Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hell-nO Pudding: The Top Chef recap

Okay, can we talk for a second about Sam Kass, White House Assistant Chef? Hello, salty goodness! Why do I feel like the Obama staff is better looking than the cast of The West Wing?

So the Quickfire Challenge was to come up with the worst pun imaginable. Padma came up with “Bipartisandwich” and won.

Actually, a “Bipartisandwich” was what the Cheftestants had to make for their challenge—in groups of two, in “red state/blue state” aprons, with one hand tied behind their backs. (I think one-hand-tied-behind-your-back is an apt metaphor for our two-party system, so I approve.)

Terry lucked out with Ed, who is left-handed.
Timothy’s partner Alex was afraid that Timothy was going to shank him. (Dude, chillax.)
Tracey was all squeeing over having to be tied up with Angelo, to which I thought:
a. Who can blame her?
b. Wait. . .she’s not gay?

(By the way, I’ve decided that instead of making Angelo the villain of this season I’m just going to embrace the hotness. He’s the villain everyone wants to have sex with—like Eric from True Blood)

So Angelo is kind of torturing Tracey by saying things like, “I call this sandwich Sex on a Plate” and “I call this spread Liquid Love.”
Later, he tortures her further by saying that she’s like his “twin sister.” (Cue the “you just lost on the game show” music.)

Anyhoo, Angelo and Tracey win—and get immunity. (A key factor in tonight’s show.) I tell ya, that Angelo was sure lucky to team up with a chef extraordinaire like Tracey! He is one fortunate fellow.

On to the Elimination Challenge: In groups of 4, they are to make a nutritious school lunch for 50 kids at $2.60 a pop.

Angelo and Tracey stay together and they pick—Ed Cotton and Kenny? Wait. . .I figured Angelo would want to go against his arch nemesis Kenny.

But Kenny sizes it up right away: On the off chance that Angelo’s team loses the challenge, there is a 50 percent likelihood that Kenny is going home. Diabolical!

(The thing is, though, once Kenny figured this out, why didn’t he stop Angelo from spreading some peanut butter on a celery stalk? )

Meanwhile, Kelly has turned into Mrs. Bossy Pants with her group—Arnold, Lynne, and Tiffany.

Her plan is to make pork tacos with pickled onions.
“Are you sure the kids will like the pickled onions?” asks Arnold, a perfectly fair question.
“Trust me, they’ll love them” she replies in her “this discussion is over” voice.

As for Amanda, she gets the brilliant idea to create the next generation of AA members with her chicken thigh in sherry jus.

At Restaurant Depot, there’s enough room in the budget for her sherry, but not enough for Jacqueline’s chocolate. So Jacqueline’s yummy banana-chocolate pudding is suddenly a markedly less yummy banana-nothing pudding.

Back at the house, Kelly’s team confronts her for taking too much credit for the tacos.

(Also, back at the house, we find out that Tracey does have a girlfriend. Good to know that my gaydar, honed from my years at Bennington and subsequently, my years watching the Bravo network, has not let me down. Hey, Angelo’s hotness knows no sexual boundaries.)

So the funniest moment of the show for me was when Tom Colicchio checked out Kelly’s team in the kitchen. Mind you, this was mere hours after she had been scolded for taking too much credit for the tacos.

Chef Tom: What do we have here?
Arnold: It’s taco da—
Kelly (interrupting cow): I’m responsible for the tacos!

(Something about the way Kelly said it—in a rush, half-crazed—made me think of a Kristen Wiig character on SNL. Start working on it, Kristen.)

So they go to the school and start feeding the middle schoolers.

Stephen, he who always seems on the verge of tears, tells Sam Kass that his rice has “165 grams of fat.” Sam’s eyes widen. (OMG, murderer!)

“Uh, 165 calories, I mean,” Stephen clarifies sheepishly.

Back to the judging table, where Amanda’s team and Angelo’s team are called first.

Angelo looks confused. He’s thinking to himself: Am I so good that I can’t even fail on purpose?

Thinking she’s in the bottom, Kelly immediately starts looking for who she can blame for her tacos.

But it was a fake-out. Angelo and Amanda’s groups ARE the Bottom 2.

In the (very testy) judging room, Tom asked Angelo if there was any strategy behind his recipe, which goes something like this:

Take one stalk of celery.
Take one jar of peanut butter.

Angelo denied any gamesmanship. But later, back in the waiting room, he was whistling innocently, the universal sign for “I’m guilty.” Also, he leaned into Tracey, his breath hot on her neck (uh, sorry) and told her a “secret”: “I don’t like Kenny.”

Meanwhile, Kelly dreamed a little dream and it came true: Her pork carnitas rules! She wins! She couldn’t have done it without herself.

In the end, neither Kenny nor Peter Cottontail (aka Ed) were going home. It was Jacqueline, with her starchy, grainy, chocolate-free pudding. On the bright side, maybe there’s some leftover sherry for her to drown her sorrows in.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mousse Hunting: The Top Chef D.C. recap

Watching the opening credits, all the cheftestants so full of hope in their smart little chef’s coats, I can’t help but to think to myself: Who’s going to be the Mr. or Mrs. Irrelevant of this season? The first person to take their knives and go home? The person who comes to the reunion show and sits there sheepishly, trying to add some amusing anecdote about Episode One—“remember when we all first met Padma? Heh, heh, that was cool!”— that no one really cares about? Poor sap will never have a chance.

Speaking of Padma, is it possible that her delivery of the introductory monologue has become even more monotone? I haven’t witnessed cue card reading this bad since J Lo hosted SNL.

Anyway, away we go!

Let’s get to know some of the cheftestants—and their delusions.

There’s, gasp, 51-year-old Lynne (she’s practically dead, you guys!) who states that she doesn’t “have any tattoos or crazy hair but my food tastes good.” Having watched last season, she may have been under the impression that tattoos are a show requirement.

There’s Arnold who, bless his heart, got a personal stylist and a facial for the show. He seems to under the misapprehension that he’s on Make Me a Supermodel.

There’s John—goofy, grinning, dreadlocked John—who seems to think that bathing is strictly optional for Top Chefs. (However, did anyone else notice the completely incongruous pair of penny loafers he was sporting? Dude, get a pair of Birkenstocks—pronto!)

There’s Kevin, who is deluded enough to think that anyone would want to eat at a restaurant called Rat’s (where he is executive chef.)

And there’s Angelo, who truly believes that dropping a whole lot of names—Jean Georges, Ducasse, Louis XV—is going to intimidate his competitors. (Hmmm, maybe he’s onto something there.)

The Quickfire is the mise en place challenge, always a great way to separate the re-heaters from the chefs.
A hint: If you hack open your hand while slicing potatoes, it doesn’t bode well. (I think that was Amanda?)

Anyway, turns out Kenny is like some sort of human ginsu knife. He slices, he dices. He’s Edward Scissorhands meets Daniel Boulud. He’s the Usain Bolt of mise en place. He’s . . .well, you get the point.

Angelo is truly ticked when Kenny smokes him.

The four quickest food preparers—Kenny, Angelo, Timothy Dean (Baltimore, represent!), and Arnold (did anyone else notice how blemish free he was? and those tiny pores!)—now have to take the ingredients they sliced and diced and make a dish.

Angelo starts to work and says he feels like a ninja (in the previews for next week’s show, he says he feels like a sniper. Helpful hint: I’d ease up on the sniper cracks in our nation’s capital, buddy.)

Anyway, Angelo is already starting to look like the season’s villain (76 percent of you think it’s “too early for Angelo to be so cocky”; while 24 percent of you think he’s “got game”—you’re both right!). But his roasted spice chicken with chilled onion jam wins.

Now for the Elimination Challenge: Make a dish that reflects the region you come from.
Easy enough, but they add a snag: Folks will be competing, head-to-head, in 4 groups. And the four mise en place finalists will be picking their own competitors. This is like gym class, but in reverse.
The worst gets picked first! That honor goes to Tiffany and Tracey. Ouch.

Last picked is a fellow named Ed Cotton, because of his “kick-ass” resume—and adorable name.

Off to Whole Foods they go, where John buys a pack of frozen pie crust because “the New York Times said it was good.”

Later, John who is making some sort of maple mousse because in Michigan the maple flows like bong water (or something like that), turns the oven on wrong and ends up heating the wrong part of his dish. Lookin’ good, there, Johnny boy.

Other impending disasters: Jacqueline, who decided she was going to defy 2,000 years of culinary tradition and make some sort of lowfat liver mousse. (BTW, is mousse the new foam? Discuss among yourselves.)

They go to the Cherry Blossom Festival where they prepare food for a bunch of D.C. yuppies. A nice touch? They show two men holding hands as they make their way into the party. Gay marriage is legal in D.C., bitches! Suck it!

Actually, according to this  article, the whole party was staged. But whatevs. I’m not one of these reality TV viewers who needs to believe that everything is real. In fact, I believe there’s a name for those people: Morons.

New judge Eric Ripert is in the house. I’m really going to miss Toby Young . . I mean, you just don’t appreciate someone until they’re gone. Ha, ha, just kidding.

The Top Four are Kevin (Pennsylvania lamb), Alex (deconstructed borscht from Russia and California), Kenny (Trout with black bean mole from Colorado), and Angelo (arctic char with pickled shallots from Connecticut).

Hooray for Alex for making deconstructed borscht, which not only sounds delicious but would actually be an awesome band name.

But Angelo wins. . .again. He seems unstoppable at this point, but remember people, the season is young.

The Bottom 4 are Stephen (overcooked rib eye from Ohio), John (with his “as seen in the New York Times!” pie crust), Jacqueline (grainy low fat liver mousse = epic fail), and—noooooo!—Tim (Maryland rockfish with too much skin).

Turns out, Jacqueline forgot to put the fat in her mousse because she needed her recipe.

Also, turns out, Stephen, who has two 13-month-old twins at home, is constantly on the verge of tears. (awwww.)

Timothy is still in denial that he’s in the Bottom 4: But I did so well with the slicing . . . and the dicing!

But really, could anyone be going home but John?

“I just prayed that I could make it the first week or two,” he lamented. 

Which is just the kind of attitude that’s going to . . . turn you into Mr. Irrelevant.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Bachelorette: This is not a recap

I’m not planning on doing regular recaps of The Bachelorette—not with Top Chef starting up tomorrow (woo-hoo!)—but I had to weigh in on last night’s craptacularly bad episode.

One of the things that has always amused me about the show is how at ease the contestants seem with the truly surreal circumstances they find themselves in. Everyone’s always just ready to slap on a pair of swim trunks, hop into a hot tub, and start an on-camera makeout session.

There’s also the built-in hilarity of all the guys being madly in love with the Bachelorette after just one moment locking eyes with her. (For the record, this year's "prize," Ali, is cute enough but kind of drippy, with bad extensions and a giggling tic that works my nerves.)
Never once has a contestant said, “You know, she’s not really my type” or “She seems cute, but I don’t know her yet.”
From the beginning it’s all: I’m in love! She’s mine! We’re meant to be together forevah! (Of course, they are instructed to behave that way by producers, but for the most part, these guy-testants believe their own bullshit.).

Last year, there was a glaring exception to this rule: A contestant named Wes who was so obviously on the show to promote his “country music career” he couldn’t even bother to pretend that he was into (the truly adorable) Jillian. He mumbled a few lines about being into her, but mostly he avoided eye contact and whipped out his git-ar whenever he got the chance. He often seemed like he was on the verge of bursting into laughter. His very demeanor said, "You're not actually buying this, are you?" And she still kept giving the bastard a rose. Women are dumb.

But the beauty of this season’s Bachelorette is this. While there are many of the requisite reality TV smoothies, there are few contestants who seem completely freaked out. And it’s wonderful.

Earlier in the show we had the drama of Craig, who was a cigar-chomping alpha-male bully around the dudes and turned into a mute shoe-gazer around Ali. One minute he’s all villainously sniggering at the weaker contestants, the next minute he’s practically in a fetal position while talking to Ali.

Then there’s Jonathan, the weather man, a contestant so awkward, so spooked, he literally shakes everytime he’s in Ali’s presence. Last night was, mercifully, his last, but not before he gave us two epic fail moments. 
First, he tried to butt-in when Ali was huddling with another contestant. Now, since multiple guys are vying for alone time with Ali, butting in is a significant skill in the kill-or-be-killed Bachelorette universe.
“Is this a good time?” Jonathan asked meekly, as Ali was having a private conversation with Craig, who looks like Vin Diesel if Vin Diesel had no sexy.
“No,” said Vin.
“Okay, I’ll come back,” Jonathan said, tip-toeing away. (This is a dude who must’ve pulled many a “Kick me” sign off his back as a youth.)
Then they cut to a confessional interview in which Jonathan was essentially hitting himself in the head over and over again and saying, “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” (This is pretty much what all his confessional videos are like).
(Just to prove how easy the butt-in actually was, a few moments later Kirk, one of those suave contestants who was born with the reality TV chip, glided over and took Ali away from a startled Vin—and tucked her into bed no less!).
Still determined to get alone time with Ali, Jonathan tried again during the pre-rose ceremony cocktail party. Finally alone with her, he did the one thing that he could do—he got his guitar and sang her a song. Except for one thing: He was shaking—natch. And his song was terrible. His “crooning” was genuinely repellant. I think I actually heard dogs barking in the background. Ali looked mortified. 
“I thought that went well,” a newly confident Jonathan told the camera later. “I’m more of a singer/songwriter type. I feel confident that I will get a rose.”
Bye-bye, weather weenie.

We have another contestant, a Steve Nash lookalike whose name I couldn’t possibly begin to remember, who hasn’t had a single solo date and has barely uttered a word the entire show. Every week it’s clear that it’s his time to go. The guy is a complete non-entity— seriously, there are lamps that have gotten more screen time then him. And yet every week she gives him a rose. It’s magical.

And finally there’s Kasey, pictured above.
Kasey is, quite possibly, the first truly batshit crazy contestant the Bachelorette has every seen. (Last year there was a guy with a foot fetish, but hey, to each his own.) Dude is Norman Bates crazy.
The first thing he told Ali, right out of the limo, was that he was here to “guard and protect her heart.” If I had known then what a spectacular drinking game that phrase would’ve provided, I would’ve bought me a bottle of ripple on the spot. Because that’s Kasey ’s catch phrase, and by golly, he’s sticking to it. Again and again and again. Just like his elders on the Planet Zimbort told him to.

The thing is, Kasey is almost like any other shmoopy reality show contestant—filled with platitudinous declarations of love—except there is something positively crazed and manic in his delivery.
In that sense, he serves as a kind of object lesson in just how nutso these shows really are. All of his insisting that he’s going to “guard and protect her heart” when he doesn’t even know her is, obviously, insane. But it’s really not much more insane than anyone else on the show—it’s just that he has a vaguely homicidal gleam in his eyes when he says it.
Did I mention that Kasey is super cute? (Although his artfully destroyed jeans and tight plaid shirt had my gaydar firing.) It helps to make the crazy more palatable.

So Kasey got a solo date with Ali and kept staring into the very core of her soul with his Zimbort death stare and whipped out his guitar (guitars are big this season) not once, but twice, to sing some horribly improvised ballad to her. I wish I had written down the lyrics. But suffice it to say that rhyming “moon” with “spoon” would’ve been a big improvement for him.

Kasey is so batshit crazy that the Bachelorette producers actually played the suicide card with us.
In previews, they showed Kasey with a bandage around his wrist.
“I’m afraid he’s going to do something drastic,” one of the guy-testants said.
OMG, you guys, is he going to try to off himself?
No, the deluded lad got a tattoo of a heart and a shield on his wrist.
(If this thing with Ali doesn’t work out, he can always go ahead and be a spokesman for the Slomin Shield.)
As of last night, Kasey is still on the show (yay!) but Ali doesn’t yet know about the tattoo, which should sufficiently freak her out enough to boot him. Either way, I would definitely hide all sharp objects around the suite.