Don’t Chill The Dashi: Top Chef Returns

If Top Chef has anything to teach the aspiring culinary artists of America, it’s that you should never, under any circumstance, chill Dashi. You’re practically begging to pack your knives and go. What dashi is doesn’t matter. Top Chef: The Battle of Bourbon Street is the only thing that does.

Back for its We’ve Lost Count season, Top Chef has once again gathered the best chefs from across the globe to compete for the title of Top Chef, a feature in Food and Wine magazine, a spotlight at Food and Wine’s showcase in Aspen and 125,000 dollars, furnished by Healthy Choice. As co-host Tom Colicchio so eloquently put in during the title sequence, “This isn’t vacation, it’s a competition.”

The first face of Bourbon Street we meet is Jason Cichonski, who proudly explains that he’s been voted “sexiest chef in LA.” Whatever, never trust a male blonde. Jason doesn’t mention the source of this superlative, but we can only assume he’s a self-proclaimed winner. Soon after, we meet another “hot chef,” Janine Booth. Originally from Perth, Australia, Janine elegantly quips, “The fact that I’m not so ugly is something people have to overcome.” Booth is blonde, bodacious and has an accent. There’s no way she can be good at cooking, too.

Other notable contestants include Shirley “not your typical little Chinese girl” Chung. Ramon Bojorquez, an MMA fighter who’s spent some time in Thailand. Bene Bartoletta introduces himself as the first “Top Gay Chef” and then blushes about the “top” part. Travis Masar, meanwhile, just loves asian culture and spends an uncomfortably long time talking about his ex-boyfriend,”he was Tawainese.”

Padma and Tom, as per usual, greeted the newbies with faux-friendliness in the Top Chef bungaloo. Tom looked so over it, as he leaned his wrinkled shirt against the exposed brick wall. Padma spoke enthusiastically about all the great Southern food she pretends to eat. This season, the chefs will skip the “Quickfire” challenge and go straight for the sudden death round. Padma presented them with frog legs, turtles and alligator meat. The contestants are evenly split between the three Louisiana delicacies, and they’re off to the races.

Much of the show involves people working in a kitchen at a normal pace, while the sound mixers add in scary drums to make every situation seem dire. We meet Patty Vega who has “never been so scared in [her] life” about her alligator gumbo. Carlos, a personal favorite, is an illegal immigrant who wakes up every morning to pray for his food. Wide-eyed Carrie Mashaney, an annoying Iowan, helps the audience understand the competition by re-explaining the rules in a series of talking heads.

Things get awkward when Tom visits the kitchen and Carrie expresses anxiety about her oyster cream. We sensed some powerful sexual tension between Tom and this Mid-western gal. Jason “not sexy” Cichonski accidentally bleeds into his dish. Aaron “I’m in a band” Cusheiri,  is too distracted by Janine’s behind to cook.

Finally, after too many commercial breaks, we get to the actual challenge. There is a brief scuffle when the contestants realize they need to set up their work stations in a  New Orleans swamp. Nina Compton, daughter of the  former Prime Minister of St. Lucia, is confident in her turtle meatballs. Honestly, where do they find these people? Padma and Tom dryly explain that, throughout the night, visitors from The Dinner Lab (which is not a real lab) will give Mardi-Gras beads to the chefs with the best dishes. Curtis Stone, an Australian celebrity chef, appears to guest judge. He sort of hulks over everyone else, like a golden teddy bear.

After The Dinner Lab finishes its “experiment,” the chefs are ushered into a giant purple room to await the judge’s deliberation. As if the pressure wasn’t already turned up, on this season the chefs can actually hear all the gossip at the judges table. In a unanimous decision, Nina Compton wins the challenge for her turtle meatballs. To each his own, I guess.

Tom gets angry and calls in Ramon, Aaron and Patty to the bottom three. Curtis Stone tells Aaron that “he’s only as good as the dish [he] serve[s]“, which means that Aaron is soggy, alligator pasta. Patty, who beat the crap out of her alligator meat with a mallet, begins to cry in front of the judges. Go home, Patty.This isn’t Dance Moms. But lo! It is Ramon whose “time in the Big Easy is going to be short.” He “completely failed” by cooling his dashi in a thai-themed dish. Ramon must pack his knives and go back to his life as an MMA fighter.

Top Chef is a ridiculous show, but like the dorky girl you were accidentally nice to at lunch, it just keeps coming back. We predict that Jason and Janine will have a drama-filled battle for the hottest chef. Perhaps Bene and Travis will spice things up in the kitchen. Shirley will defy stereotypes and corn-fed Carrie will prove that she’s not as innocent as she looks. As for the other contestants who weren’t profiled on tonight’s show, they probably will be booted off soon. It’s all about screen time, in the end. We can’t wait as The Battle of Bourbon Street continues to crack us up and find its way into our hearts. May the greatest chef win in NOLA!

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