Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Top Chef: “Soiree In The Swamp”

Illustration for article titled Top Chef: “Soiree In The Swamp”

I have to start out by saying that I have never regularly watched or covered Top Chef, and the one time I did cover it I was half-asleep, subbing for someone else who unexpectedly couldn’t do it. So I don’t have a lot to go off of here except for my own enthusiasm about cooking and a vague understanding of the “foodie” “community,” a phenomenon that is apparently inescapable if you are slightly young and slightly urban.

But like, I do not know a lot about this show. And I have always lamented television’s inability to provide us Smell-O-Vision for shows like this. Or Taste-O-Vision. Or Eat-O-Vision.

But anyway, caveats aside, let’s talk about “Soiree In The Swamp.” So the main thing about swamps is that there are terrifying weird animals in the swamp. So you eat the weird animals and then you make a show about them, which is all very reasonable. This season of Top Chef takes place in New Orleans, which I have personally always thought of as a bayou, and not a swamp (but I am from Florida, which is actually a swamp? So I have opinions!), but it doesn’t matter, because the general freaky wildlife is the same.

Which is to say, alligators! And turtles, and frogs. But alligators feel like the scariest animal here, no?

The new chefs (there are a thousand, I have not differentiated any of them yet, but one of them definitely said “I only date Asians,” which set off every alarm bell I’ve ever had) are split up into three teams, and each team is assigned a creepy-ass meat to cook and prepare, and that is the stunt of the episode.

The thing about this stunt, though, is that while it’s interesting to see how the different chefs prepare the unconventional meats, it’s hard for us to tell how well they’re doing, because most of us don’t have an idea of how those things taste in the first place. (I mean at least I don’t. I have not eaten any of these reptile/amphibians. I had snails once though. It was sort of like that scene in Pretty Woman, except the waiter saved me before I made a total fool of myself. Anyway!) So instead what’s interesting are the actual constraints put on the chefs as they’re cooking, and wow, this looks really hard. The chefs can only prep the day before; they have to do all the cooking of the meat on-site at the swamp barbecue venue, to serve 110 guests small sampler things. The setup of the outdoor stove thing is also pretty complicated and rickety, and all I am saying is I would not have cooked on that propane-tank nonsense, but I also won’t cook unless the moon is in Sagittarius, so I don’t know.


Also great about this season: The chefs get to watch the judging, simulcast in their prep room. That is fantastic. It offers them an opportunity to grow. But it will also make it that much more brutal when the judges tear apart their dignity into tiny little pieces! So who knows. Either way it is sort of riveting watching the chefs watch the judges; this whole show is an exercise in watching people do things we do all the time anyway.

By the way, the cream of celery soup I am making is turning out delightfully! Although I don’t have stock so I used water. That’s bad, right?


The judges this season are our usual suspects Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio, as well as Hugh Acheson (I think) and Emeril Lagasse, who does not say “bam” once! I was shocked. They are generally much nicer and less bitchy than any other judges I’ve seen on reality television, which was a very pleasant surprise.

Top three: Nina makes turtle meatballs, which the judges adore, because the meat is tender. She also puts in chayote and coconut, which comes from her home country (which I didn’t quite catch, so if you know it, put it in the comments). Her approach is skillful and innovative enough that she gets the judges, and she wins the challenge. Also commended: Carrie makes chilled frog legs, which is a phrase that makes me ill, but apparently tastes good; and Sara does a spicy alligator chili that impresses the judges. Bottom three: Aaron makes mushy pasta, and everyone is very upset, even offended, by the pasta. And Patty didn’t tenderize her alligator properly, which is not the alligator’s fault, though the alligator is very sad about it! But Ramon is the one who really screws up—not only did he make a boring dashi but he also admits to adding ice to it, which is such an appalling offense that no one can really deal with it. Tom seems personally effected. Ramon is sent packing and the rules of stock remain intact.


And that’s that. I’m so glad they haven’t expanded this show to 90 minutes for no reason whatsoever, like a certain fashion design program. I like it this way.

Stray observations:

  • Pretty Australian girl is primarily discussed as a pretty object and not as a cook, which annoys me. Also, shorts!
  • I do not want to eat any of the foods offered this evening.
  • My soup is done!