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Savoring Sin City: An Advance Review of the "Top Chef: Las Vegas" Season Opener

Sharpen your knives and prepare for the main course.

While there's still one last showdown on Top Chef Masters, tomorrow night brings the season premiere of Top Chef: Las Vegas ("Sin City Vice") as seventeen new contestants square off in the ultimate culinary competition.

I had the opportunity a few weeks back to watch the sensational season opener and found myself just as addicted as ever to the tension, imagination, and sheer deliciousness of original flavor Top Chef.

So what did I think of the first episode of Top Chef: Las Vegas? Sharpen your knives and let's discuss. (Though, I promise no spoilers about who wins, who goes home, or who wilts in the heat.)

This being the first Las Vegas-set edition of Top Chef, expect lots of twists and turns along the way, most notably some--shall we say--even greater incentives to winning the Quickfire Challenges. Yes, there's a sizable amount of cash on the table with each round and there's also an element of chance at play with some unexpected consequences.

Just how far the producers will take the luck element remains to be seen but in the first episode alone, there's a gold chip up for play in the Quickfire Challenge, which brings immunity from elimination AND allows one player to sit out of the very first challenge at hand.

As for the contestants, they are your typically motley group of talented, arrogant cheffing types, some of whom have some real vision and skill and some of whom, well, won't be destined for long in this cutthroat competition. As usual, there's a mix of executive chefs, chefs de cuisine, and caterers; classically trained chefs and those self-taught; arrogant bastards and coolly composed visionaries.

This season, there's only one chef from New York (a major shocker) and several from Atlanta, one chef who wears a jaunty red scarf, and one who might just have the most single irritating speaking voice on television. But what they have in common is that they all seem to be hungry for the top prize.

Among my favorites, there are already two major contenders emerging: Jennifer Carroll of Philadelphia who worked under Eric Ripert and is now Chef de Cuisine of Ripert's 10 Arts and Kevin Gillespie, executive chef and partner at Woodfire Grill in Atlanta. But let's not count out warring brothers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, who might be brothers in blood but who are polar opposites in terms of temperament. So far, I've been mightily impressed with these four chefs and hope they each stick around for quite some time in the competition.

There are some interesting challenges at foot in this premiere installment, most notably the return of the mise-en-place relay race, a timed cook-off, and a vice-laden Elimination Challenge that has the chefs competing not against the larger group but among four- to five-person teams, with each team landing someone in the top scores and someone among the bottom scores.

And it's a real pleasure to see Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, and Padma Lakshmi return to the judging table. While I love Top Chef Masters, there's something heartening and exciting about seeing their faces (and hearing their cutting critiques) once again; it's the television equivalent of haute comfort food.

All in all, I've been starving for the return of Top Chef and this season opener managed to sate my appetite while making me crave even more. Yes, there might be festooned Vegas showgirls this time around but don't mistake the playfulness for softness: the high-stakes pressure of Top Chef is back in full force. One of these contestants will have the skill, the drive, and--yes--the luck to pull off a win in the classiest culinary competition series on television.

Expect Twists and Turns:



It's Time for the First Quickfire:



Top Chef: Las Vegas launches Wednesday evening at 9 pm ET/PT on Bravo.

Comments

AskRachel said…
I'm so happy that Top Chef is back! I just hope that they don't get too gimmicky with the whole Vegas theme. Top Chef has always been pretty classy (for a reality show, anyway) and I would hate to see them lose that respectability by forcing poker chips and showgirls down our throats.
Lacey said…
Top Chef Masters has been great but I am also looking forward to more "original flavor" Top Chef (love that description)!
Anonymous said…
Can't wait! I'm setting my DVR now. Glad it's on before TCM.

Abby
Anonymous said…
GOOD LUCK AND CONGRATULATIONS TO JENNIFER CARROLL, CHEF DE CUISINE, 10 ARTS BY ERIC RIPERT, THE RITZ CARLTON HOTEL, PHILA., PA.,; WWW.10ARTS.COM
BRAINS BEAUTIFUL AND CAN COOK!!!
AWESOME JENNIFER
EMERALD EYES said…
Chef de Cuisine Jennifer Carroll, 10 ARTS by ERIC RIPERT AT
THE RITZ CARLTON HOTEL.
A TRULY GRAND FIVE STAR HOTEL
PUTS PHILADELPHIA, PA ON THE CULINARY MAP
TOP CHEF WILL BE EXCITING TO SEE HOW CHEF JENNY CARROLL CREATES THE MEALS SHE IS FAMOUS FOR!!!!
GO JENNY!! GO JENNY!! GO JENNY!!
ENJOY TOP CHEF DINNERS EACH WEEK AT 10 ARTS BY ERIC RIPERT WHILE WATCHING JENNY ON TOP CHEF!!
MAKE YOUR RESERVATIONS NOW FOR EACH AND EVERY WEDNESDAY'S TOP CHEF TV SHOW SERIES ON BRAVO TV, CALL 10 ARTS:
215 523 8000
GO ONLINE TO WWW.10ARTS.COM OR BOOK THRU WWW.OPENTABLE.COM
HURRY THIS EVENINGS DINNER IS ALREADY SOLD OUT
HOWEVER, YOU CAN STILL ATTEND THIS GALA RED CARPET PARTY THROWN BY CHEF ERIC RIPERT AND
THE RITZ CARLTON HOTEL IN HONOR OF CHEF JENNIFER CARROLL COME TO THE PARTY FOR DRINKS AND ENJOY
THE 10 ARTS BISTRO LOUNGE MENU AND OF COURSE WATCH JENNIFER CARROLL ON TOP CHEF ON ONE OF THE MANY FLAT SCREEN TV'S CHEF RIPERT AND THE RITZ CARLTON HAVE ORDERED FOR THE ENTIRE TOP CHEF SERIES.
YOU WILL ALSO HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO MEET THE WORLD REKNOWN
~~~~CHEF ERIC RIPERT ~~~~
AT THIS TRULY VIP GALA DINNER PARTY THIS EVENING AT 10 ARTS
IF YOU CANNOT MAKE IT THIS EVENING MAKE SURE YOU WATCH TOP CHEF AT HOME AND HAVE YOUR OWN TOP CHEF PARTY EACH WEEK
ALSO BOOK YOUR DINNER RESERVATIONS FOR FUTURE SHOWS OF TOP CHEF AT
10 ARTS, CHEF JENNY WILL BE RECREATING FOR YOUR ENJOYMENT HER TOP CHEF MEAL CHALLENGE EACH WEEK
YOU WILL BE THE JUDGE AND VOTE
WIN 10 ARTS GIFT CERTIFICATES
BUY """GO JENNY""" BUTTONS
FOR ONE DOLLAR
ALL PROCEEDS WILL BE GIVEN TO PHILABUNDANCE CHARITY
ORDER THESE BUTTONS FROM 10 ARTS AND SHOW YOUR SUPPORT FOR JENNIFER CARROLL ON TOP CHEF
AND HELP TO FEED THOSE IN NEED!!!
GO JENNY!! GO JENNY!! GO JENNY!!
GO JENNY!! GO JENNY!! GO JENNY!!
Anonymous said…
looking forward to attending the gala party at 10 ARTS BY ERIC RIPERT in the RITZ CARLTON HOTEL this evening for chef jennifer carroll a top chef cheftestant
chef JENNIFER CARROLL was named the Best New Chef by Philadelphia magazine now we are all awaiting her being named the newest TOP CHEF
Anonymous said…
we too are rooting for
Chef Jennifer Carroll
her experience as the Sous Chef, second in command, for the top Chef Eric Ripert's
famous Le Bernardin will surely be tested and we can't wait to see what happens
The Phillies won the World Series now Jennifer Carroll hopefully will be crowned the next TOP CHEF

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