Top Chef Seattle, Episode 1: Only the Strong Survive the Test Kitchens

Chef Lizzie Binder gets lost in Tom Colicchio’s eyes.

Top Chef returned last night for its tenth season. Twenty-one chefs would be competing for an initial place in the competition. I find this part of the series particularly gut-wrenching as some talented folks are going home before the real fun has begun!

The action opens with Tom Colicchio at craft in Los Angeles. Chef Colicchio is both completely charming and utterly terrifying. I fear that the folks trying to impress him will have to try a bit harder than the others auditioning for Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, or Hugh Acheson. The chefs will have to work actual service in the craft kitchen —  and either hold it together or fall apart. It’s tough to come into a strange kitchen, but that is actually what a lot of chefs do every time they look for a new job. So, at this point in their careers, they should be able to come in, assess, adapt, and impress.

First up, 54-year-old John Tesar of Spoon Bar & Kitchen in Dallas does not display anything that would lead you to believe he has a reputation as a hothead, as Colicchio says he does. Tesar has had a great deal of success, while also dealing with some personal issues, but he is very respectful in the kitchen, doing his tasks “the ‘craft’ way.” He’s the first to get a Top Chef jacket – and simultaneously has “3,000 pounds lifted off my back!”

He’s been called the most hated chef in Dallas. Will he stake the same claim on this season of Top Chef?

Lizzie Binder, Executive Chef of Bar Bambino in San Francisco, is from South Africa, has a bit of a crush on Tom (who doesn’t?!), and is a mom. She’s also wholly guileless and works enthusiastically and efficiently. She, too, gets a Top Chef jacket.

Anthony Gray, Executive Chef at Southern Art and Bourbon Bar in Atlanta, has an interesting approach to butchery, preferring to use a paring knife instead of a boning knife or a chef knife. He’s kindly and obviously talented, but he doesn’t hit his stride in the craft kitchen and is sent back to the ATL.

Jorel Pierce, the mustachioed Chef de Cuisine of Denver’s Euclid Hall specializes in butchery, but, unfortunately, he misunderstands Tom’s instructions for taking down chickens and over-salts a beurre fondue. I’m bummed he didn’t get a jacket because his ‘stache is spectacular.

Micah Fields, Executive Chef at The Standard Hotel in Los Angeles skipped over being a sous chef, going from line cook to executive chef in one fell swoop. He’s not great at filleting fish, but he moves with confidence around the kitchen, easily snagging a Top Chef jacket.

“If you’re missing something, I ate it.”

In Las Vegas, at the Palazzo Hotel (I just stayed there and it’s lovely, in case you were wondering), Emeril Lagasse puts another group of hopefuls through the mill at Table 10. They’ve got one hour to make soup. It’s one of the things Emeril judges a restaurant by, and he wants it to have structure, seasoning, and depth. Ready? Go!

Jeffrey Jew, Chef de Cuisine at Blackbyrd, in Washington, D.C. is making a watermelon-tomato gazpacho. Emeril wonders if he can chill the gazpacho quickly enough. Turns out Jeffrey can – he gets the first Top Chef coat.

Kristin Kish, Sous Chef at Stir in Boston, and besties with fellow competitor and spoon-tattoo-wearer Stephanie, makes an English pea broth and sails right into the Top Chef jacket fitting room.

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Post-Sandy Restaurant Recovery Stories: East Village’s Dirt Candy Is Open

Come down to Dirt Candy for Chef Amanda Cohen’s Portobello Mousse with Pear and Fennel Compote + other delicious dishes!

Restaurant Name: Dirt Candy
Location: East Village
Years in business: Four
Status: Fully open and operational.
Damage: None to restaurant; flood damage at storage space for online store.
Losses: Entire food inventory; five days of service.
Owner: Chef Amanda Cohen

Prior to Sandy, had you ever had to deal with a disaster situation at this or any restaurant?

For Irene, we closed for that night, but it was one evening, and it really wasn’t a disaster.There’s been nothing like this.

When did you shut the doors to prepare for the storm?

On Sunday, we came in and prepared. We weren’t sure that we wouldn’t be able to reopen on Tuesday, so on Monday, we actually took in product orders. We  thought that the worst case might be that if we couldn’t reopen Tuesday, we’d be back by Wednesday. We wanted to be be prepared.

When did you first go back to the restaurant and realize the extent of the losses?

On Tuesday, we walked down here. I live about 20 blocks away, so it wasn’t a big deal. Obviously, we realized right away that we didn’t have power. We didn’t touch anything, hoping that the refrigerator would stay cool enough, the freezer would stay frozen, and we wouldn’t have massive losses. But, by Wednesday, following up with Con Ed and  listening to all the news conferences, we realized the earliest we could possibly get power would be Friday. At that moment, we knew there was just no way we could save anything. So, Thursday morning, we came down and threw out everything that was in the restaurant.

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Post-Sandy Restaurant Recovery Stories: JoeDoe in the East Village Online + Open

JoeDoe owners and operators Chef Joe Dobias and Jill Schulster pose with their famous housemade Fried Matzo outside their restaurant.

Restaurant Name: JoeDoe
Location: East Village
Years in business: Four
Status: Fully open.
Damage: None.
Losses: Minimal amounts of food; six days of service.
Owner: Joe Dobias

Prior to Sandy, had you ever had to deal with a disaster situation at this or any restaurant?

I’ve been here for quite a few of them recently. I was here for the blackout in ’03. The restaurant I was working at on the Upper East Side lost everything there. That wound up going out of business, not directly as a result of that, but it was the final nail in the coffin.

Then, in 2006, I was working in Queens when much of it was blacked out for days. We actually wound up barbecuing in the street in front of that restaurant, serving $10 plates of food a night. So, I’ve been through things like this previously, and the idea that anyone in an official capacity was surprised by the intensity of this storm is ridiculous.

When did you shut the doors to prepare for the storm?

We closed down early in anticipation of it, losing all of Sunday night. Then, at 8PM on Monday night, we lost power. I hear people talking about losing tens of thousands in inventory, but we were fortunate. We were at the end of the week, and we close on Mondays anyway. Also, we’re extremely careful when it comes to ordering, so we were down to a very minimal amount of food.

What have your post-Sandy reopening efforts entailed?

We opened the doors on Thursday evening with candles and some friends at the bar. We only stayed open until 8:30PM and then, as soon as we shut the doors, we all left together. The city should not be unlit, and it was.

You could sense the angst as you walked the streets. Everybody looked un-showered, unclean, and really, really tired. And that’s when I started getting nervous.

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Hudson Valley + Long Island Restaurant Weeks Happening Now Post-Sandy!

Don’t miss your chance to dine for less and do good by supporting restaurants in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy!

We’re thrilled to report that, despite the challenges metropolitan New York area restaurants have faced with Hurricane Sandy, two amazing restaurant weeks are happening right now.

Hudson Valley Restaurant Week kicked off on Monday, and runs through Tuesday, November 13, 2012. Restaurants will offer special three-course $20.95 lunches and $29.95 dinners. Participants include Harvest on Hudson, Tarry Lodge Portchester, and Zitoune, among many others. Book your tables early — and often!

On Sunday, Long Island Restaurant Week launched with $24.95 three-course dinners! Please note that due to Hurricane Sandy, many participants have decided to extend the promotion until Sunday, November 18, so that people who may not make it out this week may visit restaurants next week. Please call any restaurants before visiting to be sure they are open. Participating restaurants include Fifth Season, Luce & Hawkins, MP Taverna, and Stone Creek Inn. Make a reservation today!