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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: "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

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

The Daily Beast: "15 Reasons to Watch TV This Spring"

Yes, spring is finally here (or thereabouts, anyway), and that brings warmer weather and, very fortunately, a slew of new and returning television series. Over at The Daily Beast, you can check out my latest feature, "15 Reasons to Watch TV This Spring," which includes a look at such series as Mildred Pierce, Game of Thrones, The Borgias, The Kennedys, Camelot, The Killing, Body of Proof, Upstairs Downstairs, and returning series such as Nurse Jackie, The United States of Tara, Treme, Doctor Who, Top Chef: Masters, Secret Diary of a Call Girl and the NBC premiere of the final season of Friday Night Lights . What are you most excited about that arrives on the airwaves between now and May? Head to the comments section to discuss.

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

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

I Scream, You Scream: More Red-Hot Drama on Top Chef: Just Desserts

Just when I thought that things couldn't get any weirder on Bravo's Top Chef: Just Desserts ... Last night's episode of the sweets-themed Top Chef spinoff ("Lucent Dossier") featured not only one of the oddest sequences ever to air on a reality competition series but also one of the most head-scratching endings to a contestant's trajectory yet. Which would have been more than enough to put this episode over the top, except that several of the remaining pastry chefs used this opportunity to have breakdowns of their own, with several contestants bursting into tears, expressing serious doubts about the competition, squaring off against teammates, eliminating themselves, and, well, suffering a major anxiety attack and being declared medically unfit to continue on the series. Yes, all of this happened in a single episode that was intended to be about the theatricality and drama of the Lucent Dossier Experience... and the producers got some serious sparks

"The Red Hots Were For My Mommy!": Sugar Shock on Top Chef: Just Desserts

Wow. I don't even know what to say after watching last night's tense and explosive episode of Bravo's Top Chef: Just Desserts ("Cocktail with a Twist"), in which contestant Seth Caro suffered some sort of emotional breakdown during the Quickfire Challenge, in which the pastry chefs were tasked with creating desserts that celebrated penny candy. Yes, we've seen chefs cave under the pressure on Top Chef before but never this earlier and never this severe. Unable to freeze his passion fruit sorbet in time to plate it, the high-strung Seth began to openly sob and was unable to control his emotions, despite the assistance of fellow competitors and the kindness of guest judge Elizabeth Faulkner (of San Francisco's Citizen Cake and Orson), who attempted to take him aside during the judging process to give him a pep talk. It didn't work. Instead, Seth was unable to compose himself and instead uttered some words that will likely haunt him for some