Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having interest in Top Chef Season 7 DC, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the season is now screening. God save Padma and her gestational breasts!
The cherry blossoms bloomed pink origami flowers; the Washington monument — giant phallus of democracy — cast its long shadow upon the Reflecting Pool; on the roof of the Newseum a group of chefs peeled potatoes, cut themselves doing so, and bled for their country. Welcome to Top Chef, where democracy, Dial Nutriskin, Padma Lakshmi, petty ambition and people they picked up on Craigslist Casual Encounters category commingle.
In a few years from now — though it may have already begun in a subterranean government lab — the very first notes of the Top Chef theme song will be enough to elicit in the listener a hankering to watch other humans fail. So that, upon hearing the music, when one hears another discussing one's parents, deceased wives, ethnic background, there swells in one's breast great whorls of contempt and instead of murmuring commonplaces of comfort one simply yells, "Who cares!? You're here to cook and to win! Now go fucking brunoise me some onions!" Within the first thirty seconds of last night's episode, we have a dead wife, Obama, sad because left family, sad because from New Jersey, sad because wife and kids. Cue the music: No one cares. Welcome to Top Chef, the great slaughterer of sympathy.
But perhaps this is just self-protection. The first episode of Top Chef is always difficult to relate to emotionally. Some of these 17 puppets will be swept off the stage immediately, others will stick around for only a little while. Still others will be there for nearly the duration but only one will be carried full-term. It is hard to connect, echoes of childhood trauma, revolving doors of stepfathers. But still feelings can't be tamped completely. Who can not feel instant affection for the John Waters mustache and Barry White voice of Timofey Dean, whose wife died three years go? [Sorry, now cook!] Who cannot feel the urge to approach Crazy John and speak to him in Na'vi — I see you, John Somerville, I see you — and then back away slowly, always facing him, clacking together two sticks to deter an attack. Then there's Kenny who looks more like Chef and who is fast as a motherfucker. "He's an animal" others say. "I'm alpha male," he says and points to a pile of perfectly broken down chicken as proof. There are the ladies: Amanda Baumgarten, this season's Leah Cohen, though prettier and with a cold sore earlier on in the program, and Tiffany Derry who busted out the line, "I'm not here to make friends," in the very first episode. God bless her.
DC culture was admirably integrated in the premiere. In the Quickfire, Tom Colicchio showed a complete mastery of the way things work in our nation's capital by offering the contestants 20K in cash on a silver platter, a trick he learned from Jack Abramoff. Because we're in DC and DC is all about democracy, the messy process of democracy continued in the Elimination Challenge. This particular process involved the winning four contestants choosing other contestants to compete with the other winning contestants on teams but not really teams because they were in direct intrateam competition so really they were choosing the weakest chefs against which the original four winning chefs would compete. Hunh!?! If Bravo really wanted to drive home the lesson that democratic processes are exceedingly difficult to understand and designed to be cynically gamed, bravo, you did it!
The challenge was a good one (although based perhaps on a faulty premise): cook a dish representative of your regional cuisine. [Faulty premise: In Amreeka, all peoples — regardless of color, creed or sex — are represented equally in the halls of power.] The cast, being more lower house than upper, skewed Coloradoan and Eastern Seaboard. My favorite bit of culinary gerrymandering: Kevin Sbraga from New Jersey and New Jersey proud, slowly expanded the border westerly until Jersey was Jersey-and-Pennsylvania and finally, like magic, he was from Pennsylvania and here's his Pennsylvania Lamb. Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi would be very disappointed.
And so it goes. Some lady from Greenpoint who won't be around long named Jacqueline made low fat chicken liver mousse which of course didn't work. Angelo Sosa from Xie Xie in New York — who, by the way, is already a very established chef to the point that it would probably be detrimental to his career if he doesn't walk away with the win — made Arctic Char with Pickled Shallots, Chillied Tapioca & Smoked Bacon Froth because that's what they eat in Connecticut where he's from. [Whereas I always thought of Connecticut cuisine as bits of Ritz crackers with a little bit of cheese spread on top and a couple very strong martinis.] Sosa won. His baby blue pants won. His little spoon of char and foam, his big city ways, his spiky hair, broad smile, mischievous eyes, arrogance, dimples and stubble won.
Let us now turn from the saved to the drowned. Perhaps unsurprisingly it was Na'vi Crazy John. Thank God he left. Every moment he was on screen one felt anxiety that he would have a psychotic break and gnash people to death. In fact, I was surprised his diary didn't read, "Outside! Outside! Outside! Outside!" for pages on end. [Instead it read, "Pillows there a bit soft, a testament to the luxury of the Hilton," which is crazy in a deeper yet less immediately apparent way.] Na'vi Crazy John is from Detroit, MI. [He is from Detroit like I am from Philadelphia; He's from a nice suburb. In my case, Abington; in his, West Bloomfield.] So his dish was a riff on Maple Syrup. Crazy motherfucker. It should have been something like a foie gras-glazed doughnut, which reflects the city's demographic pattern or something using ultra-fresh produce since Detroit boasts the largest urban farm in America. But nope! He bought some frozen pastry dough at the supermarket and wore his stupid Geoxx loafers, forgot to plug his ponytail into the Ewya. I'm sure you'll see him soon, with a cardboard sign reading, "Broke. Need Money For Weed" in Union Square with a little pit bull puppy and a face tattoo. Give him a quarter if you do and receive his benediction.
Before I go, I'd like everyone to pause for a moment, seriously, in remembrance of Toby Young, the judge from last season who was replaced by Eric Ripert. Last night during the episode, Young exercised himself sufficiently, screaming witticisms at his telly screen in his dismal flat in London, "all toothless and dry haired like those hag masses of the 18th century," that his little bollweevil head popped off his dweeby neck and he collapsed, headless and without viewers, into a puddle of his own make. We never liked the guy but he deserved a better end.