Top Chef might have taken a major hit by being so crappy last season. The enthusiasm has definitely died down amongst my friends, and maybe from the public at large. I went to Halfsteak on Wednesday and none of the TC geeks were there to watch. (I chronicled this little pilgrimage for The Jew and the Carrot. Saddest detail: the bartender didn't even want to switch the channel to Top Chef.)
But this season opener was actually pretty good.
Unlike in past seasons, the chefs featured on the show are actually fairly accomplished. A couple of them are James Beard winners (or runners up) and one of them has a Michelin star. (Most of the names are unfamiliar to me, because only one cheftestant is from New York, but reading their bios has been enlightening. They certainly seem like a different crop than seasons past.)
Moreover, Vegas was an excellent choice. The restaurant scene there has really come into its own (even if several of those big eateries will go out of business thanks to the recession!) as my editor pointed out in a story in last week's Post.
Unlike last season's noticeably chintzy lack of prizes for elimination wins, the TC producers have already decided to ratchet things up a notch -- they were throwing out $15,000 poker chips to the winner of the quickfire -- yes, the quickfire! (Although, oddly, the winner of the elimination challenge got squat. I guess that will come later.)
And, finally, at least two of the cheftestants are unassailably hot. (And one of these hotties looks like she can really cook.)
Nice work, Tom and Padma. You've lured me back for at least another season.