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Lessons learned from the “Top Chef” premiere

2 min read


D.C. locals and Capitol Hill staffers queued up around the block on Wednesday night at  Good Stuff Eatery, where “Top Chef” Season 5’s chef Spike Mendelsohn and his staff cooked up a storm at a watch party for this season’s premiere. Obviously, Spike’s famous burgers, fries and milkshakes were on the menu. Meanwhile, the inaugural episode began.

In the seventh season of “Top Chef,”  there are more culinary-school-trained chefs than ever, including six from the Culinary Institute of America. Still, when under pressure and anticipating a rating from judges such as Le Bernardin‘s Eric Ripert, chefs’ skills (and cool) can fly right out the kitchen window.

During the Quickfire Challenge, the “cheftestants” were to demonstrate basic skills with speed, peeling 10 potatoes, dicing 10 cups of onions, breaking down four chickens and preparing a dish with those ingredients. The Elimination Challenge allowed chefs to show a regional dish inspired by their roots. Here are some lessons, applicable in the kitchen and in the front of the house, that could prove helpful in the coming weeks — or then again, maybe not.

  • Speed can hurt you … literally. During the Quickfire, Amanda Baumgarten, sous chef at Water Grill in Los Angeles, was peeling the spuds and sliced her palm. Maybe the whistle or the $20,000 prize had something to do with it. Poise and efficiency are paramount.
  • Strategize all you want. The leaders of the Quickfire pick teams to determine groups for the Elimination Challenge. They pick the chefs who offer the least competition to be in their group, as that’s how they will be judged. This early in the challenge, it was anyone’s guess.
  • Sometimes you’ve gotta play it safe. Jacqueline Lombard, chef-owner of Jacqueline Lombard Events, decides on a chicken liver mousse to represent New York, where she grew up. (Will 300 young Washingtonians dig that dish?)  Faced with the clock and some decisions, she realizes it might not have been the best choice. Kevin Sabraga, executive chef at Rat’s Restaurant,  pulls his inspiration from lamb in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, knowing that cooked sous-vide, the dish would be solid.

What tips would you offer to these top chef newbies to help them best strategize and perform in the challenges to come? Leave a comment.

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SmartBrief’s Emily Molitor contributed to this report.

Photo via Bravo on Facebook