Friday, November 20, 2009

Lucky 13: The Project Runway recap

I believe it was first Confucius—and later Carol Hannah—who said: “If I’m lying with my head in the toilet, I can’t get any work done.”

Poor dear. I can barely manage to crawl from the bathroom back to the bed when I’m sick like that. She was only making finishing touches on the most important collection of her life.

To make matters worse, Logan was in the studio, being all nice and supportive, and I’m sure she was thinking, “Is my hair greasy? Do I have vomit crust on my mouth?”

Thankfully, Christopher stepped in and gave the comforting hug of a gay man, which is the most comforting hug of all.

As for Gordana, she was going all Brokeback Mountain on Irina as the two of them worked feverishly: “I won’t quit on you,” she said. “I promise.”

One thing I noticed when the designers “gathered round” Tim Gunn? Either Althea is a giant, or both Carol Hannah and Irina are 4 foot 8. How had I never noticed that before?

Tim Gunn, bored with this season as the rest of us, fanned the flames a bit (naughty boy!) when he pointed out that Irina and Althea had both instructed their makeup artists to do smudgy eyes. There was briefly some confusion about who invented the smoky eye first (I believe it was Man Ray, in 1921), before everyone got back to sewing.

Backstage at Bryant Park, Tim Gunn was “about to lose it” (something to do with the models not being ready), and of course, it was the most restrained, elegant meltdown in the history of meltdowns. His "losing it" is my equivalent of "admirably keeping my cool."

The collections were all nice. Full disclosure, I had seen them already online and was really wowed by Carol Hannah’s work. Some of her dresses—especially her first dress, plus her inverted tutu dress, and the look she brought to judging—were, to coin a Gunnism, “stunning.”

But seeing Irina’s collection up close, I saw the phenomenal attention to detail and the genuinely luxe quality of the work. I may be a hater, but I will not stand to the left. I’ll grudgingly admit that Irina’s collection was damn good.

As for Althea’s sci-fi inspired collection, I learned that in the future, we apparently won’t need the use of our hands—most of her sleeves went down to her model’s kneecaps. (Also true of some of Irina’s knits. But who copied who?) I liked her collection well enough, but it was simply an extension of the kind of cool, chic, and wearable stuff she had done all season—there were no real showstoppers.

And isn’t it strange that the 13th look was a major success for all three designers? I think if I had slaved over a collection for 3 months and the look I did on the fly was the one everyone was going gaga over, I’d be pissed. It would be like if you sweated over a Thanksgiving meal for hours and then everyone went nuts for the instant stuffing. (BTW, that was just a hypothetical. I haven’t made a Thanksgiving dinner in my life. Hi Mom!)

The judges were Nina, Michael, Heidi and Suzy Menkes from the International Herald Tribune, who was channeling Ed Grimley with her unfortunate hair. (I confess that my faith in her ability to judge the collections was somewhat compromised by that hair don’t.)

Carol Hannah was first to be auf’ed, and even though I think she should have at least come in second, it was too dramatic to pass up on an Althea and Irina showdown.

And congratulations to. . .Meana Irina!

She cried actual human tears and her parents came out, and they cried, too. And Lifetime made a very Bravo-like decision when they randomly showed that vaguely Antonio Bandares-esque photo of Irina’s dad when he was young: "Your daughter has just won Project Runway and. . .here’s how hot you were in your 20s!!" Nicely played Lifetime. Nicely played. There’s hope for this network yet.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Living Sous Vida Loca: The Top Chef recap

The curse of Hootie has been lifted.

I am referring, of course, to Season 5’s Carla, she of the perfect peas and the “hootie hoos” and the food so endearing that even Toby Young “tasted the love.” If you recall, she was given the uniquely horrible advice by Casey (grrrr) to prepare her steak sous vide. Carla had never made sous vide before, and predictably, it didn’t end well.

And so it was when Kevin asked Gallant how to cook sous vide (and Gallant, gallantly, told him), I began yelling at the TV screen, “Remember Hootie! Remember Hootie!”

I had heard a rumor that there would be a shocking elimination this week (lies!) and this whole Bocuse d’Or thing seemed set up to make Kevin fail.

You see, Kevin is neither fussy, nor fancy, nor ironical—all the things that apparently make the Bocuse d’Or fly. (It actually reminds me of those crazy Vegas hair shows where some stylist turns a woman’s hair into a bird’s nest).

Of course, I’m not the first to point out that this whole season has been about technique vs. instinct; finesse vs. flavor. Even the recently departed Robin (didya vote for Fan Favorite yet? didya?) fell clearly into the latter category. She made simple, homey food, prepared reasonably well—and was the object of much scorn because of it.

But when it comes to homey food—or, as Goofus snidely said: “The kind of food I make on my day off”—Kevin is the king. The problem with Goofus—and to a lesser extent Gallant and Jennifer—is that he doesn’t get it. In the end, it’s all about flavors. Food is supposed to be delicious, not just show off the cleverness and technique of its preparer.

So the show starts with a Quickfire challenge judged by Bocuse d’Or wunderkind Gavin Kaysen: Make a protein in a protein in a protein, also known as a ballotine. Because they didn’t specifically say ballotine, Goofus got cute and made a terrine and lost.

“I’m confident my ballotine would’ve been as good as the one Gavin made in the Bocuse d’Or,” Goofus sniffed. (Is there any way he can bottle his confidence and sell it in the condiment aisle? Because every once in a while, I’d like to sprinkle a little Goofus on my toast.)

The cutest thing happened when Padma tasted Jennifer’s calamari ballotine. She sneakily said to Jennifer, “Welcome back.” And as if that girl bonding moment wasn’t winning enough, Kevin, having overheard the exchange, winked at Jennifer. Love. Him.

So, yay, Jennifer wins! I’m happy to see her get a bit of her mojo back. And she gets an extra 30 minutes on the Bocuse d’Or challenge, which seems like a damn good time to win such a thing.

So a few more thoughts before we get to the part where the chef’s cook food on platters stolen from the set of
Real Housewives of New Jersey.

•Goofus sleeps in his chef’s coat, which is a lot like a 10-year-old boy sleeping with his catcher’s mitt, and is actually sort of cute.

•Gallant still has faith in his kid brother. After teaching Kevin how to make sous vide, he noted, “My brother might’ve done the same thing. I’m not sure.”

•Did I miss the show where they told us that Eli and Richard Blais had a bromance? Doesn’t make me like Eli any more, but it is a surprising detail.

So at the challenge Goofus’s Mediterrean flavors seemed arbitrary (and Daniel Boulud found a bone in his fish!
sacre bleu!), both Eli’s lamb sausage and Gallant’s crusted loin of lamb were undercooked, Jennifer’s salmon was inconsistently cooked, and Kevin’s preparations were too safe. But all in all, the gang did well. And I don’t know about you, but I got a little misty eyed when the judges gave them a round of applause.

In the end, Kevin prevailed. And if he can win this challenge, which is pretty much contrary to everything he stands for as a chef, I truly believe he's unstoppable at this point. I’d like to think that Goofus learned a valuable lesson from all this—something about the virtues of modesty and simplicity and cooking from the heart—but who am trying to kid? He probably thought he was robbed.

And good news, kids! Eli goes home. It’s the Final Four we all predicted 12 episodes ago.

Next week, the finale and—everyone has funny hair!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Feeling a Little Queasy: The Project Runway recap

In the end, it took an act of God—or nature, if you prefer—to make the penultimate episode of this season even remotely interesting. Yes, I’m referring to Carol Hannah’s unfortunate stomach virus. Without the imminent threat of her dropping out of the competition—or hurling all over her gowns—last night’s episode would have been a total bore.

The hometown visits were pretty routine stuff, although I never tire of seeing Tim Gunn out of water (and clearly neither do the producers):

Tim Gunn dons an apron and bakes biscuits!
Tim Gunn operates a service elevator!
Tim Gunn drinks vodka with Irina’s Ruskie dad!
Tim Gunn tells Carol Hannah he. . . loves her?!? (Commence record scratching sound.)

I mean, I know Tim and Carol Hannah have something special going on but this may be the first time Tim ever told a contestant he actually loved them. (Well, except maybe for Andre).

As for these first glimpses at the collections? To be frank, none of them wowed me. Carol Hannah’s collection was randomly inspired by Duke University, which for me = automatic fail. (Go Terps!)

Irina went for the color of her soul—black—but had a potentially clever idea of using Coney Island post card iconography, until Tim Gunn informed her that it was a copyright infringement. Moral of this story? Karma is a bitch (and so are you).

Except for that navy blue sweater jacket that I coveted, Althea’s garments looked overworked and, yes, matronly. (But how bout that cutie-patootie boyfriend of hers?)

You could cut the tension with a sewing needle when Irina and Althea both arrived at the hotel in New York.
There were lots of tense smiles, and some fake “oh, I’ll just look around the suite” business, until they both just sat there stiffly, side by side, waiting for Carol Hannah. Who was a no show.

So then they are informed that Carol Hannah has the nasty contagious stomach plague—and both Althea and Irina’s minds go to the exact same place: Not, poor dear, I hope she’s okay. Not, oh my God, I can’t imagine how horrible this is for her.
But. . .if Carol Hannah drops out of the competition, that TOTALLY increases my chance of winning! Bonus!

So when little Carol Hannah does manage to drag herself to the studio the next day, they were visibly disappointed. At least, Althea offered a half-hearted, “Can I hug you?” Irina promptly said, “Don’t give me cooties.” She’s so warm.

Big shocking unexpected surprise! The designers have to make a 13th garment with the help of one of their fallen compadres: Logan, Gordana, and Christopher.

Althea gets to choose her Santa’s helper first and picks Logan. And a little part of Carol Hannah dies inside.

Irina picks Gordana, which is obviously the best move, because Gordana is, like, captain of the Serbian Olympic Sewing team.

And Carol Hannah takes Christopher. Cue the theme music to Will and Grace.

The gang walks to Mood. “We’re using our feet. This is New York!” says Tim Gunn. And do I detect the slightest bit of contempt for LA in his voice? Yes, yes I do. And the bulldog at Mood is named Swatch. Which is awesome.

Later, there is a visit from Michael Kors and Nina Garcia, as if this is going to make up for the fact that they missed half the season. Nina says something about an all black collection being a bad idea and Irina scowls at her (more than her usual scowl) and Nina scowls back (more than her usual scowl) and it is, to paraphrase Daniel Vosovic, “a mother fuckin’ scowl-off.”

Next week: Carol Hannah still puking her guts out! Irina still accusing Althea of copying her! Althea cries! Someone wins!
Is it season 7 yet?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hostile Lump of Meat: The Top Chef Vegas recap

Today’s Quickfire Challenge is clearly based on a particularly good dream Tom Colicchio had once. It features Padma and Nigella Lawson, side by side in bed, wearing fluffy robes (and apparently little else), waiting to be served.

The funny part was watching the male cheftestants attempt to be suave in front of these be-robed Glamazons (as they rolled their tongues back in their mouths). Only Goofus had enough game to get Nigella to flirt back.

I love breakfast, so everything looked super appetizing to me, except for Robin’s runny blintz and Eli’s crusty hair. But anyway, Eli won with his creative take on the Reuben. Alas.

For the Elimination Challenge, each chef was assigned a Vegas landmark and then they had to create a dish inspired by that landmark.
Robin got the Bellagio.
Kevin got the Mirage.
Eli got Circus Circus.
Jen got Tournament of Kings.
Goofus got New York-New York
Gallant got Mandalay Bay.

It was pretty awkward watching them all wander around these casinos by themselves attempting to get inspiration. Jen had to suffer through some sort of Medieval midget wizardry (midgetry?) act and Eli looked like a child lost at Coney Island. Meanwhile, Kevin pretty much ignored his challenge and played with dolphins (who can blame him?) and Gallant discovered that nothing says “sustainable practices” quite like the Mirage in Vegas. Robin got mesmerized by shiny baubles (okay Dale Chihuly glasswork) and Goofus strutted around New York-New York like he owned the place—which is pretty much the way he walks around everywhere.

Back at the house, Eli seemed completely flummoxed by his challenge. “There’s no food at the circus!” he moaned. a.) The makers of Peptol Bismol would disagree. b.) Last I checked, Dale Chihuly glasswork was not edible, but Robin managed to find inspiration in it anyway.

So Robin fell into the classic Top Chef trap and tried something overly ambitious, namely a panna cotta with a sugar-glass coating, but she screwed up her sugar glass. A shame, because it would’ve been wicked cool. Also, apparently, the texture of her panna cotta was off.
As Nigella said later in judging: “It should have the quiver of a 17th Century courtesan’s inner thigh.” No, really. She actually said that.

(An aside. What is it with the Brit’s and their elaborate metaphors? I can just imagine Toby and Nigella in the playgrounds as small children. “These jungle gym legs are as cold and unforgiving as the bars in the Tower of London,” little Nigella would quip. “Your juice box is like a slithering eel, coated in purple squid ink,” Toby would counter. )

In a shocking development, Goofus was mean to Robin—snapping at her when she accidentally got in his way in the kitchen. This guy acts like being a dick to Robin is his job.

Happily, Robin wasn’t the only one who screwed up her dish: Eli’s peanut soup with raspberry froth looked almost as vomitatious as his dirty hair.
“He gambled and lost,” Toby said. (A Vegas joke, for those not playing the home game.)
“I personally would never want to eat that again,” said Padma. Seems she dislikes Eli almost as much as I do.

Jen’s Sword and Stone was a very bad idea from the outset. To name your steak a stone is just begging for “the meat is too tough” comments. It’s like naming your movie, “Box office bomb.”
Unsurprisingly, Nigella called it a “hostile lump of meat.”

Top 3: Goofus with his jaunty little chicken wings with blue cheese, Gallant with his halibut and garlic chips (“they gave me a little prick in my mouth!” exclaimed Padma—oh wait, wrong challenge), and Kevin with his Alaskan sockeye salmon and cabbage.

Curiously, Toby describes Goofus’s food as “delicate and feminine” to which Goofus replies (even more curiously): “I’m a strong believer that your personality is on the plate.”
Cut to Gallant, who stifles a snicker: “Dude, he just totally called you a chick.”

But sensitivity, such as it were, rules the day because Goofus wins. I happen to think it’s because Nigella thinks he’s hot. But what do I know?

Bottom 3: Eli, Robin, and Jen.
And just for a few brief, happy minutes I actually think that Eli is going home before Robin. After all, it happened again—her dish didn’t suck the worst. His peanut butter surprise did.
But her luck has run out and it is, indeed, Robin’s time to go home. Did you catch Tom Colicchio getting a little misty eyed? God, I love that guy.

So here’s my proposal: Robin for Fan Favorite. Let’s make it happen, people! Let's reward her for her guts, her perseverance, her Solomon-like patience in having to put up with a kitchen full of brats. An atta girl, we were with you the whole time! A little xoxo from the viewers at home.

Is anyone with me on this? Because otherwise Kevin is possibly going to win Fan Favorite and the title of Top Chef, which (much as I love Kevin) would be kinda boring.

Vote, vote, vote!

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Mess Fest: The Project Runway recap

In fashion—and in Irina’s inner circle—one day you're in and the next day you're out. And so it goes that Althea, who had the audacity to make an oversized sweater the week after Irina made her oversized sweater, has been banished. And Gordana is Irina’s new BFF—they’re both from Europe, you know.

So, with Gordana and Irina locking arms or texting or doing each other’s hair or whatever it is that new BFFs do, the designers make way to the Getty Museum, where they are told to search for inspiration. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art called: It wants its challenge back.)

The Mayor of Los Angeles is there to meet them—because he clearly has nothing better to do. (Luckily, we’re not in a recession and wild fires haven’t recently ravaged the landscape!)

For her inspiration, Althea cleverly picks what is, in fact, the coolest thing about the Getty Museum—the building itself.

Gordana picks Monet’s “Rome Cathedral in Morning Light,” which is just so boring, and predictable and, well, her. “I’m from Europe,” she notes, and somehow this Monet is bringing out both her European and her heretofore undisclosed spiritual side.

Irina picks the oh-so-Sapphic “Mischief and Repose” painting. (Maybe she and Gordana are closer than I thought. . . .) And I find it slightly amusing that Irina, or any designer for that matter, would be inspired by a painting of two zaftig women. Because designers just love making clothes for the chubs.

Carol Hannah falls in love with the European Decorative Arts room and, in particular, the French bed that I’m sure she momentarily fantasizes about a romp with Logan on.

And Christopher falls in love with . . .some rocks with algae on them.

So there you go.

Tensions are running amok in the studio. At some point, Gordana and Irina compare Althea to a dog, or at least I think that’s what they were doing. There was talk of dogs that bark and dogs that bite and cute dogs and they lost me someplace in the middle.

And Althea is BFF-less, so she kind of tries to sidle up to Carol Hannah, who wants nothing to do with the dramah.

Tim Gunn is playing favorites again.

While he tells Christopher to use “an editing eye” (ah, if only he had) and Althea to use a “critical eye,” he gets very specific with Carol Hannah, telling her not to swoop fabric across the bodice of her dress.
“I think it loses its taste and loses its sophistication,” he says.

(An aside: That may, in fact, have been bad advice from Master Gunn. Without any swooping action, Carol Hannah’s dress bore very little relationship to the ornate bed—and the judges whacked her for it. In Tim’s attempt to help, he almost got his pet axed.)

The funniest Tim Gunn confrontation is with Irina. Her dress is a sort of flowy, Gladiator-style mini dress—cool enough.
“But what’s that?” says Tim, clearly horrified. And the camera dramatically pans to something from the costume department of Davey Crockett: The Metrosexual Years. Except it’s actually Irina’s shrug.
“It looks like road kill,” says Tim.
Irina, no dummy, decides to kill the road kill.

Back at the house, Carol Hannah tries to break up a fight between Irina and Gordana, but they’re not actually fighting. This is just the way European best friends communicate with each other, they explain, laughing at her naiveté.

“Oh, it sounded like fighting,” mutters Carol Hannah.
“I’m not here to serve you!” Gordana shouts at her. Which makes no sense at all.

Christopher is sitting by himself in the men’s dorm, forlornly eating his eggs. And he has to be the loneliest self-taught designer on the planet.
He's even forced to write inspirational notes to himself on the chalk board.
“The Big Day!” one reads. “Stay true!” reads another. And then, the saddest of them all: “Good luck!”

His solitude is obviously really getting to him, because in the studio, he picks up an iron and exclaims, “This is hot!”
(Later he will wield a pin, shouting, “This is pointy!”)

Judgment day. And they couldn’t even manage to fly Michael Kors in for the most important judging of the season? This is making me feel like one of those dogs who doesn’t bark or who both barks and bites, or something like that.

The judges are Cynthia Rowley, Cindy Crawford, and, thank God, Nina Garcia.

My two cents:

Irina’s Greek goddess mini is kind of cool. But what on earth was she thinking with those clunky shoes?

Christopher had one-third of a great dress. The top was fabulous. The skirt that looked like the thing the dentist drapes over you when he’s about to take X-rays. The less said about the breast plate, the better.

Althea’s dress was a great concept, poorly executed. (A “mess fest” Heidi called it.)

Gordana’s flowy Monet dress was the best in the bunch. But was it enough to save her? I’ll save the suspense: No, it wasn’t.

The best part is when the designers have to pick which two designers should join them in Bryant Park.
Much to my surprise, both Althea and Irina pick each other—there’s hope for those two crazy kids after all! By my final tally: Christopher got 2 votes; Irina got 3 votes; Althea got 2 votes; Carol Hannah got 2 votes; and Gordana got 1 vote. (Which pretty much sums up the season.)

In the end, the right three ladies made it to fashion week: Irina, Althea, and Carol Hannah. And Christopher cried—again. And Gordana demonstrated a stiff European upper lip. And how about that, people? Babes in Bryant Park. Can’t wait.