In episode 2 of Top Chef: Seattle, Dallas chef John Tesar casts a voodoo spell, his pent-up enthusiasm and scary-intuitive knowingness so intense, it's like seeing molten lava right before the volcano erupts. It's like staring at the sun.
Forget Padma, forget Tom, forget the other contestants. Tesar is a ready-made reality star, a vortex who can't help but slurp up all the attention in the room.
He's the first contestant to get quoted. He can tell instantly that the geoduck needs more salt. He spots a pot of chili oil about to burn up.
What must it be like to be a viewer from Michigan or Montana and not be clued in to his inexorable gravity pull? Watching the show as a Dallasite is like being in on a secret. We're inoculated with Tesar powder. Wise to his combination of chef chops and high drama, we know it's a waste of our time learning the name of the beige girl with vertigo or the swarthy guy with the stretched-out earlobes.
Watching the show as a Dallasite is like being in on a secret. We're inoculated with Tesar powder.
The producers throw in a few plot twists, like their dumb idea of bringing back three contestants from earlier seasons to re-compete for the Top Chef title. One of them has even stahhged at Noma. But Tesar silently rules, his glasses propped on his forehead, perched at an awkward angle between his eyes and his hairline.
The only other cheftestants who make a dent on this episode are the female with the accent who talks nonstop and FT33 chef Josh Valentine, also from Dallas, who scowls at the news of the three returning contestants.
"That sucks. I'm gonna get in fights, I'm sure, now," Valentine says. "It's our turn. None of them were able to seal the deal. I hate them all."
He starts to lose it when he misplaces an ingredient for his dish.
"Hey hey, where's my fucking mushrooms?" he asks. "I think a lot of people think I'm just this little guy from Oklahoma, and that'd be their mistake."
Good effort, Josh!
The episode is all about Seattle, beginning with the opening quickfire challenge to use local seafood. Tesar teams up with Sheldon from Hawaii and English-as-a-second-language Kuniko.
"I know she's Japanese, I'm thinking to myself, maybe she has incredible knife skills," Tesar says. "I've watched every episode of Top Chef and I think the decisions you make are just as important as the dishes you make."
"Winning the first quickfire on Top Chef is gonna be up there in the top five things of all time in my life, not only in my career," Tesar says.
There are clams, crabs and other things pulled from the Seattle sea, still live and twitching. The camera catches Tesar, up to his wrists in a vat of mud to pull out a live geoduck, while two girl chefs stand nearby, wringing their hands. As he and his teammates finalize their plan and start chopping, he says aloud to no one, "Who says the most hated chef in Dallas can't get along with people?"
Quickfire happens, Team Tesar wins. Only one in the three-member team will get immunity, so they draw knives to see who. Who else? Why even bother drawing knives?
"I've been a chef for a long time, and I've accomplished a lot of things," Tesar says earnestly. "But I have to tell you, winning the first quickfire on Top Chef is gonna be up there in the top five things of all time in my life, not only in my career."
The elimination challenge takes place inside the Space Needle, the quintessential Seattle building where the chefs must make the quintessential Seattle dish. They have 47 minutes because that's how long it takes for the needle to rotate – hey, just like Reunion Tower. We can conclude from this challenge that Seattle loves the heck out of rectangles of fish plopped atop fava beans, because that's what all of them turn out.
"They all did very similar dishes, so in a way it is easy to compare them," says judge Gail, glass half full.
The dishes may be all very similar, but only one has been touched by Tesar: the chili-oil-poached cod with daishi. His team takes it and Kuniko wins for her clever idea of poaching fish in a pot of chili oil. It's hugs all around, with Tesar graciously not mentioning the part where he saved the chili oil from burning.
Letting her have the spotlight makes him look big. He wins again.