 […]

  4. […] Week 1: Big Hair, Big Flame, Big Breakdown […]

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