In the first season of Bravo’s Top Chef, the hit reality TV show that debuted last spring, a dozen contestants faced challenges that ranged from creating haute street food to serving desserts in a sex shop. The last cook standing, Harold Dieterle, won $100,000, which he’s using to open his own restaurant (called Perilla, it’s launching soon in Manhattan). For many viewers, it wasn’t a big surprise that Dieterle prevailed: He was a sous-chef at the Harrison in New York City, one of the most impressive restaurants on any contestant’s CV.
Things are different on Season 2, which began October 18. Many of the 15 contestants have trained with superstar chefs like Jöel Robuchon and Mario Batali. They spend what little time they have off-camera comparing knives; when they gossip, it’s about whether Jamie Oliver should be addressed as Sir Naked Chef now that he’s practically been knighted. Occasionally, they get creative with products from sponsors, visible in mass quantities in their loftlike dorm. Watermelon bowling, with empty soda cans as pins, was a short-lived pastime. (As one person observed, "Watermelons aren’t as sturdy as they look.")
One thing contestants don’t have much freedom to do off-camera is cook. So F&W (Bravo’s partner on the show) stepped in with a challenge for four random competitors. Since the Top Chef winner may one day open a restaurant, we decided to see what he or she would serve—at least for a staff meal of pizza or pasta. F&W would judge the dishes on creativity, simplicity, presentation and deliciousness.