TiVo Alert: Top Chef

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(Absinthe's Jamie Lauren could be the next Top Chef)

Season Five Features Only One SF Chef -- But We'll Watch It Anyway
By Meredith Brody

Tomorrow night (Wednesday, November 12), Bravo's Top Chef begins its fifth season in New York, New York: The town so nice they named it twice, the place where if you make it there you can make it anywhere. (Previous seasons have taken place in San Francisco--though we heard the kitchen studio was actually in Emeryville--Los Angeles, Miami Beach and New York.) The cast of contestants has grown from a dozen in the initial season to 17 this time around, and for those of you who like to root for the hometown favorite, there is a San Franciscan in the cast: Jamie Lauren, the tattooed, C.I.A. grad, rather-out-lesbian Executive Chef of Absinthe Brasserie & Bar. (Us Weekly called her "feisty" in its 75-word graph, which only mentioned one other chef, "cute and cocky Jeff.")

This is small potatoes compared with Season Four, in which four out of the 16 (that's 25%, for the math-obsessed) were San Franciscans: Ryan Scott, late of Myth Café and now chef/partner of Mission Beach Café; Zoi Antonitsas, who had cooked with then-girlfriend and fellow contestant Jen Biesty at COCO 500 --Antonitsas is now cooking in Santa Rosa at Zazu, and Biesty is the new executive chef at Scala's Bistro -- and Erik Hopfinger, executive chef at Circa.

Still, this will spare San Franciscans the pain of seeing their chefs ignominiously being shown the door (i.e., "Pack your knives and go!") over and over again; Hopfinger was bounced in week three of last season, and in a terrible run for locals, Zoi, Ryan, and Jen were kicked out in weeks five, six, and seven.

Absinthe is one of our favorite and most dependable places, but, truth be told, we preferred it in its Frenchier incarnation, before Jamie arrived (where's the coq au vin? Where, oh where, is the best boeuf à la ficelle we've had outside of France?). We're interested to watch Jamie's Top Chef progress, of course, but even more interested in seeing how substitute judge Toby Young, British author of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, makes out. (He steps in for Gail Simmons, who takes a leave of absence to get married.) Young, famous for acting like a dick (and proud of it, since it's earning him a living -- see How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, the movie), isn't our idea of a bec fin, not to mention a culinary judge. But apparently he's done just that on a number of British TV shows ("These days, my main source of income is food reality shows,"), so perhaps my skepticism is unwarranted.

Anyway, the TiVo is set, and I look forward to many, many weeks of quickfire and elimination challenge voyeurism.


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