The new season of Top Chef kicked off on the roof of one of the Smithsonian Institute buildings as the current batch of cheftestants gathered for the usual first day meet-and-greet. Once they were settled in, hosts Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio introduced the Quickfire Challenge: mise en place. Testing their skill and speed, the chefs had to peel 10 potatoes, brunoise (small dice) 10 cups of onions, and break down four chickens into eight pieces. This first challenge of the season was a high stakes challenge with the winner taking away $20,000. Only the first 12 chefs to peel 10 potatoes to Tom's satisfaction were able to move on to the next stage. Eight chefs moved on from the onion chopping, and after the chicken hacking, only 4 chefs were left standing.
Chefs Kevin, Angelo, Tim, and Kenny were asked to take their prepared elements and create a dish in 30 minutes with the assistance of the open-air pantry provided. Ultimately, Chef Angelo won with his Roasted Thigh with Roasted Wing, Onion Jam with Potato Noodles.
Before the cheftestants were sent off to check out their new digs in DC, Padma announced that for the Elimination Challenge, the chefs would be asked to create a dish that reflected where they were from. They would be serving their dishes to 300 young DC professionals at the Annual Cherry Blossom Festival. With $300 to spend on ingredients, they were given 4 hours to prep their dishes in the Top Chef kitchen, and another hour to set up at the location.
As an added twist, the chefs were divided into four groups chosen by the final four chefs from the Quickfire Challenge. Since there would be only one winner from each group, the chefs choosing their teams had to pick the chefs they thought were least capable rather than most capable. Later, while some arrived at the house with plans to drink and socialize, others set about planning their culinary creations.
The next day, the 17 chefs did their shopping and returned to the kitchens to cook. Then they were transported to the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium to prepare their small plates for the hungry guests and judges. This year, in addition to Padma, Tom, and Food and Wine's Gail Simmons, super chef Eric Ripert serves as semi-regular guest judge. After tasting all 17 dishes, the judges deemed those of Kevin, Alex, Kenny, and Angelo to be the best. As the new guest judge, Eric Ripert announced that Angelo had won the challenge with his Connecticut-inspired Arctic Char with Pickled Shallots, Chilled Tapioca with Smoked Bacon Froth.
After the win, Angelo had the unenviable duty of telling Stephen, John, Jacqueline, and Timothy that they were the bottom four and must face the music at the judges table. The judges felt that Stephen's ribeye was overcooked, John's store-bought pastry was soggy, Jacqueline's mousse was grainy and lacked fat, and Timothy's rockfish was too chewy with the skin left on. In the end, John's risky move to make a dessert did not pay off, and he was the first of the season to pack his knives and go.
So what did you think of the premiere episode?