Friday, August 27, 2010

Camel Woe: The Project Runway recap

As you read this review, dear readers, I want you to be mindful of the fact that I was up late last night at a party, so I may not be at my absolute best.
I also want you to be mindful of the fact that I have a little cold. And before you pass judgment on my recap, I want you to be mindful of the fact that any decision you make today can have dire consequences the rest of your lives.

Oh Gretchen, Gretchen, Gretchen. We’ve had people beg on the runway, get defensive, cry, spaz out, bargain, even filibust—but we’ve never had someone ADVISE the judges on what to do. We’ve never had someone tell the judges to be freakin’ MINDFUL. And we’ve certainly never had a contestant so odious, so crassly manipulative, and so transparently self-serving, that it caused Tim Gunn to lose his (very dignified) shit.

But I’m ahead of myself.

The show starts and everyone is still bitching about the fact that Michael C. won the last challenge.

And poor Michael, so sweetly oblivious to all the animus last week, is beginning to smell what The Rock is cooking: “I feel good about my win but I would’ve felt better if the designers were, like, ‘Hey Michael, good job.’” he sighs. “I didn’t really get that from them.”
And it’s only going to get worse, buddy.

On the runway, Heidi informs the gang that it’s a team challenge.
Since Michael C. won the last challenge—and has immunity (I repeat: HAS immunity)—he gets to pick first.

He picks Gretchen. Poor, deluded lad.
“Michael C is such a dumbass for choosing Gretchen,” says April. “Do you want to hire Hitler?
I think I love April now.

So it works out in a Bad News Bear-ish sort of way. On the one hand, we have the successful, cocky, much-decorated Team Awesome: Michael C, Gretchen, Christopher, Andy, Ivy, and AJ.
And on the other hand, we have the nose-pickers, the cast-offs, and the duds—April, Mondo, Michael D., Valerie, Casanova, and Peach—a.k.a. Team Suck.

They have to create a whole fall collection using a kind of MadLibs of styles and fabrics.
Team Awesome (who call themselves Team Luxe) chooses menswear for women and camel.
Team Suck (who call themselves the incredibly obvious Team Military and Lace) chooses safari and leopard print. Just kidding, they choose military and lace.

They go to their respective corners and start brainstorming.
Although Heidi had made it perfectly clear that there should be no one leader on the team, Gretchen is obviously taking that role with Team Awesome.
And she’s pleased as punch.
“Guys, I’m so proud of us. We’re working so well together!” says Gretchen. Translation: “You’re all listening to me so well!”

It’s almost the opposite on Team Suck. No one really wants to take the helm of this potentially sinking ship.
“I think everyone in our group thinks we’re going to be on the bottom, and doesn’t want to be the one going home,” says April.
But Casanova, who is wearing some sort of odd pleather turban, is excited about the direction: “I love military and lace. I am like a fish in water.”

Tim Gunn comes to check on their progress.
He likes most of what Team Suck is doing but pauses in front of Casanova’s station.
“I’m going to be blunt,” says Tim. Everyone holds their breath. “You’re garment is looking like the mother of these women.”
This pretty much sends Casanova into a (hilarious) tailspin.
“I’m making clothing for old ladies or sluts!” he cries.
Then he really lays it on thick, acting like Camille, lying on the coach, impervious to pep talks, so very tired, so very sad, so very misunderstood.

“Casanova is having a major diva moment,” says Valerie.

It seems that Team Suck may have to finish Casanova’s garment for him until a blessing appears in the form of a 5’8” malnourished girl— Casanova’s model.
She tells Casanova some trite things about following his heart and not letting anyone tell him what to do and it perks him right up.
“My model. She always has the greatest words. She’s like angel,” he exults. He’s ready to get back to work.

Meanwhile, over at Team Awesome, there is some foreshadowing.
“I’ve met with the other team,” says Tim. “By comparison this is looking very ho hum.”
But Team Awesome is undeterred, so confident are they in their own undeniable awesomeness.
“I don’t know if the other team has a chance!” gushes Ivy.

Runway day.
Team Military and Lace comes strutting down the runway.
In the back row, Gretchen is whispering things to Christopher: “This has very little relationship to the rest of the collection,” she says of Valerie’s suit. “I think we got it.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but it took me a few minutes to register how much Team Awesome’s collection blew. I mean, one garment after the next—frumpy, ill-fitting, and not even the slightest bit luxe.

The designers line up for the evaluation.
Heidi, clearly loving this moment, methodically begins to announce the names of the designers on Team Suck: “Mondo, Casanova, Peach . . .”

Over at Team Awesome, looks of dread are slowly creeping onto their faces.

“. . Valerie, Michael D., April. . .”

Oh no, this can’t BE!

“Congratulations. You’re our winners.”


Team Awesome, now renamed Team NotAwesome shuffles back to the Green Room.
They are flabbergasted. Enraged. Defiant.
They vow to stick together during critique. No one is pointing any fingers or throwing anyone under any buses. Unity, all the way!

Team Suck, now renamed Team Doesn’tSuck, is picking up its kudos. In particular, yes, Peach and Casanova are getting high marks for their respective looks.
“Who should win from your team?” asks Heidi.
“Casanova,” says Valerie.
“Casanova,” says Mondo.
“Peach,” says Casanova. “For me, Peach should be win. That is the best garment I ever see from her.”
I could die from the cuteness of it all.

Okay, off to the victory waiting chamber for them, time to pay the piper for Team NotAwesome.

“Who is the weakest link?” asks Heidi.

“We all tried really hard,” Gretchen says. “I just hope you can be mindful of that when you make the decision you make. I don’t think there was a weak link. We all tried really hard. I just really want you think about that. We all did the best we could for each other, for ourselves and you!”

This little speech renders her fellow team members overcome with emotion. AJ’s knees buckle, he is so moved, he can barely stand without collapsing. Team NotAwesome is practically weeping over this display of unity.

It’s at this moment, it occurs to me that Gretchen actually believes that they still have a chance to win. That the judges will be swayed by her logic, moved by her passion, touched by her team’s brave display of loyalty—and that they will change their minds:
“Team Suck, our bad. We’ve changed our minds,” they will announce to the losers in the Green Room, who will handle it well as they are comfortable with defeat. “We thought you guys did the better job, but now that we’ve spoken to Gretchen, if we are truly being mindful, we must admit that an error was made.”

Once the dim realization that no such reversal is coming, Gretchen tries a different tact.
“Can I say one last thing? I ask you to be mindful of who you want to see more from,” she says, adding half-heartedly. “We stand united.”

Oh, to have screen caps of the looks on the judges faces. Disgust doesn’t quite do it justice.

“Quite frankly, fashion is a tough competitive business,” says Michael Kors. Translation: Enough of this kumbayah shit.

The judges explain what they hate about the collection:
“With cohesiveness, you lost individuality and flair,” says guest judge Georgina Chapman.

“Almost every outfit has a proportion problem. it has no sex appeal, no design. The colors are ghastly,” says Nina.

“You’re team luxe and I don’t get any luxe at all,” says Michael Kors.

“This look is the worst,” says Heidi of Ivy’s look.
“It’s a Golden Girl vest with granny shorts,” says Kors. “Its unfortunate.”

They also call out of the horrible styling.

And all of a sudden, Gretchen has changed her tune.

“I knew we had a granny moment. I’ll take credit for styling it,” she says. “But maybe I realized that I was styling a crappy collection.”

“A minute ago you loved it!” says Heidi.

And now they’re all singing like jaybirds.

“I do have to say that out of the group, Michael’s technical skills were the weakest,” says Gretchen.

“Michael has immunity,” Heidi points out. But the designers, initially hoping that Project Runway would have its first judgment reversal, now seem to actually think that they’ll abolish immunity, just this once.

“Michael had not the strongest skills,” says Christopher. (Oh, did he not?)

“I agree with my team members,” says Andy. “Michael had the least amount of skill sets.”

“Michael HAS IMMUNITY,” Heidi repeats. Thank God she is there.

“Someone’s going down,” helpfully adds Michael Kors.

“It’s not my time,” says Gretchen, beginning to fully accept the gravity of the situation. “I really feel like Michael was our weakest link.”

“And I don’t know if it was laziness or ignorance,” says Ivy. (Really Ivy? That’s your contribution to this discussion?)

Folks, give it up! Michael C is not going home!

“We’re going to have a little chat,” says Heidi. “Or a big one.” Heh.

And with that, the team formerly known as Team Awesome skulks off the stage with their tails between their legs.

“Wow,” says Nina Garcia. Pretty much sums it up.

So they deliberate. And call the designers back on stage.
Casanova wins!
Hooray! (His looks wasn’t my favorite. I actually preferred April’s design. But those pants were pretty fab.)

And then it comes down to AJ and Gretchen for elimination.
Oh, the dramah.
For a brief moment, I actually think that Gretchen might be going home.
After all, they made it clear to her that past performance would not be a factor in the judging. And she WAS the ringleader of suck.
But it’s AJ. A shame. Kid had potential.

It’s very awkward backstage, because Michael C is crying and no one is comforting him and AJ is bumming that he didn’t go out on his terms.
“I would’ve felt better if I had left for something that was my point of view,” he says.

Tim comes by for his usual “time to pack up your work station blah blah blah” moment. Except that’s not what happens.
Because Tim Gunn, ladies and gentlemen, is pissed.
“I don’t get your behavior, demeanor and affect on the runway,” he says. “I don’t understand why you allowed Gretchen to manipulate, control and bully you. I don’t understand it!”

Gretchen’s mouth drops open. She’s having a David at the Dentist moment: Is this real life?
Yes, Gretchen. This is real life and Tim Gunn just called you OUT.

“AJ you’ve taken the bullet and now I have to send you to the workroom to clean up your space,” says Tim. He is not a happy man right now.

The good news is, this whole experience was very humbling for Gretchen. She really got some perspective on herself, her need for control, her over-confidence, her disregard for others. She’s truly going to turn over a new leaf.

As if.

“I was just trying to help,” she says. “In the end, AJ said he wanted to make a shirt dress. It didn’t have to be a boring shirt dress.”

In other words, if he’d just been a bit more mindful, he might still be in the competition.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fanning the Flames: The Top Chef D.C. recap

A serious question for you all: Who on earth is going to win Fan Favorite?
Let’s face it, none of these contestants are particularly likeable.
I guess Tiffany could win, just by simply not having an offensive personality.
Or maybe Alex could win, in an ironic, “Vote for the worst” kind of way.
I actually like Angelo, with that sexy whispery voice of his, but he’s definitely been ramping up the crazy in these past few episodes.
Maybe that dude from Episode One with the smelly dreadlocks will win. He seemed nice.

As the show starts, Ed is wearing Tiffany’s dress and being funny. He’s in a good mood, because he doesn’t know yet about this scathing review in the New York Times of his new restaurant. Oh, he was so young then.

Angelo needs to rebound from last week’s dismal performance. This is his lifelong dream, you see. He talks about how when he was a kid, he would cut out pictures of 4-star chefs and create a little altar to them that he actually prayed to. I keep waiting for him to say that he’s joking, but, like his “I have crabs” revelation from a few episodes back, no such disclaimer comes. That, my friends, is true nuttiness.

Rick Moonen is the guest chef.
And Padma is acting strange.

“We want to see who is Top Chef. Top Dog. Top Banana. The Big Cheese. . .Do you see a trend here?”

"I’ll take, Kenny’s new nicknames for $600, Alex?”

Actually, Padma is using idioms so this will be the food idiom Quickfire challenge! Uh, okay. I have another idiom that applies: Scraping the bottom of the barrel.

The winner will have their dish immortalized as Schwan’s frozen food.

Tiffany gets Spill the Beans (pan seared cod over cannelloni and kidney beans)
Amanda gets Big Cheese (Mac and cheese with the kind of ginormous pork chop a cave man might use to bludgeon somebody to death.)
Kelly gets Sour Grapes (chicken breast with red grape sauce)
Angelo gets Bigger Fish to Fry (Fried tilapia)
Kevin gets Bring Home the Bacon (In an homage to his fallen comrade Kenny, he does bacon 3 ways)
Ed gets Hot Potato (gnocchi).

Nobody had the balls, so to speak, to choose “Hide the Salami.”

“Who were the bad eggs?” says Padma. (Maybe the people writing her dialogue?): The bottom 2 are Kelly and Amanda.

And “whose dishes were more your cup of tea?” (Make it stop!!!!): Top two are lovebirds Ed and Tiffany.

And . . .Ed wins! If only he could bottle this happy feeling and save it for a rainy day—like say, the day the New York Times destroyed his career.

Elimination Challenge:
Take Me Out To the Ballgame. Working as a team, the cheftestants must create high-end ballpark food. Fun!

Naturally, Amanda decides to make tuna tartare. (Buy me some peanuts, crackerjacks, and . . . tuna tartare?)
Ed goes with shrimp and corn fritters.
Kelly is making a crab BLT.
Angelo is making pork buns.
Tiffany is making meatball subs.
Kevin is making ho-hum chicken.

It’s not much of a team challenge, except for the fact that someone has to take orders at the front of the stand.
“I’ll do it,” says Angelo, much to everyone’s relief. They all think he’s a sucker for offering, but stay mum.

Of course, the next day, Angelo figures the equation out for himself. If he’s upfront that means his food is alone in the kitchen.
So he decides to renege his offer.
No one likes this, especially Kevin, who thinks that Angelo should be a man of his word. He also thinks that taking orders is now officially Angelo’s problem, not his. Basically, he’s being a dick (and kissing his Fan Favorite award goodbye, not that he ever really had a shot).

Ultimately, Angelo decides to avoid confrontation with Kevin and take the orders. Ed says he’ll tend to Angelo’s food. He’s being nice. Not Fan Favorite nice or anything. But nice all the same.

So everyone wants meatballs and crabcakes. And NOBODY wants tuna tartare and chicken. Awkward.

Three players from the Nationals—Adam Dunn, John Lannan, and Matt Capps—taste all the food.
They feed each other, which is kind of cute, and not at all gay.
They seem to like everything, except for the one thing that one of the players describes as a “chewed up caterpillar that exploded in my mouth.” (Amanda’s tartare maybe?) Which is exactly the kind of thing my next-door neighbor would say. (He’s 6.)

Angelo goes back and sweetly reminds the cheftestants to please make sure they have enough food for the judges. This Fan Favorite vote is really heating up!

The judges taste everything.
Eric Ripert is grossed out by Amanda’s oxidized (and therefore grey) tartare, but Tom likes the accompanying vegetables and Rick Moonen thinks it took some “baseballs” to make a tartare. See what he did there?

They all think that Kelly’s crabcakes would be great if she was trying to sell beer (i.e, they’re too salty.)

Angelo’s pork is good but his hot dog bun is mushy.

Similarly, Kevin’s chicken has mushy french fries.

Ed’s fritters are a taste explosion in everyone’s mouth.

Tiffany’s meatballs are sloppy but delicious and I would like one now, please.

Our extra bit of footage during the commercial break shows Angelo talking on the phone to his (mail order?) Russian bride. Turns out, he’s only seen her a couple of times but they talk on the phone constantly. Oh, this is not going to end well. (I hope they’re at least using Skype.)

Judgment time: Because this was allegedly a “group challenge” (still not buying it), the judges want to see all of them.

They applaud Angelo for taking front of the house. But instead of letting the poor guy take a little credit for doing it, Tiffany has to make sure that everyone knows that he said he would, and then he said he wouldn’t, and then he finally did it even though he really didn’t want to. Thank you, Tiffany.

“Let’s move on,” says Tom. Indeed.

Top 2 are Ed and Tiffany, again. And Ed wins! Again. Take that, New York Times! Everyone knows that the New York Post rules and you drool!

Ultimately, Amanda gets sent home for her oxidized tuna.
The funny thing about Amanda is that she is pretty and witty, and yet still has no shot at Fan Favorite. I can’t quite put my finger on what makes her slightly annoying. Maybe it's that bratty little sister vibe she gives off. (Takes one to know one?). Suggestions welcome.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hat's Entertainment: The Project Runway recap

Previously on As the Runway Turns: AJ found out that he is the father of Michael’s baby, Valerie’s evil twin Kenley came to town, and Ivy was left for dead on the studio floor!

Okay, made those first two up, but Ivy really was carted off in an ambulance.

Of course, it was dehydration. On reality TV, when someone passes out, it’s always dehydration (or strategy).

That didn’t stop Dr. Gretchen from weighing in with her opinion: “She’s just not taking good care of herself,” she said.
(Apparently, Ivy subsists on a diet of Diet Coke and cigarettes.)

The most remarkable thing about Ivy’s brief stay in the hospital is that she was inspired—aesthetically. “I loved the solid and mesh fabric curtains,” she gushed. One can only imagine how thrilled she would be by a weekend at the Holiday Inn.

This week’s challenge involves hats—fancy, sculptural, GaGa-esque hats by designer Philip Treacy.
The task is simple: Create a look inspired by one of those cockamamie (I mean, artistically valid) creations.

Treacy himself gives them a tip: “Matching is old hat.” (See what he did there?)

The designers get to pick whichever hat they want, with one catch: It comes attached to the body of the model who’s wearing it. Everyone sticks with their original model. Yawn. (Now that Models of the Runway has been cancelled, it’s just so hard to care.)

Kristin is freaking out about her orchid hat and suddenly getting lots of face time. (What could that mean?)
“I don’t do literal at all,” she moans. “How do you make a story out of an orchid?”
Huh, I think Susan Orlean might have some ideas for her.

At Mood, Mondo confirms what we’ve already suspected: That he is batshit crazy.
“The fabrics have voices and I’m hearing all of them.”
Raise your hand if you think he’s speaking metaphorically.

Back at the studio, Casanova is being his usual unintentionally laugh-tastic self.
“I’m thinking seriously of quit,” he says.
“You can do it! I have faith!” says Ivy. Her brush with death has made her particularly peppy.

Off in her corner, Kristin won’t shut up about how uninspired she is.
I’m not even paying full attention and just keep hearing words like “vagina” and “sexual.”

Tim comes in to crush everyone’s hopes and dreams.

He doesn’t like Valerie’s zippers, even though the zippers are, like, her favorite part.
He thinks April’s shorts look like diapers. “Especially since they’re quilted.” (LOL.)
He tells AJ that “the woman who can afford that hat can afford a polka dot dress where the polka dots line up.” (Oh snap!)
At Kristin’s station, he disapproves of the detail at the top of the dress.
“It looks fussy,” he says. And damned if she doesn’t cut it off—on the spot. At least let Tim walk away and pretend you’re mulling it over.

Tim speaks Casanova a lot better than I do.
“Ohmygod,” says Casanova. “Nobody wear the hat. It’s very Ed-eet-tore-elle.”
“Editorial?” says Tim. He’s good. Tim explains that people do wear Philip Treacy’s hats (like your eccentric Aunt Gertie, who won all that money after the accident) and that Casanova’s dress is just a little too blah to stand up to it.
“It’s almost as if you went shopping, bought a dress, and she’s wearing Philip Treacy’s hat.”
“Right,” says Casanova. He’s pleased with this compliment.

Michael C is in a world of trouble as his dress is puckering in all the wrong places.
“I’m not going to dissuade you from being concerned,” says Tim.
That is Tim speak for: You’re screwed!
Michael decides to scrap the dress and start again, which, on Project Runway is code for “he’s about to have his biggest triumph.” (Strange, but true.)

When they get back to the apartment, everyone is being catty. Well, mostly Gretchen.
“I think it’s going to be Peach, Kristin, and April on the chopping block,” says Gretchen.
Conveniently, Peach, Kristin, and April are all hanging out together, as Peach is ironing.
(Do you think this was a bit of producer manipulation? Like a cameraman said to Peach, “Hey you look kind of lonely, ironing all by yourself like that. Why don’t you ask April to join you? And, uh, Kristin?”)

One thing everyone agrees on: That Christopher’s dress is the bomb diggity and that Michael C. is totally lost.

Runway day!
Gretchen is inexplicably wearing more makeup than Hedda Lettuce.

The looks come parading down the runway.

Somehow, Michael D. has pulled off his look, which in the studio looked like a cardboard box a homeless person might sleep in. Matched with the crimped orange skirt, it’s actually quite chic.

Michael C’s dress is also lovely, even though all the designers think it’s tacky and mermaidy and cheap. I love the way the gold and amber color of the dress makes the orange hat pop.

Little snotty AJ has done it again. I’m really feeling his crazy polka dot dress.

Peach’s dress looks like it came off the rack at Ann Taylor but does anyone else think her “difficult” model looks like Chanel Iman?

Top 3: Michael C, Michael D and Valerie.
Bottom 3: Christopher (gasp!), April, and Kristin.

Specifically, the judge’s thought the styling on Christopher’s dress was trying too hard (agreed), that Kristin’s dress had no harmony, and that April’s dress looked like she layered her underpants for a three day weekend, according to Michael Kors.

The designers head back to the green room while the judges deliberate.
Here’s where we get to see just what a “mittelmädchen” (that’s Mean Girl) Heidi Klum is.
It turns out that Philip Treacy doesn’t like Valerie’s little red dress.
“There’s nothing offensive about it,” he says. “But it’s not stylish.”
Heidi exchanges a look with her Heathers.
“We liked it!” she says. “It’s flirty but hard and cool.”
“It looked well made and well tailored,” says Heather Kors.
“It’s mischievous and coquettish,” says Heather Garcia.
Philip totally cracks under the pressure of the Mean Girl 3: “It was well constructed,” he admits.

But once again, it is not to be Valerie’s day. The winner is . . . Michael Costello!

And the loser is . . . Kristin! Never saw that coming!

Back in the green room, the designers are stunned, mostly because Christopher was in the bottom and Michael C won. Luckily, Michael C is too giddy about his win on Father’s Day to notice that everyone’s hating on him.

As for Kristin, something tells me she’ll be avoiding Georgia O’Keefe exhibits for the next few years.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Muffin Tops: The Top Chef D.C. recap

You think you really know a bunch of people and then suddenly—poof!—they’re all strangers to you.

Angelo has a fiancée? Who lives in Russia?
Ed has a girlfriend? Who’s been clamoring to go on vacation with him?
Amanda sees Alex as a “wise old Jewish uncle”?
Wait. Alex is . . . Jewish?!? (God. I hope we’re not related.)

The whole girlfriend thing is especially perplexing, since Ed always looks like a little piece of him dies when Tiffany mentions her fiancée and Angelo has been the mack daddy of the house.

Anyhoo, Wiley Dufresne and his magical sideburns is the guest judge, which usually means better living through science, but today has to do with mystery boxes filled with ingredients.

One by one, boxes with big question marks on them (cause it’s a mystery, get it?) are delivered by hot men in sunglasses and dark suits who are supposed to look like Secret Service agents but instead look like strippers at a bachelorette party.

Out of the first box: Fish, fava beans, and hominy.
Everyone plays keep the can opener away from Alex, except for Amanda, who suddenly sees him as her rebbe.

The next box arrives: Squid and black garlic.
“I’ve never used black garlic before!” says Kelly. I’m noticing a trend with this woman. I think she has about 6 ingredients in her restaurant’s pantry.

Then a third box! Ramps and passion fruit.

The contestants are really freaking out at this point.
Angelo is talking to himself: “Should I do hot or cold? Should I push myself or not?”

Alex admits: “I’m not sure what my dish is!” (And this is different from all the other challenges. . .how?)

Amanda is baffled by the ramps: “Am I supposed to use the leafs or the stem?”

Just when it seems like things can’t get any more insane, a final mystery box arrives containing—whew!—good ol’ fashioned spuds.

Time’s up. The contestants look like they just ran the Boston Marathon. They’re out of breath. Strands of wet hair are sticking to their foreheads. “I’m sweating into my food,” says Angelo. Gross.

Wiley and Padma try the food.
“Is this oil or butter?” Wiley asks Amanda.
“Both,” she says.
Wiley nods, wiping his (oily) hands on a napkin.

The least successful are Alex (the components didn’t come together) and oily Amanda.

The favorites are Tiffany (the components did come together) and Kevin (with his clever puree).

The winner (of $10,000!) is Tiffany. She is on fiiire.

The Elimination Challenge will take place at the CIA headquarters. Each chef will be given a classic dish that they will have to disguise in an innovative way.

I like it.

Amanda gets French onion soup.
Kelly gets Kung Pao Chicken.
Kevin gets cobb salad.
Angelo gets beef Wellington.
Tiffany gets gyro. (Which she pronounces, properly, as “eeero.” I’ve never been able to bring myself to do that.)
Ed gets chicken cordon bleu.
Alex gets veal parmesan.

Off to the supermarket they go, where we find out that, yup, Kelly has never had Kung Pao chicken before. Her strategy is to find some frozen Kung Pao and copy its ingredients. The true sign of a master chef.

Angelo has totally lost his groove. He buys pre-made puff pastry for his beef Wellington. Everyone knows that buying pre-made food is the Top Chef kiss of death. What the hell is he thinking?

Back in the kitchen, the cheftestants are exchanging Spy names. Ed says that his is Muffin Winthrop. I’m pretty sure that’s actually his porn name. (First pet + street you grew up on = porn name, NOT spy name.)

Turns out, Amanda is a big CIA fangirl. They’re, like, her Jonas Brothers. She is positively squee-ing over the fact that she’ll be cooking for Leon Panetta (spy name: Fluffy Summerview) and his CIA cronies.

Alex is a fan of Maxwell Smart. “He had a phone for a shoe,” he says, in that creepy Alex voice. (Alex has a way of making even the most innocuous statement sound disturbing.)

Off they go to the CIA, where they all have to get security clearance. This is serious stuff.

Kelly overcooks her rice, because she’s used to the Colorado altitude, where it takes an hour to cook rice. Tiffany calmly steps in to help. She seems to have found all the mojo that Angelo has lost.

First up, Angelo’s beef Wellington, which looks a lot like… beef Wellington.
“It’s a poor disguise,” says Leon Panetta. “They would’ve captured this spy.”
Also, no one is fooled by the storebought pastry.

Amanda’s French onion soup also gets low grades.

Chef Ripert (spy name: Pepe St. Germain) calls Tiffany’s gyro “the most elegant gyro I’ve ever had in my life.”

Then something exciting happens. An aide slips Leon Panetta a note. And Panetta looks at it and says, “Business calls.”
He has to go. Because it’s a matter of NATIONAL SECURITY, people! He can’t even finish his fake cobb salad, because LIVES ARE ON THE LINE!!!
This is truly the most action Top Chef has seen ever.

Deliberation time.
Top 3: Tiffany, Ed, and Kelly.
And the winner is. . .Tiffany! Don’t look now, boys and girls, but we have our new frontrunner.

Bottom 3: Angelo, Alex, and Amanda.

“You took a soup and made a soup,” they tell Amanda. (Her disguise was the culinary version of a fake mustache and glasses.)

“The pastry was dry. The plating was sloppy. And your beef Wellington would make Julia Child sad,” they tell Angelo.

“Turns out, your disguise was poor execution,” they tell Alex.

Suddenly, Tom (spy name: Wolf Underwood) is obsessed with 7th place.
“Do any of you think you are the seventh best in this competition?” Tom asks.
The three shake their heads adamantly.
“I’m more like 11th best,” Alex is thinking.
“I’m probably 9th best, tops,” thinks Amanda.

They’re sent back to the waiting room. Everyone is hoping that Angelo gets the boot, because mojo lost can be mojo re-gained.
Angelo is looking at his feet. “I should go home. I should,” he sighs. I miss the old bad-ass Angelo.

The judges are not happy with Angelo’s execution. At all.
“He could do better than that,” says Wiley (spy name: Shaggy Dunston).
“Anyone can do better than that who knows how to cook,” says Eric Ripert. Ouch.

They also aren’t fans of Amanda’s lame French onion soup .
“Four hours is a long time to make dishwater,” Eric says.

They conspicuously don’t say much about Alex’s tough veal, although Tom says that he's had better tortellini out of a box.

They’re summoned back in.
“In all your cases, your cover was blown,” says Tom.
“You disguised yourself as really poor cooks. One of you will be 7th best.”
(Again with the 7th best?)

And—finally!—Alex is packing his knives and leaving, says Padma. (Spy name: Kitty Bangar).

Make it quick, Alex. The very thought of that dude handling knives gives me the heebie jeebies.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Party in My Pants! The Project Runway recap

Oh Gretchen, Gretchen, Gretchen.
You win two challenges and suddenly you start to think the show is all about you, huh?
You start saying things like “I’m a force to be reckoned with” and “I think [Valerie's] definitely going to be on the top with me.”
Then you start helping the other designers, like you’re their patient, experienced teacher and they are your slow-witted, but adoring pupils.
And then you are surprised when your fellow designers respond like this?
“I hate that bitch.” -Michael D.
“She is annoying me.” – April
“Her attitude has changed.” – Peach
“If her dress gets chosen over mine, we have issues.” – Michael C.
(And just wait til you hear about her showdown with AJ!)

Anyway, this is the unconventional fabrics challenge. It takes place at a party supply store in Brooklyn called “Party Glitters.” (“Thank you for shawping at Pawty Glittahs,” say the two heavily blue-eye-shadowed girls behind the counter. Toto, we’re not in Mood anymore.)

(An aside: I love that the owners of Party Glitters couldn’t even be bothered to call the store “All that Glitters.” They were obviously like, “It’s shit for parties. That glitter. Stop breaking my balls!”)

Tim Gunn makes it clear that the judges want to see creative use of fabrics, so the contestants should try to avoid placemats and tablecloths.

Casanova, who is pretty much disgusted by the whole challenge, heads straight to the tablecloth and placemat section.
“I make dresses, not piñatas,” he grumbles later. (Having seen his finished product, I beg to differ. . .)

Gretchen bemoans the fact that her sophisticated fashion sense has no place in this land of “shiny crap.”

AJ is freaking out because apparently doing whimsical, kitschy dresses is totally his thing, so now there’s all this pressure on him. (Or maybe it’s the tie wrapped around his head?)

Back in the studio, Tim Gunn checks on everyone’s progress. He and AJ have an exchange that goes something like this:
“This is so your challenge,” says Tim.
“No it’s not,” AJ says quickly.
“Is too!” says Tim.
“Is not!” says AJ.

Michael C observes from his station: “Please. Everyone in the room knows that AJ loves a hot glue gun.”
And by hot glue gun he means. . . hot glue gun, keep your mind out of the gutter.

Speaking of minds out of the gutter, how cute was it when Tim Gunn visited Kristin’s station?
She was working with these little critters called “Wooly Balls” and Tim had a little giggle fit over them. I think at one point he dangled the stuffed Wooly Balls in the rough vicinity of his own family Gunns.
“They have faces!” he announced.

Still giddy from his run-in with Kristin’s balls, Tim visited Peach’s station and told her that she needed to remove the “lump of coal up her ass” and turn it into a diamond. I love immature Tim.

“The potential in this room is overwhelming,” Tim notes before he leaves. “I have chills. I really do.” Then he says that the models will be back tomorrow with a little surprise.
The room groans. Surprises on Project Runway rarely involve cake or streamers. (Turns out, this special surprise ends up being no big whoop: Make an accessory for your outfit with some extra party supplies.)

With the extra half hour, we finally get to see how the contestants eat. There’s some sort of buffet set up in the studio. I spy chafing dishes and fried strips of processed meat. Gretchen is eating with chopsticks. I can’t tell if it’s an Asian buffet, or if she’s just the kind of pretentious person who eats with chopsticks all the time. (Don't answer that.).

Next morning, Mondo is all decked out in his patented emo Pee Wee Herman garb. “Mustache or no mustache?” he asks Casanova. And damned if the dude doesn’t pull out some sort of press-on mustache. Eccentricity, thy name is Mondo. (Casanova was on Team Mustache, as if there was any doubt.)

As the girls leave their house, Sarah casually says to Gretchen: “Time to win!” (I like that girl. She’s going to be my new Project Runway besty.)

As everyone scrambles to finish their outfits, Andy, who is doing something quite elaborate with ribbon, is running out of time.
Peach and April run over to help him. This kind of teamwork always warms my heart. Gretchen, however, takes it as a personal affront: “Andy had a lot of help and it’s hard for me,” she whines.

Oh lord.

The special guest judge is Betsey Johnson, pretty much perfect for this challenge.

Down the runway they come and I agree with Tim. There’s some stellar stuff. I loved Christopher’s dress (I would so wear that thing!) but it doesn’t quite change my opinion that he does boring but impeccable work.

Andy’s black ribbon dress is, in fact, a stunner. How the hell does that thing look like leather and silver?

AJ’s dress looks like something a 5-year-old would make at the fashion version of a “Build a Bear” store. Not entirely wrong, but not quite right, either.

Ivy’s paper plate dress made her model look fat. Just sayin’. . .

In the end, the top 3 are Valerie, Gretchen, and Andy.
The bottom 3 are AJ (ruh-ro!), Casanova, and witty Sarah, who did something truly regrettable involving palm trees.

Everyone loves Valerie’s Ascot Gavotte-inspired black and white dress, made of cocktail napkins.
Betsey Johnson is particularly pleased with the fact that if you spill something on yourself at the party, you always have a napkin handy.

Gretchen’s gold fringe skirt with faux leather jacket (made from crumpled paper bags) is another hit.
“The vibe is very cool,” says Nina.
The only misstep: Too-tall boots that don’t work proportionally with the skirt.

Finally, Andy’s ribbon dress is a sophisticated show-stopper.
“I can see you and Rihanna fighting over that,” says Michael Kors.
“Well I saw it first,” says Heidi.

As for the bottom:

AJ’s dress is characterized as a “hot mess” by Nina.
“Thank you,” says AJ. Perhaps this an attempt to be gracious in the face of criticism, but it makes him look like a schmuck.
“That was not a compliment,” says Heidi. Heh.
But Betsey almost likes it: “At least you had the party spirit going on. I just wish you had taken it a zillion times farther.”

Next up, poor Sarah and her “sad” palm tree dress. It did look like a poorly made costume from the junior class production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Just not good.

Finally, Casanova, with what, quite frankly, has to be one of the butt-ugliest dresses to ever grace the Project Runway stage.
“It’s a transvestite flamenco dancer at a funeral!” says Michael Kors. In this case, Kors’ patented mixed metaphors really do apply. “It’s a bodice combination platter,” he continues. “The taste level is totally missing.” Ya think?

So it’s time for the judges to deliberate. Everyone goes back to the greenroom. This is where all hell breaks loose.
Everyone wants to hear about Andy’s first trip to the top 3.
Andy opens his mouth, beginning to form the words.
“I think Andy’s piece was really lovely,” Gretchen jumps in, doing that thing she does.
“I want to hear from Andy,” someone says.
Gretchen looks ticked but let’s Andy talk. For a moment.
Then she starts chiming in with more of her patented "I'm an important designer because I've won two challenges" insight.
AJ tries to interrupt her.
“Can I talk?” Gretchen says.
“You talk all the time,” says AJ. “You talk ALL the time.”
“You’re just being sensitive because you’re in the bottom!” Gretchen snaps. Oh, it is ON.

Saved by the results.

Valerie is . . .safe. Bridesmaid boulevard, once again. It comes down to Andy and, yes, Gretchen.
Could Gretchen actually go for the three-pete?
And the winner is. . .Andy! (Whew. Dodged a massive ego-shaped bullet with that one.)

So who’s going home?
AJ is . . .safe.
It’s between Casanova and Sarah. And the loser is. . .Sarah.
I call slight bullshit on that, to be honest. There have been a grand total of 3 shows. In two of them, Casanova has put something totally unwearable on the runway. Look, the guy is one of the season’s “characters”—I get that. But he can’t design.
Not that Sarah was going places. But it figures that just when I decided she was going to be my season BFF, she’s auf’d.

Weird, Grey’s Anatomy style drama in the final seconds. Ivy passes out and is taken to the hospital. Everyone is freaking out. I assume it’s dehydration but . . . what gives? They’re doing a cliffhanger on Ivy’s health? Tacky, tacky, tacky Project Runway. These are actual people. At least I think they are. The jury is still out on Mondo.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Oh nooo! They Killed Kenny! The Top Chef D.C. recap

As the show starts, Kenny is wondering why he’s been consistently in the middle of the pack. Don’t they know that he’s The Beast, aka Black Magic, aka Big Daddy, aka Black Lightening, aka Black Angus?!?
It’s not like just anybody can have a whole series of nicknames using the word “black”, you know!
Kenny decides that he is going to stop pussyfooting around and unleash the true Beast. Hide the women and children.

So the Quickfire guest judge is a woman who has always struck me as someone who indulges in all the sensual pleasures of life . . . Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

When I saw the blindfolds at first I thought it was going to be my favorite challenge—the one where they have to identify food by taste alone. But instead it was the tag-team dish challenge.

Ed was the leader of Team Red. When he picked Tiffany first they both got all cute and blushy together. (Those two!)

Kevin was the leader of Team Blue, and promptly picked The Beast.

The Brazil of cheftestants was clearly Alex—who was picked last, by Ed.

So the teams went like this:

Red Team: Ed, Angelo, Tiffany, and Alex.


Blue Team: Kevin, Kenny, Kelly, and Kamanda

Immediately everyone on Team Red strategizes how they can minimize Alex’s damage. They decide to put him second in line—not involved in the all-important conceptualization of the dish but with ample time to recover when he (inevitably) screws up.

Except, Alex screws up in the one way that can simply not be undone: He prematurely salts the fish.

So later, when Angelo salts the red snapper at the appropriate time, it’s too late. They’ve got double-salt fish. (Sounds like a tasty Chinese dish, no? Maybe Angelo could’ve improvised.)

Meanwhile, Team Blue is like a finely oiled machine. They’re reading each other’s minds. They’re blanching, sautéing, and spicing in perfect harmony. As such, their shrimp with capellini over a mustard sauce goes off without a hitch.

Nancy Pelosi likes both dishes but very judiciously notes that Team Red’s dish is a “little salty.”

Then she says, “I think that the advantage—and it would only be a slight advantage—would go to Team Blue. . .”

They get money, but no immunity, natch.

Onto Restaurant Wars.

But first, a mid-show ad for the Toyota Sienna:
“So we get into the Toyota Sienna,” says adenoidal Ed, who does not have a future in commercial voiceovers.
As the contestants pile into the car, the camera lingers lovingly over the leather interior, sliding doors, and power locks. It’s minivan porn.

At Food Depot, Team Blue is already getting into their default stance: All superior and judgmental about Team Red.

“They’re just grabbing stuff and putting it in their cart,” snickers Black Angus. Kamanda nods sagely.

So Team Red is now called EVOO (which stands for extra virgin olive oil and makes me think of Rachel Ray, which is an instant FAIL.)

Team Blue is called Restaurant 2121, because that’s the address where the cheftestants are living. Team Blue applauds themselves for this stroke of brilliance.

Team Red, still trying to negate the Alex Factor, decides to put him in the front of the house. Considering that he seems like some sort of twitchy, low-level flunky in the Russian mafia, I’m not sure this is the wisest of ideas, but I do appreciate the need to keep him away for the food.

And keep him away from the food, they do. They kind of let Alex do a little butchering (which he promptly butchers). And then they let him do a little de-boning, which he also screws up. At least this time, no one’s wearing blindfolds.

Angelo, the executive chef of EVOO, does a lot of yelling.

“There’s no talking in the kitchen!” he barks at one point.

Then, he goes all Incredible Hulk on Alex: “You won’t like me when I’m mad.”

(A side note: One of Team Red’s dishes actually involves pea puree! No one takes note of the irony.)

Once again, Team Blue (executive chef Black Lightening) seems far more preoccupied with how badly Team Red is doing than they do with their own performance. And they're kind of all getting along in a show offy way. Lot's of high fives and conspicuous demonstrations of team unity.

“I think it’s a dangerous thing to be overly confident,” says Angelo, ominously.

AT EVOO’s front of the house, Alex is doing his best Mommy Dearest impression for the waitstaff, making them wipe down every table, glass, and chair:
“No. . . Paper. . .Napkins!”

I think you can tell a lot about a person when they are put in a position of power. Surprise, surprise: Alex is a dick.

The judges, including notoriously picky food critic Frank Bruni, arrive at EVOO first. Alex is already trying to placate a dissatisfied customer and totally misses the fact that the judges are standing right there. Luckily, one of the waiters ushers them to a table. (Alex really didn’t deserve such kindness.)

So things don’t go perfectly for EVOO. While the judges like Angelo’s confit of tomato soup, they’re not mad for Tiffany’s crudo of black bass and snapper.
Then they start getting antsy because the second course hasn’t arrived. They even fall for the patented restaurant fake-out when a tray of food goes by.
Doh! Going to the next table.

Finally, they get their meal, but Alex accidentally calls the lambchop a porkchop. It’s such an obvious Freudian slip, because the lambchop was allegedly his entree (each team member must be fully responsible for at least one dish) but he clearly didn’t make it. That was the guilt talking, my friend.

When the judges leave, Tom says, “We didn’t get a hello. Let’s see if we get a good bye.”
This time Alex is not preoccupied. He just lets the judges walk out without so much as a wave. They practically brush by him on the way out.

At Restaurant 2121, Kelly gets assigned front of the house. She’s none too happy about it, but she takes one for the team. Needless to say, she’s far more pleasant to deal with than Alex. Unfortunately for her, her sweet corn soup is neither particularly sweet nor particularly corny.

Black Magic’s beet salad, as is his wont, is overly complicated. Tom C evokes Coco Chanel’s “remove one accessory” edict. (Brilliant!) With all of Kenny’s black-themed nicknames, “Little Black Dress” is clearly not one of them.

Everyone pretty much wants to marry Kevin’s pan-roasted halibut, which does look delicious.

But Big Daddy’s fried goat cheese is an abomination.

“It’s a horror show!” says Frank Bruni.

The meal ends. Kelly says goodnight to the judges and shows them to the door.

Judgment time.
Team EVOO is called first.

“If we’re in the bottom, my mind will be BLOWN,” says the Beast.

Prepare to have your mind blown, Black Angus. Because Team EVOO wins.

The funny thing is, Kenny’s confidence (or shall we say, delusions of grandeur?) is so contagious, even I believed his team was going to win. But empirically speaking, when you put the two best chefs—that would be Angelo and Ed—on one team that team has a marked advantage.

Alex’s flop sweat and rudeness notwithstanding, the judges were pretty much impressed with EVOO across the board, but give the nod to Ed for his turbot with eggplant caviar.
There’s a slightly awkward discussion of who was responsible for “Alex’s” lambchop, but it passes quickly.

Ed gets a giant bottle of wine and a trip to a vineyard for his win. (Sorry, I didn’t catch the name of the vineyard. But giant bottles of wine are only surpassed by giant fake checks as prizes, if you ask me.)

Time for Restaurant 2121 to face the music.
Kamanda’s meat is overcooked and underjuicy.
Kenny’s beet salad is the Hamburger Helper of salads. (No, I have no idea what that means either.)
Kenny’s goat cheese is a monstrosity.
Kevin’s halibut: Yummy yummy in their tummies.

But here’s where it gets good:
Kenny calls out Alex for not doing any actual cooking. Seems like a punk move, but I kind of respect it. If you’re going to defend yourself, it’s now or never.
His teammates all back him up.

“So you’re saying that Alex didn’t cook his dish?” says Tom.
Yeah, Tom, that’s exactly what he’s saying.

They’re sent back to the waiting room, where there’s some strange editing, because suddenly they are already in the middle of a fight.
Kevin is going all Angelo on Alex: “Your ass should be going home!” he yells. “You know you didn’t make that dish!”
Alex has the calm demeanor of a man who knows that a Russian mob hit is just a phone call away.

Team EVOO looks guilty. “There’s no need to justify anything,” says Angelo testily.

Could a member of the winning team actually be sent home?!?

No. . only Restaurant 2121 is sent back for final review.

Kevin is golden.
Kelly’s soup was mediocre but she was the hostess with the mostess. She’s safe.
So it comes down to Kamanda and Kenny.

It’s so obvious that Kamanda is going home, I’m practically mouthing the words with the judges.

And then the darndest thing happens: Black Magic is hurtled into a Black Hole.

I must say, I really didn’t see that coming. (Neither did Kenny, judging from the hilariously bummed out picture, above.) On the other hand, Kenny really hasn’t been that good for weeks, has he? He’s a brilliant example of how far swagger will take you. In the case of Top Chef Season 7, that would be eighth place.