Challenged to "prepare a dish using one cut of pig," Sutra's Colin Patterson made a short rib zucchini cake with mole roja and roasted cauliflower


Seattle Annihilated in Top Chef Competition

Challenged to "prepare a dish using one cut of pig," Sutra's Colin Patterson made a short rib zucchini cake with mole roja and roasted cauliflower tarragon soup. And it was messy.
So that's why Top Chef's Seattle delegation was so prickly abut Texas.

When I spoke to the show's Seattle-based cheftestants in advance of last night's season premiere, they dredged up dated stereotypes of Texas as a dusty state dominated by cowboys and conservatives. I was dumfounded by the chefs' willingness to bad-mouth their hosts, and - as someone who profoundly misses pit-smoked briskets and cheese enchiladas - their inability to find anything worth praising during their time in Texas.

Turns out the time they spent in Texas was very, very short. All three of the Seattle chefs featured on the show's first episode were sent home, two in particularly humiliating fashion. (The fate of a fourth Seattle cheftestant, Ashley Villaluz, won't be known until she makes her debut next week.) No other city fared as badly as Seattle: Chicago, which supplied five cheftestants, watched every one of of its representatives gain admission to the show's second round.

So does the Seattle massacre raise real questions about whether our homegrown chefs are reality show material? Or did the Seattle crew just have a very unlucky kitchen shift?

The butchering begins

Unlike previous seasons, this season of Top Chef opened with 29 cheftestants, allowing for an American Idol-style audition round. As Padma Lakshmi explained it, only 16 of the competitors will be granted a "Top Chef coat," allowing them to participate in the show as viewers of previous seasons know it. To earn a coat, the chefs - cooking in three different groups - had to win approval from two out of three judges. If judges were undecided whether a chef deserved a coat or a ticket home, they could put a chef "on the bubble," meaning they'll have one more opportunity to impress the judges.

Sutra's Colin Patterson and Tavolata's Simon Pantet were both assigned to the first cooking group, which was judged by Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio and Emeril Lagasse. "And I'm like, 'bam!," one of the revved-up cheftestants later recalled for the camera. Patterson put his hands together in prayer pose and made a slight yoga bow toward the New Orleans icon.

The first group's challenge involved butchering a pig and preparing its various parts. But the judges were cutting as quickly as the aspiring chefs: Just as viewers were starting to hate Tyler Stone, who bragged about writing a book in three weeks, Colicchio sent him home for ravaging a tenderloin.

Patterson wasn't faring much better with his hunk of pork. Although Patterson last week assured me he wouldn't be hindered by his vegetarian background - "I've done every kind of cooking. I'm a strong cook: This kind of cooking is just what I do now." - he apparently felt differently when confronted by actual animal flesh. "This is really my worst nightmare," he said on the show. "I haven't worked with pig in ten years."

But judges never discovered whether or not Patterson had a knack for pig meat: The tip of his piping bag came unhinged, sending cascades of soup all over his plates. "It took a lot of time and energy to get to this point, and the plates are a train wreck," he said. The judges agreed, and sent him packing, making him the first contestant (or, more accurately, the first contestant given a chance to finish his dish) to be eliminated.

Pantet presented the judges with a ham roulade stuffed with figs and goat cheese. According to Lagasse, the ham was dry and overcooked. "Too much going on," Colicchio ruled. So long, pardner.

Silly rabbit

The Coterie Room's Nina Vicente showed up in the second group, which was tasked with unanimously choosing one ingredient from an array of proteins and cooking it. Vicente said she wanted sea urchin or sweetbreads, but the group agreed on rabbit.

Unlike the first group, the second group of chefs exuded a calm professionalism that may have endowed Vicente - a sous chef with a very short resume - with an unwarranted sense of confidence. "I thought I had more time, I was so in the zone," Vicente said when she realized she'd forgotten to pull her rabbit loin out of the sous vide machine and put it on the judges' plates.

"Nina, obviously there's a major component missing from your dish," Colicchio told her before activating the Top Chef guillotine.

What happened, Seattle?

Other than Stone - whose inclusion seemed silly from the start, his cameo much like a culinary version of the tone-deaf singers who are annually ushered before the American Idol judging panel - the only chefs eliminated last night hailed from Seattle. That's abysmal.

And two-thirds of the chefs weren't axed because their food wasn't good: They were sent home because they couldn't follow the rules. Eighteen chefs presented plates, and the judges declined to taste only those submitted by Patterson and Vicente. The casualness that reigns in Seattle doesn't guarantee wins in cooking competitions, it seems.

But perhaps Seattle should take heart in its three-way loss. While not following the rules may not fly in Texas, it speaks to the creativity needed for a vibrant culinary scene. We eaters in Seattle don't expect our chefs to conform to stopwatches: We're just looking for incredibly delicious food. (That's what Texans call a pep talk.)

And if that's not sufficient solace, Villaluz's group cooks next week.

Follow Voracious on Facebook & Twitter. Follow me at @hannaraskin

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