Judges Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, and Emeril Lagasse weigh the pros and cons of the contestants' dishes.
Judges Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, and Emeril Lagasse weigh the pros and cons of the contestants' dishes.
Dale Berman/Bravo

Top Chef: Jeremy Ford Wins First Round, Angelina Bastidas Makes Soggy Croquettes

Top Chef returns for its 13th season with a slew of new cheftestants and four familiar faces.

To spice things up this year, Bravo cooking competition will have its 17 chefs compete all over the state of California, with challenges in Los Angeles. Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, San Diego, San Francisco, and Oakland. The first stop, however, is Los Angeles, which serves as home base for the filming. At the end of the competition, the chef left standing will snag a $125,000 prize and a feature in Food & Wine magazine.

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This year, it looks like the people tasked with casting the contestants have foregone throwing in the usual catering chefs in place of a roster of executive chefs, many of whom own their own restaurants. In the mix, of course, are two local Miami chefs — and two reasons to diligently watch the show this season.

Angelina Bastidas
Angelina Bastidas
Dale Berman/Bravo

At 25, Angelina Bastidas is the youngest contestant. The chef, who most recently departed Piripi in Coral Gables after an extremely short tenure at the Coral Gables restaurant, also worked at Area 31the Bazaar, Taperia Raca, and Tongue & Cheek.

Jeremy FordEXPAND
Jeremy Ford
Dale Berman/Bravo

Jeremy Ford, the 30-year-old executive chef at Matador Room, is a bit more seasoned. The toque, who lists his formal culinary education as the School of Hard Knocks, started working in kitchens at age 16. His resumé includes L'Orangerie under the helm of executive chef Christophe Eme in Los Angeles and Patina with Joachim Splichal. 

Other cheftestants include Karen Akunowicz (Boston), Carl Dooley (Boston), Garret Fleming (Washington, D.C.).  Renee Kelly (Shawnee Mision, Kansas), Phillip Frankland Lee (Los Angeles), Marjorie Meek-Bradley (Washington, D.C.), Kwame Onwuachi (Washington, D.C.), Amar Santana (Orange County, California), Grayson Schmitz (New York), Jason Stratton (Seattle), Frances Tariga-Weshnak (New York), Isaac Toups (New Orleans), Wesley True (Atlanta), Giselle Wellman (Los Angeles), and Chad White (San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico).

The season began last evening, as it always does, with a quickfire challenge introduced by Padma Lakshmi. It's a mise en place challenge, where each chef is to prep their choice of chickens, vegetables, or eggs against a timer. Jeremy Ford makes it through the challenge, but Angelina Bastidas is one of the few chefs who do not complete the task. She's not eliminated yet, but has no chance of immunity.

The first elimination challenge has the chefs each preparing whatever they like for an outdoor event for 200 VIPS, including local food critics and bloggers. These food writers will then score each dish, with the final say being left to judges Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, and Emeril Lagasse. Each chef has $500 to purchase ingredients. Jeremy Ford mentions that he's a fish guy and goes for the seafood.

Bastidas' croquettes
Bastidas' croquettes

At the festival, Angelina presents a goat cheese croquette with smoked romesco and caramelized parsnip puree. Being a Miami chef, it's a safe bet that the woman can make a good croqueta. She mentions as much, saying she can get a good one at every street corner. However, the strategy to make an upscale version of Miami's favorite snack didn't work. Judge Tom Colicchio noted the croquette wasn't crispy and Padma Lakshmi said there were too many sauces on the plate.

Jeremy Ford, however, got raves for his simple yet flavorful pacific snapper crudo with kombu gel and lime zest, which Padma calls, beautifully done.

Back at judges' table, Bastidas is one of the three competitors on the potential chopping block to be the first to go home. In the end, Garret Fleming is sent home for his Vietnamese chicken brodo, which the judges deemed technically inept. 

The good news for Miami? Jeremy Ford takes the top spot for his crudo. With one Miami chef at the top, and the other nearly eliminated, it looks like this season will have a lot of nail-biting moments for locals watching at home. Jeremy Ford's early lead could mean another Miami chef going all the way to the finals, like Nina Compton did in 2014

The two-part season opener continues tonight at 10 p.m., where the remaining cheftestants are tasked with opening up pop-up restaurants in teams.

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