I may have been a little too excited for the premiere of "Top Chef New Orleans."I had a dream the night before that I was on the show and immediately thrown into a Quickfire Challenge. This was an issue because: 1) I am not a chef, barely a home cook — as evidenced by my dinner of toast and cereal last night; and 2) the challenge was to create a meal out of jellybeans.And I don’t mean cooking with jellybeans. I mean that’s all we had. A pile of jellybeans. We were asked to put what flavors we thought would work well together on a plate and serve them to Tom Colicchio. Luckily, I woke up before heading to the Judges’ Table.Season 11 of "Top Chef" began the same as every other season. All the cheftestants head to their new house for the next (hopefully) several weeks. We learn a little bit about where everyone is from, what restaurants they worked at, which master chefs they have apprenticed with. But mostly, we are looking for who will be our favorites and who we will love to hate.My first guess at this season's “public enemy #1” is local chef Michel Sichel, who is right in the middle of teaching us the difference between cockiness and confidence when hosts Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio enter the house and welcome everyone to New Orleans. They also let them know that they will be jumping right into an Eliminate Challenge.The first challenge, of course, focused on local cuisine. Each chef was tossed a set of Mardi Gras beads (not a cliché … yet) that indicated what type of protein that they will be cooking with. In true Louisiana style, these included frog legs, alligator and turtle. Since when was turtle ever an option? I’m sure it tastes like chicken, though.After gathering their goods and prepping for the Elimination Challenge, the chefs were greeted by another guest at the house. What would a cooking show based in New Orleans be without the one and only — BAM! — chef Emeril Lagasse to offer up some Cajun wisdom.We are transported with the chefs to a swamp (no stereotype there), where they complete their dishes for the judges and guests who rolled on down the river in pontoon boats. Curtis Stone — you know, the guy from the cereal commercials (there I go with the cereal again) — joins Padma, Tom and Emeril to taste all the NOLA dishes. The chefs attempt to show off their culinary chops and offer up plates of turtle coquette, alligator and bacon confit and poached frog legs.The other diners at the swamp soirée vote for their favorite dish by giving the chefs a set of Maris Gras beads. See a theme here yet? Personally, I would have given beads to not try any of the turtle dishes. No, thank you.At the Judges’ Table, Sara, Nina and Carrie are the cheftestants on top and get bragging rights for another week. Nina walks away as the first winner with her curry dish. Good thing you balanced out that heat with a last minute chutney, girl!Patty, Arron and Ramon cooked the judge’s least-favorite dishes. Watered down dashi? For shame, Ramon; please pack your knives and go. Now you know how the 49ers felt – leaving New Orleans as a loser.Stay tuned for more Cajun cuisine this season on "Top Chef." I think it’s safe to say we will see our fare share of gumbo, beignets, jambalaya and drama. Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Casi DowFor The Baltimore Sun