How well did the Top Chef production team familiarize itself with what makes Seattle Seattle? In this recurring column, we gauge how fairly the previous night's episode represented the city - and correct misconceptions viewers elsewhere might form based on the show.
1. Shellfish harvesting is a Pacific Northwest must-do
Don't adjust your TV set: That low growl you hear accompanying each and every episode of Top Chef: Seattle is the collective rumble of local eaters wondering why the show's crew bothered to disrupt the city with its shooting schedule, when so little of what makes Seattle unique is on display. An episode devoted to oysters and roller derby would have worked equally well in Houston, New Orleans or Wilmington, N.C.
While the Canlis and artisan food challenges felt like well-intentioned efforts, none of the Season 10 scenes thus far have provoked strong surges of recognition or regional pride. What if last night's Quickfire was revised so cheftestants competed against local chefs to prepare the best oyster dish? Or if the elimination challenge's source of inspiration wasn't Rollergirl names, but dishes served at a fishermen's gathering in a Ballard social hall? It's hard to overcome a discouraging air of genericness when you're filming in a roller skating rink.
Still, the griping last night came to a momentary pause when the chefs drove their Toyotas to Bow, a gorgeous strip of land that every out-of-towner ought to visit - ideally with a shellfishing license and a map of nearby public beaches. While other cities may have oysters, Skagit County's shellfish beds are undeniably special.
2. Kutta Rump doesn't skate for the Rat City Rollergirls
According to Seattle Weekly's Toni King, who attended the event, the producers changed Kutta Bitch's name to Kutta Rump, and rechristened Missle America as Teriyaki Terror. King says extras were surprised by the adjustments, since other team members have Top Chef-ready names, including Poise N Bury, Raspberry Slam, and Panda Beer.
King also reports that the cheftestants didn't prepare enough food, as the guest count was higher than anticipated. "It wasn't a big deal, but there were people disappointed that they didn't get to try all five dishes," she says.
3. Teriyaki rarely means steak in Seattle
Teriyaki tenderloin has been on the Canlis menu for decades, but when Seattleites talk teriyaki, they're typically referring to the cheap, sweet-sauced chicken and rice sold at countless take-out joints across the city. So while Bart and Josie were wrong to serve flavorless rice with their steak, their greater sin may have been neglecting a vernacular tradition that's as hallowed as hot dogs in Chicago.
"Seattle likes to talk about local foods, about ridiculous things like fiddlehead coulis," Knute Berger told food writer John T. Edge when he chronicled the phenomenon for the New York Times. "Seattle yuppies...won't dare tell you that they eat chicken teriyaki. Those places are so much a part of the streetscape that we can't even see them."
In his definitive history of teriyaki, former Weekly food critic Jonathan Kauffman predicted Seattle might eventually be better known for its chicken teriyaki than the salmon, berries and mushrooms which have already taken their star turns on Top Chef: Seattle. "Teriyaki is fascinating because it is so nondescript," he wrote, "so perfectly a mirror of who we are and how we eat in Seattle."
Hear that, Top Chef?