Friday, January 21, 2011

autumn/borderline winter playlist

Friday, January 21, 2011

You may have noticed that my burning desire to share my oft-played tunes had sort of gone beyond seasonal lists. My first offense was an extremely lengthy summer playlist, followed by an "indian summer" list. I have now gone far beyond that trespass, and have completely neglected to appropriately compile my fall list. In case you haven't noticed, we are nearing the third month of winter! Since it is my blog, however, and I would like to keep the memory of my lists for posterity's sake, I still feel inclined to post. Also, far be it from me to keep such wonderful musical suggestions from you.

animal-neon trees. My autumn list is particularly heavy on tracks hailing from my birthday gift, a mix created by my BFF Rose. As we know, she's brilliant. Apparently, my version is the earlier, lesser-inspired one, but I find that hard to believe. Out of 22 songs, 5 are from her list, cutely titled, Badassnass. Animal is an addictive, highly pleasurable song that, much to my chagrin, made a big splash on the movie trailer for Love and Other Drugs. Don't hold that against it!

forget you-glee cast version, feat. Gwyneth Paltrow. I will confess that extreme profanity and all, I found Cee-Lo Green's original, unedited version to be incredibly appealing. It wasn't the same at all to listen to the clean version, somehow. Enter Gwyneth Paltrow and guest-star performance on Glee. Not only was she the best celeb guest-star they've ever had, she made me love the clean version! Thanks, G!

mary-kings of leon. I only wrote about this album about 162 times, so it should be no surprise that it was on repeat in the car for the duration of the fall. This song is one of my favorites. It's delightfully old-fashioned, but with some really great riffs towards the end. Definitely demonstrative of the Kings' considerable musical skill.

i know what i am-band of skulls, friday night lights, volume ii. I could tell you that I love this song because it's fun, with crazy lines about a "triple salchow" and a chorus with a great beat, but secretly, I have a sneaking suspicion that on the show, it may have been attached to a scene with Tim Riggins. A lady may have been involved as well. My sister would probably say, "Inapprope!"

speak now-taylor swift. After getting past the possibility that each song may or may not have been penned for this or that celebrity lost love, you would have to admit that Taylor Swift can be completely appealing. I have selected the song that I am fairly certain, at the ripe old age of 20, she has likely truly not experienced in real life.

apartment story-the national. I love this band more and more as time goes by. This song isn't from the most recent album, but everything I've heard so far is just, solid. Interestingly, I have heard them on no less than four television shows lately. Not entirely pleased about that, as there is so much pleasure in having a more "secret" interest, but I'm sure it's good for the band.

heavy in your arms, florence + the machine, eclipse motion picture soundtrack. One need only hear the first few lines ("I was a heavy heart to carry, my beloved was weighed down...") to guess that Florence took it upon herself to pen a song especially for Eclipse. Of course, you might need an encyclopedic knowledge of Twilight, like me, in order to immediately make the connection. How I love her.

everlasting light-the black keys. The first track on the aforementioned playlist from Rose, "Everlasting Light" is one of those songs that's extremely mellow without being slow. It's got a great seductive feel.

pyro-kings of leon. The second single off the new album is probably my favorite, even though it's a bit dark. Caleb, w is a twisted soul. The video embedded above, is complicated, though I am sure there were some religious overtones involved in its conception. The boys never leave their faith far behind, whether they realize it or not.

on melancholy hill-gorrillaz. Thanks once again, Rose. Did I even know Gorrillaz before I met you? Or White Lies? Or My Morning Jacket? Or (gasp) Kings of Leon? "On Melancholy Hill" is a pop-y, '80's-esque tune, by the way.

horchata-vampire weekend. Winter's cold IS too much to handle. Thank goodness for Vampire Weekend, conjuring up images of horchata-drinking in December.

marry you-glee cast version. I'm not immensely familiar with Bruno Mars, but I adored this adaptation on Glee, serving as the wedding music for Kurt's dad and Finn's mom. Bonus? I don't have to feel guilty about it, which I do for harboring affection for Chris Brown's "Forever", the previous contender for best wedding intro music.

i'm not calling you a liar-florence + the machine. Slowly, but surely, I'll insert a F + TM song into every playlist I ever make. When I first heard the album, I really only adored one song. Then I listened closely to another and became captivated. And then another. That's how it goes with Florence.

get on the road-tired pony. A slow, quiet buildup to a subtle crescendo. Soothing and perfect for a night drive.

have a little faith in me-john hiatt. This is an oldie, but a goodie. Of course, it's been done and redone, and I perused all the covers I knew before settling on this as my favorite.

santa clara-the national. "I don't worry anymore, nothing like I did before..." It's a great beginning to one of the most mellow, therapeutic songs on my list. I have a soft spot for the name, too-it's Californian.

something good this way comes, jakob dylan, friday night lights volume ii. Has there ever been a more remarkable father-son dual musical talent? I've always loved listening to Jakob Dylan and contemplating the evidence of pure genetic abilities being seamlessly transferred. All of my deep thoughts aside, this song is sweet and country. No one who heard it could criticize.

the crane wife 3-the decemberists. For my autumn playlist, I went on a search for some of the songs that have really grabbed my attention in the past few years. Like many of my discoveries, I first heard it on a movie trailer. (Possible dream job: seeking out the perfect independent unknown songs to attach to film and television, full well knowing said songs will become famous because of sentimental saps like myself) Anyway, it's not possible that I would ever grow tired of this tune. I also find it tremendously uplifting.

you got what I need-joshua radin. I love Joshua Radin SO much that I don't mind that he continuously puts forth, like Jack Johnson, a slew of songs that sound remarkably similar. I heard this recent offering on Grey's Anatomy, and of course cried during the scene. I'm pathetic.

these hard times-needtobreathe. The more I get to know this band of my sister's heart, the more I love them. This anthemic song is both convicting and encouraging to me, a difficult musical feat.

christmas lights-coldplay. There was quite the bit of hubbub and buildup to this single's release, all of it completely justifiable. A bit melancholy, but still incredibly moving. Musical perfection, as usual. With Coldplay, "I always know what I'm getting, and I'm always pleased."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"I overdo it."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

As I shared in the episode 2 recap, gone are the cheerful opening scenes of early morning rituals and intimating of the doom facing one chef. Alas, they have been replaced by a rather sinister clip of an empty Top Chef kitchen, which features a dire soundtrack and an immediate flashback to the drama of last week's episode. This time we were treated to Jen C's profanity-laced tirade and various talking chef heads complaining about Jamie's two teeny stitches/lack of effort.

I miss the old days.

Quickfire challenge:
The incredibly famous (according to Marcel) David Chang is waiting in the kitchen with Padma. I feel guilty for judging Marcel's seemingly overzealous eagerness when I discover he is the chef/owner of the Momofuku chain.

After the chefs are divided into four teams of four, they discover that it's time for my most favorite, the most beloved quickfire: the mise en place relay! Fabio, who is teamed up with Angelo, Tiffany D., and Mike Isabella, worries only that Angelo wears his pants a bit too tight. Spike, who'll be working with Richard, Stephen, and Tre, hilariously determines that Stephen will only be useful for serving them a bottle of wine while working. This mise en place relay has been given a bit of a twist: the four teams will divide up the tasks of dicing garlic, butchering lamb chops, and prepping artichoke hearts. All of these items will be used to create a single dish. The team that finishes prepping first will press a large red button (inevitably stolen from Staples) that starts a fifteen-minute clock. The remaining teams will then be on a time crunch to finish prepping and then complete a dish in the remaining time. It's a hardcore relay. Plus, it's being judged by superstar bada** David Chang. The chefs are justifiably freaked out.

As usual with this challenge, there's a lot of flurry and bustle going on in the kitchen. Richard seems especially crazed. Marcel alarms his team with his freakish laughter, while lauding his own ability to use his nifty trick to create perfect chops. Fabio is attacking 40 cloves of garlic at a time with a huge chopping board, and wonders how the other chefs do not realize the futility of peeling cloves. It's a race, people! Because he finishes first, the other teams freak out. Jamie shows that even if all she can cook is soup and scallops, she does have a knack with the garlic, and starts to give her team an edge. Team Green, Fabio's team, rings the bell first.

Team Blue (Spike's team) finishes with just under thirteen minutes on the clock, followed by Team Red (Antonia, Jamie, Casey, and Dale L.). Team White (Marcel, Tiffani F., Carla, and Dale) plods along at a pathetic pace, finishing with only eight minutes to go. Looks like we'll be having lamb carpaccio in the Top Chef kitchen this morning.

One of the carpaccio's, that of Team White, is successful, while the other, made by Team Red, is deemed overwhelmed by garlic and not as cleanly presented. Despite having finished first, Team Green's lamb chop covered with tandoori-spiced yogurt was not beloved by David Chang. Team Blue's chop with chili aioli was selected as the winning dish, despite not having received the benefit of Stephen's accompanying wine selection.

Elimination challenge:
As she often does throughout a season, Padma dramatically states the obvious when she declares New York City the "Restaurant Capital of the World." Though I am distracted by the vast quantity of garlic peelings, bits of lamb fat, and artichoke leaves that litter the floor of the kitchen, I manage to hear that the for the elimination challenge, the four teams will each have the opportunity to dine in one of the fabulous restaurants in the "Restaurant Capital of the World." They will then create a dish that would be a fitting addition to that restaurant's menu. The four restaurants chosen are:

Ma Peche-part of David Chang's empire; focus on French Vietnamese cuisine; "straight-up yummy" according to Angelo
Team Green: Angelo, Fabio, Mike Isabella, and Tiffany D.

Townhouse-Chef David Burke; focus on modern American cuisine
Team Red: Antonia, Jamie, Casey, and Dale

Marea-Chef Michael White; Italian, focused on coastal cuisine
Team Blue: Tre, Stephen, Spike, and Richard

wd-50-Chef Wylie Dufresne; famously quirky with focus on molecular gastronomy; Marcel is predictably thrilled.
Team White: Marcel, Tiffani, Carla, Angry Dale

The twist? This will be a double elimination.

At first, I felt like it was an interesting, albeit straightforward challenge. All of the restaurants have a good reputation, but I assumed the only one that might really throw the chefs for a loop was wd-50. This was all before I observed the fare at Townhouse.

At Ma Peche, Angelo gives his teammates a lengthy presentation about each dish they taste. Fabio tries to figure out how he can incorporate pasta into a French-Vietnamese dish.

Stephen does not impress Tre by his inexplicable knowledge of Marea, which is where he apparently spends all of his time. We learn that Tre does not like sea urchin and that Marea's dishes have restraint and elegance, which worries wacky Richard.

Wylie Dufresne is a charmer, bringing out all kinds of weirdness. The first course is an "aerated fois gras." Marcel is almost shaking with excitement, because "food is what I do." Not sure how that talent specifically applies to Wylie Dufresne's techniques.

The jolly, rotund David Burke is easily the most charming chef. I echoed Casey's sentiment when one crazy plate after another arrives at the table: lobster with tentacles shooting out; roasted rack of lamb bedecked with octopus, and a cocktail served on top of a glass with a real live fish floating about in it.

Back at the house, we learn that Stephen may or may not have a weakness for something other than nice ties and white wine, and that something is highly illegal and addictive. It's alarming.

The prep goes smoothly at the restaurants. Tiffani is diving headfirst into the liquid nitrogen container. Dale L. is making some sort of buttery popcorn dish. Angelo is up to his usual brilliant knife techniques, carefully preparing his fish. Tre reveals that he is known in some circles as "the black Italian."

First up is Marea. Padma and her crew of judges, which include Anthony Bourdain, have decided to travel by taxi to each restaurant, as the peasants do. None of the dishes fail miserably, though Spike's caponata is a bit murky and Stephen's salmon is overshadowed by the herby fennel pollen, which Anthony says makes it taste like a "head shop." Richard and Tre are the favorites.

At Ma Peche, Angelo has determined his fish would benefit from the addition of white chocolate. It's a hit with the judges. Fabio couldn't restrain his Italian and made his own ricotta to accompany a lamb chop. Mike's sockeye salmon is flavorful, and David Chang gives him props for paying close attention to their dinner on the previous night. Tiffany's crudo was pedestrian, but tasted good.

The judges arrive at Townhouse and enjoy partaking in some of the craziest dishes of the evening. Casey has made a "scallibut", a beautifully prepared piece of halibut carved and cooked like a scallop. Antonia prepared a vibrant and colorful dish, two perfectly executed purees (peas and carrots) topped with scallops that looked impeccably cooked. Unfortunately, Dale's roasted veal loin included thyme caramel, peanuts, and popcorn. Not looking good for him. Jamie, once again, made soup, and attempted to make the presentation "cool" by covering it with a glass bowl turned upside down, creating the illusion of "smoked soup." Soup is soup, Jamie. Get a new trick.

Last stop is wd-50. At the commercial break, we learn that Marcel was accused of culinary plagiarism by one of Wylie's sous-chefs. Scandalous! Both Tiffani and Marcel abandon common sense and instead attempt to use Wylie's techniques rather than stick to what they know. Dale wisely determines to make a dish "inspired by Wylie" instead. To her credit, Carla manages to incorporate the scary modern techniques in a very effective way, presenting a delicious yet not ordinary dish of shrimp and grits. Dale's sunnyside up egg dumpling and braised pork belly, surrounding by braising liquid, "tastes like breakfast." The judges love it, especially Wylie, who loves eggs. Tiffani's shattered melons look a mess on the plate, and Marcel's lamb dish is unexciting.

Angry Dale, Angelo, Antonia, and Tre are selected as the favorite dishes from their respective restaurant challenges. They're especially excited to learn that the winner receives a six-night trip to New Zealand. (Side note: Bravo is really stepping it up with the prizes this season-a trip has been given away almost every week!) Dale, after graciously answering whether or not he knew that Wylie Dufresne is a "notorious egg slut," is declared the winner. He can be quite pleasant when he's not angry.

Sweet Dale, Stephen, Fabio, and Tiffani prepared the least favorite dishes. Poor Fabio is attacked for his resistance to making an appropriate dish. Stephen realizes that his dish was too muddled. Tom calls out Tiffani for trying too hard in Wylie's kitchen, and Dale cannot talk his way out of his crazy French toast veal dish. Sadly, he and Stephen were the two chefs chosen to pack their knives. It's a great example of how the structure of Top Chef is completely unpredictable. One bad dish can send you home. Period. Dale was the runner-up in his season, and now he's out after three episodes. Stephen, on the other hand, was barely keeping his head above water, and leaving was probably a blessed relief.

Recapping progress: three episodes down, three to go. That doesn't take into account the fact that it airs tonight. Heck.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Awards season has begun!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Last night heralded the beginning of awards season, with the deliciously lightweight Golden Globes airing here at the most lovely early hour of 5 pm. Of course I have planned for the afternoon for weeks, determining precisely what time the red carpet shows began and when I should arrive at my dear mother-in-law's house to watch (we don't have cable). I don't care nearly as much about the actual Globes, far preferring the Oscars, but in a way these are a bit more fun, like watching a light romantic comedy instead of a deeply moving drama. Plus, we get a dose of television stars too!

The fashion, unfortunately, was for the most part sorely lacking. There were some downright horrific choices, and I had to carefully consider my favorites. I'm hoping things will shape up by the time the Oscars rolls around.

5. Emma Stone. I debated this choice because I am disappointed that Emma, for whom I have a great affection, has become so excessively thin. It's just not right! Despite that disturbing quality, however, I thought she looked stunning. I'll be the first to admit that I prefer her red tresses, but as she is currently playing the new Mary Jane in the new Spiderman film, blonde will have to do.

4. Olivia Wilde. Lots of critics hated this dress, but I must include it. It's the kind of thing I would have wanted to wear, were I a celebrity attending the GG's. I get irritated watching the shows when the celebs play it safe and wear tons of black and uninteresting necklines. This was glamourous, even if the people who really know fashion disagree.

3. Mila Kunis. The photos of this dress really don't do it credit. It was truly stunning on television, more of a deep, shimmery emerald green. Mila's makeup was dark and dramatic, and the whole look suited her perfectly. An excellent choice, particularly considering that she must have known, as part of the Black Swan cast, that she would get a fair amount of air time.

Ooops! How did that get in here?

2. Anne Hathaway. I'll be the first to admit that I would never wear such a gown. It's glitzy, sparkly, and tight, with somewhat questionable shoulders. However, Anne absolutely MADE the dress. It looked stunning on television, and was easily the most fashionable gown of the night. She stood out in a very good way, though I'm the sure the super-low cut in the back didn't hurt. Interesting note: Armani Prive is credited with the design of this gown and also my least favorite of the night (see below).

1. Kyra Sedgwick. I LOVED this whole look! The picture truly doesn't capture how lovely the whole ensemble was, despite the tangerine shade of the dress. Paired with the turquoise and gold earrings, it was beautiful! I'm probably biased because I love those shades together and would definitely wear the whole thing myself if given the chance. Rose probably won't feel the same way.

Worst, most hideous choices of the evening:

Michelle Williams: Bless her heart.
Natalie Portman: Being pregnant is no excuse for this gown!
Angelina Jolie: The lack of attention she pays to fashion is becoming insulting to the general public.

Friday, January 7, 2011

"They will cry in your face if you don't give them what they want."

Friday, January 7, 2011

For this especially exciting edition of Top Chef, the producers have decided to change up the format a bit. Rather than the usual opening scenes of cheftestants waking up hung over and bedraggled or meeting the new day with fresh zeal and confidence (immediately setting us up to believe those happy chefs are probably on the chopping block for the episode), we are now graced with the ominous view of an empty Top Chef kitchen, then flashing back to the even more ominous, and infamous stew room during the previous episode. Yelling and outbursts of emotion ensue. As if we needed more assurance that this is a high-stakes season! In fact, as Dale L. states, it's "open season."

Quickfire challenge:
When the chefs stride into the Top Chef kitchen, no one is more shocked than me to see Padma standing with a Jonas brother! Apparently, it is Joe Jonas. I haven't the faintest idea which Jonas is which, and I find it amusing that Spike identifies him immediately. Even more hilarious is the fact that Dale Talde is also oblivious to the Jonas existence and thinks he might be a pastry chef. I cringe a bit with some of these guest selections, because they obviously don't have a lot of culinary experience.

Thankfully, culinary experience isn't the most important thing about this challenge, which is to create a midnight snack for the kids staying overnight at the American History Museum. Joe Jonas will get to select two winning snacks, but ultimately the kids will decide which is the best. The winner will receive immunity and an advantage during the next challenge. I give Joe props for telling the chefs their snacks have to be better than peanut butter and celery, and even more when he cutely jokes that they have to complete the snack in 30 seconds. He's got a little sense of humor, that Jonas!

As usual, there is a gigantic rush to the pantry and fridges. Dale Talde commandeers all the sugar in the house. I don't know why it's such a big deal-walk over to his station, people! Cooking for kids "hits very dear" to Marcel, and Tiffani F. tries to wrangle the liquid nitrogen, while reliving her poor behavior with kids from Season 1. Her dish is a weird mix of marshmallows and chocolate.

Richard, for whom I have nursed a burgeoning dislike, completely endears himself to me when he shares a tale of how, as a husky kid, he used to eat things like cereal with heavy cream. Be still my heart. I would eat cereal like that every single day if I could.

Joe Jonas thought the chefs performed well, but wasn't in love with Tiffany's coconut treat, Mike's low-on-chocolate polenta bars, or Stephen's strange snickerdoodle sandwiches. He did, however, love Tiffani's snowball and Spike's carrot and potato chips served with marshmallow mascarpone dip. I know that last one sounds a bit strange, but something tells me it would be REALLY good.

It's at this point that the chefs learn the tie between Spike and TIffani will be broken at the museum, and the remaining chefs will have to assist in making enough servings for the kids. Setting us up for a team elimination challenge, Tiffani and Spike pick their teams. Fabio is picked last, and chooses to be on Spike's team because he "wants to pissed off" Spike. There is a bunch of back and forth about which team leader is better, we learn that Richard teaches Liquid Nitrogen 101 back home, and two of the best chefs, Angelo and Dale Talde, are on bag-stuffing duty. We also hear from Fabio that he likes to be "under the rudder." He means radar. Bless his heart.

Not surprisingly, the kids ultimately go the sugar route, wholeheartedly embracing Tiffani's supersweet snowball/moonpie. Poor Spike attempts to work the crowd a bit, to no avail. Jamie can't tolerate the noise, and gives the audience more reason to dislike her by stating with firm certainty that she never wants children. I was a bit surprised to see that the kids all knew which Jonas was present. I underestimate their popularity.

Elimination challenge:
After Tiffani is declared the winner, the cheftestants begin to clean up the mess. In the midst of it, Tom arrives. A twist, of course. He announces that the elimination challenges begins now. They'll be joining the sleepover, and then preparing a breakfast for the kids and their parents in the morning. Said breakfast will be inspired by the diets of the brontosaurus and T-rex (the skeletons of which are conveniently located just behind Tom's head as he explains the details). You can probably guess that this means one team will be cooking with meat, and one will be cooking with fruits and vegetables. Tiffani, as the winner, picks T-rex. Let the record state that everyone should have paid closer attention to Tom's explanation!

The chefs head to a quiet wing of the museum, set up with little cots. Stephen worries about space issues, while Tre fears he won't be able to sleep naked. They have brief team meetings about their plans, which are a little useless considering they have no idea about the contents of the kitchen. Team T-rex decides to work in pairs. Team Brontosaurus seems a bit more cohesive. After the meeting, some chefs sleep, while others sneak about the museum on a flashlight tour. They sleep for approximately one hour.

Team T-rex is in for a big surprise when they arrive at the kitchen, which is color-coded with cute brontosaurus and T-rex tags. They will be using exclusively meat and dairy. This means no fruit, no vegetables, no grains, no herbs, no flour, no acid....the list goes on. The advantage becomes a giant disadvantage.

Tragedy strikes when Jamie slices her thumb open whilst preparing pork belly. At least it's a tragedy for Jamie, who immediately bolts for the hospital to receive two tiny stitches. Virtually everyone else loses every shred of respect they may have had for her culinary talent. Almost every season has seen a chef with a minor injury, requiring stitches or not, and for Fabio, it's particularly grating, considering that he actually BROKE his finger during his season. And continued to cook. She doesn't express much remorse, and leaves Jen to finish the dish by herself.

Team T-rex seems to have major issues in the kitchen. Tre and Casey are discouraged with their salmon. Antonia and Tiffany can't make the oven work properly. Jen slips on the floor.

Team Brontosaurus has to deal with Spike's tsunami-like stirring of Fabio's gnocchi, but they seem cool and collected. Casey tastes Jen's pork belly and declares that it tastes like "wet bacon." Uh-oh.

Jamie arrives just as the chefs are setting up for breakfast, the morning sun blazing down on their stations. This pretty much sums up her entire contribution for the episode. Back at Team Brontosaurus, Angelo begins a startling trend of interfering in other dishes, with questionable intentions.

The crowd heads straight to Team T-rex, which is a normal reaction. People want bacon and eggs for breakfast. I'm pretty sure they're going to be disappointed. The judges arrive with Katie Lee, the original hostess of Top Chef. Padma is far superior, even with her annoyingly picky habits.

Fabio works the crowd, endearing all the older women to his charm. As a whole, the judges seem to like the dishes of Team Brontosaurus, particularly Angelo and Richard's yogurt parfait.

Things take a turn for the worst at Team T-rex. Every dish has major flaws, with the exception of Tiffani and Dale L, who have prepared a simple steak and eggs. Casey and Tre's salmon is overpowered by a salty sauce. Antonia and Tiffany's fritattas are not consistently cooked well, so some kids and parents receive good ones and other choke down poor ones. Jen's pork belly is underdone and topped with flavorless eggs.

Team Brontosaurus is declared the winning team at judges' table, and the banana parfait, a work of art in Gail's eyes, was picked as best dish. It's a bit hard to choke down that recipe title as a winning dish on Top Chef, I'll admit.

Fireworks ensue when Team T-rex is called to judgment. Tiffani attempts to explain away their problems by blaming them on only being able to use meat and dairy. Jen pipes up that T-rex eats everything, and spends the rest of the time at the table making angry gestures, shrugging her shoulders, and yelling at the judges. Antonia threw Jamie under the bus for not being in attendance during the challenge, but is interrupted by Jen's vehement defense of her dish. I begin to think that she is either pregnant or suffering from a strange taste bud condition, because she cannot understand the judges' criticisms at all.

Despite how terrible the dish looked (see above) and the scathing reviews from everyone, it was still a cold shock to see Padma announce that it was time for Jen to pack her knives and go. She is undoubtedly one of the most talented chefs in the group, and I could easily have seen her advancing to the finale. There was quite a bit of strife and controversy around her elimination. Bloggers and commenters were irate that Jamie wasn't sent home. I was upset too, but as a long time viewer of the show, I know that the judges are consistent about the core format. Cheftestants are judged on an episode by episode basis. One bad dish is literally all it takes, no matter how amazing every dish before might have been. It's a frustrating rule, but it's how the show runs. Now isn't the time to switch it up. Reading Tom's blog at Bravo's website is a great resource, particularly when you're curious about the behind-the-scenes drama. He expressed that despite Jamie's lack of participation, if a chef feels that they need to seek medical attention, that cannot directly lead to their elimination.

At this point, I'm at a loss as to who might go home each week. It is open season.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"Now it's your turn to do the roasting."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

*Note: The following two paragraphs were hastily written OVER A MONTH ago. I have the best of excuses for getting around to this post now, some adorable and perfect, and some Christmas festivities- and family holiday-related. I fully intend to get back on track, long before there are SIX episodes of TC in the proverbial can.

We are currently twelve days into December, and I only have two measly blog posts to show for it. I can't say that I or my loyal few are really surprised, particularly considering that I've just finished fall quarter at grad school. You might think of this last week as my resting-on-my-laurels-though-entirely-undeserved period. It's completely normal for me at the end of a quarter. I casually research and do bits of reading and outlining here and there in the weeks leading up to a paper, then work manically on it in the 48 hours before the due date. I breathlessly e-mail the paper an hour or two before it's due, and then heave a huge sigh of relief and spend the next seven days or so in self-satisfied bliss, as though I have just achieved a tremendous accomplishment. I'm not proud. It's shameful behavior, really.

What is perhaps most shameful about this particular occasion is that I have allowed not just one, but TWO episodes of what could very well be the most entertaining, shocking, and delicious season of Top Chef pass by.

And now I shall return to my regularly scheduled programming :)

Opening scenes:
Top Chef: All Stars has thus far been an extremely satisfying, if shocking season. I was thrilled by the group thrown together. Who wouldn't want to hear more of Fabio's confusing analogies? Or witness Angelo's shenanigans and cringe at his sexual food references? Or heartily cheer on the most adorable Tre, so wrongfully eliminated in Season 3 after a particularly stressful Restaurant Wars? I wasn't especially happy to see Marcel, who hasn't changed one single bit and is still reeking of immaturity, or the prone-to-ferocious-bouts-of-anger Dale Talde, but I was consoled by the fact that at least they're all quite talented.

The first episode began in a typical all-stars fashion, with the chefs listing various reasons why they're back to win, interspersed with glimpses of upcoming episodes. Padma, clad in an odd, geometric-patterned black and white dress, delivered her usual spiel with aplomb, sharing the exciting news that the winner would receive $200,000 (instead of the usual $100K) furnished by Buitoni. At least this time, the sponsor is actually related to food, unlike last season's Palmolive disaster.

Tiffani Faison (Season 1 runner-up) was the first to arrive at the fab apartment in NYC, and the remaining chefs trickle in, in order of their seasons. The drama is immediately notched up when we get back footage of Marcel and his behavior from Season 2. He acts like someone who wants to be friends with those guys from Jersey Shore. The Season 3 contestants are all bound to be fan favorites, Casey, Tre, and Dale L. They're sweet, and not the back-stabbing types. I'm a bit worried that they'll be able to hold their own against the likes of the Vegas cast and Angelo.

Not surprisingly, Richard Blais, the runner-up from Season 4, is the first chef to arrive from the Chicago cast. In not one minute, I found myself loathing him, because the first words out of his mouth were something along the lines of "I think the only reason anyone remembers my season is because I didn't win." While I was attempting to recover from my disgust at his arrogance, I looked up his bio, discovering that he has done virtually nothing of significance since his season aired, and in fact losing over a million on one restaurant venture. Stephanie Izard, his season's winner (and the only female winner thus far), has patiently worked on the establishment of her first solo restaurant over the past two years, and has seen great success. It was recently written up in the New York Times. Take that, Blais. His mentality is disappointing, because he is indeed quite talented, and displayed humble and generous behavior during his original season.

The Chicago cast is rounded out with three other contestants, Spike Mendelsohn (also more successful than Richard), Dale Talde, and Antonia Lofaso. Antonia I love. I'm praying she doesn't meet any pigeon peas this time around.

New York is represented by Jamie "This is Top Chef, not Top Scallop" Lauren and Fabio Viviani, the "good Italian dog." Apparently, he has had problems in the past with both Jamie and Marcel, who the producers shove in front of the elevator to greet him as soon as he arrives. Kindly, mother-hen Carla is also amongst the mix.

Jen and Mike Isabella are the representatives from the Vegas cast, arguably the most talented group in the history of the show. Though I initially disliked Jen, she is an AMAZING chef, with good delegating skills and a tough skin. Mike is a good example of a dark horse; he initially doesn't seem like much, but every so often, he delivers with something really great.

There is no way the All Stars season would have been able to pass up giving Angelo a second opportunity to take the prize, so it's no surprise seeing him arrive last, with Tiffany Derry, Season 7's fan favorite, who just missed the Singapore finale. As a whole, the whole group is very, very strong.

To demonstrate the special nature of the season, the Bravo producers have provided especially sleek black chef coats. The chefs nervously don the jackets, and get ready to head to the Calphalon, GE, and Glad-stocked Top Chef kitchen. Let the games begin!

Quickfire challenge:
I'm always happy to see Tom, who stands with an elegant Padma in the kitchen. She quickly reminds them that NONE of them took home the final prize. Always has a slight edge, that Padma. I do love her delicate gold necklace, though. The first challenge is a creative spin on figuring out which season is best. The chefs have to work with other chefs from their season to create a dish that represents their city. Already I'm dreaming about what pork deliciousness will come from Team Miami.

Richard decides to make mustard ice cream with a gourmet hot dog, utilizing his liquid nitrogen skills. Of course.

Team New York decides to make a trio of apple. Jamie, who is rather catty, immediately separates from her team, because she's so sure that she's better than both of them. Ironic, considering that Carla and Fabio lasted longer than she did.

Marcel's apple-wrapper for the fish tacos he's making with Elia seems strange. I don't think I would like apple with my avocado and fish. Tiffany and Stephen work on a cioppino to represent San Francisco, and immediately the viewers are treated to a sweating Stephen working slowly and painstakingly on the dish. He's a sommelier, people, not really a chef!

Tom and Padma determine that the San Francisco cioppino is overwhelmed with raw garlic garnish. As I predicted, the fish tacos are a disaster. I'm sensing a trend of weaker earlier seasons. New York's trio strategy also falters, though Jamie's soup was singled out as solid. Of course she was thrilled by that. Angelo and Tiffany were also criticized, though I'm sure Angelo blamed everything on the fish he dropped on the floor after a run-in with the hapless Stephen.

Miami's pork tenderloin with mango-habanero sauce, Chicago's sausage with mustard gelato, and Vegas' lobster and bucatini were selected as the strongest dishes, to no real surprise. I could have devoured each one of those dishes in about two minutes. Team Chicago was declared the winner, much to Mike Isabella's chagrin. I have to say I think it truly looked the best.

Elimination challenge:
After the Chicagoans gleefully celebrate their victory, a group of staff arrives in the kitchen, carrying ominous covered silver platters. Their hearts quickening, the chefs lift the covers to reveal the dishes that sent them home. I am LOVING these challenge ideas! Points for creativity, Bravo! As if they weren't already petrified, Padma reveals the identify of the new guest judge, the master of acerbic wit, Anthony Bourdain.

Some of the chefs have greater challenges to get over than others. Spike still has to use frozen scallops in his dish. Dale Talde has to figure out a way to redeem butterscotch scallops. Stephen was eliminated for his poor front-of-house performance, so has to prepare dishes that he never made in the first place. I'm worried about him-he looks entirely out of place next to the other chefs.

Jamie has met her nemesis, black bass with braised celery, once more. It was that particular challenge that made me dislike her the first time, when she arrogantly informed ERIC RIPERT, of all the chefs, that she never liked his dish in the first place. As if that is an excuse for making it poorly. I'm so glad she has to make it again. She is in sore need of humility.

The chefs are serving at the Russian Team Room, and when they arrive, Tom informs them they'll be cooking in two groups of nine. When they're not cooking, the chefs will be dining with the judges. Always fun. They're relentless when it comes to judging their competitors.

It appears that Stephen isn't ready within ten seconds of plating time. Richard give me further reason to dislike him when he continues to plate after time is called. Everyone gives him the evil eye as the ticking of the timer sounds loudly in the background. A sneaky producer directs the chefs in the kitchen to a television displaying the second group of chefs and the judges preparing to dine.

Elia sits in a corner while the chefs and judges begin to eat, avoiding the judgment and harsh criticisms. Padma immediately finds a tiny scale in one of the dishes. Angelo, Richard, and Dale are all successful at their attempts to improve their dishes. Fabio's pasta is universally panned, especially for its presentation on paper. He immediately develops animosity for Anthony Bourdain, who refers to it as "an inside-out animal." Elia's dish is also loathed, though to Marcel's credit, he doesn't participate in the slam.

Group 2 has the advantage of knowing what half their competition has put forward, giving them renewed vigor in the kitchen. Group 1 is much more subdued arriving at the table, considering they've already heard all the comments.

Spike is celebrated for his craftiness in hiding his frozen scallops, earning high praise from Anthony Bourdain. Mike Isabella, who had a particularly difficult challenge given he had to make a vegetable dish, also made a great dish. Casey also redeemed herself. Marcel, Jen, and Dale were all given poor reviews.

Judges' table is always interesting in these situations, because the judges usually have a slightly different view of the dishes, less guided by personal issues. Padma called out Spike, Jamie, Richard, and Angelo as the top four dishes, though Richard is eliminated from consideration because of his timing error. Thanks for following the rules, judges! Annoyingly, he feigned ignorance, which I simply don't believe. This isn't his first Top Chef rodeo. Angelo is declared the winner, and he continued his habit of appearing shocked at hearing of his victory. Dale Talde had his first rage-fueled moment, expressing extreme displeasure that Richard didn't win. I'd like to see what Dale would have done if the clock had run out on a contestant not from his season.

Stephen, Fabio, and Elia made the least favorite dishes of the evening. Bless Stephen's heart and tie pin. I'm not sure if he's prepared to handle the intensity of Top Chef. Elia committed the unforgivable error of completely raw, unseasoned fish. Fabio can barely control his Italian anger, which is kind of like a small kitten pawing at a large dog. All he can focus on is how much Anthony Bourdain hated his paper-plated pasta. Despite his bitterness and misery, Elia is the first elimination. Besides the inherent problem of raw fish, she had opted to do practically nothing to improve the dish, feeling that it was solid the first time around. Lesson learned, Elia. You don't know better than the judges.

Whew! One done, four to go!

A good reason for not writing...

...spending time with my precious, darling new niece.

- Posted from my iPhone