Top Chef California: Episode 2

By Jason Lee

December 8, 2015

I don't know what she's smiling about.

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Back for seconds? Our second helping to Top Chef this season kicks off right where the last episode ended (which was probably as close to a cliffhanger as Top Chef will ever come) - with the chieftestants atop the roof of the Hotel Roosevelt being told that they’ll be opening four pop-up restaurants across Los Angeles… today.

The guest judge is Ludo Lefebvre, who Top Chef fans might remember as “that really whiny French chef who was on the first two seasons of Top Chef Masters.” Ludo confesses that he’s experienced the craziness of opening pop-up restaurants. He does not envy the tasks the cheftestants have in front of them.

The chefs are divided up into four groups:

  • Isaac, Marjorie, Angelina, and Amar
  • Hipster Phillip, alum Grayson, sassy Renee, and FOB Frances (I’m allowed to use that acronym cause I’m Asian. Also, Frances described herself that way, so there)
  • Carl, Jason, Giselle, and Karen
  • Messy Wessy, Chad, Kwame, and Jeremy


Padma advises the chefs that each pop-up will be situated in an iconic neighborhood that showcases the diversity of LA. Each pop-up must embody the culture of its neighborhood. The chefs will not, however, know which cuisine they’ll be cooking until they actually arrive at their pop-up.

The Phillip-Grayson-Renee-Frances team figures out that they’re heading to Venice Beach, to one of my favorite streets in all of Los Angeles - Abbot Kinney. Phillip, who (of course) brags about being the only born-and-raised Angeleno, can nonetheless not figure out in advance what cuisine they’ll be tasked with.




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Meanwhile, the Isaac-Marjorie-Angelina-Amar team passes by Phillip’s restaurant, which (unsurprisingly) has a huge picture of Phillip emblazoned on the front of it. Major chef trash-talking ensues. Love it.

That team eventually makes its way to Westwood where they arrive at a Persian restaurant named Taste of Tehran. “Nothing,” laments Isaac. “I know nothing about Persian food.” Thankfully, the team gets a few minutes to chat with the owner of the restaurant who advises incorporation of grilled meats, stews, yogurt, and sour-and-sweet flavors.

As a side note, I find it striking that the person driving the conversation - the person whose force of personality appears to be taking over the team, not by conscious effort, but by the natural adoption of a leadership role - is Marjorie. Yep, the acolyte of Mike Isabella in Washington DC. Can Marjorie do what Mei (as the acolyte of Michael Voltaggio) did last year?

On the other side of the city, team Carl-Jason-Giselle-Karen has arrived in Koreatown at restaurant called Monk Space. The dining area is super modern, and very New York - long, unvarnished wooden tables, exposed brick, etc. I love it. Sang Yoon (again, another alum of Top Chef Masters) walks in and I’m not surprised at all to find out that this is his space. His advice for the team is to incorporate big flavors, lots of produce, fruit, honey, and tea. Afterwards, as the team sits down to start planning their menu, Giselle nervous throws out the idea of doing Korean hot wings, which “I’ve eaten but I’ve never made, maybe it’s not a good idea for me to make them if I’ve never done it before, but they’re delicious, I mean, you guys won’t let me fail, right?” Giselle looks around at her teammates who stare at her in disbelief.


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