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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Chef Watch: Bauer and Co.’s Rising Star Chefs 2010; How Wolfgang Became a Brand; Nobu’s Rise to the Top; Ed Brown’s Loves; Susur Lee’s Chicken Feet; David Myers on Sona’s Shuttering, and More

Chef-Watch

Chefs making food and news…

* San Francisco Chronicle executive food and wine editor Michael Bauer and his colleagues select the Bay Area’s Rising Star Chefs for 2010. Included are John Paul Carmona (Manresa), Perry Hoffman (étoile), Timothy Hollingsworth (The French Laundry), and Charlie Kleinman (Wexler’s). [San Francisco Chronicle]

* Wolfgang Puck, whose restaurants include 20.21, Chinois, CUT Las Vegas, Spago Beverly Hills, and many others, details of his ascension up the culinary ladder — and reveals he almost ended it all when he was fired from his first kitchen job as a young man. [Los Angeles Times]

* Nobu Matsuhisa (Nobu London, Nobu New York, and others) shares his similar success story, which also includes suicidal thoughts after his first restaurant in Anchorage, Alaska, burned down, leaving him in serious debt. [ABC News]

* Ed Brown of eighty one in New York reveals a few of his favorite food-related things. [The Daily Beast]

* Susur Lee thinks that New Yorkers, like parents,”just don’t understand,” and we’re not ready to embrace chicken feet at Shang. Oh no, he didn’t! (Totally kidding, Chef Lee. You’re probably right!) [Grub Street New York]

* Laurent Tourondel (BLT Fish, BLT Market, BLT Steak) is ending his partnership with Jimmy Haber. They will, essentially, split the BLT empire. All I care about is who gets the bacon. 😉 [The New York Times]

* David Myers discusses shuttering Los Angeles restaurant Sona (temporarily) in May while he scouts for and sets up shop in a new space. [Los Angeles Times]