Two episodes into this season of Top Chef, it's still hard to tell everyone apart. The winners and losers may stand out a little, but it will take the elimination of at least three more Patricks, Jills, or (probably soon) Arianes before any clear favorites can be found. But the two contestants who made the most immediate impression? Stefan and Fabio.
As the first two winners and the biggest personalities, Stefan (from Finland) and Fabio (from Italy) are the early favorites, showing a true European takeover. Stefan proved his cooking chops right away, winning both quickfire and elimination challenges last week. Since three out of four Top Chefs won their first challenges (and the fourth made final two), that makes Stefan a heavy favorite to win. And with his "I'm better than you because I'm from Europe" attitude, he's also the early favorite to be the one everyone else hates.
Fabio, on the other hand, seemed like Stefan's goofy sidekick. Last week, he had to write out his list of ingredients, citing a weak grasp of the English language (in case we hadn't noticed). This week, he upped the comedy by not once, but twice (that we saw) talking about slaying dragons and saving princesses. He clearly enjoyed the story. Then at the end, he gave an amusingly angry defense of his dish, failing to realize he wasn't on the bottom but but the top. His win made him no longer just the comic relief, but an actual contender.
As for the Americans, a few of them have shown some promise. There's quickfire winner Radhika, who's had a mixed record so far but is the only one this year (if ever) with a background in Indian food. Jamie of Team Rainbow impressed with a corn soup, and looks likely to make it pretty far. The Australian guy from House, obviously faking an American accent for this show, showed he's not just there for his hair. And Crazy Hair made top 3 this week for her dessert, making her someone to watch. As for Tattoo Guy, Guy in Team Rainbow, Girl from Centro Vinoteca (which is right near my apartment), Crazy Long Island Accent Guy, and the others? No opinion yet, but I do know Ariane's gotta go.
As for the challenges, Top Chef showed that other fifth season Bravo show the advantages of not just pulling them out of reruns (you know who you are, Project Runway). It's hard to believe Top Chef waited this long to come to New York, and they've already made good use of it. Highlighting the different ethnic foods throughout the five borroughs last week was a fun introduction. The hog dog quickfire was as appropriate as the deep dish pizza challenge in Chicago last season. And cooking at Tom Colicchio's Craft restaurant just makes sense. All in all, it's looking like a good season.