Fans of Top Chef were probably not surprised that the first to go was young Jeffrey Jew, a personal chef formerly of Washington, D.C. Problem is, he only looks young. Jew was 34 when the episode was taped. He not only has years of experience both stateside and in London, but also graduated at the top of his class at the Culinary Institute of America. (In case you're wondering, Jeffrey is half Norwegian, half Chinese—Jew is the Chinese part, he explained on the phone, which could also have been spelled Zhou.) So what did him in?
During the elimination challenge—cooking for the judges at Seattle's Space Needle—Jew's team stuck to a plan with very specific times to fire up their dishes. They allotted too much time for Jeffrey to cook his halibut, "a very delicate fish," he points out. Fellow chefs Brooke Williamson and D.C.'s lone holdout, Bart Vandaele, assured Jeffrey it was fine—but once he served it, Jeffrey began to think this could do him in.
"Jeffrey’s halibut was pummeled, unfortunately," says judge Gail Simmons on the Top Chef blog. "He had put it on way too high heat, on both sides. We kept referring in the episode to how it was hard-seared on both sides—with a fish that delicate you probably could have just seared one side, turned it over and it would have been done. And he could have monitored the heat a little better. There were pieces of it that were essentially burnt. It was really too bad."
So what did this year's contestants make of the big surprise—that three former contestants have been allowed in to compete? "We were all surprised," says Jeffrey. "Some were shocked, some were upset" because "it's our turn to shine." Sure they've earned more experience since their past eliminations, but these Top Chef alumni didn't have an edge in the challenge. In fact, these veterans were also on the chopping block. Had Jeffrey not overcooked that halibut, it would have been season five's Stefan Richter packing his knives (for overcooked quail).
When I asked about the logistics of the season—was this all done in the span of a week?—an NBC publicist stepped in, not wanting to get specific because the show isn't done yet. "It took more than a week," is all they'd let on.