Call me an anomaly, a snob, a party-pooper — or worse — but I’ve got to tell you this straight-up: I can’t stand reality TV, and last night’s season premiere of “Top Chef” was no exception. Of course, because I write about the Seattle food and restaurant scene, my job description requires me to pay a certain amount of attention to the food-TV phenomenon. And truth be told, I was pretty excited about watching the opening salvo of Top Chef’s Vegas act, given that two Seattle “cheftestants” Ashley Merriman (of Branzino) and Robin Leventhal (owner/chef at the late Capitol Hill bistro Crave) would be starring on the small screen. Which in my house is 17-inches wide and decidedly low-def.
Sure, I admit to copping the occasional thrill while watching someone I know (and whose restaurant I love) duke it out on “Iron Chef” (hello, Mourad Lahlou, Tamara Murphy and Tom Douglas). And I can’t begin to tell you how much fun I had last winter, covering the “Top Chef” season six auditions at Canlis where (who knew?) I suggested Robin Leventhal could be a contender, and where I missed seeing Ashley Merriman among the nearly 200 merry men — and women — who showed up for their chance at fame and fortune.
“Top Chef” season six: it all starts here.
So, I watched the show last night with a mix of personal and professional interest. As for prurient interest, I was as impressed with Padma Lakshmi’s cleavage (among her other well-documented attributes) as I was with the amount of not-so-subtle advertising (chefs shopping at Whole Foods and cooking with GE Profile appliances!). But I was disappointed with the amount of screen-time given to Seattle’s home-girls. And when I wasn’t dozing off between commercials, I did catch the caustic dart thrown Robin’s way by fellow contestant Michael Isabella, a Jersey jerk who said of the 43-year-old chef, “This is one less old lady I have to worry about.”
In my capacity as a chronicler of the local food scene, I’m pleased to report that Ashley and Robin made it through the first episode, where Robin was given — and grabbed — the opportunity for “immunity” from the initial fast-and-furious “Quickfire Challenge.” And where Ashley said of judge Wolfgang Puck, “knowing he’s going to taste my food, it’s priceless feedback.” But if I had to place a bet on the show’s outcome, I’d cast my vote for that brazen broad from Philly, Jennifer Carroll, chef de cuisine at 10 Arts by Eric Ripert (who’s as gorgeous in person as he is on TV), and that dart-throwing Jersey guy, who works for Jose Andres (seen recently knocking back crab and paella in Belltown).
But you won’t find me glued to the web or to Twitter next week, looking for the early outcome of episode two, when the Bravo channel moves the show to its regular time slot (10 p.m.) and the East Coast fans weigh-in on the results. By then, I’ll likely be in bed, my eyes glued to that other form of food-porn — a great new cookbook — looking forward to seeing talented chefs like Ashley and Robin in their far more natural habitat.
No celebrity treatment for Robin Leventhal, seen waiting in line for steamed clams at the Samish Bay Bivalve Bash in July.
So, did you watch the show? What did you think? Love it? Hate it? Agree or disagree with me? Bring it on, Eaters.