By Ezra Klein
We’re still at the point in the season when I can talk about “Top Chef” without interfering with anyone’s intricately plotted TiVo schedule. On the one hand, I have no intention of saying who got eliminated, because I don’t know their name and don’t know their cooking skills well enough to care. On the other hand, even if I did say who got eliminated, you also wouldn’t know their name, so I wouldn’t have spoiled anything. This early in the season, it’s like giving away the winner of an intramural high school rugby match. That said, I may mention some details from last night’s episode, so stop reading now if you’re going to freak out over that.
Anyway! We’re only one episode in, but I’ve got complaints. First, this season, despite being in D.C., has less D.C. talent than last season. Last season, you had Bryan Voltaggio of Frederick’s Volt; Michael Voltaggio, who was from Maryland and worked for D.C. super chef Jose Andres at Los Angeles’s Bazaar; and Mike Isabella, who worked at Andres’s Middle Eastern joint, Zaytinya. This year, you’ve got a D.C. native with a steakhouse in Baltimore and a chef from the Oval Room. And though it’s early to say this, neither seems as dominant as any member of the D.C. contingent was last year.
Disgruntlement the second: There’s more obvious imbalance than there was last year. Again, it’s early, but last year, a top tier of Jen Carroll, Kevin Gillespie, Isabella and the Voltaggio brothers established itself early. It was clear in the first episode, as I remember. This year, it looks like Angelo Sosa is just head and shoulders above the rest of the group. That may just be an early start, but it doesn’t look like that.
“Top Chef” works best, I think, when it has a lot of chefs who make visually and intellectually interesting food (as that’s what’s left when you can look but you can’t taste), which was true last year, or when it has a lot of enthusiastic amateurs, which was true in early seasons. But this looks like chefs who are good enough to compete but not good enough to blow your mind, and one guy who’s going to beat everyone else most of the time. If that holds up, it won’t be very fun.
Photo credit: Bravo TV.