The sharpest cooking show on television steps up its game in its third season by securing 15 contestants with impressive resumes to compete for the title of “Top Chef.” Show immediately distinguishes itself from its summer kitchen competition, chiefly Gordon Ramsey’s “Hell’s Kitchen,” by revealing the inventive nature of this class in the first reel.
Contestants arrive in Miami from kitchens in Santa Barbara, San Diego, Brooklyn, Texas and Chicago; from Gotham’s Jean-Georges and Cafe des Artistes; and from self-owned food operations, including cheesemaking. They are treated to a sumptuous raw bar and champagne, which quickly becomes the basis of the first challenge: Create an amuse bouche out of the clams, oysters, fruit and what-not filling the tables in front of them. Nearly every dish sounds tempting — a distant cry from “Hell’s Kitchen,” many of whose contestants were reduced to tears in the first episode.
In a kitchen chockfull of cocky chefs, two quickly establish themselves as standouts; not only do their creations sound delicious, they look great to boot. The judges reaffirm what the camera is telling us — they are the opening seg’s top two finishers. Unlike in other competition shows, the weakest link is indeed sent packing in the first week. (Anthony Bourdain joins as a guest judge but isn’t given enough room to get truly snarky.)
And that is how “Top Chef” will continue to distinguish itself — chef Tom Colicchio looking over each chef’s effort as he looks for a cook with a sense of style and a command of ingredients worthy of going solo in the jam-packed restaurant world. Other shows look for an individual with star power or team-building abilities; the first two “Top Chef” prizes have gone to amiable chefs with the flair of an artist.
Variety.com will cover the summer seasons of “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Top Chef” beginning on Tuesday.