Tuned In

Top Chef Watch: Vice City

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Spoilers for last night’s season premiere of Top Chef coming up after the jump:

Before this season of Top Chef, I set down a few rules for potential Top Chefs, based on watching previous seasons, the foremost being: use bacon whenever possible. In a longer version of the list, I had a corollary to the rule, which is that meatless dishes are an automatic handicap. In last night’s Las Vegas launch of Top Chef season 6, Jennifer made a chile relleno stuffed with seitan—chewy wheat gluten—which is basically the anti-bacon. Via Vaya con dios, Jennifer.

(On the other hand, one chef took my advice, making bacon donuts with chocolate-beer sauce. Didn’t win, but the judges praised the bacon and overlooked some apparently leaden donuts. Because, Jesus: why not just throw in a $100 bill and a couple lines of blow? Bacon and donuts and chocolate and beer? To quote Ron from Parks & Recreation, “that’s like my number one favorite food wrapped around my number three favorite food!”)

As always, it’s tough to judge any season of a show like this from the first episode, with the welter of new contestants. Las Vegas does promise a wealth of great locations and possibilities, as the visit to Wolfgang Puck’s cavernous kitchen showed. There seems to be a good mix of chefs with varied relationships, conflicts and backstories (such as the Haitian chef who recalled coming to America as a boat refugee, catching fish on the horrific trip to survive). The one Vegas touch I’m not crazy about is the gold chip: an element of luck may make sense in Survivor, but it seems out of place in a test of skill like Top Chef.

In a long series like Top Chef, the early episodes rely on the popping of personalities to hold your interest. Eventually cooking styles emerge, and by the end of the season it’s about both personality and craft. So it made sense that the first episode began with a challenge designed to force contestants to talk about their personalities: creating a dish based on their vices. There seem to be a couple of the requisite abrasive personalities in the mix, like Mike, who made “a nice rack” of lamb in honor of Vegas’ showgirls and was annoyed to fall behind a “girl” in the clam-shucking competition.

(Also, note to Jen, who worked at Le Bernardin, where “we got four stars”: Um, no, Jen, Eric Ripert got four stars.)

Otherwise, what did the vice competition teach us? That chefs drink. A lot. Ah, Top Chefs—they’re just like us!