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The Daily Beast: "Top Chef: Seattle Shows Signs of Returning the Culinary Series to Its Strengths"

I review Bravo’s latest culinary iteration, Top Chef: Seattle , which shows signs of improvement after the franchise’s recent rock-bottom season. Over at The Daily Beast, you can read my latest feature, " Top Chef: Seattle Shows Signs of Returning the Culinary Series to Its Strengths," in which I offer a re-evaluation of Bravo's Top Chef , which returns tonight with a Seattle edition and which shows major improvements from last season. I was almost done with Top Chef earlier this year, after a season of Texas-sized gimmicks and faux drama that left me nearly reaching for a knife of my own. (Or the remote, at the very least.) Bravo’s cooking-competition franchise had tumbled sharply from its previous high, following on the heels of an All-Stars season that focused on the culinary know-how of some innately gifted professional chefs, rather than on drunken shenanigans or behavior more worthy of a high-school clique. But last season, which found a group of chefs trave

The Daily Beast: "Why I’m Tired of Top Chef"

Sometimes the things you once loved can disappoint you the most. Over at The Daily Beast, you can read my latest feature, entitled "Why I’m Tired of Top Chef ," in which I take a look at the current season of Bravo's Top Chef , whose repetitive challenges, lackluster contestants, and Texas-sized problems have made watching this season a chore. E verything is bigger in Texas, Bravo’s culinary competition Top Chef keeps reminding us, but the show, which airs Wednesday evenings, has never felt quite so irrelevant and predictable. Now in its ninth season, Top Chef appears to be a pale imitation of its former self, a reality competition show that turned an often-mysterious world—the thought processes of highly trained chefs, their inspirations, and their imaginations—into something accessible and deeply understandable to the lay viewer. But that was before Bravo’s schedule was littered with various iterations of the Top Chef concept, variations that included pastry c

The Daily Beast: "Bravo’s Addictive Work of Art"

The art-world reality competition, Work of Art , with its oddball artists, overly harsh judges, and a terrifically animated mentor has become must-see television. Let’s be honest: Many of us watch reality television to fulfill a voyeuristic need to peer into other people’s lives, and to perhaps feel better about our own. The staggering success of Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise would seem to prove this, just as, similarly, the cable channel’s reality shows tap this universal human need within the context of competition. We’ve seen pastry chefs break down about Red Hots, fashion designers make competitors’ mothers cry ( Project Runway ’s Jeffrey Sebelia, we’re looking at you), but the drama has perhaps never seemed quite so real or the participants quite so tortured as the artists on Bravo’s highly addictive Work of Art , currently airing its second season Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. Over at The Daily Beast, you can read my latest story, "Bravo’s Addictive Work of Art ,&quo

The Daily Beast: "Inside ink.: Top Chef Michael Voltaggio's Next Act"

Michael Voltaggio, the swaggering winner of Top Chef prepares to open two Los Angeles eateries, ink. and ink.sack (opening this week!) in West Hollywood. Over at The Daily Beast, you can read my latest feature, "A Top Chef’s Next Act," in which I sit down at the restaurant with the chef to discuss sandwiches, his future, his personal regrets, and how The New York Times insulted him. ink. is set to open in September in Los Angeles, while lucky Angelenos can get a taste of ink.sack's amazing sandwiches this week.

Top Chef Taste: Inside Michael Voltaggio's Sandwich Shop, ink.sack

Yes, I ate my way through the menu at ink.sack last night. ink.sack, of course, being the top secret sandwich shop overseen by Top Chef Season 6 winner Michael Voltaggio, which the chef unveiled last night at a press event held at his upscale boite ink., which is slated to open on West Hollywood's Melrose Avenue next month. (For more on both restaurants, you can read my feature over at The Daily Beast, " "A Top Chef’s Next Act," because of which I had to keep mum about ink.sack for several weeks now.) After a champagne-fueled question-and-answer session in the dining room of ink., Voltaggio took us two doors over to the newly unveiled ink.sack, which has a soft opening today (Wednesday) and will be fully operational tomorrow. This is not a restaurant, per se, but a small sandwich shop with no seats, no alcoholic beverages, and no tables whatsoever. (It's intended as a takeaway shop, though there are narrow counters for those of you who want to stand and e

The Daily Beast: "Pregnant in Heels' Mama Drama"

While you’d think watching rich mothers outdo each other for luxurious maternity would be repellant, the star of Bravo’s addictive--and unexpectedly poignant--reality-TV series Pregnant in Heels , Rosie Pope of New York City's Rosie Pope Maternity, grounds it. Over at The Daily Beast, you can read my latest feature, " Pregnant in Heels ' Mama Drama," in which I talk to Rosie Pope about motherhood, demanding clients, IVF ordeals, and her alleged speech impediment, recently satirized on Saturday Night Live . Pregnant in Heels airs Tuesdays at 10 pm ET/PT on Bravo.

Knife Block: My Thoughts on Tonight's Season Premiere of Top Chef Masters

In watching tonight's season premiere of Top Chef Masters , the haute cuisine culinary competition series that spun out of Top Chef a few seasons back, it's easy to get a sense of what's been lost rather than what's been gained by the format changes. (The latter can be summed up in two words: Ruth Reichl.) Gone is Kelly Choi, she of the perfectly coiffed mane. Gone is the complicated but novel star-based ratings system. Gone are the early heats. What remains is rather like Top Chef . Or exactly like Top Chef , in fact, save for the experience of the master chefs competing here and the fact that their winnings go to the charities of their choice rather than into bankrolling a restaurant. Choi has been replaced by suddenly ubiquitous Aussie chef Curtis Stone, yanked onto the cable channel while still appearing on NBC's America's Next Great Restaurant . He's affable enough but his omnipresence--from here and the NBC show to commercials--is a bit off-putting

Tongue & Cheek: Fois Gras Ice Cream and Pepperoni Sauce on the Season Finale of Top Chef

"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." - Virginia Woolf Is it just me or was that a Top Chef season finale showdown for the ages? Last night's finale was so tense, so filled with suspense and anticipation, nerves and anxiety, that I actually found myself nauseous from stress watching it. After dozens of Quickfire Challenges and Eliminations, broken dreams and chances of redemption, which of the final two chefs would walk away $200,000 richer and be crowned the winner of the first all-stars edition of Top Chef ? Would it be visionary Richard Blais, whose expansive skill set, precise palate, and dazzling creativity are the stuff of Top Chef legend? Or would it be dark horse Mike Isabella, who returned to the competition energized, refreshed, and determined? I don't think many of us thought that Mike would make it this far or offer such a huge obstacle for Richard to overcome, but he's managed to surprise throughout this seas

Family Dinner: The Final Five Face Off on Top Chef

Is it just me or was that the only possible outcome for this week's episode? With the final five delving deep into their ancestral pasts for the latest challenge, this week's episode ("Give Me Your Huddled Masses") actually made me so nervous that one of my favorites would be going home that I was physically nauseous watching the judges' table deliberations. But I also had a suspicion that there would be some sort of chicanery involved as the judges seemed to have no real criticisms of any of the dishes on offer, which told me that this would either be (A) the most tense and prolonged judges' panel to date or (b) an opportunity for the judges to send through all five contestants to the final rounds. Given the strength of all five remarkable dishes--each of which was not only in keeping with the individual chefs' culinary aesthetics and ethos but also paid due to their family trees--it really was the only possible outcome after such strong performances.

Southern Gothic: The Chicken Oyster of Doom on Top Chef

Well, the next time a student gets caught cheating off of someone else's paper, they should just say that they were "inspired" by their peer. Or at least that's the defense that Top Chef 's Mike Isabella would apparently give, as displayed by his behavior on this week's episode of Top Chef: All-Stars ("For the Gulf"), in which he was "inspired" by a dish that Richard Blais had concocted in his notepad so much that he executed the exact dish later that day in the Quickfire Challenge. The other chefs, upon learning of Mike's perfidy, seemed to be in agreement with yours truly: it was an act of culinary plagiarism, a serious breaking of "chef law" given that the incident in question happened on camera before our eyes. Let's rewind for a second. Richard Blais, that culinary mad scientist and food visionary, keeps a notebook that's stocked with ideas, should inspiration seize hold of him, even during the stress of

How the Cookie Crumbles: Knee-Socks and Tablecloths on Top Chef

Um, yeah. While in the past I've supported some wacky challenges on Bravo's addictive culinary competition Top Chef because they tested the contestants in terms of adaptability, I have to say that I was scratching my head last night while watching the latest episode ("Lock Down"), which had the chefs scrambling in a Target store to find equipment and tables (!) in order to assemble a station before cooking a meal for 100 people. In the middle of the night. I get that this is Top Chef: All-Stars . And I also understand that these chefs are going to be put through their paces by the producers. But there was something extremely off-putting about this latest challenge, which seemed to put an equal--if not more--weight on running around Target with multiple shopping carts and grabbing items left and right (which seemed, to me anyway, to be a half-hour ad for Target in many ways) than in actual cooking. It's hard to, you know, cook for 100 people when you don&

My Dinner at Rao's: Food, Italian Style on Top Chef

I have to say that the producers of Bravo's Top Chef were wise to schedule an all-stars edition of the show right now because, week after week, it's been so consistently pleasing and engaging that it's all but removed the bad taste in my mouth from the lackluster last season. These are strong chefs, visionaries and technicians, and the remaining players have passion, skill, and precision for the most part. Which doesn't mean that they don't crack under the pressure, or that there aren't missteps, because there certainly are. Top Chef was designed to test the precision, execution, vision, consistency, and ultimately the adaptability of a chef and these previous contestants all know that it's easy to slip when the pressure is on. On this week's episode of Top Chef ("An Offer They Can't Refuse"), the nine remaining chefs had two challenges ahead of them: one in which they had to create culinary art, focusing on the presentation and ae

Guilty Pleasure: Bravo's Million Dollar Listing Returns Tonight

I know, I know: this is the guiltiest of all guilty pleasures in some ways. But I do believe that when it comes to television, one shouldn't feel guilty about what one finds enjoyable, as long as you're truthful with yourself about the quality of the thing in question. Which brings us to Bravo's Million Dollar Listing , which returns for its fourth season tonight, amid a cast shakeup that saw the departure of oddball Chad Rogers from the series and the arrival of a new face in Josh Altman. While Chad irritated me to the point of tears at times, I do have to say that I'll miss him because he added such an unpredictable, weird element to the mix. Between the pocket-sized dog, the bizarre chemistry with his girlfriend, and his social awkwardness, Chad added a certain je ne sais quoi to the mix that will be missed, particularly as he managed to get under the skin of his fellow two real estate agents on a nearly weekly basis. Josh Altman, who joins returnees Josh Flag

All-Night at the Museum: Child-Size Dishes and Childish Attitudes on Top Chef: All-Stars

If you saw last night's episode of Top Chef: All-Stars , you saw just how competitive and cutthroat this competition has gotten, just in the second week alone. There's more on the line for these returning chefs than there was the first time that they were on the reality competition series. The cash prize is bigger than ever, there are cash prizes sprinkled throughout the challenges, but most importantly, there's an aspect of honor for the winners and a sense of embarrassment for those packing their knives early. No one ever wants to go home early, especially in the first few weeks. In any other season of Top Chef , these first few episodes are dedicated to sending home the sacrificial lambs, the culinary cannon fodder whose presence in the competition seems more of a fluke than anything else. But that's not the case here with Top Chef: All Stars , where the chefs competing are of a naturally high caliber. But that doesn't make defeat any easier to swallow. In

Chopping Block: Knives Out for Start of Top Chef: All Stars

And that's how you start a season of Top Chef . While there was heated drama and some tears, the focus was once again on the innate talent and staggering skill sets of these fierce competitors. While I already shared my pre-air thoughts about the season opener of Top Chef: All-Stars , now that the episode ("History Never Repeats") has aired, we can discuss specifics of this fantastic installment, which saw some fan-favorites return for another shot at Top Chef glory and what might just be the very best Elimination Challenge to date (which is what I told executive producers Jane Lipsitz and Dan Cutforth when I saw them the other night). Forcing the chefs to redo the dishes that got them sent home the first time they were on Top Chef was a stroke of genius that played up to the chef's egos and their nerves. Would they be able to overcome what sunk them last time around? Would they redeem themselves or fail again? And which of the chefs would be forced to bear

The True Cutthroat Culinary Competition Returns: An Advance Review of Top Chef: All-Stars

Longtime readers know that I am obsessed with Bravo's culinary competition series Top Chef , but also that I've been disheartened by the last season (and the trainwreck that was Top Chef: Just Desserts ), so there was a lot on the line for tonight's season premiere of Top Chef: All-Stars , which reunites some of the fiercest competitors ever seen on the series for another shot at the title. Arriving as it does on the heels of Top Chef: Just Desserts , there hasn't been a lot of time to regain one's appetite for the franchise, thanks to a schedule that now sees three iterations of the Top Chef formula airing basically year-round. Which might be a recipe for brand awareness, but it doesn't quite keep the franchise at its freshest. Last season, which saw the competition move to Washington D.C., might is regarded by many as the worst season to date, saddled with some lackluster casting, some dull challenges, and some lazy editing. And Top Chef: Just Desserts , w

House Beautiful: The Season Finale of Bravo's Flipping Out

I'm going to miss Flipping Out . The series, which features designer Jeff Lewis and his not-so-merry band of employees, wrapped its fourth season last night ("Rock, Paper and the Kitchen Sink") on a high note, with Jeff and Co. flying to New York to attend the opening of the House Beautiful Kitchen of the Year that Jeff had designed in Rockefeller Center. After some back-and-forth with Jenni Pulos about whether or not she was invited or would attend, the entire office gang--including Trace and Sarah--arrived with Jeff in Manhattan to cap off a season of career highs and some interpersonal lows, as Jeff turned out some breathtaking work this season. (I was blown away with the beauty and luscious design of his interiors this year, displaying a confidence and poise that I've come to expect from his work.) While this season was devoid of the sort of headline-grabbing drama that marked the third season (including that season-long feud between Jeff and Ryan Brown ), it