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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Top 10 reasons to watch 'Top Chef'



St. Petersburg Times


"Top Chef's" fourth season, which premiered last night with 16 "chef-testants" boiling over in one of America's great restaurant cities: Chicago. What? You haven't seen the show and you like to cook? Catch up now, while you can. (Since it's on Bravo, you've got lots of chances to watch, including tonight.)
Here are 10 reasons why you'll become addicted. (Read contestant profiles and more at http://www.bravo.com/.)
1. Star chefs. As Top Chef has grown more successful, the caliber of guest judges has risen. Expect more this season, such as the hunky, acclaimed pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini and tapas master Jose Andres. Let's face it: Only the allure of showbiz could have made the sophisticated Eric Ripert dress up as Santa for last season's holiday special. Hmm, what do you think "Top Chef" would have to do to entice the renowned Thomas Keller?

2. Padma. Host Padma Lakshmi is a former model (natch) and a recent cookbook author who must have studied at the Tyra Banks School of Delayed Diction. As a judge, Padma isn't afraid to challenge the opinions of her esteemed colleagues. As a host, she isn't afraid to unleash her bare midriff in the kitchen.

3. Food crimes. Sure, chefs would never have to cook with ingredients from a vending machine or gas station convenience store (when in doubt, look for the Krispy Kremes), and you know they don't teach those skills in culinary school. That's why it makes for good TV.

4. Chicago. It's the latest stop following San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami on the show's nationwide culinary tour. And even though the first challenge is all too predictable (deep-dish pizza), we can look forward to Chicago's culinary talent showing up: Rick Tramonto, Gale Gand and Rick Bayless. Maybe we'll even see Charlie Trotter around finals time. Oh, and did we mention Oprah's chef?

5. Blogs. Sure, every reality show has them, but there's some real writing talent that you'll appreciate on the "Top Chef" blogs: Ted Allen ("Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"), Gail Simmons (Food & Wine magazine) and Anthony Bourdain ("Kitchen Confidential"). Allen is funny and entertaining, Simmons is informative, and Bourdain is his usual bad self.
6. Tom Colicchio. The chef of New York's Craft is the stern but fair head judge who tries to set contestants on the right path with a simple comment ("You're really going to try to make a souffle?"). Oh, if only more of the chefs listened.

7. Sharp knives. These are the ones that the contestants bury in one another's backs. Will this season's contestants ever top Dave's now-classic retort to Tiffani on Season 1: "I'm not your b--, b--"?

8. Satisfaction. Surely there's nothing a home cook can learn from this culinary chaos? Wrong. The show reminds chefs of the basics: Simple is best. Use fresh ingredients and don't overwhelm them with too many flavors. Taste, taste, taste (and use salt). Pastry isn't something you should attempt on the fly. Oh, and bacon is your friend.

9. You can play at home. Bravo and Whole Foods sponsor the At-Home Quickfire Challenge for those who want to test their culinary creativity. The current challenge: an Audacious Burger. Check out the rules on bravo.com.

10. Anthony Bourdain. Best. Guest. Judge. Ever. "What kind of crack house are you running here?" he asked in a Season 2 episode, and we immediately knew that we would see more of him. He shows up tonight, and we hope the producers can pry him away from his Travel Channel show ("No Reservations") for the finale. *

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