Top Chef 10 Preview: Wolfgang Puck on Going Back to Basics
What a week. Election yesterday, and the premiere of Top Chef: Seattle tonight! As someone who lived in Seattle for the past six years, I’m especially excited to see what beautiful Northwest sights and tasty Seattle restaurants they decide to feature this season. (It doesn’t seem fair; when they did Top Chef in Austin I was in Seattle, then I moved to Austin and they went to Seattle! I just want to befriend Padma!) Anyway, what I’m saying is: I’m psyched for tonight, so obviously I was also psyched when I got the chance to jump on a call with Wolfgang Puck, one of the judges this season, to get a sneak peek at what we can expect from Top Chef 10.
On thing Wolfie (can I call him Wolfie? I feel like we’re BFF at this point, so it’s probably cool) is particularly vehement about is the whole “back to basics” thing that Top Chef is touting this season. He explained: “To me… I judge these chefs on how they can cook an egg… I say, okay, make me an omelet. All these people say they cook in fancy restaurants, but you need to know the basics. Cooking an egg is like cooking a steak or something. Oil, butter, some cream, cook them fast enough so they’re cook on the outside and soft in the center. And it’s amazing how few professional cooks can actually do that.”
Amen, my Austrian brother.
Wolfie says it was interesting to see the new contestants and the choices they make. Some he assumed would be good ended up being very spotty, and a lot of them “tried too hard.” He described the judging experience as, “some terrific dishes where I said ‘wow, I would hire them!’ Then the next show, ‘wow, is that the same person?'”
How does personality play into all of this? Can it help or hurt a contestant? “It might help a little bit, we mostly concentrate on the dish… they are all very nervous when they stand in front of you. A good personality helps in a restaurant more, not as much when they’re standing in front of us.” Fair enough.
So what was the best dish the judges tried this season? Puck raved about a fried chicken from one of the cooks. He “would have taken it in a doggie bag to go and eaten the whole thing with a glass of wine.” Aww, so precious.
On the flip side, a contestant’s omelet was one of his worst memories of judging. “It looked awful. Like they scraped it off the floor.” (Oh, and if you’re wondering what Puck’s favorite comfort food in the world is, outside Top Chef, obviously it’s wienerschnitzel and mashed potatoes, because it reminds him of his youth in Austria. He also loves barbecued shrimp from Emeril’s restaurant in New Orleans.) The bottom line on restaurant food, according to Wolfgang Puck: “Coming home from a restaurant, it should leave a memory, you should think ‘wow, I crave this dish, I want it again.'”
Sadly, Puck revealed that the judges are so busy with taping and waiting around that he didn’t get much of a chance to explore Seattle or its dining scene, but thinks the Northwest’s wine and food landscape is “coming totally alive right now…. might not be as polished or traditional, but they have really good restaurants.” Holla!
So, even though judges don’t get to frolic through the city in their off-time, how is the Top Chef judging gig as a whole? “I like to be a judge… [it’s] easy for me because I don’t have to cook, you know, I just have to taste and give my opinion or judgment. It’s always fun to see the young chefs and the mistakes they make.” Oh, Wolfie! Yup, sounds a lot more fun than struggling through a Quickfire, Elimination Round, then having to pack your knives and go.
Top Chef 10: Seattle premieres TONIGHT on Bravo at 10pm. Y’all know I’ll be tuning in to see my old city and my new bestie. Oh, and to watch the show itself, because a few unfortunate contestants usually make complete fools of themselves in the premiere, and that’s always fun. Also I can’t wait to see the gross floor omelet!
Can’t wait. Top Chef is heads and shoulders above all other competitive cooking shows, and it’s still going strong.