Thursday, August 20, 2009

Freaks and Leeks: The Top Chef: Vegas recap

No lie. If I were to run into the cast of Top Chef: Las Vegas in a dark alley, I would seriously consider crossing the street. I mean, I understand that these are some of the finest culinary minds in America, but they look like cast-offs from Jim Rose’s freakshow circus. That’s a whole lot of tattoos, piercings, and curious facial hair per contestant. Is the Culinary Institute of America suddenly offering free tats with every diploma?

That being said, looks like we have a lot of talent assembled this season. Both our Quickfire winner, Eric Ripert protégée Jennifer (who, on her Bravo bio, lists Compressed Watermelon, Chesapeake Bay Jumbo Lump Crab, Fennel Pollen and Wild Boar Prosciutto Chips as her “favorite simple summer recipe”) and our Elimination Challenge winner Kevin Gillespie (hey Kevin, the Brawny towel guy called, he wants his beard back) seem like early favorites.

As for the show? It was almost unbearably painful to watch poor Preeti hacking away at those clams. “They’re just like oysters, right?” she asked, as the mise en place countdown was about to begin. “Noooo. . .” said Kevin, his voice trailing off mournfully—and it was sort of like one of those scenes in a horror film where you know the cute girl is going to get it. For her part, Preeti seemed unfazed by her crushing humiliation.

Instead, it was cocky, bossy, full-of-herself Jennifer who turned several shades of red when she won for her ceviche—and this was before she gave Tom Colicchio a deeply awkward, fan girly kiss on the cheek.

The early season villain has emerged—bizarro Ben Affleck Michael Isabella, who couldn’t believe he was losing the clam shucking to a girl (“no offense or nutin’”) and who challenged Robin Leventhal’s completely reasonable choice to not exchange her immunity for a chance to win $15,000 by saying that she wasn’t confident in her abilities. It’s almost too easy to hate this guy.

B’more’s own Jesse (lip piercings, giraffe emerging from a sunset tat on chest) thrived in the Quickfire with her shrimp and grits and faltered a bit with her dry chicken in the Vegas vice challenge. But she never seemed truly in jeopardy.

I like the fact that two brothers are competing, especially since they are like Goofus and Gallant from the Highlights magazine. Technically, I’m supposed to be rooting for Bryan because he’s from Frederick, but I do love me a bad boy (Michael).

Besides bizarro Ben Affleck, we have a few more celebrity lookalikes.
Ashley Merriman looks like Beck. There I said it.
Eve Aronoff looks like Roseanne Arquette’s mousy younger sister. (No, not Patricia Arquette.)
Robin Levanthall looks like Patti LuPone.
We also have the ridiculous French chef Mattin, who wears a jaunty red neckerchief, and thus, looks like Speedy Gonzales.

Finally, we say good bye to Jennifer Zavala, who will always comfort herself by believing that the reason she was eliminated was because she used wheat gluten and not because her chili relleno tasted nasty. (Even though Gail very specifically said, “It wasn’t the seitan that was the problem.”)

For the best, I suppose. I found it hard to look at her. I kept turning into my mother: “Why would such a pretty girl put such an ugly tattoo on her neck?”

A leitmotif of the season, when you get right down to it.

A few extra notes: I changed my tune on Top Chef Masters. No, it never reached Top Chef levels of awesomeness, but I found myself really enjoying the camaradarie and mutual respect among the contestants—not to mention the awesome culinary skills on display (I’m still drooling over that burger challenge). I fell in love with the self-effacing, slightly grouchy Anita Lo, and thought Chefs Hubert Keller and Rick Bayless were such class acts. As for Michael Chiarello—just at the end there, I thought he might pull off the upset and I actually would’ve been happy for him. He was always discounted as a bit a pretender, but he proved on this show that he really has the chops. (And the massive ego to go with them.)

Finally, thanks to those wascally wabbits at Lifetime, Project Runway and Top Chef are running on consecutive nights . This might make regular Top Chef blogs a bit tricky. I will endeavor to blog about Top Chef whenever I can, but my heart belongs to Project Runway. My best advice would be to subscribe to this blog (and why don’t you, anyway?) so you never miss a post.

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