First Taste of 'Top Chef' Season 4

Photo: F. Scott Schafer/Bravo

We don’t envy Tom Colicchio. As the Top Chef talent pool gets better, decisions at the judges’ table get harder. And this crop of contestants, just might be the most well seasoned yet. There are four chefs from San Francisco (Zoi, Ryan, Jennifer, and Erik), seven from New York (Andrew, Dale, Lisa, Manuel, Mark, Nikki, and Spike), and almost all hailing from famed eateries (like Le Cirque, Buddakan, Dos Caminos, Mai-House). Alright, maybe we envy him a little.

To start things off, the competitors — who may have already proven themselves to discerning diners and restaurant critics — had to make a deep dish pizza for the quickfire challenge. Dale’s Asian flavored pie with spicy Sriracha in the tomato sauce left an impression, New Zealander Mark made the notorious Aussie ingredient vegemite tasty, and former Iron Chef contestant Richard bizarrely balanced peaches and sweet tea on his pizza.

The elimination challenge featured a chef-to-chef battle of familiar recipes. Richard rocked a smoky crab cake, while Andrew forgot a crucial ingredient: mayo. Professed child phenom Ryan had similar problems with his chicken piccata, coating it in breadcrumbs and a sauce that didn’t resemble the acidy-lemon dish at all. Erik and Zoi served up the most technically complicated dish of the round, but their souffl s were anything but well-executed. Erik fessed up to the judges that his dish was actually nothing more than “glorified nachos.” Ultimately it was Nimma who packed her knives, striking out by overcompensating, and all but brining the shrimp with a heavy-handed dose of salt.

Here’s a list of who’s on top and bottom:

On top:1. Dale’s haute cuisine background and take-no-prisoners attitude remind us of the superiority complex Hung exhibited early on.

2. Richard has already faced an Iron Chef, so you know he doesn’t fold like a crepe under pressure. Plus, making peaches and sweet tea work on a pizza isn’t for amateurs.

3. Stephanie, despite a rocky start, won over the judges with her duck l’Orange. She may be our dark horse favorite.

On bottom:

1. Andrew’s motor mouth streams f-bombs (“Padma is all like, “Yo, casa motherf-ers.”) He has a great resume, but terrible attitude. For now, we’ll call him the anti-Stephen.

2. Despite Ryan confessing that he replaced two chefs at his father’s restaurant when he was 11 (it may have just been nepotism, Ryan), the chef came off as too arrogant for his apron strings. And, he obviously has never been to an Olive Garden.

3. We want Mark, the man from New Zealand, to go far (especially when he describes himself as “self-taught” because, you know, it’s the “American Dream”). Unfortunately he may be this season’s dippy Michael (from Season 2); just a kiwi-out-of-water. –Jonathan Stern

F. Scott Schafer/Bravo

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