Another episode of Top Chef is airing this evening. I watched and enjoyed the first couple of seasons, but I lost interest at some point, and it wasn’t until the show was set in New Orleans (season 11) that I actually watched an entire season again.
It was fascinating to watch the show visit places I recognized, but it was very difficult to observe how the editors treated Justin Devillier, and watching chef Tom Colicchio perform as the avatar of “smug” reminded me why I’d stopped watching in the first place.
But I am hooked on this season, not least because chef Isaac Toups is competing. I cannot claim to know Isaac all that well, but I have met him a few times, and I can tell you that the Toups you are seeing on the television is the Toups I know. He is not, so far as my experience with him goes, “acting” to try to gain attention.
But here’s the weird thing: when I first met him, my impression was that he was shy. I mean, I could tell the dude was crazy, but he seemed reserved. This was in the context of a wine dinner he’d cooked at the now-closed restaurant Cuvee; chef Toups was called out to describe the courses. It’s not as though he didn’t describe things, but he didn’t seem all that engaged in the process. He wanted to be back in the kitchen, and while that may not be the best path for career advancement for a chef, it’s admirable.
When I heard he was opening a restaurant in Mid-City called “Toups Meatery,” I thought maybe “crazy” understated things. But I also learned that Larry Nguyen was going to be managing the place, and I figured that if he was involved, maybe Toups wasn’t quite as insane as I thought.
So you don’t need me to tell you that the food at Toups’ Meatery is good. And given his appearance on the television, there’s no need for me to tout the place in an effort to drum up business.
I’m writing about Isaac and Toups’ Meatery because I like the place, and because I like chef Toups and his wife Amanda. I like the food they put out, and I like the fact that I have run into them several times at other local restaurants – other than chefs Brack May, Michael Stoltfuz and Kristen Essig, I can’t think of another local chef I’ve seen at restaurants as often as Toups.
I think it’s silly to read too much into that, because it’s entirely possible that I keep running into the same chefs by coincidence, but I think it’s pretty swell that Toups and the other chefs I’ve mentioned are a) supporting local restaurants and b) enjoying the hell out of themselves as they do it.
When I heard that chef Toups was going to be on this season of Top Chef, I set my DVR to record it. It’s been an enjoyable season, not least because the producers are giving Toups a good bit of airtime. If you’ve seen any episodes of the show this season, you’ll understand why that it – dude has no filter, and he’s funny as all hell.
I cannot get too worked up about how the actual “scoring” of the competition goes, because while I don’t think it’s entirely rigged, I do think there’s a substantial portion of the judging that’s either a) driven by Tom Colicchio’s smirk; or, b) the producers figuring out which of the contestants is going to throw another under a bus by the 3rd episode.
Having said all of the above, I’m still watching the show, and I was embarrassingly happy to see chef Toups win the restaurant wats portion of the competition. Toups has gotten some grief from a contestant or two as being the “Cajun” chef – the subtext being he couldn’t do “upscale”food.
I think the mischaracterization of Toups as a “rustic” cook (or at least, as only a “rustic cook”) is going to bite a lot of people in the ass by the time the show is over. Toups is not just capable of making “country” or casual food, and my guess is this isn’t the only challenge he’ll win.
I have heard that Toups’ Meatery holds watching parties when Top Chef airs, and that occasionally one can glimpse chef Toups in the kitchen or at the bar. My goal is to go not when there are hundreds of people standing outside waiting for some physical manifestation of “man;” my goal is to go when I can sit down and relax and maybe say helo to Larry.
In other news, another of my favorite local chefs, Tenney Flynn, is going to be teaching a class at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum on Saturday, February 27, from 2 to 3 p.m. The topic is the pre-industrial use of corn in Southern cooking, but as it’s chef Flynn, there will also be seafood involved.
Check out the details here.
Flynn is a pretty low-key guy, at least in my experience, but when you get him talking, you recognize quickly that his enthusiasm is as deep as his knowledge, and I have no doubt this is going to be a hell of a class. I hope I can make it, and if I do, that I see you there.