Top Chef Chicago Watch: Episode #1

Mmm deep dish pizza! I really can’t think of a better way to start off the Chicago season.

Shaking hands and introducing themselves over a buffet of famous pies and beer from Uno’s Pizzeria (the inventor of deep dish), our cheftestants were immediately immersed into Chicago’s laidback, and very delicious, culture. I was even a little bit jealous; I’ve had the pizza of course, but not an entire buffet like that.

But the best part about Top Chef is just how fast they suck you in. I never think I’m going to like the people I don’t know yet as much as prior seasons that I had become very familiar with. But the first episode always proves me wrong. I can already name almost every one without research, and I’ve even picked up on all the drama.

Warning: Spoilers after the jump!

We find out Zoi and Jennifer are a couple at the outset. It comes as quite a surprise because, to my knowledge, no other season’s chefs have ever known eachother prior to the season, let alone were dating. Bravo even used this little tidbit as its spinoff question to poll the audience: “Do Zoi & Jen have an advantage in the show because they’re a couple?” I say no. They’re still competing against one another and it may distract them more.

And in other first impressions, Jennifer and Richard discover they have the same haircut, which to me quite hilariously reminds me of one Sandee Birdsong from Season 3 (the second to be eliminated, you may not remember her). Andrew, an eccentric and amusingly cocky chef from New York, begins his own rivalry with Richard. Richard supposedly stole his pizza pan which quite frankly, pissed Andrew off.

The guest judge for the Quickfire challenge was Rocco DiSpirito, a fast-becoming Top Chef regular. Along with Padma, he tasted the cheftestants’ 90 minute deep dish pizza creations . The judges switched it up from their usual format of picking the top and bottom 3 and instead divided the competitors in half between favorites and least favorites. Nikki’s white pie made with truffles sounded interesting but the judges weren’t too happy with it. Surprisingly enough, one of their favorites was made with vegemite from Mark, from New Zealand.

The elimination challenge brought out the classic dishes, inspiring the episode’s title of “Anything You Can Cook I Can Cook Better.” Chefs from each group were paired up with another chef to go head to head in preparing one of the eight choices: Lasagna, Crab Cakes, Chicken Piccata, Steak au Poivre, Duck a la Orange, Eggs Benedict, Shrimp Scampi and the ever-feared Souffle.

Mr. Blunt, also known as Anthony Bourdain helped judge the competition. The panel of 4: Padma, Rocco, Chef Collicchio and Bourdain ruthlessly critiqued each dish in front of the chefs. Some had brutal assessments while others were given high praise.

Ironically (or not), Richard chose Andrew to be his competitor. The two battled it out over Crab Cakes and Richard prevailed. So much for Andrew’s cockiness. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Starting off the season quite well is none other than one of our girls from Chicago: Stephanie. She had a shaky quick fire but definitely made up for it in the Elimination where she not only beat her competitor but won the entire thing. Stephanie’s Duck a la Orange could not be beat.

The loser of the competition was Nimma, who made a Shrimp Scampi that a doctor might prescribe for someone with low blood pressure (way too salty). In my personal opinion, Nimma took this competition a little bit too seriously, kept to herself, and almost broke out in tears with every criticism. Both of the challenges did not go well for her so I think the judges made the right decision.


Title: Anything You Can Cook I Can Cook Better

Challenges: Quickfire – Deep Dish Pizza, Elimination – Classic Dishes (choice of 8).

Winner: Stephanie Eliminated: Nimma

Tune in next Thursday when we rehash Episode 2!

Photos coutesy of and

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  • Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)

    I surely did not envy Padma and Rocco having to taste so much deep dish pizza (and some of them obviously not delicious). I got full just watching that.

  • Hillary

    Haha Lydia, I actually was incredibly jealous! I wanted to try some pizza and I’m going out for deep dish tonight :) Oh how inspired I am from Top Chef.

  • Liz

    That pizza is making me incredibly hungry. I’d never been to or even heard of Uno before I moved to upstate NY, but now it’s everywhere and I just learned they invented deep dish! I feel honored to eat there.

  • Ricki


    Thanks so much for your comment on my blog! It is much appreciated. And it brought me here–to your info-packed blog. Looking forward to exploring the archives.

    Can’t say that I watch Top Chef, but my hubby does love a good pizza. This one looks yummy, too!

  • Erin

    I am totally hooked on Top Chef, and having this season in Chicago will be really fun. I already read somewhere that they shopped at the same Whole Foods that I go to. I know there are going to be a lot of Chicago touches this season, and I am really going to enjoy it!

  • Erin

    It wasn’t until after I posted my last response that I realized you’re based in Chicago, too. Fun! I’ve only been here for about 9 months, but I LOVE this city!

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