For Future Chef-erence: Recapping the first episode of Top Chef Chicago
As Top Chef airs its Windy City episodes, Features Editor Laura Baginski, Eat Out Senior Writer David Tamarkin and Comedy/Time In Editor Steve Heisler will be tracking its progress. Check back weekly for recaps and plenty of well-deserved snark (on the show's behalf), and hit up the comments.
Chicago! The culinary capital of the world! Thanks for the kind words about our city, Jennifer Biesty (my vote for the contestant with the most appropriate last name), but if that's true, wouldn't Top Chef Chicago pick a less stereotypical, pedestrian dish for its first quick-fire challenge than deep-dish pizza?
But while the challenge subject was disappointingly predictable, what many of the 16 contestants created with this tired old dish was pretty impressive.
Richard's daring use of peaches in his pizza proved he's a creative thinker and Spike's Mediterranean-influenced pie sounded positively delicious (but, Spike, seriously, that straw baseball cap looked like it was pilfered from a Chinatown store's 5-cent bin). Hometown girls Stephanie and Valerie bit it with some not-so-great pizzas, Nikki's bread block looked drier than saw dust, and Andrew...well, it hardly matters what that dude makes, because he's crazy with a capital K. The guy's on his way to becoming the Puck of Top Chef Chicago by hating on his competition, claiming his cooking is "like molten fucking lava pouring out of me" (uh, gross), and, when the reliably wooden host Padma announced the contestants were standing in their new digs, proclaiming, "Casa muthafucka!"
After the chefs settled into their new home by eating, smoking, drinking and talking trash (except for Nimma, who was busy ostracizing herself), they drew knives for their first elimination challenge: their interpretation of classic dishes all chefs should know like the back of their burn-scarred hands, such as souffle and chicken piccata...except a lot of them didn't. Erik's dish featured a smear of poop-like beans on the plate and a fallen cheese souffle that appeared to be crowned with a tiny turd. Yum! Ryan (hey, did he mention he's been cooking since he was 11? Cuz he'll tell you again if you didn't hear the first three times) delivered a chicken piccata that was neither much chicken nor piccata. Discuss.
But for all the duds, there were some standouts. Challenge-winner Stephanie rocked it with a duck a l'orange in handrolls that had Anthony Bourdain breathless with compliments, and Nikki redeemed herself with a lasagna complete with handmade pasta and bubbly gouda. But Nimma...oh, Nimma. Those sodium-laden shrimp in your shrimp scampi and that pale, goopy cauliflower "scramble" that looked like cat vomit and seemed to taste only moderately better sent you packing. Justifiably. She was the clear one to go, but Erik and Ryan, also on the chopping block, have some work to do to appear like they deserve to be there. Early favorites to win, in my opinion: Richard, Stephanie, Antonia, Nikki. But it's still pretty early, and there's plenty of possible fallen souffles to go before the end.
Top Chef icon: Nadine Nakanishi