Each week we'll watch Aragona chef Carrie Mashaney represent in the show's New Orleans season.
We meet again, Top Chef. But instead of Space Needle and Pike Place Market shots, this year we get the French Quarter, carriages, and a paddleboat. The new season's first few minutes play out like a Real World episode, with contestants awkwardly riding boats and streetcars and arriving at the swanked out digs.
The show’s crack editing team quickly sets about establishing each character, er, chef’s stereotype. Sara is the rockabilly chick. Jason was voted Philly’s sexiest chef, and has the shirtless apron photo to prove it. “People have this first impression that I’m a douche bag,” he says, though such a statement seems redundant after that shirtless apron pic. Janine is from Perth, Australia, and happens to look like a supermodel. It can be hard, she explains, getting people to look past “the fact that I’m not so ugly.” One contestant, Stephanie, was actually on Top Chef Seattle, but got booted on day one. Wasn’t she Kristen Kish’s boob sweat BFF?
Our girl Carrie makes a rather understated entrance amidst all this showboating and Michelin star comparison. Tom and Padma shepherd chefs straight into the elimination challenge; there will be no quickfire, and no drawn-out winnowing of 7,500 chefs down to 19.
The dispensing of Mardi Gras beads indicates to the chefs which protein they’ll be cooking with—frog, turtle, or gator. Said cooking will happen in a swamp, for a bunch of guests.
Ooh, some Carrie action: “I’ve never cooked with frog legs before,” she tells the camera. Carrie explains she grew up in a small town in Iowa and her mother owned a restaurant. We even get nostalgic photos. “I’m nervous because Top Chef has chosen very good chefs,” she says. “I may not have all the accolades, but I feel that I have really good cooking technique. Fingers crossed I don’t get cut the first time.”
The show is clearly portraying her as all modest and aww shucksy, but that actually rings pretty true. And hopefully this is some overt Bravo-style foreshadowing to her kicking some serious ass.
GE Monogram appliances gleam as the chefs get to work. Hot Aussie Janine’s strappy sandals and bejorted posterior raise a few eyebrows. Tom makes the rounds and we get another Carrie moment: “I’m avoiding Tom a little bit…maybe.” He swings by to ask how she’s doing and she gives a hyperchirpy “Fine!” Carrie is poaching and marinating her frog legs, then serving them cold with a zucchini salad. She’s nervous to talk to Tom and it’s so freaking cute.
Later, the chefs arrive at the swamp to find all the cooking apparatus unassembled and in piles, a scenario that inspires Carrie’s first bleeped swear. Probably not the last, knowing this show. Chefs get their act together and cook. Pontoon boats full of guests arrive, each one bearing a string of beads to bestow upon the best dish. The word “soiree” is spoken aloud with unnatural frequency.
Tom makes the rounds and approaches Carrie again. “The last time I saw you, you were frying zucchini.”
Her reply is Zooey Deschanel levels of adorkable, “Yawp. And here you can eat it!” She assures Emeril she would cook with frog legs again, but we don’t hear the judges' opinions on her dish.
Damn, Carrie’s even in the interstitial—she apparently has the cooking station closest to the swamp and gives the sideeye to an alligator that emerges from the water.
The chefs file into the stew room and are treated to a TV feed of the judges’ discussion. That’s a pretty good twist, actually. Carrie’s poached frog is mentioned as one of the favorites (she is sporting a healthy amount of beads). She looks quietly relieved, and later tells the camera, “Maybe I’m not as bad as I think I am!”
Indeed, she’s not. Padma calls Carrie, alligator meatball Nina, and rockabilly Sara to judges table and declares them the night’s favorites. Carrie says she thought the chilled frog would be refreshing, especially in a hot, buggy, gator-infested swamp.
“A lot of New Orleanians were very very surprised, in a good way, to be eating cold frog,” says Emeril. The winner has a dish that’s “unique and interesting, but also amazingly appropriate to serve in a swamp.” Damn, I thought Carrie might take that one, but instead it goes to Nina. Still, quite a strong start to the season, eh?
The winner: Nina from St. Lucia’s apparently has a way with a gator meatball.
The loser: Ramon from La Jolla is felled by his decision to cool down his dashi using ice. Tom does everything short of make the Home Alone face to telegraph his disgust.
Line of the night: “How do you ice dashi?...It’s not a cocktail.” Emeril is just as aghast as Tom.
This season, on Top Chef: Carrie flashes her goods for some blinking penis beads and gets in a daiquiri-fueled catfight on Bourbon Street. Just kidding! She doesn't actually show up much in the preview clips, though I spotted her in the background a few times. Hopefully that just means she's too busy cooking to engage in the sort of ridiculousness that earns you camera time on this show.
- By the numbers: It took just six minutes for our first Mardi Gras beads sighting, eight minutes for a Whole Foods reference, and 27 minutes for Carrie's first curse word.
- Between the New Orleans chef's travelogue while driving the Toyota and the shot of all the chefs descending upon the gift basket from the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, it's clear the city's tourism leaders aren't effing around here.
- Carrie mentions she's from Seattle right at the start, but otherwise the show is really playing up the Iowa angle.