Food & dining

Devra First

Plenty of local chefs, landmarks on ‘Top Chef: Boston’

Top Chef contestant Stacy Cogswell.
Tommy Garcia/Bravo
Top Chef contestant Stacy Cogswell.

“Top Chef” came to Boston and all I got was cockiness, humiliation, insults, rivalries, 100 local chef cameos, 100 local landmark cameos, and Padma Lakshmi spitting out fatty pork belly. Not many women can make regurgitation look good. (And yet the guy who served it didn’t get sent home!)

It was fun to see people like Ming Tsai, Barbara Lynch, Ken Oringer, and Jasper White mingling with the contestants, and past “Top Chef” participants Tiffani Faison and Kristen Kish commiserating with this season’s Stacy Cogswell of the Regal Beagle. I foresee the three of them going out for beers sometime soon. There was a food festival at the Museum of Science, and Mayor Marty Walsh high-fived Cogswell and demonstrated the Boston accent for the rest of the country.

New England seafood played a key role in a sudden death Quickfire challenge, where everyone was called upon to shuck shellfish and fillet mackerel. (Boston girl killed it.) There weren’t too many Sox comments, accent jokes, or Beantown references, and nobody let loose with an inappropriate “Boston strong!” So I’d say the first episode was a success.

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Some takeaways:

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The bloom has truly faded on molecular gastronomy’s rose-scented, smoke-filled gel capsule. Things like olive oil snow and bacon powder were bluntly criticized. (Blunt criticism seems to be an early hallmark of the season.)

Busy food doesn’t equal complex food. True for anyone who spends time in any kitchen, as well as “Top Chef” contestants.

People come alive when you ask them about the food of their families. The food festival challenge, where contestants riffed on things they grew up eating, was great because of this. If you ever find yourself struggling with conversation at a really dull cocktail party, ask people about the food of their youth.

Dishes that look good don’t always taste good, and vice versa. This has always been a weakness of food-themed reality TV: You can’t actually taste it. That corn soup with sriracha caviar that got Michael Patlazhan sent home? There were some strange squiggly things in it, but overall it didn’t look too bad. Pride goeth before and after a fall. “I’m not sure what went wrong with their palates,” Patlazhan said, then blamed Tom Colicchio’s lack of appreciation on his being too old. Son, please. Meanwhile, Katie Weinner makes thoroughly unambitious broccoli salad and gets to stay. And, truly, it seemed unjust that George Pagonis was eliminated so soon. He coulda been a contender.

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Dish I’d probably most like to eat repeatedly: Mei Lin’s congee.

Dish I’d most like to taste: Gregory Gourdet’s tongue-searing pikliz. The chefs seemed to be confounded and delighted by its heat and funk. It almost didn’t work but it did. I’m intrigued. Would somebody invent taste-o-vision already?

Closing note: Those subtitles every time Katsuji Tanabe speaks perfectly understandable English don’t bode well for his long-term prospects. Neither does his cooking, but still, they are offensive. Cut it out, Bravo. You should know better.

Onward. As they say eloquently in the promo: “Let’s go, Boston! WOOOO!”

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