“Top Chef” Check-In

It will come as no surprise to TV-heads and -haters alike that the season-two premiere of Bravo’s Top Chef last night generated plenty of chatter in blogland. If you haven’t had time to waste scouring Technorati for mentions of the show, or if (horror of horrors) you missed it, here’s a look at what bloggers and commenters are saying (and some good catch-up links).

Let’s start at the most superficial level: hotness-focused gushing. Harold, the show’s winner from last season, who now has his own behind-the-scenes blog, comes back to guest-judge the first episode, and the opportunity for discussing his dishiness is not lost on these folks.

This leads directly into the predictions. The early favorite to win is adorable Ilan, a 24-year-old line cook at Mario Batali’s Casa Mono in NYC. In addition to cuteness points, he’s also garnering Harold comparisons in terms of his position at this point in the season. Then again, maybe handsome Sam is really the new Harold, as Television Without Pity predicts. On the villain side, we’re seeing the inevitable pronouncements that Marcel is the next Stephen. The comparison is somewhat apt, as both young men seem to share the same undisguised arrogance and ridiculous coiffure. But to watch Marcel—even more of a caricature than wine-snob Stephen was last season—it’s impossible not to think that the self-styled molecular gastronomist is courting precisely that comparison, or that he’s studied last season’s cast carefully in an attempt to maximize his dramatic appeal.

Bloggers also question whether the new host, Padma Lakshmi, really has the food-world chops to cut it in this job. But Tom Colicchio reassures us (in a slightly odd way) on his judge’s blog that she’s up to the task:

Padma brings an international perspective to the show and a great mix of East and West—she grew up in India and spent years in Italy. She has traveled the world as a cookbook author, actress and television host. She swears she can make a ten course low-fat Indian dinner (sign me up). And while most people know her as a supermodel, let me tell you … this is one model that eats.

Padma’s own blog paints a slightly less intrepid figure, as she discusses her fear of the frogs’ legs and liver in the first elimination challenge; ultimately she soldiered on, though. “I had to taste everything, and I did,” she writes. “It was my job.”

No one seems to have pointed out a couple of particularly interesting things about this cast: For one, the possible conflict of interest in the fact that Ilan is a former cook at Craft, judge Tom Colicchio’s NYC restaurant. And for another, the unusual background of Suyai, the first contestant to be eliminated (who was interviewed by our lovely editor Joyce in this great podcast package). In the show there’s only the briefest mention of the fact that she suffered from bulimia for many years and has used cooking and foodism as part of her road to recovery. I wish we’d heard more about her story, which sounds like it was at once more dramatic, more human, and more genuinely food-focused than a lot of the silly drama it looks like this season has in store. But of course, silly or not, I must watch.

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