[Editor’s Note: Brian Murphy is out rocking the casbah, so this week we bring you a guest column by Brandon Miller.]
For five seasons Bravo has brought us a great show, one that I truly enjoy.
No, not The Real Housewives of Orange County (although I admit I’ve been sucked into more than an episode or two).
The show I’m talking about is filled with drama, egos, uncomfortable situations, hot chicks, arguments, fights and tears. No, really, it’s not about trashy housewives. It’s Top Chef, hosted by Padma Lakshmi, ex-wife of controversial novelist Salman Rushdie. Padma is joined by five-time James Beard Award winning chef Tom Colicchio, food critic Gail Simmons and her glorious rack. Since the show is getting ready to air its sixth season, I’ll take a moment to catch you guys up.
Way back in 2005 in the remote land of San Francisco, 12 contestants lived together in a house and for three weeks were put through a series of rigorous challenges. The show originally aired in March, 2006.
The structure of the show has, for the most part, stayed the same since day one. Each episode starts with a “Quickfire Competition” and the winner typically receives immunity or an advantage heading into the Elimination Challenge.
The first season was roughly recorded (unlike the flashy, sponsor-driven machine we see today) and in the end, we watched Harold Dieterle become the first Top Chef. The first season was hosted by hottie food critic, chef and third wife of Billy Joel, Katie Lee Joel.
Padma didn’t come into our lives until season two, when the show began to pick up steam and gain a following. The second season, which was filmed in L.A., saw Iian Hall earn Top Chef honors, with chef Marcel Vigneron (who fans loved to hate) finishing runner-up.
During the second season, several of the contestants tired of Vigneron and decided the best way to get their message across to him was to hold him down and shave his head. This nearly resulted in everyone getting sent home because everyone either played a part in it or knew what was going on and did nothing to stop it. But that would have given Marcel the win by forfeit and the producers had to know that wouldn’t have gone over well.
In fact, Marcel was such a volatile character on the show that he was assaulted in Vegas after the season wrapped by – get this – a fan (of the show, not the asshat) who recognized him. Turns out this person didn’t care for Marcel and decided to hit him in the face with a bottle. You might expect that from The Real World, but all this from a cooking show?
Most people I know who watch Top Chef started watching during the third season, in which the technically proficient chef/dickhead Hung Huynh claimed victory over fan favorite Casey Thompson and Dale “Capri-Pants” Levitski. It should be noted that this season was filmed in Miami and added former Queer Eye for the Straight Guy Ted Allen as a judge.
By the time season four rolled around, the talent of the chefs and the production quality of the show was top notch. Oh, and “The Family of Glad Products” were on board as a big-time sponsor. (Unfortunately, the show has not even tried to be subtle with their blatant whoring out to Glad.)
Season four was filmed in Chicago and featured some of the best chefs the show had ever seen, as well as some enjoyable competitions, such as the neighborhood block party. This season was also memorable because Stephanie Izard became the first female contestant to earn the title of Top Chef, which seems odd because all women should be in the kitchen.
The fifth season was filmed in New York City and for the first time in show history, they had an Elimination Challenge before the show even started. I’ve got to admit, it was pretty awesome seeing a contestant, in this case Lauren Hope, booted in the first 10 minutes of episode one. (Although Lauren Hope might argue with me about the awesomeness of that moment.)
She was gone so fast that they didn’t even include her in the opening credits. Honestly, if you went for a bathroom break or a beer run, you probably don’t believe that she was even on the show.
Other memorable moments from this season included the formation of “Team Europe,” which was “The Fin” Stephan Richter and Italian chef Fabio Vivani. While each wanted to win, they had a strange bromance together, which made for a few funny moments. There was also a group that called themselves “Team Rainbow.” You might not believe this, but this group was made up of three gay chefs (Patrick, who was eliminated in the first episode, “Big Gay” Rich and Jamie). This season also managed to televise the first Top Chef hookup, with the eventual winner Hosea Rosenburg and a very toothy contestant named Leah Cohen.
And here’s the funny thing, while all this drama was going on through five seasons of this show, there has also been a lot of good cooking too.
Honestly, I’ve probably learned more about food watching Top Chef than at any other point in my life. Just to show off my superb knowledge, when my wife fixes dinner, I’ll be sure to say something like, “This has a good flavor profile” or “This needs more acid to balance it” or “This is under seasoned and shouldn’t be served at a frat house.” Needless to say, my wife loves when I do that.
I still don’t have any idea what coulis is or why anyone would need to make foam for a dish or what the hell Fois Gras tastes like, but that’s beside the point. What I do know is that I can’t wait for the new season to start (it’s in Las Vegas!) and I’ve even been watching their Top Chef Masters summer bullshit to tide me over.
Allow me this quick tangent: hey Top Chef, you can’t hook me in with a hottie like Padma and then do the old bait-and-switch by replacing her during the summer with a praying mantis named Kelly Choi and Skelator (a.k.a. – Gael Greene). Not cool. If Hottie Gail and her tits hadn’t made a cameo, I might not have made it through the summer.
But that’s a thing of the past. The new season is right around the corner and it’ll be the best thing on Bravo. See you in Vegas … now, please pack your knives and go.
Brandon Miller is a grown up version of Milhouse Van Houten from The Simpsons.