Friday, June 13, 2008

Tippity-Top Chef

Finally! I finally watched the TC finale!

Again, I'm working from memory, so forgive me any lapses in detail...

They start with the contestants learning what their final challege is -- to create a traditional four-course meal progressing, well, traditionally: fish, chicken, red meat, dessert. They each get to choose a sous chef from three world-renowned chefs: Eric Ripert, whom we've seen before, April Bloomfield, and Dan Barber.

The cheftestant with the most elimination challenge wins gets to choose first, BUT since Richard won the elimination challenge in Part 1 of the finale, he tied Stephanie, so they have to draw knives. Richard tells Stephanie to draw and her knife has the number one on it, so she gets to choose first. She chooses Eric Ripert, who seemed like a great match for Richard to me, but he's apparently kind of a demigod in the chef world, so they all probably wanted him. Richard chooses Dan Barber and Lisa gets April Bloomfield (and they seemed to get along really well, so I guess it worked to Lisa's advantage. Hmph.). They all go to the kitchen and work on the menus and prep for the next day.

The next day Tom comes in and tells them, No sous chefs, you're on your own! Y'know, I imagine these curve balls wouldn't seem quite as bad to the contestants if he didn't seem so gleeful when throwing them.

Here are their final menus:

Prawns with Chili Basil Sauce, Crab, Potato Chips, and Pea Tendrils
Tom Ka Soup Dumplings with Organic Chicken, Golden Threads, Toasted Chilies, and Cilantro
Coriander and Soy Glazed Wagyu Strip Steak over Chayote and Cucumber Salad with Garlic Chips and Chili
Black Thai Rice with Carmelized Coconut, Mango Cream, and Crispy Taro

Grilled Scallop with Mango and Pineapple Vinegar
Guinea Hen, Duck, Foie Gras, Chicken Egg with Spring Vegetable
Pork Belly with Pickled Radish and Mirin Broth
Banana Scallop with Bacon Ice Cream and Cilantro Stem

Sauteed Red Snapper Filet with Truffled White Asparagus and Clam Broth
Seared Quail Breast with Butter Poached Lobster Ravioli and Mango
Roasted Lamb Medallions with Maitake Mushrooms, Braised Pistachios and Blackberry
Ricotta Pound Cake with Lime Glaze, Pineapple and Salted Banana Cream

There really wasn't a lot of drama in this episode. I hate to say it, but it was pretty boring.

Competence + Less Loser Screentime = Snooze-a-rama

Richard and Stephanie are not too exciting to watch, though it is interesting at times because Richard tries all kinds of whack-a-doo techniques. He's the technogeek of chefs. Loser is so self-confident it's disgusting, and she STILL has to be a witch. Stephanie is second-guessing her dessert and Loser's all, "You always say that and then you win so don't hand me that. Get some self-confidence." Then she has to say something to the camera about how a chef should be self-confident, whatever, blah blah, YUK. Shouldn't they also be something OTHER than a bitchy black cloud hovering around the kitchen? With more than four dishes that they've cooked thousands of times to present to the judges in a cooking competition?

I was really going to call them all by their correct names, because the nicknames are admittedly kind of lame, but she just brings out the worst in me. I no likee her.

During the meal, they show various judges -- the usual suspects plus the three sous chefs mentioned above, plus a few other chef-world dignitaries such as chefs, a Zagat, and... that may be all. Anyway, they all comment on the dishes and it's making me nervous because a lot of the comments are positive for Lisa. (See, I'm making an effort!)

Richard gets thumbs up and down (bacon ice cream sounds gross even to me, a lover of bacon bacon BACON, but everyone on the show seemed to love it, so. Who knew? Well, all those chefs, obviously, but it's new to me.). Stephanie also gets some positives and negatives, and there are a few negatives for Lisa, but she's getting enough positives that I start to glisten a little. Just a little dew, not sweat. After all, I'm a lady doing lady things, going about my ladylike business. (Oy! That's Little Britain alright.)

Dinner's over, the contestants come in, the diners applaud, Padma thanks them for a wonderful dinner, then they go back to stewage. Then... judges' table!

The cameramen (-people) got to try out some fancy stuff in this episode; the producers must have realized that it was a snoozer, so they said Knock yourselves out, do whatever you can to jazz up this steaming plate of Valium with a Lunesta gastrique.

So they did. They had some stuttering shots that used fast motion when Richard was chopping, for instance, stuff like that. Then at judges' table, they showed the judges talking, then Padma's all, "Okay, let's bring them out." Cut to the contestants walking toward judges' table down this odd little alley/street/driveway, cut back to judges waiting, back to contestants walking. Are they any closer? It's hard to tell. Back to judges, just staring, waiting. Back to contestants. Closer? Yes! Okay, back to judges, looking all stern and serious. (You can't smile at someone while you judge them? Bless your little hearts, come on down South and we'll show you how!) Back to contesta- Whoa! Hello, chefs! Here you are! They were just yards down the alley, and suddenly there they are. It's like they walked in slow motion at first then sprinted at the end, only they aren't out of breath and sweaty. It's like... magic. So, funny editing. (I told you the show was boring.)

The judges go through each dish with the chefs, telling them good and bad, which the chefs all take pretty well, Lisa in her usual Tough Guy With No Chin stance. Tom surprises Stephanie, telling her that he couldn't figure out the purpose of the leeks on her quail dish, and, besides, they weren't cooked. Stephanie's mouth dropped open -- well, slightly, she's one of the most expressionless chefs I've seen on this show -- and she said, Not cooked? He said, No, they were crunchy. Apparently leeks are supposed to be soggy or something. Not being a cook, I wouldn't know. (Note to self: crunchy leeks = BAD)

The judges finish this Q&A (or Insult & Compliment or Mess With Chefs' Heads, whatever) and Padma asks if any of them have anything to say. They pause and it seems like they will all just stand or fall by their meals, when Stephanie says Dale told her on the last challenge not to second-guess herself and she did on the cake, and she's learned from it and she is top chef material (not exact words, I'm paraphrasing as best I can!). So LOS-- grr, Lisa says they kept telling her to express herself or something and so she did and she cooked herself (if only!) and that's her personality -- she's spicy! (really?) bold! (okay, yeah) sweet! (whah?) sour! (YES) -- and yada and she should be TC yada blah blah yuk. Richard says that he choked and he's done better and he, I don't know, could have done better, wishes he had, something like that, and the judges look faintly surprised but still mostly mask-like.

The contestants head back to stewage, where Lisa promptly starts saying she thinks Stephanie (I think she was talking to Stephanie) nailed dishes one and three but she (Lisa) got two and four, so *shrug* "I don't know." No, you don't, so please SHUT THE FUDGE UP.

The judges finally stop looking like frozen mannequins and discuss the contestants. It is unclear which one they've chosen. Well, of course, gotta keep the suspense going. Oh! In the meantime, Bravo has done a text poll on who should be Top Chef. The results: Stephanie 60%, Richard 36%, leaving Lisa 4%. No love for the Angry Chef. I'm surprised she got that much. It must have been friends or... No, wait. Hmm.

Anyway, the judges call the chefs back in and look all stern and Tom says something about how they all did a great job and the person they chose just had the best overall meal or something... oh hell, I can't remember what he said. Then he looks at Padma and she looks sad, as if it pains her to pass along the news that the next Top Chef is... Stephanie!

Not-Lisa relief courses through my benumbed veins! Though, really, if I hadn't been half asleep throughout the episode, I would have realized it wouldn't be Lisa. They showed too many positive comments for her, which usually means Not the Winner. They try so hard on reality competition shows to not telegraph the winner that they usually end up doing just that. It seemed like the judges really weren't too enthused with Richard's dishes this time, like they just weren't feeling Richard. The vibe was not going his way.

Because they wanted a woman to win? Maybe. I hate to think that may be at least partly why Stephanie won (though they are all, of course, toeing the party line that Of course that's not why she won!). The other guests did seem to really like her dishes as well, not just the judges, so I think she deserved it. So... sisterhood! Whoo!

Thursday, June 12, 2008


I taped Top Chef last night and haven't had a chance to watch it, so I won't be posting on it yet. I was going to go ahead and watch it last night because Bunny went to sleep earlier than I expected, but then I was unaccountably sleepy so I just read my book instead. And maybe went to sleep kind of early. Maybe. And only kind of.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Other White Meat

Oh my hell. In last night's episode, part 1 of 2 of the finale, the contestants were in Puerto Rico. (Where I totally want to go now.)

In the quickfire challenge, they had to use plantains to impress Padma and the guest judge, Wilo Benet. (Apparently pronounced Willow, which made me miss Buffy all over again.) The contestants all start working and bring out their dishes to the judges. Antonia and Richard don't fare so well, Stephanie and Loser do well with Stephanie FTW. It seems to me that Loser practiced cooking Puerto Rican food during the break, and I have to say, if so, that was pretty smart. The others don't mention anything like that, though they could have, of course.
By the way, Loser now looks totally like a guy with her new butch haircut, but it is still a vast improvement over the greasy straggles hanging over the bandana we were treated to before. BUT she keeps wearing tank tops and shlumpy long shorts (board shorts? too-short capris? who knows?) and it is NOT the look for her. Maybe she's become a reality show contestant junkie and is angling for a spot on What Not to Wear. All I know for sure is that I now have to start calling her Lumpy.

The elimination challenge is to cook three dishes from an ENTIRE PIG for a party of VIPs. So they have to butcher poor Babe and create three dishes for the glitterati party; no pressure! But (of course) they'll have help! Out come Dale, Andrew, Spike, and Nikki. I have to wonder why the same losers keep showing up -- do they just use the most recently eliminated? Okay, I just checked and apparently that's it. So I suppose, in theory, that means they are getting the strongest chefs from that season as assistants. Unless by some fluke someone stays way past their due date (I'm looking at you, Spike).

Stephanie's advantage from her quickfire win is not only to choose her assistant, but to ASSIGN all the assistants to chefs. Lumpy is already bitching to the camera about how she doesn't get along with Dale, or Andrew, or... Really, does she get along with anyone? I bet she argues with herself. Stephanie says she doesn't want conflict in the kitchen, so she takes Douche (who I would have chosen just because I think he's the best chef in that bunch, but apparently she's also known him for ten years) and assigns Spite to Richard, Tiny Pasta Dancer to Antonia, and Crazy to Lumpy. Lumpy is -- drumroll, please! -- not happy.

The sous chefs run off to the market to get fresh stuff for the chefs, while the chefs start carving their individual Babes. (Note to self: NEVER be a chef.) I much prefer my meat to be completely unindentifiable as the animal it once was. So. Crazy can't speak Spanish so he's struggling at the market, but Spite apparently knows some, we only hear Douche say Gracias, and we don't hear TPD say anything at all in Spanish, but those three seem to do fine. Back in the kitchen, the chefs have been carving and separating and butchering, but mercifully they don't show too much of it. By "it" I mean gross parts of the poor pigs. The sous chefs come back and everyone moves along. Stephanie and Douche seem to really be grooving along, and I have high hopes because they are both talented. Everyone wraps up and crams their stuff into the inadequate refrigerator space and leave for the evening.

Cut to: Camera focus on rubbed pork belly, left out by DOUCHE.

They come in the next day and Stephanie discovers the Douche's bonehead mistake. She is completely calm and starts thinking about what else she can do. Douche apologizes and she says shortly, "That's okay." Wow. I was impressed. There is NO WAY I wouldn't have lost my temper. And can you imagine what paroxyms of rage Lumpy would have flown into? Actually, I kind of wish we'd seen that.

Cut to: Douche the Homeboy says to the camera that if this makes her lose, he would never forgive himself. Well, I think he really meant it, it looked like he was about to cry in one shot. In another, he had on douchey shades and was acting all Homeboy Down the Kitchen, Yo. STOP BEING SUCH A DAMN DOUCHE.

Back to the kitchen, where Stephanie and Douche have come up with something else. And this is where I think the truly talented chefs show their mettle -- being able to come up with something else quickly enough to fit it in when your original plans fall to pieces. And not something else like me throwing some rice-in-a-bag on to boil because the potatoes fell on the floor or something, but something else good enough to win a cooking competition. Somehow I think Lumpy would NOT have been able to do that. So I think they need to add a challenge like that toward the end of a season when they've already (presumably) weeded out the total washouts. Ahem, producers? Could you get on that, please?

Anyway, they all move on. Lumpy is being her usual sunny self, spreading doom and gloom wherever she goes. Everyone is so over her. Poor Crazy.

Cut to: PARTY! The chefs are at their stations, finishing dishes, making things, lalala. We see various comments by the judges and some of the people at the party, but of course they don't make it extremely clear what's coming.

Cut to: Judges' table. Padma goes and calls Richard and Stephanie. She's all solemn, as if we don't all know that means those two did the best. All season the first ones called have been the favorites. Maybe TC wants to shake it up a little next season, producers? (I'm going to have to start asking for a consultant's fee. No more free tips!)

The pattern remains unchanged and Richard and Stephanie are the favorites! And the winner is... Richard! And his prize is... a brand new car! Yes, a car. No, this is not the Price is Right. Richard was understandably taken aback. (It was a 2009 Toyota Corolla, so, nice, but still... weird, right? Next thing you know we'll have car commercials featuring chef montages à la American Idol.)

The winners now have to send the losers out. The judges go through why they are the losers -- at least two of Lumpy's dishes have problems, if not all three, and Antonia's peas were undercooked. Plus she put all three dishes on the same plate -- gasp! The judges were apparently stymied by this. "If they're on the same plate, I can't distinguish them. I can't taste the difference." What? Seriously, WHAT? Just putting them on the same plate somehow completely confounded your taste buds? If all three of her dishes tasted that similar to one another, don't you think, really, that you would have still realized it even if she had served each one on a separate plate? Really? It's like they all suddenly came down with Homer Simpson's brain: "Look, I don't like you and you don't like me, but let's do this thing. Other people had bits of stuff on different plates and she just handed us a single plate with a lot of stuff on it. Is it all the same, just more? Are these different items of... eating stuff? Is this, whatchamacallit... food? Am I eating?" D'oh, indeed.

So they hear the losers out, send them away, deliberate in a strangely retarded way (see plate discussion above), then call the losers back. Lumpy's double chin is in evidence as usual, along with her buttonhole mouth and narrowed eyes, but it's not as pronounced as usual. Either she's watched earlier footage or she's been reading blogs because it wasn't as bad as it used to be. Antonia just looks normal, a little apprehensive. The judges berate them again, then Padma pauses dramatically and says...

Antonia, please pack your knives and go.

ANTONIA!! Why does past performance not matter to these people?! Arrrrrgggghhhh!! I can't believe Lumpy is still there! Antonia thanks the judges and shakes all of their hands and Lumpy smirks at them and says, "You won't be sorry." Well, they'll be the only ones. The losers go back and Antonia tells the winners she is outie. They are understandably shocked. They hug her and she leaves.

The other three sit there for a moment, then Lumpy says, "I know you didn't want Antonia to go, but it would be nice for you to tell me congratulations." Oh, YES SHE DID. She is the most uncouth, clueless, ridiculous person I've seen on a reality show in a while. Mostly because the current ANTM cycle is over, but still.

Stephanie just looks at her then shakes her head a little and says, "Congratulations." Richard mumbles his congratulations, then cut to him saying to the camera, "You won the bronze medal. Congratulations." He's usually pretty milquetoast, so that was kind of harsh for him.

Feel better, Lumpy? There's nothing like grudging congratulations for warming the cockles of the ol' heart, is there? She then proceeds to say, "I know you liked Antonia, but it feels like you think the wrong one went home." Well, DUH. The WHOLE WORLD thinks the wrong one went home, dear Lump.

You know Stephanie and Richard are thinking "How did we end up slumming it with this angry weirdo?" but they don't show it. They must be itching to beat her. It makes the competition seem a little meaningless. You know, like if they let every child "win" a race, it means nothing to have come in first. It denigrates the whole competition by making it not a competition at all, so what's the point? I know they still win something here, but I think it must be less fun and pride-inducing to beat Lumpy than Antonia or Douche. I still can't believe that no matter what else, she is now THIRD PLACE for the competition. Antonia and Douche must be so pissed.

In my opinion, Top Chef ought to be ashamed. To let her get this far when there were other more talented chefs is just a joke. It makes the competition look lame. And it hadn't seemed lame to me before. It's a sad day when Top Chef disillusions you almost as much as ANTM makes you feel dirty and used.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Random Samples

Bunny is moving into 18-month clothes (What's that? Oh, he's not quite a year old, thank you for asking!) and it's making me sad. I used to have to fold his onesies in half down the middle because they were too small to fold like I do our shirts, which is to hold the shirt up facing me, fold the sleeves in behind the shirt, then fold the bottom up behind the top (I really hope that makes sense). But now, the 18-month clothes? I CAN FOLD THEM LIKE OURS. He's getting big! I mean, I'm happy he's growing and all that but... he's already not looking like so much of a baby anymore. *sigh*

Have I mentioned that he is cruising (walking while holding onto something) all over the place now? And tries to stand up when he's crawling? And he now has SIX teeth?! *SIGH*

Also, I was thinking about Top Chef; the fact that there are three women to one man heading into the finale indicates that they are finagling for a woman to win this season. Well, that's great, I would love a woman to win, but I don't want a woman to win just because they think it's time one did. She should win because she's the best chef, not because she has ovaries.

If they did this on purpose, and got rid of most of the men, especially Douchey Dale, to stack the odds in favor of women, that's just... gross. If they were deliberately looking for reasons to send men home, Richard must have survived either because they needed to keep one man on so the PC pabulum wouldn't be quite so obvious as it went down our virtual throats, or because they just couldn't scrounge up a reason to send him home, or both. Meaning they would have had to pull something out of their... hats to get rid of him and it would have been completely transparent. And we're talking Top Chef here, not ANTM. You know, subtle.

I've come to the sad acceptance of ANTM being completely rigged; if you were paying attention, it was pretty apparent even by the second cycle, but now... painfully obvious. I don't like that, but since I primarily watch it for the photography and it doesn't seem to matter, anyway -- it's not like the winners go on to become the next Cindy Crawford or Heidi Klum -- I've let it go. But if Top Chef is going to descend down the rocky and treacherous path to the Level Playing Field of Mediocrity, well, let's just say I'll pack MY knives and go.