November 3rd, 2011
11:00 AM ET
The ads promoting “Top Chef: Texas” featured head judge Tom Colicchio wearing a sheriff's star, so I was hoping he'd have that baby fastened to his lapel all season. No such luck - during Wednesday's season 9 premiere, the star was nowhere in sight.
That was the first of a few disappointments in the episode, but even a subpar offering of “Top Chef” is enjoyable. Wednesday’s premiere had its moments, particularly the elimination that came before the first commercial break, which was legendary and wonderful. We’ll get to that.
The problem was that the show crammed in double the contestants and two new judges, presumably because everything’s bigger in Texas and you go big or go home, etc., etc. As a result, the episode overwhelming, and it watered down the series’ best traits.
When faced with over two dozen chefs, we couldn’t even TRY to start learning about their techniques and quirks (e.g. scallops), which is half the fun. There were, quite literally, too many cooks in the kitchen. (This also affected the show’s other hallmark: Food porn. We were given no time to eye-eat the dishes because so many whirred across the screen.)
So here’s what I was able to pull out of the maelstrom: 29 chefs, split into three groups. Group 1 cooked pig. Group 2 cooked rabbit. Group 3 cooks next week, and 16 chefs will advance.
Oh, and some chefs go to something called the bubble room for an extra challenge to decide if they’re in the final 16. Bravo, save all these layers for the cakes on “Top Chef: Just Desserts.”
Team Swine was up first. Here, we were given a five-second glimpse into contestant Tyler Stone’s audition video, and trust me, it was five seconds too many. Stone pulled out the age-old reality trope of “I’m not cocky, I just know I’m good” and let us know he’s a chef for “celebrities.” Just like that, we had our villain!
So Stone did what any good villain does: He mercilessly slaughtered his prey (in this case, pork tenderloin), using knives and at one point a freaking HACKSAW, until it was mangled and unrecognizable.
Upon examining the murder scene, a seething Tom Colicchio told the cocksure cook, “I think you should just leave now.” Before the season’s first commercial, we had an elimination, and it was amazing.
(Wait, what am I saying? In those five minutes I built up five episodes’ worth of venom to spew at this guy! Now what?)
Next, we observed a vegan chef who hadn’t worked with pork in a decade. The herbivore also didn’t know how to transfer soup into bowls, and therefore he presented the judges with plates seemingly smeared with “Exorcist” vomit. Two contestants down, nary a morsel tasted.
After that, some people ate food, some advanced, some went to the bubble room, and some went home. I think. There was a lot going on.
Team Hare was up next, and we met Keith Rhodes, the epically bearded ex-con-turned-chef. The producers want a story like that to stick around, so Rhodes predictably advanced. Another notable finalist was named Ty-Lor Boring. Poor guy. I imagine his grade school experience must’ve alternated between “hellish” and “nightmarish.”
Hotshot contestant Nina Vicente provided the overstuffed episode with one last shocker after failing to plate her rabbit component in time. That made her the third chef to be eliminated without the judges even tasting the dish. I guess if they’re going to give us way too many contestants, the least they could do is unleash their inner Once-ler and start axing fools with maximum efficiency.
So we’re left with 11 in, four on the bubble, and a whole other group yet to cook. You do the math. (No, seriously, because I tried and blacked out in the middle.)
One last thing: I must address that fridge commercial with the Voltaggios. I love those dudes, but WOW. You’d think a season of reality TV would’ve given them a modicum of stage presence. They somehow managed to hit the uncanny valley even though they are ACTUAL humans. Take a cue from Domino’s and hire Fabio next time.
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