Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Very Special Episode of Top Chef

Ah, smell the sweat, breathe in the polluted humidity, dodge the naked cowboy in Times Square. It’s Christmas—in August—in New York!

Once again, we’ve got our big faux holiday episode of Top Chef, and this time they’ve somehow snookered Martha Stewart, amFAR, and Natasha Richardson to go along with the charade. (The Christmas tree at the amFAR party was a particularly nice touch.)

First, Martha Stewart strolls in as judge of the Quickfire challenge. I feel like there should be fanfares or fireworks or supplication rituals or somethin’, but she just kind of shows up. Martha, as it turns out, is a big fan of the one pot dish. (Insert your own crockpot-in-the-slammer joke here.) So the assignment is: make a one-pot holiday meal.

This is bad news for Radhika, who usually uses 10 pots to make one dish. (Can I just say that if I used 10 pots to make a single dish, I would either throw away all the pots or consider selling my home as is. No way would I be cleaning that shit.)

Gene makes a stew that he thickens with corn starch. Queen Martha does not approve.

Jamie’s scallops, however, pass muster.

Hosea’s paella gets “props.”

But Fabio’s polenta fails to impress. “My grandma will be so ashamed,” he says.

Let us pause for a moment to take the “How Well Do You Know Fabio?” quiz.
Who will Fabio’s grandma be ashamed of:
a. Fabio, for screwing up a family recipe and shaming the Viviani good name?
b. Herself, for creating the subpar polenta recipe that sent her beloved little Fabio to the Bottom 3?
c. Martha Stewart, for not appreciating the awesomeness of her awesome grandson’s awesome polenta?
If you guessed c, you win! You know your Fabio Viviani! (Congratulations?)

The OPG Ariane naturally makes a filet over mashed cauliflower with a very deceptive I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter element. And she wins! And it’s funny, because Jamie comes in second again. That can’t happen enough in my book.

Next, the Harlem Gospel Choir comes in and starts singing the hell out of some Christmas standards. Top Chef goes way high concept on this—each contestant will have to create an appetizer representing one of the 12 days of Christmas. (Smart observers will note that there are only 11 cheftestants left. I think four calling birds got the shaft.)

Fabio moans and groans that 9 ladies dancing is the hardest of all the days. (And this is the guy most Bravo viewers want under the mistletoe?)

Hosea is confused and seems to think that the pipers piping are smoking actual pipes, not playing flutes. Oh well, he’s Jewish, so I guess he gets a pass. He decides to smoke some pork. (So, uh, I guess he’s not that Jewish.)

Radhika gets the partridge in a pear tree and decides to make duck.
Everyone crams their stuff into the fridge—ominously—and goes home for the night.

Morning arrives and the refrigerator door has been left open! The horror!
I dunno. Maybe the fridge door just popped open on its own, but it looked pretty secure the night before to me. Why do I have the feeling that some evil Top Chef producer opened the door to create their very own Christmas-in-August miracle?

Because you see, folks, a spirit of teamwork emerges and everyone chips in to help save Hosea and Radhika, the worst victims of the Christmas-in-August Refrigerator Massacre. It’s sort of like Extreme Home Makeover, except with pork.

Off to the amFAR party they go, where, in a shocking moment, skeevy Stefan makes lewd comments about Natasha Richardson’s voice. (In fairness, she does have a lovely voice.)

The deal is, guests at the party will place their AIDS ribbons next to their favorite dish. (Probably the least sensitive use of the AIDS ribbon in the history of charity, but I digress.)

Hosea, with his pork, and Jeff, who made some sort of high concept island cheese salad, are working the room and getting their flirt on and piling up the ribbons.

In the end, Hosea wins!

Ariane made deviled eggs because she had immunity and I guess was in the mood for deviled eggs.

Jamie made scallops again. But they were raw and mushy and gross this time.

Gene made some sort of nasty sweet ceviche.

Melissa made . . . wait who’s Melissa again? (Sorry. Has anyone ever exhibited less personality at this stage in the competition?). Right, she made filet with too much gorgonzola on top.

So Gene, Jamie, and Melissa are the Bottom 3. The best part about this is that Jamie can stop bitchin that she’s always in the Top 3.

The judges confer and decide that all three dishes suck. But than again, everyone’s dish pretty much sucked! Mediocrity pays! And also, it’s Christmas in August and everyone chipped in and it is a Very Special Episode of Top Chef so. . .no one goes home. Merry Summer Solstice to you all!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Carla Hears a Hoo! The Top Chef recap

Ariane really needs to gain some confidence. As the show begins, she’s sweeping the Top Chef apartment, like some sort of middle-aged Cinderella.
"I'm a lot older than the other contestants," she explains.

Ariane, I hasten to point out to you that skeevy, stalker-ish Stefan is 37. You are 41. You are not his mother, nor anyone else’s for that matter. Stop cleaning!
(But maybe she just finds sweeping to be therapeutic?)

Anyway, no need to feel sorry for Ariane, because she is the OPG (Original Protein Gangster). But more on her triumph later.

First, Stefan is hitting on Jamie, in a variety of unsavory ways. He makes some towel pants for her stuffed animal. (Some sort of Finnish mating ritual?)
Later, he climbs into her bed and begs for a kiss. Yuck! Seriously, when Jamie signed up for Top Chef I’m pretty sure she didn’t have to check a box that said, “Will happily submit to sexual harassment by Eurotrash chef.” Also, as she put it rather succinctly, “Does the word lesbian mean nothing to him?”

The Quickfire Challenge is your favorite and mine, the palate tester. They do it in a really fun fashion, Name that Tune. . .broth style. (“I can name 4 ingredients in this broth” “I can name 5” “Name that broth.”) I am, however, concerned about all the double-dipping.

Right away, I can see that the best strategy is picking salt and pepper, even if it is kind of lame. (Sort of like those contestants on The Price is Right who go one dollar over the last bid—crude but effective.) You definitely feel like a chump if you go out on a failed guess of “turmeric” when you didn’t even mention "salt."

And so it goes that the final two contestants standing are Kojak and Yul Brenner, uh, Hosea and Stefan. I’ve never rooted so hard for Hosea in my life. When Stefan incorrectly guesses that the mole sauce has chili powder, Hosea wins. To which I say, Hosea! (It’s a name and a joyful exclamation!)

Onto the main challenge: Prepare the meal for Gail Simmons’ bridal shower. Awww. As Padma says (in a moment of extreme cognitive dissonance for me), “Mozel tov, Gail!”

The chefs split into teams: New, Old, Borrowed, and Blue.
“Me being married, I know the phrase something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue,” says Ariane sagely. (For her next trick, Ariane will explain to all of us unmarried grunts what the ring is for.)

Poor Carla gets New and is saddled with Team Loser: Danny and Gene. Ouch.
The other teams are:
Fabio, Melissa, and Jill (Blue)
Radhika, Jamie, and Ariane (Borrowed)
Hosea, Jeff, and Stefan (Old)

Off to Whole Foods they go, where Carla loses her teammates and starts randomly yelling out “Hootie! “Hootie!” Turns out, she and her husband have this nauseating/cute routine where, when separated, she yells “Hootie!” and her husband yells “Hoo!” I guess Carla was hoping that this practice was somehow sweeping the nation.

Stefan is being Mr. Bossy Pants with his group and I have to give Jeff and Hosea mad credit for sticking to their guns and not just caving. Jeff is going to make his savory sorbet and Hosea is going to make his gazpacho, God dammit. And no pushy Fin will stop them.

Team Borrowed decides to “borrow” some flavors from Radhika’s Indian culture and make what looks to be the most delish piece of lamb with carrot puree and kale.
Of course, the OPG is in charge of the lamb and, after a brief panic where the meat is too rare, she pulls it out and it looks positively sublime.

Team New is making some sort of deconstructed, build-your-own, surf-and-turf cooked sushi (what, no foam?). The whole thing is so high concept, it makes your eyes bleed. Then, to make matters worse, Danny decides to “help” Carla by adding marinated mushrooms to her salad, thus ruining the apparently one edible dish on their menu.

Team Old is making a trio of heirloom tomatoes. Stefan doesn’t want Jeff to make his tomato sorbet, but Jeff says, “Bite me, Dieter” (well, not in so many words) and the sorbet is a big hit. Score!

Finally, Team Blue, flummoxed by the fact that there is no blue food (“blueberries are purple,” Colicchio reports) decide to do something deep sea related. They also decide, brilliantly, to put Fabio front and center in a room full of smartly dressed power foodies.

“All of you women look absolutely beautiful,” Fabio says.
“We have Chilean sea bass from the deep blue seas.”
“And we have green kale and yellow corn. Combine them on the color palate, and you have blue.”
Ooohs and aaahs, and possibly even squeals of approval.
Basically, they were eating out of his hands.

(An aside about the magical power of Italian men. Imagine if Danny had come out and said, “Youse ladies look byootiful tonite.” They would have booed him off the stage. Fabio says it, and they think he’s Don Juan in an apron.)

In the end, the bottom two were Team New (no explanation needed) and Team Blue (because Chilean sea bass ain’t exactly rocket science).

But first our winner: Ariane! Yes, the OPG is on a roll. Give that woman a turkey or a lamb, and she’s unstoppable. I can’t wait to see what she does with duck!
Jamie, however, could not bring herself to be happy for her teammate. “None of us expected anyone but me to win,” she said, proving that her carrot puree is better than her sentence structure. (It’s true that Ariane seemed surprised, even guilty, about her big win. But then again, she always seems surprised when she does well. It’s part of her charm. )

Ultimately, the last team on the chopping block is Team New. Carla got sabotaged by the Mushroom Burglar, so she is safe. Gene realized he screwed up, plus people like to rub his head for good luck, so he is safe. Danny stubbornly stood by his craptastic food to the bitter end, so he is OUT.

Next week: Martha Freaking Stewart, people.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Not Amused: The Top Chef recap

Fresh off his decided non-triumph on Dancing With the Stars, there’s Rocco DiSpirito, extolling the virtues of bacon and explaining the concept behind the breakfast amuse bouche Quickfire challenge. The funny thing is, a few seasons ago, they didn’t explain what an amuse bouche was, and many of the contestants created full appetizers. This year, they did explain the concept, but the contestants still managed to bungle it, much to Leah’s bus-throwing delight.

So Leah wins the amuse bouche breakfast challenge, cause she and Jamie pretty much made the same thing (a little mini BLT), but as Leah was quick to point out, Leah’s was both smaller and more amusing.

As for Jeff, he made two non-related amuse bouches and then seemed surprised when Rocco called him on it. He is such a Dilido.

Oooh, kids, grab your grappa—new drinking game: Drink every time Fabio mentions that he’s from Italy. (e.g., In Italy, where Fabio comes from, they don’t eat bacon for breakfast! Rocco DiSpirito cooks Italian food, which happens to be Fabio’s country of origin! It’ll be hard to cook and talk English, because Fabio’s first language is Italian! And so on.) Small sips, people.

The big challenge: Create a dish you can prepare in 2 minutes on the Today show. The contestants are all surprisingly flummoxed by this challenge. Leah pretty much says she has no personality and will suck on TV. Fabio has one of his “I’m Italian” freakouts. Alex says “I’m a chef, not a . . . public servant.” (No, Alex., that wasn’t the phrase you were looking for) Carla’s eyes completely bug out of her head . . .I kid, I kid. . .

But fear not, Danny is brimming with confidence! You see, he has a TV show back at home. Can you say New Jersey Cable Access? (Later, when he gives a “bababooey” Howard Stern shoutout during his segment I actually wrote in my notes: Could this guy be a bigger cliché?)

Off they go to Whole Foods, where everyone feels compelled to cut their own tuna. No, this is not a euphemism. They actually go behind the fish counter and cut their own tuna.

So they set up a little makeshift set in the studio, with Padma and Tom Colicchio playing the roles of Matt and Meredith. (They apparently think Matt and Meredith are extremely dumb, as they keep saying things like, “Duck egg? What’s that?” and “Is a habanera pepper hot?”)

In the end, Jeff, Fabio, and Ariane are the Top 3 while Jamie (who served a raw egg and seemed pissed about it), Alex (who didn’t realize it takes more than an hour to make crème brulee) and Melissa (who tried to kill Tom Colicchio with her peppers) were in the bottom.

But first, determining a winner! Tom Colicchio came into the girl’s room at 2 am and gently woke up Ariane (hey, I had a dream like this once!). Then he grabbed Fabio and Jeff and they all went down to Rockefeller Plaza, where, according to Jeff, three unsophisticated rubes—namely, Meredith Vierra, Kathy Lee Gifford, and Natalie Morales—would be picking the winner. (Cut to Kathy Lee Gifford spitting out Jeff’s dish. Har.)

In the end, the winner was Ariane with her watermelon and basil salad. Yes! I’m kvelling! (I even taped her appearance on today’s Today show which I ‘m going to watch when I get home.)

Now the bottom three:

Jamie had a bad attitude and totally could’ve given Matt Lauer salmonella, but she’s safe.

Melissa’s taste buds have been destroyed from eating too many peppers, but she really, really, really, really wants to be here—so she’s safe.

Alex is about to get married, which somehow, according to Melissa, makes him less worthy of being on the show—and he’s packing his knives and going home. (To a life of wedded bliss, I'm sure.)