Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I loved, loved, LOVED this.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Yes, I realize it's a bit much to post two videos in one afternoon. What can I say? It's been a fruitful few days in the entertainment world!

P.S. PLEASE let there be a Boss-themed episode of Glee!


Awesome, though points are taken for gratuitous footage of Jessica Alba and one too many clips from "Step it Up", or whatever that Jenna Dewan/Channing Tatum movie is called.

"It's Muffin Winthrop."

You would think I might manage to catch up, rather than sitting on my laurels and congratulating myself on being only two episodes behind instead of three. You would THINK. Not I, however, the self-proclaimed queen of non-productivity! Granted, there has been distraction in the form of a lovely weekend away, a flurry of academic tasks requiring completion, and bridesmaid dress drama for the FOURTH impending wedding of the year. I do have other occupations beyond scrutinizing episodes of my beloved reality cooking show.

Before I begin to rectify the situation, however, I must heartily congratulate Top Chef for its first Emmy win, knocking out the seven-times-crowned Amazing Race. I thought I couldn't love Tom more, but I found it was possible as I watched a motley group of hosts and producers awkwardly spill out of their seats to collect their trophies. Tom was BESIDE himself with happiness and pleased shock. It was nothing short of adorable. Gail was like a kid at a candy store on the podium, which I also found tremendously appealing. The only big disappointment was the mic-hogging Padma. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, though. She seems the type.

Now onto "Covert Cuisine," the aptly titled tenth episode. Tomorrow night, the twelfth episode airs. Here's to hoping I will have successfully written about the eleventh before then!

Opening scenes:
Quite understandably, the chefs are reeling from the elimination of one of the stronger chefs. Kenny's departure has done the opposite of taking pressure off Angelo. Kevin is still fuming about the fact that Alex is still in the house and chooses to ignore him in spite of the hated chef's creepy stares. Amanda cheerfully makes coffee and thanks her lucky stars she's still in the competition.

In the Top Chef kitchen, Padma awaits the chefs with a new partner in crime, the ever-quirky Wylie Dufresne, king of molecular gastronomy in America. Scattered around on the tables are mysterious black boxes emblazoned with question marks. While Ed wonders what kind of chemicals might be hiding in the boxes, Padma informs the chefs that they will be working to create a dish based on the ingredients in the boxes. Each box contains identical ingredients. The twist? More mystery boxes will continue to arrive during cooking time, and the final dish must contain every single ingredient.

The original box contains fish, fava beans, and a can of hominy. Interestingly, a few of the chefs are stymied by the hominy. Except Tiff, of course, my Texas girl. Angelo is all over the place, nervously cleaning his chopping board over and over. Kevin fears for his sanity.

A man in black comes into the kitchen with the next mystery box, which is full of squid and black garlic. This challenge is TOUGH! I can't even begin to think of how hominy would really "go" with squid. Approximately 30 seconds later, box #3 arrives, containing ramps and passionfruit. I'm thinking ramps is great, adding a bit of onion flavor, but passionfruit? Clearly, Angelo is having the same troubles I am. He is talking to himself and starting to develop a nervous twitch. I worry what he'll do when the last box, bearing jicama, arrives.

The chefs are pouring sweat by the time the judges come back. I don't even think they particularly care about winning the money (another high-stakes quickfire) or being on the bottom. Wylie did not relish Alex's strange puree and disorganized dish or Amanda's butter-heavy dish. He adored Tiffany's seafood stew and Kevin's balanced fish, puree, and fresh salad. Tiffany used the crazy ingredients best, and joyfully pulled out a second high-stakes win.

Elimination Challenge:
Padma begins a meticulously rehearsed monologue about the elimination challenge, complete with raised eyebrows and borderline winks. The chefs will be taking on the role of spies, and will be serving a dish at none other than the CIA headquarters. Their task will be to create a new identify for a classic dish. Among the dishes to be disguised are chicken cordon bleu, french onion soup, and kung pao shrimp.

At Whole Foods, Angelo purchases puff pastry for his beef Wellington. Clearly, he has lost his mind. Not only because now his dish is going to be all "Hello, I'm beef Wellington, pleased to meet you!" when it's served to the spies, but also because LEARN TO MAKE YOUR OWN PUFF PASTRY ON THIS SHOW YOU FOOLS!

Kelly has never cooked Chinese food before in her life, so she makes the smart move of studying the back of a Kung Pao sauce bottle to figure out what flavors she needs. Thankfully, because the chefs shop at Whole Foods, she is likely to find a sauce with real ingredients and not MSG. Amanda is essentially making french onion soup, despite her aspiration to be a spy named Natasha wearing a gun in her garter. Alex succeeds at annoying everyone in the kitchen except Amanda.

Remarkably, the CIA allows all the knives to pass smoothly through entry, and the chefs gaze with fascination upon the portraits of famous agents and the CIA seals on the floor. After Ed does a preliminary run through the kitchen to find all hidden cameras and microphones, the chefs get going on their disguised dishes.

Not a whole lot occurs in the kitchen, other than Kelly's rice fiasco, a problem that occurs with frequency on this show. Amanda has the revelation that her dish is basically the same as the original. The majority of the chefs find time to criticize Alex.

Padma, Tom, and Wylie arrive with Eric Ripert, and are seated at a table full of officials and important people like Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA. Truly, this season is pulling out all of the proverbial stops.

Angelo's dish was immediately recognized as beef Wellington. Hilariously, Director Panetta said that they "would have captured this individual and hung him." Kelly's shrimp fared considerably better, stumping a few of the diners and tasting all-around delicious. Tiffany's take on gyro was hugely successful, even if the flavors were guessed immediately. Kevin's dish was yummy, but not disguised well enough.

At this moment, Director Panetta received some sort of secret communique, and had to leave dinner abruptly. I'm pretty sure the note said something like, "Dear Director Panetta, In order to preserve the drama for our episode, it is imperative that you leave immediately. Hearts, The Top Chef Producers."

Thankfully, the director missed Amanda's poorly disguised and overly sweet french onion soup and Alex's wretched veal parmesan. The final dish, Ed's chicken cordon bleu, was unanimously liked, but not properly disguised.

The judges decided that Tiffany, Kelly, and Ed made the best dishes. However, as Padma so dramatically stated, there can only be one winning trip to Paris. Tiffany's elegant gyro-inspired dish was the clear winner, and the boisterous, kind-hearted chef added another prize to her bag.

Angelo, Amanda, and Alex found themselves on the bottom, for a host of predictable reasons. Angelo was dinged for the puff pastry, Amanda for a poor disguise and two-sweet oxtail marmalade, and Alex for the all-around horror that was his veal parmesan. Despite having the best disguise of the night, Alex was finally sent packing.

Everyone heave a sigh of relief. No longer must we gaze upon that strange bald head and wonder what he might do next. In related news, according to Tom's blog and post-show interviews with other cheftestants, Alex did in fact make his own pea puree. The scandal doesn't exist.

On to the ball game!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"They seem like they're whistling Dixie over there."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Truth be told, I had more than enough time last week to properly recap episode 9, the highly-anticipated Restaurant Wars. I was all finished with the fifth, sixth, seventh, and EIGHTH episodes. If I'm being totally honest, it's mostly because I couldn't bear to get to that elimination. SPOILER ALERT: FORMER SEASON FAVORITE OF KATIE HAS BEEN ELIMINATED! Yes, in a shocking twist, Kenny, one of the few remaining chefs who seems to have enough talent in him to compete with Angelo, was kicked to the proverbial curb. I'll just go ahead and put it out there right now.

I'm not quite awash in sadness, however, though I am always disappointed when weak chefs make it closer to the end than strong ones. As I mentioned in my last recap, I had already developed a sneaking suspicion that Kenny was starting to falter a bit, attempting to disguise lost confidence and general disappointment up in wild and crazy, over the top dishes. I must take heart! Kevin is still here, after all! (Yes, I'll go ahead and spoil another detail: Kevin is not eliminated in episode 10!)

It's a glorious day in DC, as a rumpled Amanda rises and shines, giving herself a pat on the back for still being around. Kenny continues to puzzle over what he's been doing wrong to find himself constantly in the middle.


For the first time in a long while, Padma awaits the cheftestants in the Top Chef kitchen without a sidekick. Neatly laid out on the counters are a series of red and blue (of course!) aprons, each accompanied by a blindfold. It's time for the tag team cookoff, a wonderfully inventive challenge in which each team has 40 minutes to prepare a dish. Each chef will have ten minutes to cook, but during the non-cooking time, the remaining three chefs on the team will be blindfolded, thus completely unaware of what's being prepared for them to work with. To soften the blow of losing immunity at this point in the season, Padma tells the chefs that the winning team will split $10,000, courtesy of Dial Nutriskin (who are inevitably still waiting for a challenge that features special hand-washing techniques for chefs).

Kevin and Ed draw the first and second choice knives, respectively, giving them a chance to shape their teams. Kevin picks his BFF Kenny, and Ed predictably selects wannabe lady love Tiffany. For his next choice, Kevin picks Kelly, giving Ed the chance to snatch up Angelo. I find this to be a perfect example of how important personalities and general relationships are, even during a competition. Kelly is undoubtedly a strong chef, but for pure talent and ingenuity, she can't match up to Angelo. I suppose you could say that Kevin didn't want the two reputed alpha males together on the same team, too. Because no one wants to work with that fiend Alex, Amanda is picked for Kevin's team.

Kenny starts it up for the blue team, a good choice because he is wickedly quick during prep. Tiffany thoughtfully heats saute pans and works on preparing a big piece of fish for cooking. Amanda follows Kenny's lead perfectly, though looking a bit confused, while Alex basically ruins the fish with too much salting. Kevin and Ed breeze through their ten minutes. Can I just say that I ADORE hearing Kevin's gentle, adorable little voice? So appealing. Angelo goes on an insane rampage as he completes the dish, in sharp contrast to Kelly's zen calm. We might blame his frenetic anxiety on the fact that Alex committed the unforgivable sin: seasoning fish too soon. Whoops.

Just when I thought this would be a Padma-only challenge, in walks Nancy Pelosi. I tell you, they are bringing in the BIG GUNS this year with Top Chef, Season 7: Hail to the Chef! The perfectly coiffed, third-in-line-for-president foodie adored the blue team's shrimp in mustard sauce. She appreciated the red snapper as well, but seeing as how the producers want to beat us to death with Alex's seasoning fiasco (a part of their ploy to keep us thinking Alex is going home), that had to be the problem that kept the red team from winning.

Elimination Challenge:

As any dedicated fan of Top Chef knows, when the numbers get down to eight, it's time for Restaurant Wars! Oh, the hallowed day! The inevitable bickering in the kitchen, the shocking incompetence displayed by the chefs who take the front of house position, the inventiveness (or lack thereof) of the menu and restaurant name! It's often my favorite episode, though that is not the case for this edition.

While Tiffany and Ed inwardly cringe at the thought of having to work on a team with Alex, Padma drops a bomb on the chefs. Frank Bruni, former food critic for the NY Times, will be the guest judge. The chefs are understandably intimidated, and not at all encouraged when they meet the two random dudes that are plugging some sort of wine they've made.

Hilariously, Tiffany wants absolutely nothing to do with Alex as he blabbers on in the Toyota Sienna on the way to the Restaurant Depot. Kenny and Amanda, their car-mates are the picture of calm. A similar picture emerges in the other Sienna, on the way to Whole Foods. Ed and Angelo conspire to keep Alex out of everything, while a nonplussed Kevin piously states that they're wrong to exclude him.

Prep time is pretty much a disaster for the red team. Alex is incapable of butchering anything. Executive chef Angelo barks out orders. Inexplicably, the pea puree makes a reappearance.

The blue team is all flowers and rainbows, working perfectly together, tasting dishes with constructive criticism, planning carefully. Even their prepped containers are impeccably organized.

Disappointingly, there is not a lot of discussion about restaurant theme, which will be telling at the end of the challenge. Red team's name is EVOO, and Angelo tries to pretend it wasn't stolen from my Rachael Ray by referring to it as "e-voo." While the chefs squeeze into the tight, shared space at the borrowed restaurant, there are many more ominous hints about what will SURELY be Alex's forthcoming elimination, including Angelo's gem of a line about ETA and lamb.

The blue team's name is 2121, inspired by the address of the Top Chef house. Again a sign of perfection, a cohesive team working like a well-oiled machine. The only suggestion of disharmony in paradise is Amanda's uncertainty with the grill. The red team continue to blast Alex, all the way into a tiny isolated corner of the kitchen.

Probably because of the way he had just been abused, Alex proceeds to treat his waitstaff like the citizens of a dictatorship. Kelly, on the other hand, is humble and kind. The blue team continues to shine, bringing out all of the food to the servers so that they'll know the appropriate details to share at dinner. All signs point to an epic failure for the red team.

Dinner service begins, and the drama ensues immediately. Alex leaves the judges to seat themselves, Angelo assists him in berating the servers, and Kevin and Amanda give each other high fives.

The first plates from the red team go out. Frank Bruni decides that he would like to try Angelo's cooking, after enjoying his soup. Tiffany's crudo is overly salty. Padma and Gail become overly anxious about the timing of their second courses, pan-seared striped bass and slow-baked turbot. Fortunately, both dishes are modestly praised. The final dishes, broiled lamb and seared rib-eye are acceptable. I begin to feel concerned, especially considering how much footage was showed of the blue team's seamlessness. Despite Alex's poor service, the food from the red team was miraculously successful.

The judges admire Kelly's calm, even though she is visibly uncomfortable. They do not admire, however, the beet salad and corn and crab soup that come out first as appetizers. Amanda's steak is cut too thin and not totally saved by a good sauce. Kevin's halibut is beautiful and unanimously adored. A glimmer of hope begins to flicker within me, thinking maybe I was wrong about the manipulative editing I've come to expect from the producers of the show.

My hopes were dashed by the arrival of Kenny's cheese course, referred to as a "horror show", "soapy", and "horrible." Despite Kelly's chocolate tart and Kevin's halibut, I knew that it simply wouldn't be enough to save Kenny.

Judges' table, and the stew room, for that matter, were my own kind of horror show. The red team was called out as winners, basically due to the efforts of Angelo and Ed. Certainly without a BIT of help from Alex. Ed won for best individual dish, and the scrappy, haphazard, team-that-could headed back to send the blue team out for judgment.

It was painful to watch Frank Bruni, Padma, and Gail ripping into Kenny. It's hard to believe all of the criticisms were fully warranted, because it's asking the viewers to believe that the remaining members of the team didn't taste Kenny's food and warn him about it. Kevin and Kenny couldn't help but attempt to save themselves by calling out Alex for not having prepared anything individually, and the fight continued back in the stew room. I had to agree with them, even though it's a classic lowball move to throw a fellow cheftestant under the bus. I almost felt as though there was something we didn't know, because the judges were certainly aware of Alex's general ineptitude, even considering that they cannot consider past history when eliminating.

Ultimately, Kenny made not just one, but two dishes that the judges found entirely unpalatable, and he was sent to pack his knives. I was truly looking forward to a real showdown between Kenny and Angelo, and I'll be disappointed to miss it. Though this was a shocking elimination, I would be willing to bet we'll see Kevin, Angelo, and Kelly as our final three.

I'm sticking with Kevin.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

east of eden

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Even though I finished it almost a month ago, East of Eden lingers in my mind. I think about it on a daily basis, pondering the apparent vacuousness of Adam Trask's character, solidifying my notion of Cal as the most fully realized figure in the story, even wondering whether Steinbeck gazed upon the orchards that used to flourish on the very ground upon which I now reside.

As I sit down to write a few words about a book for the first time in what feels like eternity, I find that I feel hopelessly inadequate. How else might one feel, when asked to eloquently express just what it is that makes this book so profoundly unforgettable, so much THE ONE? It's a bit silly to apply that nickname, so often used by romantics to describe just what they're looking for on seemingly interminable quests for love. Yet, it seems appropriate here. It's truly difficult for me to imagine reading another book in my lifetime that could match it. Steinbeck himself said of East of Eden that "It is a first book," and "There is only one book to a man."* Perhaps there is only one book to a reader as well.

East of Eden is a sweeping, epic novel, spanning from East Coast to West. It's the story of two families, two sets of brothers, and one monstrously villainous woman. Incorporating painful autobiographical aspects of Steinbeck's life, at times it feels like a personal history. Most important, however, is that most of the time it perfectly, succinctly, heartbreakingly conveys something universal: the desire to be loved and the devastating consequences that result from the lack of love. It's the best way I can describe the book without giving anything away.

I wanted to share a few passages, not only for posterity's sake (now these words are bookmarked cleanly here on my blog as well as hastily underlined in pink pen in my well-worn copy) but in the hopes that any of my tiny loyal few might be enticed to pick up this book of all books. These barely scratch the surface of the wonder of the book, but at the same time don't reveal enough of the plot to ruin anything for a prospective reader.

Adam stood panting. He felt his throat where the blacksmith hands had been. "What is it you want of me?"

"You have no love."

"I had-enough to kill me."

"No one ever had enough."

Dessie was not beautiful. Perhaps she wasn't even pretty, but she had the glow that makes men follow a woman in the hope of reflecting a little of it. You would have thought that in time she would have got over her first love affair and found another love, but she did not. Come to think of it, none of the Hamiltons, with all their versatility, had any versatility in love. None of them seemed capable of light or changeable love.

Dessie did not simply throw up her hands and give up. It was much worse than that. She went right on doing and being what she was-without the glow. The people who loved her ached for her, seeing her try, and they got to trying for her.

Dessie's friends were good and loyal but they were human, and humans love to feel good and they hate to feel bad. In time, the Mrs. Morrisons found unassailable reasons for not going to the little house by the bakery. They weren't disloyal. They didn't want to be sad as much as they wanted to be happy. It is easy to find a logical and virtuous reason for not doing what you don't want to do.

Dessie's business began to fall off. And the women who had thought they wanted dresses never realized that what they had wanted was happiness.

In uncertainty I am certain that underneath their topmost layers of frailty men want to be good and want to be loved. Indeed, most of their vices are attempted short cuts to love. When a man comes to die, no matter what his talents and influence and genius, if he dies unloved his life must be a failure to him and his dying a cold horror. It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure to the world.

We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a fresh new face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is.

You should know that I've become all verklempt at least three times whilst working on this post. The book is THAT amazing; it can bring on the waterworks just while I'm rereading a passage or two. Also, I couldn't resist posting the gigantic image of the book cover. It seemed appropriate.

*All quotations taken from the following source:
Steinbeck, John. East of Eden. New York: Penguin Classics, 1992.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"It was like a little nightmare."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I'm thinking that it may be time to come to the realization that I might not actually catch up on my recapping. I may have to concede defeat. Two to go before reaching tonight's ep. Am I going to make it? I think not.

Every elimination finds the chefs more and more morose as the townhouse gradually empties. With the departure of another woman, Kelly and Tiffany are feeling the pressure especially. Kelly is still writhing in guilt over her seasoning error. Alex is still being his lanky weird self, and Ed attempts to get his confused feelings about the infamous pea puree out in the little journal John left for him.

At the Top Chef kitchen, the sad moods dissipate upon seeing the charming face of Marcus Samuelsson, famed Scandinavian/Ethiopian chef. Fresh off his win from Top Chef: Masters, Marcus looks especially pleased to see the cheftestants.

Unbeknownst to me, Washington DC is known for its Ethiopian cuisine. I'm not sure if this is really true, or if the producers just wanted to incorporate Marcus's expertise into the episode. Nonetheless, the chefs have to create an Ethiopian-inspired dish. Common features of Ethiopian food include a spice called berbere, spongy, pancake-like sourdough breads, and spicy stews. I'm proud of Amanda grabbing the goat leg immediately, and cringe inwardly as Alex bumbles into the pantry and almost clocks Kelly with a pressure cooker. When will he be off this show, for crying out loud?

Not surprisingly, Angelo has worked/assisted/consulted at an Ethiopian concept restaurant. Of course. Ed and Kenny also have some experience with Ethiopian food, but the rest of the chefs are floundering around, tossing red berbere here and there and hoping that nuts might fit in an Ethiopian stew.

It's hard to tell what Marcus thinks about the dishes. He frequently mentions spice and heat, leading me to believe that Ethiopian food is super hot. Ed and Angelo nail the challenge, making traditional, appropriate dishes. Kevin's dish was too "shy", Stephen's giant lamb meatball platter was not good, and Alex's strange duck tongue, while bold, was too dry. Marcus singled out Amanda's goat and Tiffany's flavorful dish, along with Angelo. It was great to see Tiffany win, especially since she had no experience with Ethiopian food. Rather than freak out when it was time to cook, Tiffany tasted each spice carefully and then incorporated it into a stew. Way to play to your strengths, girl!

Elimination Challenge:
The international cuisine continues into the elimination challenge, as Padma and Marcus wheel out a giant chalkboard emblazoned with a map of the world. Nine countries are highlighted on the map. The chefs will be cooking a dish inspired by one of the countries, which will be served to dignitaries, ambassadors, and the judges at the Meridian International Center. A knive pull to determine order quickly ensues, and the chefs go up one by one to select their country of choice. I thought the options seemed a bit stereotypical. Where is Greece? How about Russia? And in an episode featuring Marcus Samuelsson, there is no Sweden? What are these producers all about?

Tiffany from Texas gets Mexico, making it her lucky day. Amanda is thrilled to get France. Angelo picks Japan, so more Asian success is surely in his future. Stephen gets the last pick, Brazil. The other chefs steered clear of Brazil like it was the plague, so I feel sorry for him. Is there no native cuisine in Brazil? I'm going to have to look this up.

At Whole Foods, it's confirmed that Stephen knows basically nothing at Brazilian cuisine. His only experience has been a Brazilian steakhouse. I'm fairly confident he won't be able to go around to tables carving various cuts of meat for these dignitaries, especially considering that there is no kitchen at the center and the chefs must rely on chafing dishes. I was shocked to learn that Kevin knows nothing about Indian food. How is this possible? I've said this before and I will say it again, any chef who chooses to apply for this show should have at least one dish from every popular ethnic cuisine under his or her belt (and also one good dessert, but that's neither here nor there at this juncture). I love Kevin, but I'm a bit disappointed in him.

At the townhouse the night before the challenge, Kevin gets a call from his little girl. Of course this only makes me warm up to him more and forgive him for his lack of Indian food knowledge. Kelly gets a liquor-enhanced care package from her hubby which EVERYONE enjoys.

The chefs are in a chafing dish panic at the beautiful Meridian house, with the exception of Angelo, Kenny, and Kelly. who have opted to serve cold dishes. Stephen's rice and beans look atrocious, and Alex can't stop himself from eating his tortas.

The guest judge is Spanish chef Jose Andres, a fact which undoubtedly pleased most of the chefs, who hope for Alex's failure. Happily for them, the judges don't like his tapas at all. On the other hand, they love Kevin's curry and the simplicity of Kelly's Italian carpaccio. Unfortunately for Stephen, it was glaringly obvious that he had no understanding of Brazilian food. Angelo's tuna was masked by wasabi, which seemed to bore the judges. Kenny's cold Thai salad and Tiffany's tamales were high points of the meal.

It was refreshing to see that there were several good dishes to choose from, though the judges selected Kelly, Kevin, and Tiffany as the top three. Tiffany's tamales were deemed the best, and she won a cash prize to boot. Tiff is really on a roll, with her second victory in a row. She beams about her "$10,000 tamal" as the three go back to the stew room to summon the losing three, Alex, Ed, and Stephen.

Stephen's goofy, infectious laugh couldn't make up for the fact that he mistakenly used chimichurri (classic Argentinian relish) for his Brazilian dish and managed to ruin his rice. Rice is important to this competition, folks. Get it right!

Well, I have at least made the slightest of dents in my recaps.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Dude! Where is my pea puree?"

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Have I ever been more proud of myself? I don't think so. Here I am, mere hours away from the next episode of Top Chef, and I'm still chugging along with my recaps. Even though I have THREE left to go. Perseverance. It's a virtue.

At the Top Chef townhouse, Kelly mourns the emptiness of the girls' rooms due to Tamesha's departure. As expected, Angelo just let her elimination roll off his back. It was a surprise to no one that he would be unfazed.

On this cheery day in the Top Chef kitchen, the chefs are greeted by Padma and the cutest small fry you've ever seen, the adorable, extremely young Congressman Aaron Schock. My darling sister knew exactly who he was when she caught a glimpse of the episode (as it aired above the bar in her hangout, the delightful restaurant Tillman's, an entire post unto itself), but he was a fresh face to me.

Apparently, there are quite a lot of rules involved when it comes to lobbying, wining, and dining. Elected officials and paid lobbyists face a daily challenge when it comes to the food they eat, ensuring that they are not unduly influenced by a particularly delightful morsel. In order to emphasize this challenge, Padma whips the lone silver cloche on the table next to her and the baby-faced representative in the air with relish, revealing a measly cube of cheese attached to a flag-bearing toothpick. Yes, that's right. The chefs will be making a dish that fits neatly on a toothpick. And the winner will not only be awarded with immunity, but also $20,000. This challenge is sending mixed messages!

After the mad protein dash, the chefs get cracking on their toothpicks. Kelly opts for a scallop with a bit of salted watermelon, which sounds heavenly to me. Kenny is making shrimp and salmon with a mojito relish. I'm alarmed by Stephen's surf and turf shoved onto the toothpick with a potato cake. We learn that most of Alex's culinary experiences has been in canapes. Does anyone actually use that word anymore?

Padma and young fry Aaron come back to judge the hors d'oevres, but not before we see Angelo fiendishly chopping shrimp. His speed and mania were truly frightening.

Bless-his-heart Aaron decides that Alex, Ed, and Kelly missed the mark. I felt badly for all of them, even Alex, knowing that they were judged by a layman. I also think Aaron might have been predisposed to dislike scallops. Favorites were Kevin, Angelo, and Stephen and despite Stephen's complete faith in his "meaty" dish as a winner, Angelo pulled through with the victory once again. It's getting harder and harder for Kenny to take this.


For the elimination challenge, the chefs will be participating in a DC tradition, the "power lunch." Of freakin' course. What other challenge might we expect once a Congressman is thrown into the mix? The chefs will be taking over lunch at the Palm restaurant, a venerable spot traditionally known for high-powered wheeling and dealing meals. They'll be working with five specific proteins: lamb chops, lobster, swordfish, porterhouse steak, or salmon, drawing knives to determine who will work with what. Though Padma assures the chefs that they'll be competing against all of the other chefs (not just swordfish vs. swordfish, for example), there will inevitably be five superior dishes and 5 lesser dishes. Not the best way to set up the competition, if you ask me.

During prep, I'm shocked to discover that Angelo is a bit intimidated by the lobsters. To be fair, they were HUGE, and frightened most of the chefs. Amanda tartly informs the camera that she has never cooked a porterhouse steak before, so she has ZERO intentions of cooking one for the challenge. I shake my head in confusion because I'm pretty sure her knife said "porterhouse steak," not NY strip or filet (which, incidentally, is what you get when you expertly butcher a porterhouse, thanks Kelly). Though I hate it when chefs don't follow the rules I have to admit that Amanda has proved more talented than the rest of the chefs believe her to be. She's also an excellent butcher.

While supafly Kenny relaxes in his furry golden robe back at the house, Alex is in a quandary about what to make to accompany his salmon. In what will soon become scandal #1 of the season, Kenny inadvertently shares a few deets about Ed's English pea puree while Alex listens intently. Unfortunately, Ed missed this whole conversation because he spends all of his time in the house unburdening himself to Tiffany, even though she's an engaged woman.

In the kitchen at the Palm, the chefs discover another few spicy elements of the challenge. The winning dish will be featured on the menu, the winning chef will be caricatured onto the wall of the restaurant, AND Tom will be hanging out in the kitchen instead of out front.

While steak girls Amanda and Kelly battle it out over salt, we discover that Alex is going to make an English pea puree! What a coincidence! When Ed's puree goes AWOL, everyone concludes that Alex took it. Which he most probably did. I'm pretty sure he's one of the nastiest contestants ever selected to appear on the show. Gross.

First out are the rival porterhouse queens, who have successfully quibbled over butter, salt, and time remaining whilst preparing their dishes. As they prepare to describe their food, we encounter guest judge Art Smith, former chef to Oprah and the Obama family, and frequent judge and competitor on Top Chef: Masters. He has lost, I kid you not, what must be fifty pounds! I like my chefs hefty, to be honest.

Though I was waiting for Amanda to be judged based on her decision to cut the meat off the bone, the whole two tables of guests and judges loved her dish. Kelly's gigantic porterhouse was over-seasoned, drowning in all of the salt that she jealously hoarded during prep time.

Tiffany and Andrea are next, bearing plates of swordfish. Andrea's overly sweet, vanilla bean-scented sauce was essentially masking the flavor of a fish that she herself doesn't like. Tiffany's olive-raisin tapenade was a big hit with the judges, even though she mourned in a lonely corner of the kitchen after service, sure she had overcooked her fish.

Stephen and Alex deliver their salmon dishes. Incidentally, Alex's salmon sits on an exotic pile of forbidden rice, accented by a lovely green swirl of...PEA PUREE! Stephen's plate is messy, and Art Smith raves about the "symphonic" nature of Alex's dish.

The most challenging protein, that unwieldy lobster, has been prepared quite differently. For once, Angelo makes a less-than-perfect dish-a butter-poached lobster that the judges deem "chewy" and a foam they don't appreciate. Ed's lobster ballontine, on the other hand, was beloved by all, especially with the addition of spicy eggplant caviar. Gail states that the only thing Ed doesn't need on his dish are the English peas. Oh, the irony!

Kenny's overcomplicated lamb dish doesn't win over the judges, especially with no fresh green to make it a bit more complete. I'm beginning to think that he tries too hard. It was clear from the beginning of the season that he is an excellent chef. He is struggling to deliver. Kevin's sous-vide lamb was too overpowering. I think it may be one of the first times a chef is dinged for too MUCH flavor.

While the judges deliberate, there is all kinds of pea puree drama going on in the stew room, including back footage of Alex overhearing the components of Ed's dish the nights before the challenge. To add fuel to the fire, not only is Alex called out with Ed and Tiffany for having the best dishes, he is specifically complimented on the controversial puree, and ends up WINNING for it! To their credit, Ed and Tiffany kept their mouths shut. No use crying over spilled milk. Or stolen peas, I suppose.

Kelly, Andrea, and Kevin were on the chopping block for a failed power lunch. In an extremely emotional elimination, Andrea was sent packing, leaving Kelly and Kevin practically in tears. Though Amanda is fairly certain that Kelly's lack of generosity with the condiments is what put her on the bottom, the rest of the crew was visibly saddened by Andrea's departure (and undoubtedly, the knowledge they would have to continue to tolerate Alex's presence).

Two more to go before tonight!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Did I thank you for the duck nuts?"

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Here we go, here we go, here we go! Four of five recaps done, moving on to yet another politically-titled episode, "Cold War."

Quickfire Challenge:
As cherry blossoms continue to bloom, the chefs wake up in a Timothy-less house vowing to do what they can to get back on top. The footage of the their cheerful attitudes upon leaving the townhouse becomes delightfully ironic when they stroll into the Top Chef kitchen to find Michelle Bernstein sheepishly grinning next to a table of so-called "nasty proteins." I feel a twinge of pity for Michelle B, who somehow always draws the short straw when it comes to selecting episodes for the big-time chefs. This isn't her first rodeo with rattlesnake, geoduck, or duck white kidney.

The chefs visibly cringe while picking knives to determine order, though upon a closer glance at the table, I only see the need for two or three of them to freak out. Fois gras is hardly unusual for successful restaurant chefs, and I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be difficult to work with frog's legs or wild boar. I'd pick rattlesnake of course. They say it tastes like chicken.

In the second deliciously ironic moment of the episode in only ten minutes, Angelo selects duck white kidneys, which, as it turns out, are actually testicles. We'll see if he calls this dish sexy.

The exotic protein challenge isn't new on the show, so I was especially excited when they mixed it up a bit and had the chefs stop mid-prep to switch proteins. Anything to keep us from seeing Angelo's "testicle marshmallow." The chefs are unfamiliar enough with pretty much all of the proteins that they don't really change up their plans after the switch.

In the end, Michelle and Padma determined that Stephen's frog legs, Alex's ostrich, and Andrea's wild boar were the losing dishes. I'm pretty sure Michelle has it out for Andrea, being that they have competing restaurants in Miami.

They deemed Kelly's emu, Tamesha's duck tongue, and Amanda's llama to be the best dishes. Kelly's balanced emu omelette had the best flavor, and she won immunity.

Elimination Challenge:
Padma explains the details of the elimination challenge, cutely titled, as I mentioned, "Cold War." The chefs must prepare a dish "best served cold," and will be divided into two groups. Each group will be judging the other's food. Of course, the only way to properly plan for such a challenge is a Potomac River cruise on the USS Sequoia. Where many treaties were signed and presidents pondered. Kenny immediately takes a spot at a desk to think about his strategy alone, while other Alpha Dog Angelo is on a sabotage mission, passing along potentially disastrous ideas to innocent, gullible cheftestants.

Back at their old hangout spot, Whole Foods, the chefs predictably head towards the sexy seafood section. Angelo is there giving Tamesha his blessing on her scallops + rhubarb jus idea. He gives Stephen a bit of advice as well, while Tiffany, Ed, and Kevin confidently circle the produce and grain aisles.

In the kitchen, we learn that Andrea cannot get it out of her head that Michelle Bernstein is there to judge her. Kenny worries that his fellow cheftestants will judge his dish solely based on their desire to eliminate him from competing. Tamesha loses her cool when left alone too long without Angelo's help. Speaking of Mr. Sexy, he spends more time helping his proteges than actually working on his dish.

The challenge takes place in a "stately room", according to Amanda. Group A, consisting of Kenny, Kevin, Ed, Amanda, and Alex, cooks first. While Group B delightfully takes their place at the table, we see another bit of foreshadowing when Alex lies to Amanda about what her dish tastes like.

I'm so distracted at first by Angelo's 50's style slicked-back hair and v-necked blazer with no shirt underneath that I first I don't notice how RIDICULOUSLY critical Group B is of their competitor's food. It was as if they liked NOTHING. Angelo and Tamesha tag-teamed to lambaste every dish, while Andrea attempted to sound like a culinary goddess across the table from Michelle. Tiffany was the only one who had any sort of objective judgment to share, and Kelly, who also won the chance to sit out with her elimination, kept quiet. Group B decided that Kevin's dish was the best while Kenny's was the worst. Can we say RIDICULOUS one more time?! In what world would Amanda or Alex serve better food than Kenny?!

Tom and crew were clearly irritated and dismayed by the lack of objectivity displayed by the second group. Just when I thought I couldn't love Tom more, my heart warming over my enjoyment of the episode, I was gifted with the incredible gem of a deleted scene, in which we learn Ed actually stole a girl from Angelo a few years back.

I gleefully observe Group B head to the kitchen, delighted that it's now their turn for judgment. Sadly, Group A proved to be much more generous, delicately taking bites of each dish and attempted to offer constructive criticism. At least until they arrived at Tamesha's shockingly spicy scallops, which was universally panned. Tiffany's tuna was voted as best dish, sending her up for the win with Kevin. Tamesha would be stewing at the bottom with Kenny.

It was highly pleasing to see Kevin win-he is teddy-bear appealing, makes good food, and clearly doesn't allow prejudice to cloud his judgment when it comes to what actually tastes great (even if his rival is making it). Kenny was extremely dissatisfied to be on the bottom, understandably, but not exactly surprised. He of course believed Angelo was snaking him, though he didn't share that sentiment with the judges.

Thankfully, the judges sent the lesser chef home, that being Tamesha. How much longer could she manage to hold her own, anyway? Last week's episode proved that even the very best chefs competing aren't safe, and I'm not sure that T could function without skeevy Angelo.

I'm inching closer and closer to my goal, y'all...three more left!

one week

My heart thrills at the prospect that in seven days-a mere TRIFLE when I think of how tortuously long the wait has seemed-the final novel in the Hunger Games trilogy will be released. All I can think is Amazon, PLEASE DON'T LET ME DOWN! Don't make me resort to double purchasing if my copy doesn't arrive on time. I wouldn't put it past me. Really.

If you have not yet read The Hunger Games (and its sequel, Catching Fire), I suggest you do it. Immediately. Right away. Pronto. Don't let heroine Katniss Everdeen pass you by!

"Well, I had crabs. So it just brought back bad memories."

In the swirling hubbub of my travels over the past month, I have failed in my efforts to properly document the shenanigans of Top Chef Season 7: Hail to the Chef (from henceforth I must write that entire ridiculous title out in full). As of today, I have not just two or three, but FIVE recaps to complete. Also, it's Tuesday. Which means that the next episode airs tomorrow. The forecast for completion doesn't look good. Yet, I shall carry on. Particularly because I'm desperate to get to last week's shocking elimination.

When last we saw our chefs, they faced double elimination in a hotel restaurant challenge. Though I was glad to get rid of some of the dead weight, the chefs were saddened back at the now quiet townhouse. I tried to think about Ed and Tiffany's burgeoning friendship instead of the creepy way that Angelo whispers in Tamesha's ear while they sit on the porch alone. He says that he sees himself in her. Tamesha, run for the hills!

In the Top Chef kitchen, Padma waits for the chefs, accompanied by a giant table of crabs and a horrifying example of plastic surgery and inappropriate hair dyeing, Patrick O'Connell. I am not won over by the knowledge that he is a James Beard Award-winning chef. I didn't think it was possible to be more grossed out by him, but then he began to speak. Like a serial killer. Shudder.

After two inappropriate yet inevitable STD jokes, the chefs made a mad dash to the crab table. Despite the Maryland connection, I felt it was an unimaginative challenge, though I'd gladly dive into any crab dish that doesn't contain mayonnaise. Tamesha was allergic as a child (wtf is right, Tamesha), so is completely unfamiliar with crab preparation. Where did they find these chefs, I ask you??

For the sake of completing my mountain of recaps, a condensed version of the results:

Worst Dishes:

-Andrea's heavy, potato-burdened crab salad
-Amanda's "pungent" gelee
-Kevin's confusing lost crab

Best Dishes:

-Ed's refreshing thai crab salad (I wanted to eat it immediately!)
-Kenny's trio of crab flavor
-Angelo's tiny spoonful of delicate crab broth
Winner: Ed!

Elimination Challenge:
As Timothy tries to recover from his unexpected defeat as Only-Chef-From-Maryland-Thus-Inevitably-Good-with-Crab, Padma informs the chefs that they'll be traveling to Virginia's first certifiable organic farm, where they'll be required to work as team to put forth at least six family-style dishes for a group of local chefs and farmers. Kenny and Angelo immediately assume the leadership role in their heads, while the rest of the chefs freak out at the knowledge that they won't actually know their ingredients until they arrive.

After a strong battle of the wills between the two alpha dogs, no decisions are made. There's talk of teams, and one person working a grill, and compromising, but nothing really seems to get done. Kenny determines they should all work with their partners from the previous challenge, giving us as viewers the first real hint (via Ed's hesitance) that Alex is just as skeezy as we thought.

After a montage of the farm complete with galloping horses, yellow flowers, and butterflies, the chefs are seen scurrying over to the impressively arrayed tables of proteins and produce. Predictably, some quibbling ensues over who will work with what protein. Mostly dissatisfied, the chefs then race over to an odd assortment of mismatched tables and various sources of heating elements, including a grill with lava rocks and some hot plates. This is going to be rough. Thank goodness for the mobile pantry in the back of the vehicle Toyota has selected for its product placement spot.

To add insult to injury, it's also apparently quite wintry outside. Miami-based Andrea in particular seems to be suffering the most, working just as hard on her meat as she is to keep a scarf around her throat. I am sympathetic to her plight-ever since I moved to California I have developed an extremely thin skin. I find temperatures above 80 degrees and below 50 to be practically intolerable!

During prep, we learn that Amanda is making minestrone. While I check my notes to determine if she has any culinary background at all other than working at Jason's Deli, there is a horrifying moment where Stephen is mashing up hard-boiled eggs with a potato masher. Kelly and Timothy have a minor argument about beets and turnips, and Angelo yet again refers to food with adjectives more appropriately used to describe body parts. Tamesha's virginal ears were so shocked by a "making love to the duck" comment that she knocked over Kenny's couscous. He reacted quite calmly and began making something with broccoli. What a gem.

The judges and farmers are seated on one long table, which I found very appealing. My heart leapt with joy upon seeing my beloved Eric Ripert. He is so kind to the cheftestants, and not pretentious at all. Adore him.

One dish after the other prove underwhelming to the judges, with the exception of Kenny and Kevin's curried eggplant and couscous, Andrea and Kelly's pork and beets, and of course Angelo's duck. Stephen's hideous salad, Amanda's boring minestrone, and Timothy's poorly seasoned vegetables were the standout losers.

Kenny took home the win for his carefully constructed dish, but Timothy couldn't defend himself against a charge of bad vegetables.

Whew! One down, four to go!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Oh dear Lord in heaven...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Perhaps those who have mocked me should change their tune.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Wedding #3

Sunday, August 1, 2010

- Posted from my iPhone

latest doings, goings-on...

You may have noticed that my presence on the old blog has been rather erstwhile. A few teensy posts here and there, yet again shameful relapses with my Top Chef recaps...

There are good, sound excuses for this, however. My SH's best friend, whom I happen to adore, has moved back to the country, having spent the past five years far, far away in Denmark. He'll be living in LA, a mere hour's flight from us. As we still don't have the inevitable Joey's apartment over the garage ready, we've just enjoyed him as a house guest from the moment he arrived a week ago. Nights of grilling, long, delicious dinners, trips to trader joe's to experiment with all of their new or unfamiliar products... It's a lot of eating, I'll tell you, but lots of laughing and good catching up too.

I've also been immensely distracted by this fascinating new thriller, which, by the way, was NOT on my summer reading list.

I literally could not put it down. I had to make myself go to bed each night instead of reading. Yes, if you casually scrutinize the dust cover, you may see things like "government experiment gone awry" and, heaven forbid, "vampire." Do not be put off! This one is good!

Of course, there is also the matter of the "year of the wedding," keeping me away from home constantly. The latest one was for my beloved cousin, and I was enlisted to assist my fabulously talented sister in constructing the wedding cake and groom's whoopie pies. Look those up-it's an East Coast dessert with Amish origins, not an inappropriately titled dish. And these were DELICIOUS.

All of this to say, I have been BUSY. In a very good way, though. I'll be home, and back to normal routine, very soon.

P.S. I haven't forgotten those crazy chefs!

- Posted from my iPhone