Thursday, February 17, 2011

Target Practice: The Top Chef All-Stars recap

True story: A couple of weeks ago I was sitting around a table with some friends—adult friends, mind you—and we were having an argument. See if you can guess what the argument was about:
a. The populist uprising in Egypt.
b. The recent German takeover of the NY Stock Exchange.
c. Whether or not Grover is a Muppet.

If you guessed c, well. . .you know your segues!

I was on the pro Grover-as-Muppet side, in case you were wondering. My friends maintained that he wasn’t on The Muppet Show, ergo, not a Muppet. I even texted my friend Larry, the foremost Muppetologist on my contact list, and his response was a very cryptic: “That’s a complicated question.” It was like I had asked him to break down the Big Bang Theory. . .

Anyway. Squee! Elmo, Telly, and Cookie Monster. Muppets in the house. (Or at least Sesame Street characters. We never did resolve our issue). Tiffany, for her part, looks terrified.

“In my house, Elmo is like Elvis,” Richard says. Cute. Later, he gets Elmo to say hi to his daughter: “Hello Riley. Elmo loves you.”
Awww, both Richard and I get a little verklempt.

Actually, the whole segment is adorbs. It’s nice to see the contestants giggling over the Muppets’ antics, even if, at one point, it seems like Dale is actually going to thrown down with the Cookie Monster. (You know your anger management issues aren’t fully resolved when you get enraged at a heckling Muppet.)

Also, Mike and Angelo are claiming that they’d never made cookies before. I’m so sure.

So the bottom 2 are Angelo, whose Belgian hazelnut cookie was too hard and not very sweet, and Richard, who made some sort of pretentious (what, Richard. . .pretentious?) liquid nitrogen zucchini cookie.

Richard is chagrined. “You don’t want to be called out by the Cookie Monster,” he says.

And the Top 2 are Antonia, despite the fact that her chocolate cookies looked like “cow chips,” according to Elmo, and Dale, who made pretzel and potato chip shortbread cookie with salted caramel chocolate ganache. (Yes please.)

And the winner. . .Dale! I really thought the Muppets were going to go with Antonia’s more classic cookie. Who knew that Muppets had refined palates?

Elimination Challenge time. And here’s the question: If you are Target, and you want to tell the world that along with selling clothing, electronic goods, toys, appliances, TVs, DVDs, accessories, candy, computers, gardening supplies, pet products, toiletries, bedding, stationery, magazines, books, towels, skateboards, and, well EVERYTHING ELSE THAT CAN CONCEIVABLY HAVE A BAR CODE AFFIXED TO IT, you now also have added fresh produce to your prodigious mix, what do you do?
You put yourself front and center on Top Chef and offer up the biggest Elimination Challenge booty in the history of the show: 25,000 big ones.

Target’s new motto: Like Wal-Mart, only on Bravo, bitches!

No rest for the weary: The gang have to head straight for Target and buy all their gear and cook a 3 a.m. repast for 100 Target staff members.

This seems easy enough, but is, in fact, an insane test of physical stamina and will. Because this Target is huge—like 4 football fields put together huge. And the food is on one side and the supplies are on the other and the Cheftestants are all running through the closed store, double-fisting their carts, panting, sweating, and in a complete panic.
“I’m not in the best of shape,” admits Mike. Thanks for the news flash, pal.

For some reason, all this running around makes 3 of them—Mike, Angelo, and Carla specifically—decide to make soup. I know when I’m sweaty and exhausted, I want a thick steaming bowl of soup.

“It’s ridiculous. $25,000 on the line, I’m not going to make soup,” says Antonia. Truth.

Actually, Carla only decides to make soup once she remembers that she has to cook. She spends so much time trying to beautify her work station—and, let’s face it, her world— she forgets about the food part.
To be fair, I’m actual familiar with this phenomenon, known as TTA (Temporary Target Amnesia). You go to Target to buy some suntan lotion, you leave with Season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a pair of sweatpants, a cute decorative bowl, a pink dog bed. . .and, yup, no suntan lotion. Carla, I feel ya, girl.

The 100 Target employees arrive and, bless their little hearts, they are forced to wear their bright red Target uniforms.

Then the judges arrive. It’s Tom, Padma, and Anthony Bourdain, plus TV chef Ming Tsai and Thomas O’Brien, head designer for Target, who, as my friend Coach Kate points out, looks like a gay (read: hotter) Rivers Cuomo from Weezer.

“This is a first for Top Chef,” says Padma. “A 3 a.m. service.”

Adds Anthony Bourdain: “And I’m going straight from here to a . . .”
Play along, kids! What did Anthony Bourdain say next?
a. brothel
b. Kid Rock after-party
c. parent teacher conference.

If you guessed c., you’ve been following the life journey of Anthony Bourdain more closely than I have.

So. . .to sum up the reactions.

They love Dale’s iron-grilled cheese and spicy tomato soup. Bourdain deems it perfect stoner food (now that’s the Anthony I know and love!) and wonders if Dale has had a urine test recently.
Also, someone had to say it and it was Ming Tsai: “Maybe Dale’s trying to become the Iron Chef.” Heh.

Angelo’s baked potato soup is too heavy, too salty, and just plain gross.

Carla’s curried apple soup is watery and one-dimensional. They say it needs protein, which Carla actually knew. (She wanted to add salmon but feared she didn’t have time to do the 250-yard dash.) Damn, girl. Now I’m worried.

Despite its unsavory appearance (“looks like parrot shit” to be specific), the judges dig Richard’s corn pancake with pork tenderloin.

Antonia’s “ballsy move”—making runny Parmesan eggs to order—paid off. The judges likey.

Mike comes out and proudly presents his spicy coconut soup with “fresh coconut milk.”
Seems innocuous enough. But nothing gets past our Padma.
“You found fresh coconuts here?” she demands.
“No, uh, it’s coconut milk.” Opened recently. So that’s kind of fresh, right?
“Then it’s not fresh coconut milk,” snipes Padma.
“You’re right,” admits Mike.
When you’re busted, you’re busted.
This unfortunate exchange aside, the judges like the spice but feel the soup is perhaps a bit dull.

Tiffany’s jambalaya is just aight and is clearly made with store-bought Creole mix. Whoops.

When all is said and done, “I’m souped out,” says Bourdain.
“I’m souped up!” says Tom. He’s just the cutest.

The contestants look dazed. Antonia has reverted to a childlike state and is blankly petting a stuffed Target dog.

Even Carla is subdued. I repeat: Even Carla is subdued.

Judgment time:
“We’d like to see Dale, Richard, and Antonia,” says Padma.
Meet our Top 3, people. And I don’t just mean of this challenge. That’s my prediction for the final 3 of this whole season (that I have boldly decided to make when there are only 6 contestants left).
I’m just fearless like that.

And Dale wins! Antonia and Richard exchange slightly miffed looks that clearly say: WTF? He ironed a grilled cheese sandwich and beat us?

“Boom! That’s rent for a year,” says Dale. Wow. 30 grand for 24-hours of work. Remind me again why I didn’t go to culinary school?

Bad news time: The Bottom 3 are Angelo, Tiffany, and Carla.

It’s all very emotional and tense—no catchy songs about beef tongue this week for Angelo—and Tiffany does her “I’m just a smalltown girl with a big dream” bit and cries. And then Carla cries. And Angelo manfully holds his shit together, but just barely.
“How can you get past salt?” he muses, as he awaits his fate.

Everyone is sad. But it’s Angelo’s time to go. (Surprised. I actually thought it was going to be Tiffany.)

They skulk back into the green room.
“It’s been an honor, guys,” says Angelo.
“Really?” says Mike. He thinks Angelo is kidding. Because that would be such a good joke.
Angelo assures him it's real.
“What? You?”
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why people think Mike is a douche.

Goodbye Angelo. You were an odd, inscrutable, and slightly shady little man, but I loved you all the same.


Cliff O'Neill said...

Of course Grover is a Muppet!! The Muppets long pre-dated the Muppet Show!

Justice For Grover!

Also, I had been hoping for an opportunity to quote Ming The Merciless, but, alas, he was too nice.

And punny.

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