There are certain things that make me “geek out.” Fantasy football, Simon Pegg movies, pro wrestling, 80s metal and new seasons of Top Chef.
Yes, after I vowed as a small child, that after all the dreadful years of watching Yan Can Cook and The Frugal Gourmet on Saturday afternoons, I would never watch cooking shows, I am absolutely stoked by the return of this culinary-based competition.
I’ll admit I’m a bit more excited this year than previous years as I was severely disappointed with the Top Chef stop gap series: Top Chef Masters. Masters seemed way to rushed this year and the “cheftestants” were no where as engaging or engrossing as last year’s top two: Rick Bayless and Hubert Keller.
Last week, Top Chef: DC (aka Season 7) debuted and it burst onto my TV like a steak that was just flambeed. What I love about this series, as compared to Masters is, that there’s a sense of urgency, a sense of desire and a sense of competition. There are 12 chefs looking to make their name in the scene, to capture those moments of reality TV fame, to keep their culinary dreams alive. Every move they make is crucial and you can really feel it.
And it doesn’t help that they create delicious food. Yes, in the end, it’s all about the food for me. I may not know what cerviche or char is or why all chefs must create a weird micro-salad with every dish, but I just want to eat my television every time a chef ‘s dish is given its “glamor shot.”
This seventh series of Top Chef has a new wrinkle to the judging proccess — one I think that will benefit the show. Usually the judges’ table consists of the shows patriarch, Tom Colicchio, who’s Craft Restaurants are a “must” if you’re a foodie and the culinary hotness of Padma Lakshmi and Gail Simmons — two women who know and love food, but are still pretty hot. Yes, those are superficial statements, I can’t help myself. This year, French master and DC restauranteur Eric Ripert joins the judges. If you’re a newbie to the show, this guy is not only one of the most critically-acclaimed chefs in the US, but he has been one of the most tough guest judges in the show’s history. Like Colicchio, Ripert IS cooking. He knows his stuff and isn’t afraid to give a bad review — not in a Gordon Ramsey fire and brimstone way, but in a constructive yet honest way. His presence, which may spell the end of guest judges (at least for eliminations), ups the ante on this show.
The “Cheftestants” this year are the usual mix of aces and amateurs. They all have impressive resumes, but some are more impressive than the others. We’ll see if this years overly intense group can create memorable fan favorites like Richard, Spike and Andrew from Season 4, Carla and Antonio from Season 5 and Kevin and the Voltaggio Brothers from Season 6.
Here are my picks on who the Top 3 finalists could be this season. [Please note the last time I did this for Masters, I was really, really wrong.]
Kevin Sbraga: Gotta represent Jersey. Sbraga is the head chef at Rats, a critically-acclaimed French restaurant located at the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton. He did well in both the Quick Fire and Elimination Challenges, finishing in the top of both. He seems to be one of the better chefs there and from the previews it looks like he’s bringing some firey drama to the show. Of the three picked, he’s probably my #3
Kenny Gilbert: This guy could take it all. He showed that his technical skills are far superior than the other chefs and while his elimination dish was a bit overly complicated, he knows good flavor. He also runs a culinary institute, which gives him a leg up on most (outside of Lynne Gigliotti, who’s a teacher at the CIA) He’d be my #1 guy if not for…
Angelo Sosa: He took the Quickfire and Elimination challenges in the first show. He’s hot out of the gate, which means he has the inside track to take the whole. With that being said, previous chefs with this kind of start (e.g. Richard Blais and Stefan Ritcher) ended up coming short in the end.
Outside Chances: Tiffany Derry (young but seasoned cook out of Dallas), Amanda Baumgarten (spitfire out of LA) and cue-ball chef Alex Reznick (Brooklyn born, LA cook).
So for the next few months I will remain glued to my DVR every Wednesday after work, waiting with a giddy smile on my face as culinary artists duke it over in the nation’s capital.