Top Chef: Texas Recap (Part One)
By David Mumpower
November 3, 2011
The denouement of the most recent season of Top Chef is arguably the greatest in reality television history. The concept of Top Chef All-Stars was one we requested several seasons before it came to fruition. While there may have been heartbreaking disappointments along the way (Oh, Jen, how could you? Also, WTF, Jamie?), the overall competition was epic.
There was an episode where the closest loved ones of the remaining contestants were invited to join the judges at a meal and each chef raised their game to the point that no one’s dish was worthy of elimination. There was the revelation that two people who fought the body of the season were in fact cousins, which made their arguments a byproduct of their genetic code. There was a challenge to determine who would participate in the finale and its result was even closer than the 2011 World Series between St. Louis and Texas, the one that the losing team was a strike away from winning; the result is that one was eliminated because a single bite was chosen inferior by four out of seven judges, the narrowest of margins. And there was a finale wherein David faced off against Goliath or, perhaps more appropriately, Apollo Creed fought Rocky for the first time.
Richard Blais, the heavy favorite, redeemed himself after by his own description choking in a previous finale yet Mike Isabella, a chef who wasn’t one of the four best players on his own season, almost pulled an upset for the ages, shining brightly during his most important professional moment. In the end, Blais, the person we had expected to win from the moment he was announced as a participant, did just that and yet Mike Isabella ascended in a manner that fundamentally changed people’s perceptions of him, perhaps a greater accomplishment.
Fast forward seven months and the producers of Top Chef are left with a most difficult proposition. In the wake of the best competition ever as well as the one with the finest cooking talent yet assembled on the show, how do they sustain momentum? With the season premiere, we will find out as a group of 29 (!) new cheftestants travel to Texas in order to attempt to become the next Richard Blais.
Before the new participants are shown, a couple of key tidbits are revealed. The first is that none of the 29 chefs is aware of the fact that they are not already on the show, that they must earn one of the 16 spots. The second is that presumably due to the current unavailability of Anthony Bourdain, who now has two different shows of his own, the void of celebrity chef star power has been filled by none other than Emeril Lagasse. Since I know you would be disappointed in me if I didn’t say the magic word now but also disappointed in me if I did, let’s go a different way with this and think of Elzar from Futurama saying BAM! Lagasse has big shoes to fill not only from Bourdain but also in that Wolfgang Puck’s appearances on the show have been among its greatest highlights. In addition to standing judges Gail Simmons and Tom Colicchio, Top Chef Masters season three competitor Hugh Acheson, who somehow managed to be eliminated not once but twice, is also a judge. I guess that with his current record of Most Top Chef eliminations in 2011, he is deemed an expert in the field.