Thursday, December 23, 2010

Garbage-o Beans: The Top Chef All-Stars recap

Step right up, ladies and gentleman and see the amazing Jamie. She will dazzle you with her torpor, razzle you with her snark, and defy the rational mind by advancing in a cooking competition without ever cooking a thing.

The show starts with the Swanson broth Quickfire Challenge, which is to make stuffing without using any utensils.
(Swanson’s fantasy of how I will react: “What a cracking good idea! I will use Swanson’s broth as a base the next time I make stuffing!”
How I actually reacted: “That reminds me. Mmmm. . .StoveTop.”)

I actually liked this challenge a lot more before they introduced the no-utensils catch. Just once I’d like to see them go head-to-head on a Quickfire that was all about skill, not gimmicks. But I guess I’m watching the wrong show.
Also, the winner gets immunity and 20 Gs. Not too shabby.

As usual, Fabio acts like the challenge is happening only to him.
“Ask-a chef to make a stuffing with no tools is like ask-a surgeon to do open heart surgery without tools,” he grumbles. Dude, get over yourself.

There’s a mad dash to the pantry, but Carla can’t deal with the rush, because she hates bad vibes, so she hangs back.
As such, she gets stuck with quinoa.

So all sorts of creative utensil swaps are being made. Fabio is grating cheese on an oven rack (which is a clever idea, but he seems inordinately pleased with himself), somebody else is using bacon as a spoon, people are banging onions with pots and pans. It’s all very primal and was one step away from involving scream therapy.

Turns out, you can’t cook quinoa in 40 minutes, so Carla is screwed, but she handles it with her usual equanimity.
“My dish is un-done-té,” she cracks, before offering guest judge Tony Mantuano some dental floss.

So the Bottom 3 are Carla, Tiffany, and Casey.

And the Top 2 are Marcel, with his raisin brioche stuffing and whole squab (show off!) and Tre, who has made some sort of spicy bread pudding with bacon.

Tre, who has two young daughters to keep in glitter, lip gloss, and Justin Bieber attire, wins and he’s very stoked about the 20 grand.

The Elimination Challenge takes place at the U.S. Open, which makes perfect sense because it’s late December. (Usually, they like to keep the illusion that these things are being taped in real time. This season, not so much.)

Also, not to be ungrateful, but of all the hot, high-profile tennis stars they could’ve gotten—Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokavich, Andy Roddick—they go with. . .Taylor Dent? (Cue the “you lose” game show music.) Nothing against Mr. Dent, boy has a wicked serve. But still. . . .

The cheftestants are split into two teams.
Orange Team is Mike, Fabio, Carla, Richard, Dale, Antonia, and Marcel.

Yellow Team is Angelo, Tre, Spike, Tiffany, Tiffani, Casey, and—for what it’s worth—Jamie.

They’ll be creating heart-healthy dishes that go head to head in matchups. First team to 4 points wins!

Team Yellow comes up with a “strategy,” that has to be the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. They will intentionally lose Round One by putting their weakest dish up against Team Orange’s strongest.
First of all, this is dumb because they’re assuming Team Orange is going to lead with their strongest suit. (That’s what we call a false syllogism.)
Second, it’s dumb because, hey, here’s a better idea!—try to win all the rounds. Just sayin’. . .

In the kitchen, Carla slices off her fingernail (what is this, Top Chef or the previews for Spider Man?) but totally Hooties-up and takes it like a man.
Jamie glowers in the corner, stirring and stirring and stirring her chickpeas, although they will never get soft.

So it’s time to go head to head—on an actual tennis court, no less—and Jamie’s chick pea concoction is still not ready.

She would seem the natural choice to go head to head and LOSE, but for two things:

a. She wants to wait until her chickpeas get soft (the Top Chef version of a cold day in hell).
b. Team Orange is not, in fact, leading with Richard “Amazin’ Blazin’” Blais, but with Fabio.

With that, Spike has an even bigger question mark over his head than usual.
They still decided to shove Jamie into the ring, but she refuses. So Casey says she’ll go.

Her grilled pork tenderloin is good, but the sides are too heavy.
Fabio’s whole wheat gnocchi is fluffy and delicious, like little potato pillows from heaven.

Team Orange: 15
Team Yellow: LOVE

Spike is pissed because the losing strategy only half worked. Yes, they lost. But they didn’t lose the way they wanted to lose. They lost in a different, worse way. (Or somethin’…)

At this point, it’s a big free for all.

Team Orange’s Dale (edamame dumplings) goes up against Team Yellow’s Tiffani (sashimi of sea bass) and Tiffani wins!

Team Orange: 15
Team Yellow: 15

Team Orange's Marcel (cauliflower cous cous with yellow fin tuna) goes up against the unstoppable Angelo (smoked tuna, yuzo gelee) and Angelo wins. (Guess that unstoppable part was a clue.)

Team Orange: 15
Team Yellow: 30

Needless to say, Marcel is not happy about this. He grouses that Angelo always plates on a spoon. Yes, Marcel, that’s why Angelo keeps winning. Because of the spoon.

Next, Team Orange’s Antonia (diver sea scallop) goes up against Team Yellow’s Tiffany (tuna salad with fennel and warm lentils). It’s a close call, but Antonia wins.

Team Orange: 30
Team Yellow: 30

Next Team Orange’s Richard against Team Yellow’s Spike.
Spike admits that he’s peeing his pants a bit.
Angelo, in his inimitable way, decides to “help” by adding some yuzo gelee to Spike’s dish.
(A note on Angelo: As I said during his season, I don’t think he’s a saboteur. But I DO think he’s a Nosy Nelly. Stick to your own damn gelee, dude.)

So Spike’s Tomato Tamarind soup with shrimp (now with yuzo gelee!) goes up against Richard’s Thai bouleh with lamb. (By the way, Richard is about at smugly pleased with his play on the word tabouli as Fabio was with his use of the oven rack as cheese grater.)

And. . .Richard wins. 

Team Orange: 40. . .one point from the win.
Team Yellow: 30

Now, during all of this, Jamie, who continues to stir and stir and stir her rock-hard chick peas, has done the math. If her team loses, she won’t have to serve her chick peas and go head to head at all! It’ll be just like that time she got a paper cut and went to the emergency room and wasn’t held even slightly accountable and her teammate went home!
So yes, Jamie is rooting for her own team to lose. Nice.

It’s Team Yellow’s Tre (Nosy Nelly “improved” his salmon with parsnip puree) up against Team Orange’s Carla (African groundnut soup.)

And. . .Jamie’s dream comes true. Carla wins so Team Orange wins! Jamie will not have to serve her un-done-té garbanzo beans.

A brief interlude of drunken Cheftestant dance (the less said of it, the better). . .and it’s judgment time.

The Top 4 are Fabio, Antonia, Carla, and Richard.

The judges note that this was some of the best food they’ve had over 7 seasons.

And. . . Carla wins!

Please note the fact that Team Orange had been very skeptical of Carla’s soup, claiming it wasn’t sophisticated enough for those snooty tennis types. (Have they seen Arthur Ashe Stadium at 11 pm?)
Burn, Team Orange, burn!

Even Carla can’t help but to indulge in a little private gloating.
“I feel vindicated,” she says. Hell to the yes.

Now, the Bottom 4:
Casey, Tiffany, Tre, and Spike.

Richard looks at Jamie sideways:
“You gotta a story going now,” he says.

“I’m trying not to be offended by your comment,” she replies. “What exactly is my story?” ( As if she doesn’t know.)

Blais is getting nervous: “I’m saying, it’s an odd story,” he stammers.

“Because I haven’t cooked?” (Bingo!)

“Yeah,” he says sheepishly. (“Damn straight,” says maxthegirl, staring Jamie right in the eye . . .uh, through her television screen.)

So. .. Tre’s salmon is horribly overcooked and he should never have let Angelo prepare the main component of his dish and is just damn lucky to have immunity.

Tiffany made “flaccid salad.” (Also a great band name, btw.)

Spike made bland shrimp and blamed Angelo’s gelee. (A stretch.)

Casey’s dish was “too much of a good thing.” (Frankly, if I’m ever up for elimination, the critique I want to hear is “too much of a good thing.”)

There’s talk of Nosy Nelly Angelo and his devious ways. And Tiffany dispenses some good old fashioned wisdom: “At the end of the day, you’re responsible for your own plate.”

And. . .Spike is spiked.
Alas. I’m going to miss that boy and his perma bedhead and his silly hats and his hipster patois.

“Am I still the best of the best?” he ponders. It seems rhetorical, until he answers his own question: “You bet your ass I am!” Stay golden, Spike. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Don’t ’Choke! The Top Chef All-Stars recap

As the show starts, we see Jamie’s war wound from last week and it’s. . . embarrassingly small. Frankly, it couldn't look any more innocuous if it had a Hello Kitty band-aid on it.
But Jen is gone and Jamie’s still in it to win it end-up-in-8th-or-9th-place. So life goes on.

David Chang from Momofuko is the guest judge. I’ve had the man’s “Crack Pie.” He is an evil culinary genius who must be stopped.

This week’s Quickfire Challenge could be sub-headed: Dance With the One That Brung Ya. Whichever three people you happened to be standing next to when you shuffled into the kitchen are your teammates. This makes for some awkward arranged marriages.

The first team is Angelo, Fabio, Tiffany, and Mike.

Fabio immediately sniffs that Angelo wears his pants too tight—the Eurotrash version of “your mamma wears combat boots.”

The other teams are:
Casey, Jamie, Dale, and Antonia
Carla, Tiffani, AngryDale ™ and Marcel
Tre, Spike, Richard, and Stephen.
Spike tries to say something nice about Stephen but can only muster this: “He’ll be able to open a bottle of wine for us.”

The Quickfire Challenge is the ever-popular mise en place battle, featuring rack of lamb, artichokes, and garlic. Then the chefs will have 15 minutes to prepare a dish with those ingredients. The only catch? That’s 15 minutes after the first team finishes their prep. So if you only manage to chop your garlic, break up your lamb, and peel your ’chokes with 2 minutes to spare, you’re pretty much done for.

Turns out, Angelo, Fabio, Tiffany, and Mike are mise en place savants, and they finish first, way ahead of the others.

Richard’s team comes in second. He immediately puts on his bossy pants and starts ordering everyone around.

Casey, who has only slightly redeemed herself for her slow-mo onion chopping from her season, holds her own and her team comes in third.

Tiffani, on the other hand, seems to be peeling her giant bucket of garlic cloves one by one—I’m no David Chang, but something tells me this can’t be the most efficient way to do things.
Her team brings up the rear.

Time being “limited” (that’s a euphemism for “not enough time to even preheat the oven”), Team Tiffani and Team Casey both smartly decide to do lamb carpaccio.

Richard and Angelo’s team both have time to cook their meat. So they would seem to have the edge.

But no. . .
Angelo’s tandoori lamb lands in the Bottom Two. Whoops.
In the end, Team Tiffani’s carpaccio is praised but Team Richard’s crispy lamb chop rules ($5,000 smackeroos each!) and Dr. Blais, gastrobiologist to the stars, is feeling even more smug than usual.

Next, the Elimination Challenge, which I love:
The same teams—but now the strange bedfellows are competing against each other—will visit four different high profile NY restaurants.
Their challenge is to create a dish for the restaurant that would blend in seamlessly with the rest of the menu.

Team Angelo gets David Chang’s Ma Peche.
“It’s eclectic Asian food and straight up yummy,” says Angelo, stoked.

Team Casey gets David Burke’s Townhouse—Modern American Cuisine, With a Freaky-Deaky Twist (subhead mine).

Team Richard gets the upscale Italian food of Marea.

And Team Tiffani gets Wyley DuFresne’s WD-50.
This would seem to be right in Marcel’s wheelhouse, but he’s a little nervous because he was apparently accused of plagiarizing their sous chef a few years back and is a fugitive from justice. (It’s nice to know that Marcel is reviled among all chefs, not just Top Chef contestants.) Anyway, the irony of the fact that Marcel will now be encouraged to do a little creative plagiarism is not lost on him.

At Ma Peche, Angelo is positively having a foodgasm. I think it’s cute how appreciative he is of the food, but his running commentary on Chang’s awesomeness is getting on Tiffany’s nerves.

At Marea, Stephen is acting like he’s the foremost Marea-ologist on the planet, I think because he ate there once.

Turns out, Townhouse should actually be called Funhouse. David Burke dresses up his food the way Paris Hilton dresses up her Chihuahuas.
Dale calls it “food with jazz hands.”

At WD-50, AngryDale ™ cleverly takes note of the fact that Wyley DuFresne is, according to Anthony Bourdain, “a notorious egg slut.”

Back in the kitchen, Carla, who doesn’t like anything fancy or newfangled, is standing over a cauldron of liquid nitrogen, looking like some sort of culinary Wicca. She’s going to really need to evoke the Power of the Hootie if she’s going to pull this one off.

Dale keeps asking Casey to taste elements from his dish. But she notices that those elements keep on coming. . and coming. . .and coming.
“I’m concerned for him,” she says. (And somewhere, Gretchen from Project Runway, is all, “Up high!”)

Speaking of Project Runway (which I just did, for those who skip parentheticals): Stephen would probably happier on that show than Top Chef at this point.
“Fashion has become a major obsession of mine,” he says. Then he giggles: “It could be worse. It could be cocaine.”
A natural leap.

They judges, including guest judge Kate Krader from Wood and Wine magazine, start at Marea.
Tre, who wisely decided to keep it simple, has done a lovely grilled swordfish with braised artichokes and mushroom panna cotta. The judges love it.
Spike has done a crispy seared branzino with caponata. The judges love his fish, but feel his caponata is not caponata-ish enough.
Stephen has done coho salmon with a whole boatload of herbs. Anthony Bourdain says it tastes like a “head shop.” Heh.
Richard has done a crudo of Spanish mackerel and braised veal shank. The judges bow down.

I love the fact that the judges are going from restaurant to restaurant by cab. But what I love even more is the fact that they wisely let Padma do the hailing.
Tom Colicchio could stand on that street corner waving his arms for a week.
Padma lazily raises one finger and 4 cabs come screeching to a halt.

Next up, Ma Peche, where Fabio is convinced he’s toast.
“Ask an Asian grandma to make fresh pasta and osso bucco and see if she please me!” he complains. (In that equation, I believe Fabio is an Italian grandma. Just trying to follow his logic.)

Indeed, he is right. The judges don’t care for his busy roasted lamb with its giant dollop of lemongrass chevre ricotta. (There’s such a thing as chevre ricotta? Note to self: Find recipe to make most awesome manicotti ever.)

They love Angelo’s tumeric marinated fish with white chocolate shavings and are just fine with Mike’s sockeye salmon and Tiffany’s crudo of summer flounder, although they feel it’s not particularly innovative.

At Townhouse, the judges think Dale’s roasted veal loin with popcorn, peanuts and French Toast is—well, let’s just call it what it is—flat out insane.
Antonia, who apparently watched last season, figured out that if a pea puree is good, a pea and carrot puree is even better. She’s right. Her seared scallop with pea and carrot puree is praised heartily. The judges think Casey’s halibut “scallop” is clever but that Jamie’s smoked tomato soup with heirloom tomato salad didn’t benefit from the smoking.

Finally, onto WD-50:
They are totally feeling AngryDale’s ™ egg dumpling and braised pork belly, with its broth that tastes like “buttered toast” (guess you had to be there).
They think Carla did pretty well with her avant-garde shrimp and grits, considering how far out of her element she was.
They think Marcel is surprisingly tame with his Vadouvan Lamb, considering how far in his element he was.
They are deeply puzzled by Tiffani’s melons with powdered ham and cheese. Anthony Bourdain likes all of it except for the melon part, which is sort of like saying you liked the production of Hamlet except for the guy who played the Danish prince.

So the top 4 are AngryDale ™, Angelo, Antonia, and Tre.

And. . .AngryDale ™ wins! Maybe for a day at least he will be MildlyIrritatedDale ™.

MildlyIrritatedDale ™ breaks the bad news: Stephen, Tiffani, Fabio, and Dale are in the bottom. Oh, and did I mention that two Cheftestants are going home? So there’s that.
“Stand up guys! Fight hard,” MildlyIrritatedDale ™ says.
“Fight hard guys, but not too hard. Be nice,” says Carla, which is such a Carla thing to say.
“Don’t pull a ‘Jen’,” says Antonia. And a new catchphrase is born.

Stephen is flabbergasted to be in the bottom 4 because he has great knowledge of Italian food and wine. (And is wearing such a lovely suit!)
“I have great knowledge of Led Zeppelin,” says Tom. “That doesn’t make me Jimmy Page.” Oh snap.

Fabio continues to look pissed that an Italian grandma such as himself was supposed to make eclectic Asian food.

The judges tell Tiffani that her melon dish crossed the line from homage into parody.

Dale’s random French Toast was just too damn sweet. (And, on an unrelated note, Angelo’s pants are still too damn tight and the rent is still too damn high.)

So . . Stephen and Dale are hitting the road.
“I simply wasn’t up to par with the rest of the chefs,” says Stephen, adding: “Does anyone have Heidi Klum’s phone number?”

Dale—adorable, loveable, huggable Dale—is embarrassed. “Maybe I’ll come back,” he quips. “Season 16: Seniors.”

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Jurassic Snark: The Top Chef All-Stars recap

Before we start, a gripe: I’ve never met a Tiffany or a Dale in my entire life. They’re soap opera names. So how is it possible that among our 18 All-Stars, we have 2 Tiffanys and 2 Dales? Where did they cast these people? Pine Valley?

Anyway, Fabio is still all riled up about his run in with Anthony Bourdain.
“Next time you talk about my food?” he warns. “Be nice.”
Yeah, good luck with that.

Opening credits. . .and I just noticed that Angelo totally does Blue Steel . . .nice.

Time for the Quickfire Challenge and there’s . . .Joe Jonas! Squees! Faints! Flails! (Just kidding. I’m totally Team Nick.)

Spike immediately recognizes him (bonus points), but then refers to him as “rock star” (deduction of said bonus points.)

AngryDale ™ has no idea who Joe Jonas is and thinks he might be a pastry chef. Heh.

So the challenge is to make a midnight snack for a bunch of lucky kids who will be spending the night at the Museum of Natural History.
Lame New School Reference: Just like Ben Stiller in A Night at the Museum!
Awesome old school reference: Just like those kids from The Mixed Up Filed of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler! (Okay, that was actually the Met, but close enough. . .)

Immediately, everyone starts fretting about Joe Jonas’s palate.

“Who knows what he’s used to eating?” says AngryDale ™.
I’m not going to touch that one.

Apparently, in Season 1, Tiffani had to cook for little kids and was totally snobby about it and it was almost her undoing. So this time she’s going for a SuperDuperHappyGoodTimesFunBar—a combination rice krispy treat, snowball, and moonpie.

Many other gross things are made, but there are only two other pertinent facts:
One, Richard Blais was a “husky” kid. (Discuss its relevance to his current manorexia among yourselves.)
Two, Spike has decided to make potato chips with marshmallow dip.

And yes, the two winners are Spike and Tiffani.

(If the grossest thing ever prepared on Top Chef —and the correct answer is Sam’s watermelon-gorgonzola-barf surprise in Season 2—was a 10 on the ick-factor scale, Spike’s potato chips in marshmallow dip is a solid 7. I, too, now question Joe Jonas’s palate.)

Now, to complete the Quickfire Challenge, they have to pick teams and create 150 of these snacks for the kiddos.
(So the Quickfire isn't over? This has officially become a Longfire Challenge.)

Tiffani picks Jen, Jamie, Dale, Tiffany, Tre, Casey, and Antonia.

Spike picks Richard, Mike, AngryDale ™, Carla, Stephen, Marcel, and Angelo.

Fabio, fresh off last episode’s culinary Chernobyl, is the last man standing. Padma tells him he can go to whichever team he wants. He skulks over to team Spike.

As Dale later points out, his team is the Spice Girls and their bodyguard (that would be Tre.)
And Spike’s team is the Cool Guys and their babysitter (that would be Carla.)

The snacks are assembled and, onto the museum they go. The kids come charging in, already kind of spazzed out with the excitement and newness of spending a night away from home in a totally cool museum with ginormous dinosaur skeletons and stuff.
THEN, they add sugar to the mix.
THEN, they add Joe Jonas to the mix.
Suffice it to say, you could mainline 5-Hour Energy for a month and you wouldn’t be this hopped up.

So the kids, not shockingly, choose Tiffani’s SuperDuperHappyGoodTimesFunBar. Was there ever even a question?

The cheftestants are pooped and just want to go home and have a brew and call it a night and then. . .Tom Colicchio moseys in.

Yup, they’ll be staying the night and making breakfast for the little ankle-biters.

Because Tiffani won the Longfire Challenge she gets to choose if she wants to be Team T Rex (meat and animal products) or Team Brontosaurus (fruit, grains, and veggies).

She chooses Team T Rex, assuming that she’d get meat, animal products, and. . .every other food group under the sun. (Cause yeah, that’s the way these challenges always work).

They have to sleep in cots in the Hall of North American Mammals, which doesn’t please Stephen.

“I’m not used to this," he sniffs. "I live in a loft in downtown Manhattan.”
(He really is straight out of Central Casting, isn’t he?)

Tre is concerned, because he likes to sleep naked. Please don’t let us get in your way, there, buddy. . .
(He gives us a semi-thrill and sleeps topless.)

5 am wakeup call and it’s cookin’ time.
But shortly after everyone starts cooking, Jamie slices her finger open.
It’s bleeding pretty bad and the medic recommends stitches.
Jamie’s all for it—as any SANE person would be.
Now, apparently, there’s some honor among chefs, not completely unlike the honor among athletes.
You’re an athlete and you’re injured, you rub some dirt in it and keep playing.
You’re a chef and you’re gushing blood, you slap some duct tape on that sucker and keep cookin’. (Reason #148 why I’ll never be a chef.) (5 am wakeup call was Reason #147, by the way)
So Jamie has lost all her cred with the other chefs. (She does come back later to help Jen. But is it too late?) (Spoiler alert: Yes.)

Feeding time.
At the last minute, Angelo decides to cut Marcel’s plums.
Marcel doesn’t take kindly to this.
“Really dude? You don’t f*ck with somebody else’s mise en place.”
(Which now ties with Justin Bieber’s “your stache is the jam”—said to John Waters—as my favorite sentence of the week.)
Everyone eats. Fabio flirts with every female who doesn’t watch the Disney Network.

No Anthony Bourdain. (Frowny face.) But the guest judge is Season 1 host Katie Lee Joel. This would the equivalent of Brian Dunkelman coming back to judge an episode of American Idol. Awkward. Padma wisely avoids eye contact.

So Team Brontasaurus wins! And Fabio’s gnocchi was good! But it’s Marcel, Richard, and Angelo’s banana parfait that takes home the top prize. (Pop quiz: How many elite chefs does it take to make a good banana parfait? Answer: 3!)
Marcel claims that he made the most “elements” on the plate and probably should have won. Whatever, bro.

So Team T Rex is the bottom.
And Jen, who made some sort of mushy pork belly “bacon” and tasteless eggs, comes in wearing her angry eyes.

I mean, you know how in the preview they showed a scene of Jen saying to the judges: “You’re the judges: Aren’t you smart enough to do that?” and you figured it was some sort of out of context, producer manipulation? Like, there was no way Jen was actually that rude and snotty to the judges, right?
And that was just the half of it. She sneered, she snickered, she snarked. She rolled her eyes. She did everything short of pulling out a weapon.
I have no idea why Jen snapped. And I also have no idea if it was her lousy pork belly or her lousy attitude that led to her elimination.
But, in something of a shock, Jen is out.
As her dad might say: Second place is first loser. Second to last place? You’re out of the will.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hey now, you're an All-Star: The Top Chef recap

In a world where the dreaded Speidi is on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here and Bristol Palin is featured on Dancing With the Stars, it’s nice to see a show that really delivers on its promise.
These guys actually are All Stars and pretty much the exact cast I’d want to see, with the notable exception of Sam (for obvious  reasons) and Stefan (cause he was such an entertaining shit-kicker.)
I started watching Top Chef in Season 2, so I don’t know from Tiffani, who seems like someone not to be trifled with. As for the fussy, stuffy, dandyish Stephen, he seems like some sort of fake villain in a madcap farce (as played by French Stewart). Is this guy for real?
Then, we have this fabulous mix of villains and heroes, with very little filler.
Here’s my take:

Carla (Season 5): Quite possibly the most loveable character in the history of Top Chef. I’m rooting for her. Team Hootie.

Spike (Season 4): So hot. So obnoxious (Hotnoxious?) I’ve decided to stop pretending I don’t have a thing for him.

Tre (Season 3): Thought one: He has big arms. Thought two: I seem to have a vague memory of him being a great chef who left before his time.

Tiffany (Season 7): Nice, but she's filler. (Sorry Tiffany.)

Richard Blais (Season 4): The gastro-biology king. Lookin’ kinda manorexic this season, huh?

Michael Isabella (Season 6): I hated him at first, then grew to (almost) like him. Still looks like bizarro Ben Affleck, but now more like Ben Affleck after a few too many trips to the Golden Corral.

Marcel (Season 2): A perma-twerp, destined to always be the last guy picked in the gym class of life.

Jennifer (Season 6): Intimidates more with her steely glare and association with Chef Ripert then her actual skills? (Just sayin’).

Jamie (Season 5): I don’t remember her being quite this cocky. It’s not cute.

Fabio (Season 5): Still adorable, hilarious, charming, Eurotastic, etc. Still can’t cook.

Elia (Season 2): Kinda filler (which is why she got the boot.)

Dale T (Season 4): He scares me.

Dale L (Season 3): Almost as loveable as Carla, but not quite. Anyone know if he’s still dating that hot guy from Project Runway?

Casey(Season 3): I liked the Jennifer Anistan lookalike during her season, then resented the hell out of her when she bullied Carla into sous vide-ing her steak. Still not sure if I forgive her.

Antonia (Season 4): Cue the crickets.

Angelo (Season 7): Why do I love this guy? I don’t know. But there it is.

The other great thing about this season: Anthony Bourdain as full-time judge? Hell to the yes!

So no time for a full recap today, because I’m experiencing the deadline from hell at work, but I’ll just say this:
Having the chefs recreate the dish that sent them packing was a stroke of evil genius. (Why do I feel like Padma is the one who comes up with these challenges?)
Also, raise your hand if you believe that Richard didn’t realize he’d gone over the allotted time? (Hands glued to sides across the blogosphere.) I didn’t feel sorry for Dr. Blais, gastrobiologist to the stars, AT ALL.

Best quotes of the night:
“It’s 25 minutes. It’s not like I can do an ice carving of George Washington.”-Angelo on the Quickfire Challenge.

“To be eliminated twice for the same dish, you’ve got to be stupid”- Fabio, coming perilously close to a self-fulfilling prophecy. (Luckily, he’s a “fan favorite.”)

“I hate the dish. I keep poking it. I keep tasting it to see if I really hate it as much as I think I do. And I really really really hate it.”- Anthony Bourdain on Fabio’s dish.

“He’s the craftiest motherf**ker whose ever been on the show.”-Anthony Bourdain on my (and his) boyfriend Spike.

“I was expecting to be schooled by Jen, but there were a couple of technical error that I was surprised by.”-Tiffani “She’s not That Innocent” Faison on Jennifer.

“Sir, I’m telling you something. I agree to be criticized in a constructive way. I don’t like to be made fun of and that’s what you did through the meal. If we weren’t in this situation, we would have a different problem. – Fabio to Anthony Bourdain. (For a second there, I truly thought Fabio and Anthony Bourdain were going to throw down. I would’ve paid to see that. To quoth Buffy: “Can there be some kind of oil involved?”)

“Don’t eliminate me. I have a lot more to do. I mean it.”-Elia, moments before being eliminated.

“Me?” –Angelo, upon hearing that he won the Challenge (and the 10 grand.)

"Something tells me this is going to be one helluva season."-Maxthegirl, right now.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Heidi's Choice: The Project Runway Finale recap

Don't you just love a happy ending? Me too. Too bad we'll apparently have to watch The Fairy Jobmother to get one.

Okay, okay, it's not that I begrudge Gretchen her win. She ran through thunder and she captured lightening in a thimble and she won fair and square—if you consider receiving half the vote fair and square—it's just that I wanted Mondo to win so bad.
We all did.

What happened?
Mondo was steamrolling to the finale. His win seemed like a foregone conclusion. He was unstoppable.

Except . . .
I had a nagging feeling that Mondo had a Seth Aaron problem. Not that I stated it anywhere public, like, uh, this blog. But I told my sister!

Here's proof:

Dear readers of Hey, I’m maxthegirl,

Yeah, she totally said that.

Max's sister

p.s. Can I have my five bucks now?

You see, the problem is that Seth Aaron (last year's winner, for the newbies) and Mondo both work in bold prints with lots of plaid and both favor bright colors. Mondo's work is more feminine and charming. (Seth Aaron had that whole decidedly uncharming Third Reich thing going for him.) But they both have a larger-than-life, costumey quality to their designs.

And there was another factor against Mondo:
While Gretchen wielded the mighty power of Michael Kors and Nina Garcia, Fashion Director of Marie Claire magazine,
Mondo wielded the mighty power of Heidi Klum and. . .Jessica Simpson?

Jessica Simpson? For reals? Was Snookie not available?
Seriously, can you imagine if your fate as a designer—your very future—was in the hands of Jessica Simpson? I know that the girl has a clothing line (full disclosure: I've picked up a pair of Jessica Simpson shoes in the store, thought they were fetching, saw the label, and walked away in shame). But it's not like she's known for her fashion flair. She’s mostly known thinking that Buffalo wings are made from actual buffalos and for wearing one very unfortunate pair of high rise mom jeans:

So while Heidi is trying to make a case for Mondo as the winner, Jessica Simpson is saying things like, “I love polka dots!”
Bastard never had a chance.

Anyway, since we have two whopping hours for this finale, Lifetime decides to start things off with an impromptu reunion show.

There they all are. . .including Mrs. Redundant herself, poor, robbed, mute McKell.

On these reunion shows, the people voted off in the first few weeks tend to fall into two distinct categories: There are those who pretend to have all sorts of anecdotes and insight based on their 2 whole days on set. They laugh a little too loudly, say things like “That is sooo like you, Mondo!” and answer questions that were never asked of them.

And then there are those—like McKell—who sit there looking miserable, staring at their feet, clearly wanting the whole misbegotten ordeal to be over as soon as possible.

So the reunion inevitably turns into the “We Hate Gretchen” show, with everyone talking about what a colossal bitch she is.

“I guess what I’m supposed to say is, ‘I’m not a bitch, I just play one on TV,’” says Gretchen sadly. Her heart really isn’t in it. Heidi, meanwhile, laughs and laughs and laughs at that line and is SO going to use it for herself.

After Gretchen says that, Ivy rolls her eyes, as Ivy is wont to do. (Actually, just to save time, let’s assume Ivy is rolling her eyes unless clearly stated otherwise).

And Tim Gunn, forgetting that he’s not supposed to hate Gretchen anymore, says, “Is that even accurate?”
(Not sure what he was questioning here: That Gretchen is a bitch? Or that she only plays one on TV?)

So Ivy and April talk about how two-faced Gretchen is and Mondo and Michael C defend her (wonder if this was before Michael C knew she referred to him as an idiot?) and Mondo gives Gretchen a comforting little squeeze of the knee, which is just darling.

Then there’s a quickie montage of the season and Tim Gunn says things that only Tim Gunn can get away with like, “You all have personalities to beat the band!” and “You’re 17 rare hot house flowers!” and “22 Skidoo!”

Then they show Tim Gunn cracking up over Kristen’s wooly balls, which will never get old.

Finally, a montage of crying, that conspicuously didn’t include Michael C’s epic crying/hyperventilating/convulsing jag, because some things are just too awkward to re-live.

Now fun and game time is over and the Top 3 need to get back to the studio and go to work.

Mondo considers adding a black evening dress to his mix, but Tim Gunn kinda talks him out of it? (Bad Tim, bad!).
Mondo decides he’s going to be true to himself.
“I’m going to give them a show!” he promises.
He’s even going to end with the controversial polka dot evening dress. Bold move.

Meanwhile, Andy has designed a bathing suit that, according to Tim, looks like “hair growing out of a crotch.”
Andy backs away to get a new perspective. “I don’t see it,” he says. Really? Cause it totally does. But not just hair, like gross hair that gets clogged in the drain. Or maybe one of McKell’s dreadlocks. (You see that McKell? I made you relevant!)

Tim Gunn moseys to Gretchen’s station and likes what he sees.
“I’m learning how to pump up the drama,” she says. Say you what you will about Gretchen, but she is no dummy. Michael Kors and Nina Garcia wanted more volume and volume is what she is giving them.

Back at the hotel, the 3 designers sit around the hotel, reminiscing. For some reason, Gretchen chooses to wear a cropped, cream-colored Wookie jacket during this time of reflection.

In an unrelated note, every time Gretchen talks about how "humbling" this experience has been, I seriously want to hurl.

Runway day!
All the designers look quite fly, especially Mondo, who is sporting the slickest Mondo’s Mondolicious Look of the Day ™ of them all: A slim cut dark gray sharkskin suit, skinny tie with a micro polka dot, and a picture-perfect pompadour.
Today’s ab-fab look gets a Mondoriffic rating of: 5 stars.

Mondo is flustered backstage, because not all of his models have arrived, and the stage manager has the cue cards wrong. He seems overwhelmed.
Gretchen, as organized as Martha Stewart’s cupboard, is concerned.


Heidi comes onto stage wearing a tomato-red pants suit that she must’ve borrowed from Jessica Simpson.
I have no words. . .

Gretchen is first.
Her show is called “Running Through Thunder”—which is dumb, because thunder is a sound. (She may as well have called it, “Sleeping Through My Alarm Clock.”)

The collection is pretty cool. It’s Gretchen—only with a little more bling and some oversized felt hats. It’s definitely too desert cowgirly for my taste, but I get it.

Next Andy: He’s very sweet and dedicates his collection to his mom, but he’s not there yet. Lots of chartreuse and gray, a few nice pieces, but no wow factor.

Finally Mondo: I absolutely love his black and white plaid strapless balloon dress—it’s my favorite piece of the whole show.
Not feeling the block-print shift dress that everyone else seems to love . . .
All in all, the collection is very Mondo—playful and bold, but impeccable, filled with surprising little Mondoriffic details.
It seems to me, that based on the previous judging, Mondo is a lock for the win. . .


A few celebrities in the audience weigh in.
(By the way, I see you, pretty girl—Maya?—who dropped out of last year’s competition under mysterious circumstances. Will we ever get your real story?)
First there’s Jay Manuel from ANTM, which makes my head explode. This is sooo like that time Taylor Momsen from Gossip Girl showed up on an episode the (sorely missed) reality show NYC Prep. I get so confused when my favorite shows cross pollinate.
Anyway, Mr. Jay is on Team Gretchen: “Airy, flowy, magical,” he says.

Vibrant, fun, kitschy and colorful Betsy Johnson likes vibrant, fun, kitschy and colorful Mondo. Color me shocked.

Joanna Coles, editor of Marie Claire likes Andy’s bolero jacket.
“I wanted to reach out and grab it from the model!” she exclaims. And throw it at a fat person? (Google it.)

Judgment time.
First the opening praise: They’re all great, everyone is blown away, everyone stayed true to their point-of-view, everyone’s a star. Bravo, bravo, blahdy, blahdy, blah. . .

Now onto the individual critiques.

All agreed that Andy had some nice individual pieces, but that he didn’t quite go for the gusto. His looks were a little bland.
Also, “You went overboard with the Orientalism,” says Nina Garcia, Fashion Director of Marie Claire magazine.

“I don’t see any rugs!” says Jessica Simpson. (Well, I’m assuming she said that— they probably edited it out.)

My question: Can you be accused of Orientalism when you are actually from Asia? Discuss among yourselves.

Next Gretchen:
They liked it. She ran through thunder and they thought she captured rainbows. Or something like that.

“It was a complete ready-to-wear collection,” announces Nina.

“I like the vibe of the girl,” says Michael Kors. “I get her. It looks easy. And it’s not so easy to look easy.”

“That makes no sense!” giggles Jessica Simpson. “You’re funny!” (Again, presumably edited out.)

Kors thinks Gretchen’s slick, techy-blingy details are out of character, but all loves her fabricated jewelry.
Heidi also loves all the jewelry.

Finally Mondo:
“You gave us molto Mondo!” says Michael Kors.
“It was great!” says Heidi.
Nina Garcia found the looks creative and cohesive and loved his use of color. . .but “it began to look very young.” Ruh-ro.
“Never lose the drama and the theater,” says Michael Kors. “Just don’t verge into costume territory.” Double ruh-ro.

“We’re going to have a BIG chat,” says Heidi (I see what you did there, Heidi.)
And backstage the designers go.

As the panel deliberates, Andy is dismissed so hastily, it’s like he never even existed.

It comes down to Mondo vs. Gretchen, in the most epic finale battle EVER.
This thing totally needs a “Thrilla in Manilla”-type nickname.
“The Fender Bender in Lincoln Center?”
“The Throw Down in Mid-Town?”
“The Mondo Massacre?”

On Team Mondo: Heidi and the useless Jessica “I love polka dots!” Simpson.

On Team Gretchen: Michael Kors and Nina Garcia, Fashion Director of Marie Claire magazine.

So, basically, with all due respect to Jessica Simpson (not really), Heidi is on her own.

She fights, valiantly, for Mondo. She says that he’s more creative, more special than Gretchen.

But Nina and Michael say that Gretchen’s clothing is the future of fashion. (Really? Because it all seems very Gloria Steinem circa 1974 to me.)

“If I was buying for a department store, I’d look at Gretchen’s,” says Nina.
“Because it’s safer,” says Heidi. (Score one: Team Mondo.)

“It’s a fashion show not a circus show,” says Nina. (Two points, Team Gretchen.)

And here’s where Nina drops the bomb: “Seth Aaron had the cousin collection.” (Minus 25 points, Team Mondo.)

“Gretchen’s girl is where fashion is going—easy, sexy,” says Michael Kors.
“All loose?” says Jessica Simpson. (Actual thought: “Can I haz cheezburger?”)
“Hello? Read a magazine!” snipes Michael Kors.

It’s really getting juicy. Everyone is staying civil, but voices are strained. Michael Kors is beginning to squeak!

“Did we not tape a show last week?” he squawks. (He’s talking about Mondo’s polka dot gown.) “I told him to cut the arms off that dress! She looks like a polka dot barber’s poll.”

“But we have two people here who would WEAR that dress!” argues Heidi.

She sighs. “Somebody hand me my boxing gloves, please.”

Jessica Simpson is excited. She thinks there’s really going to be a fight.

And then they go to a commercial break and I have no freakin clue who’s going to win.

Back on stage, they unceremoniously ditch Andy. He’s about as relevant as McKell at this point.

“This was the toughest decision in Project Runway history,” says Heidi. I’m trying to read her face, to figure out if she’s upset or not.

"And congratulations. . .Gretchen. You’re the winner."

One word in my notes: Wowsa.

Heidi gives Mondo a meaningful hug. And I want to comfort him, too. But he’s on TV.

Gretchen’s extensive network of support—i.e, her mom and sis—come out and give her a diffident hug.

“This is most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me,” she says.
Tim Gunn staggers onto stage, looking stricken.
“Wow,” he keeps saying. “Wow. Wow. Wow.” (THIS from one of the most articulate guys on the planet.)

Well, congratulations Gretchen. But I must say, I’m concerned about your ability to translate this reality TV win into real world success. Deeply, deeply concerned.