Top Chef: Seattle Recap

By David Mumpower

November 21, 2012

So long. We hardly knew you.

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Previously on Top Chef, 21 contenders in four different locations attempted to earn their way into the official competition. 15 of them succeeded while the rest were left to wonder what they could have done better. With the qualifiers ready to enter the Top Chef kitchen for the first time, we are poised for one of the smallest groups since the early days of the show. Top Chef: Seattle will focus on the quality of its chefs rather than the quantity of them.

The episode begins with the first appearance of Padma Lakshmi this season. While Emeril Lagasse, Hugh Acheson, Wolfgang Puck and Tom Colicchio ran cooking competitions at their respective restaurants, our favorite hostess was cast aside. This is quickly rectified in “A Shock at the Space Needle” as Padma not only appears but she is joined by three former participants. One of them is her beloved CJ, Chris Jacobsen. Kim, Jason and I have joked at several times over the years that these two would eventually elope because the chemistry between them is tangible. We cannot blame Padma for her passion. CJ is adorable.

Joining them are a chef I mentioned last week, Stefan Richter, and a chef I barely remember, Josie. The reason I do not remember Josie is that she was eliminated fairly early in season two, which you may recall featured an episode wherein a bunch of Top Chef players bullied Marcel Vigneron. Three of the competitors forcibly shaved his head. Good times, good times. Anyway, Josie’s presence wasn’t even a ripple on my radar.


Stefan is a different situation. I mentioned in evaluating John Tesar last week that he appears to be the older model of Stefan, a sublime talent whose interpersonal skills are woefully lacking. Stefan finished in second place during the fifth season. He quickly relays the belief that he should have won instead of Hosea, as he was the best chef during the competition. Alas, this is not accurate.

Carla was the best performer down the stretch. Unfortunately, she was stuck with Casey during the finale, and their joint mistakes undid the current host of The Chew. Also, Hosea was great most of the season save for the time he wasted in an oddly co-dependent relationship with Leah. Stefan may tell himself that he was the strongest performer due to the number of victories he had during the competition. While his six were more than Carla’s four, Stefan narrowly avoided elimination three times in the final four episodes prior to the finale. The myth of his performance does not match the reality. This is a cautionary tale for John Tesar as Top Chef: Seattle begins.

CJ, Stefan and Josie (I think that’s her name) will serve as the judges for the first Quickfire challenge. The 15 entrants group into five trios. They are not randomly assigned, which leads to a bit of strategy. Tesar notes that he aligns with Kuniko because she is “Japanese; maybe she has incredible knife skills." I guess this isn’t racist or xenophobic if it is a positive stereotype. Anyway, Tesar does correctly note that the decisions a contestant deduces prior to the challenge are as important as the dishes themselves. This is Tesar’s age and experience coming to the forefront. He has a plan and people who are analytical about the game have a tendency to go far. See: Richard Blais.

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