When you have no horse in the race, Top Chef Masters—a spinoff of Bravo culinary challenge juggernaut Top Chef—can be a bit of a snooze. Featuring toques who have often already reached the top of their game, the show lacks the competitive tension and winner-take-all excitement of the original series or All-Stars, in which former contestants get a second chance at glory. Most of the Masters are way too mature—too life-weary, even—to steal each others’ pea purée or muster up a ratings-worthy, Josie-level meltdown.
But when season five debuts on Wednesday, July 24, Washingtonians will have good reason to tune in. Frederick native Bryan Voltaggio—who recently opened Range in Chevy Chase and plans to bring sandwich shop Lunchbox there soon—will return to the small screen, taking on the likes of David Burke and Richard Sandoval (a partner himself in four Washington-area restaurants) for the chance to win $100,000 for a cause célèbre. Voltaggio chose local organization Share Our Strength, which aims to eradicate childhood hunger.
For fans of Top Chef, it is also a chance to see one of the show's fiercest competitors back in action. Voltaggio narrowly lost out to his brother, Michael, in season six—among the most exciting seasons due to a talented and charismatic cast. He is the first Top Chef alum to join a Masters cast, and could provide some much-needed edge. It will be interesting to see if well-known workaholic Voltaggio, whose wife recently gave birth to the couple's third child, shines as brightly as he did during his first stint.
This season will also feature a face-off of sous chefs—the mohawk-sporting Graeme Richie, chef de cuisine from Volt, will take on other number-twos from kitchens around the country. If you are in the Frederick area and would like to watch Wednesday’s premiere with the Volt guys, head to the restaurant patio between 9 and 11 for drink specials and complimentary snacks. Details about watch parties at Sandoval’s restaurants can be found over at After Hours.
Does dining on five courses while being filmed for a new food television series sound enticing? If so, you can buy tickets now to be among the guests on The Cooking Cult—billed as a “secret hit TV series airing in 2014”—hosted by “Adventure” Aaron Carotta, whom you may know from his other show, Catch and Cook, on MavTV. The film crew touches down in Washington on July 16 for a 7 PM meal.
In each episode, filmed nationally, Carotta teams up with an “expert gatherer” who catches the makings for a five-course meal, prepared by a top local chef. The toque and ingredient are kept semi-mysterious, but the riddle you must answer to procure tickets is about as hard to crack as its soft-shelled subject.
“I’m soft with an interesting pinch as I scuttle onto your plate. It will be a cinch, especially with a date. For this event, I prefer a restaurant that includes ‘Black’. See you there and I will let you have a soft crack.”
As for the chef, let’s just say he’s the one that runs, oh, five restaurants with “Black” in the name.
Tickets start at $150 for the meal with wine pairings, and go up to $8,000 for a three-day “VIP experience” and a case of Ghost Horse cabernet provided by cult winemaker Todd Anderson, who serves as the show’s sommelier. Spots at the event are limited to 110 people, so get a-riddling for your space.
Get your lunch with a side of reality television Monday at Farragut Square. The Aloha Plate Truck, a season four competitor on Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race competition, just started tweeting this morning that it’s touching down at 11:30 with a $10 special that it needs to sell as fast as possible to win. The first obstacle: legal parking.
“OMG This is gonna be next to impossible!! DC is NOT friendly to Food Trucks, stand by for updates, we need you now more than ever Ohana!!” the team tweeted earlier today.
Though it’s not exactly clear what’s on the menu, the Hawaiian vendor dished up eats such as teriyaki burgers, shrimp lettuce wraps, and virgin mai tais at an earlier filming in Portland. In order to win the competition, hosted by chef and tv personality Tyler Florence, teams must make the highest sales each week with various obstacles thrown in their way. Today’s sale limit is two plates per customer, so better get buying if you want to help them out.
Anthony Bourdain brings his brand of raw storytelling to DAR Constitution Hall on Monday, May 13—part of his national Guts and Glory tour. Though tickets have been on sale since January, a quick clickfest on Ticketmaster shows seats still remain.
What can you expect from the host of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and The Layover? A lot of barbs directed at unwitting nemeses Paula Deen and Guy Fieri, no doubt—all commentary sprinkled liberally with F-bombs. Some inside stories about his adventures on No Reservations tend to be part of his live shows, which often end with a Q&A with the audience. It might be worth the price of admission alone to ask him to explain the debut season of reality show train wreck The Taste, but we will leave that up to you. The show begins at 7:30.
Tuesday, March 12 is the night to catch local luminary José Andrés on the ABC culinary competition series the Taste. A two-hour season finale will feature the Jaleo and Minibar toque in the role of guest judge.
The Taste, which premiered on January 22, has whittled its contestant pool from 16 to four over its first season. Amateur and pro cooks complete individually and in teams. The four judges—Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, Ludo Lefebvre, and Brian Malarkey—double as mentors for the contestants. Each episode, the judges assess competing cooks’ food via blind tasting, so that they are not prejudiced against members of their own teams. In fact, none of Lawson’s mentees made it into the final four.
ABC is featuring an interview with Andrés on its site in which he talks about why Jaleo has been a success and trots out his favorite Winston Churchill quote: “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” Says Andrés in the Q&A: “These are words I live by.” The show airs at 9 PM.
Top Chef: Seattle, the tenth season of the extremely popular Bravo show, debuted last night, and it was a tough one for the hopeful cheftestants. In order to win an official competitor’s coat, the potential Bravo stars had to prove themselves by performing fundamental kitchen tasks for the judges: Work the line with Tom Colicchio, prepare a salad for greens-loving Hugh Acheson, make soup that pleased Emeril Lagasse’s palate, and whip up a perfect—colorless, soft-in-the-middle—omelet for Wolfgang Puck.
Two of the Washington competitors have moved on to the next round. Onetime Blackbyrd/the Brixton chef Jeffrey Jew earned an early pick from Emeril for his chilled watermelon gazpacho, while Belga Café chef-owner Bart Vandaele received a close pass for his lobster salad. Unfortunately, one of the first chefs to depart was Dan O’Brien of Seasonal Pantry, who was eliminated from the omelet challenge for what Puck ultimately deemed poor plating. We caught up with O’Brien to talk about cooking for Puck, what’s next, and how it feels to be among the first to pack your knives and go.
We’re four episodes in, and still precious little is taking place on the Ambien-esque Life After Top Chef, in which the plot wanders aimlessly like a lost sheep on a winding road in rural Virginia.
If you’re wondering who set that sheep loose, it might well have been Jen Carroll. She spends her segment with Spike Mendelsohn at Border Springs Farm, where she reveals a serious lack of sheep-sorting skills. Yes, we actually watched Jennifer Carroll count sheep. Oh, but it wasn’t all that bad—at least Fabio’s life coach didn’t show up. Grab a shot of espresso and let’s get to it.
“In my head I’m like, ‘Wow, I really suck.’”
Richard is invited by Food & Wine magazine to cook at the Best New Chefs event. Quite an honor, and one most people might enjoy. This being Richard, however, he spends the whole time fretting that his dish—braised oxtail and bone marrow, looks like a bone luge—isn’t good enough. We’ve always been big Richie Blais fans, but the stressed-out, self-effacing business is wearing a little thin. “It’s the worst feeling in the world, you know: not thinking you’re going to make it,” he says of his pre-event anxiety. “It’s every day of my life, and I need to change that.” Hopefully he’ll change it by the next episode, because enough already.
In New York, Richie meets up with Fabio—there for a Good Morning America segment—who accompanies him to the sharp-object wonderland that is the Korin knife shop. Why are they there, you’re probably (not) wondering? Because Richie plans to present a blade to his wife on their sixth anniversary. Yes, that wife. Jazmin. The same one who confessed an urge to stab him every time she wrapped her fingers around a butter knife. For their sixth wedding anniversary, he is going to offer her the sharpest knife money can buy. Is anyone else, like, really worried about this guy?
Next up, Richie and Fabio head to Dale Talde’s Talde in Brooklyn, where they are joined by Carla Hall and Angelo Sosa. And surprise, surprise, the success of Richard’s cohorts makes him feel bad about himself. When Hall tells him how good his Food & Wine dish is, does he say thank you and take her at her word? He does not. Why? Because Richard Blais is the worst-ever person to win Top Chef All-Stars and be invited to cook at Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs and open a hotly anticipated fine-dining restaurant and have a beautiful wife and kids and generally be regarded as a massive culinary talent. The worst.
“When Good Morning America asks you to be on the show, you have to say yes.”
Fabio demos a chicken dish at Good Morning America, and we learn a little bit more about the impoverished past that drives him to say yes to television appearances even when he’s sleepy and occasionally gorge on Animal-Style fries in the darkest part of the In-N-Out parking lot while rain drops patter poetically on his dashboard. Fortunately, though, this episode does offer some relief from Oliver Twist Fabio. Instead we see him making fun of Blais, using his signature a-idiomatic expressions like “Sloppy Suzie,” and just generally having a good time. More of this Fabio please, Bravo.
“I just always leave you wanting more.”
What else? Jen Carroll and Spike road-trip it out to Border Springs Farm, where they spend the day doing sheep stuff, wrestling turkeys, and performing other farm tasks in a slapsticky manner. Later, a bunch of local farmers come by for a potluck dinner. Throughout the segment—in which sexual innuendo abounds—we’re supposed to wonder whether there is any romance between the two friends. “Not going to happen,” says Jen. That doesn’t prevent her from engaging in some flirtatious repartee with Spike, particularly after she begins to get “well lubed” (Spike’s words) on wine and hard lemonade* at the potluck. When Spike complains that the stew Jen serves him only contains one clam, she retorts, “I just always leave you wanting more.” Later they return to their roadside motel, where—sorry, guys—nothing happens.
“It’s all about the initial sear.”
On the farm, Spike is asked to give everyone a little burger-flipping lesson, leading him to ponder his culinary status as a greasy patty guru. After all those years of hard work, how did he get here—barbecue smoke billowing in his eyes, hands flecked with dark bits of burning grease? Ah, but all this will change, Spike predicts, with the opening of his “steak frites spot” (when he says it, “frites” rhymes with “knits”), Bearnaise. Everything, dear viewers, will be different. Cut to lonesome sheep zigzagging down the road as the sun sets over the Virginia hills . . . and scene**.
*If Jen were an alcoholic beverage, she’d totally be hard lemonade.
**Some of the stuff described in this paragraph didn’t actually happen on the show.
With the premiere of Top Chef: Seattle quickly approaching, the newest big-name chef to join the judge’s table, Wolfgang Puck, hopped on a call with journalists from across the country to answer questions about Season 10. Without giving away too many specifics, the Source’s celebrity chef-owner didn’t seem overwhelmingly excited about the performance of the Washington competitors, which include Dan O’Brien of Seasonal Pantry, Belga Café’s Bart Vandaele, and former Brixton chef Jeffrey Jew.
Says Puck of what stood out to him in particular about the DC cheftestants, “When they cook, it’s almost like watching baseball. Sometimes the ones who do such great jobs, all of a sudden, the next day they’re just okay. I’m wondering, often, how can that happen? Everyone expected the Detroit guy to win last night in baseball, but all of a sudden he couldn’t perform. And I think cooking is a little bit the same.”
It’s all about family in episode three of Life After Top Chef. Fabio gets a visit from his mom; Richard celebrates his wife’s birthday—attempting to win her over with a backpack and a visit to the shooting range; Jen heads to the track with her dad; and Spike travels to Montreal with his kind-of girlfriend Julia and the rest of the fam for a wedding and a little steak-frites research. Oh, but there’s so much more. Let’s get to it.
“At every turn, I have to make sure I’m still qualified to be her husband.”
Yikes, Richie. This show is preoccupied with Fabio’s dangerous stress levels, but the code red situation is really in the house of Blais. It’s Jazmin’s birthday, and Richie has bought her some kind of purse/backpack thing in honor of the occasion. Does she like it? Does she not? Blais explains how astute he’s become at examining the nonverbal queues. After nail-biting through the gift offering, we head out with the Blaises to shoot some (gulp) guns, and although artillery isn’t his thing, Richie must prove his manhood by firing away. Meanwhile, the sight of his wife packing heat causes our hero even more consternation, since “every time she picks up a butter knife in our house she tells me she’s worried she’s going to stab me.” Frankly, we’re a little worried, too. Hope she likes that backpack.
One week, and we’re already over Fabio. In our recap last Thursday, we thought we could watch him do just about anything. Then we got to episode two—in which we’re forced to watch him eat a hamburger in his car in a parking lot—and realized that’s not even close to true.
“Women can get very emotional.”
The big drama of this episode revolves around a cooking demo that Fabio does for his Los Angeles church. During a phone conversation, the woman organizing the event takes issue with our hero after he suggests she not “freak out,” and then—well, actually there is no “and then.” The demo goes fine—all the women minus the freak-out lady have a great time leering at Fabz, and the freak-out lady rolls her eyes. That’s literally all that happens. Yet somehow, the unpleasant knowledge that there is a lady out there who is impervious to his Italian Stallion stylings drives Fabio to distraction and leads him to a sad, solo hamburger binge in a parking lot and, later, a visit from his “life coach,” who cracks his back and stuff. And man, is it boring.
“We think we’re super cool; people probably think we’re super douchey.”
Meanwhile here in Washington, Mike Isabella shows up at Chez Spike riding a purple scooter. Along with Spike’s partner, the men scoot out for some food, where we get an up-close-and personal look at Mike and Spike’s friendship. Their dynamic is actually pretty cute—the sort of ball-busting-but-sweet pal-dom on which road-trip films are based. They talk about plans for Kapnos and Bearnaise, Spike makes a fat joke at Isabella’s expense, and that’s that.