"Top Chef"'s tenth season got off to a rocky start last week, abandoning the formula for a bunch of ho-hum competitions with a lot of unknown and consequently unsympathetic faces.
Consequently, it was quite nice to see some familiar faces this week. Introduced by the lovely Padma are three past contestants (Josie from Season 2, skyscraper CJ from Season 3, and Season 5's big bad European villain Stefan) to judge our first official Quickfire Challenge. The competitors are put in groups of three and pressured to create an original fish dish in only twenty minutes.
Former model Kristen gets the episode's biggest laugh, comparing her team's geoduck to a large penis. So of course the director cuts to chopping off the tip and dissecting said fish/penis in the next shot. Feel free to cross your legs, fellas.
The challenge aftermath yields an unexpected twist: not only are the returning "Top Chef" contestants serving as guest-judges for the quickfire, this season is also a REDEMPTION ISLAND of sorts for the returning competitors and they get into the season going forward. Of course, there are plenty of mixed reactions from "they had their chance" to "bring it on" to "I have nothing to prove, whatever" (the latter from Stefan). Yaaaaaaay, more Stefan dickishness!
The teams stick together for the elimination challenge -- good news for Tesar's team, perhaps not so good for the bottom team. As the title might suggest, the teams square off at the top of the famed Seattle Space Needle, putting together original dishes under the gun with the Needle's rotation acting as their timer.
Perpetual Latino freak-out Carla leaves an impression on her peers for all the wrong reasons -- imagine Sofia Vergara's characteristic "Modern Family" tirades, just non-stop and you're not too far off from Carla. Ironically, she cools off after delivering her dish and goes on to slice her hand open reaching into her knife bag.
John Tesar's team nails the double-header, pulling out the win in both the Quickfire and Elimination challenges. For all the hype of veteran chef Tesar being antagonistic and self-involved, Tesar pays credit where it's due to his teammate Kuniko, who handled the element of the dish that the judges all swooned over and ultimately takes the first big win of the season. He does show a little mouth when rubbing it in with a little faux-sympathy for the bottom teams, however, but only after discovering that his team is on top.
If the new chefs were intimidated by the returning Stefan/Josie/CJ veterans, that intimidation went out the window as they land in the bottom already. Alas, the three are safe and Jeffrey goes home for the unforgivable sin of overcooking his team's fish -- after wowing Emeril last week with his gazpacho, it was a bit surprising to see him first to pack up his knives and take that long walk of shame.
It was a shaky season premiere last week, with the experimentation with the show's formula not really paying off. Thankfully, this week we bounce back with some returning familiar faces (Stefan!!), the lovely Padma giving Tesar a little sass, and the usual mouth-watering food that I could never cook.
Final Grade: B+