Top Chef California: Episode 1

By Jason Lee

December 7, 2015

Be very careful when you talk smack in the first episode.

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Ah, yes. As the song goes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s TOP CHEF TIME, BABY. After 12 (mostly) glorious seasons, Top Chef is returning to its roots by coming home to California. Longtime TC fans (are there any of you out there?) may know that Season 1 took place in cloudy, foggy San Francisco, and Season 2 had Los Angeles (superficial, carefully manicured LA). Season 13, Padma explains will kick things off in Los Angeles before finishing up in San Francisco. Awesome.

(The beginning of any Top Chef season is the hardest to recap due to the sheer number of cheftestants and the fact that we simply haven’t had the chance yet to get to know everyone. Thus, I hope you’ll forgive me if I paint in broad strokes for the first few weeks.)

Our host (Padma) and head judge (Tom) start off by all but hitting us over the head with the show’s amazing track record (“amazing talent, multiple restaurants and award winners”) and the caliber of chefs that we’ll see this season. Padma asks all the executive chefs to raise their hands (a bunch) and all the James Beard award nominees to raise their hands (at least five). As bragging goes, this instance is quite impressive - a sentiment echoed by Frances, a Filipino sous chef (the only sous chef of the bunch).

Among other notable cheftestants are Renee (a spunky redhead who cites her sunny personality in the kitchen), Angelina (the youngest cheftestant this season at 24), and one self-described “sassy” chef (Amar) who introduces himself by snap-snap-snaping his fingers in the standard bitchy-Z pattern.

Well, hello to you, too.


We also have one returning chef - Grayson from Top Chef Texas - whose standout quality appears to be the fact that even though I’ve been doing these recaps for years, I barely have any recollection of her. Ominous signs from this BOPer.

Side fashion note: there’s one chef (who I don’t think ever gets introduced in the entire episode) who’s donned a spiffy green sports jacket that looks like it’s been pilfered from Hugh Acheson’s closet.

In any event, things kick off like they did last year with the infamous mise-en-place race. The cheftestants are allowed to pick amongst five classic California ingredients (chickens, oranges, artichokes, eggs, and asparagus) and prep them as quickly as possible. The nine fastest chefs will move onto round two.

Because the ingredients are first-come-first-serve, the chefs bum rush the front table and scurry back to their stations. Pity the chef whose station lies at the back of the kitchen.

One chef, Phillip (who looks like he’s auditioning for the part of “hipster chef” with his man-bun and scruffy oh-I-only-use-organic-razors beard) boasts about having already won “a bunch” of cooking shows. He names them: Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen, Guy’s Grocery Games. Having proven himself the class of Food Network, “I guess all that’s left is Top Chef.” I can already tell that Phillip is going to rub me the wrong way this season.

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