Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Playing the Game

Wow. What a freakishly pleasant surprise. The second half of the last Top Chef DC didn't suck. Who knew.
So it's simple right? Healthy school lunch for 50 kids at $2.60 a kid. Each chef is responsible for an element of the meal. Shopping somewhere other than Whole Foods because we all know how laughable it was the last time they cheated their way around cooking a family meal for $10 at Whole Foods during Season 4. Restaurant Depot will be the shopping grounds this time around. However that's not the only twistiness to this challenge. Not when you've got this guy Playing The Game.
Angelo. It's only the middle of the second episode and he's already scoped out his closest competition and devised a plan on how to eliminate said competition. How? By winning the Quickfire, gaining Immunity, and given the chance to pick the other two members of his team for the Elimination Round. Because he and Tracy have immunity, if his team is the worst, only the other two members will be up for elimination. Interesting because this really only works if Angelo's team loses and they only pick one team for elimination. No mention is made at the challenge's explanation by Padma how they will pick the loser but it makes sense to pick a losing team to auf a chef just like picking a winning team to pick a winner. Here's the tricky part for Angelo, he's picked the second best chef (in his mind) to try to put on the losers block. He's got to put up just enough effort to look like he's trying but influence the rest of the team enough to put them in the losing position. Can he and will he?
Not that he has to do much with Kenny totally getting outmaneuvered. Kenny fails to step up and take control or lead the team in the decision making process. Letting Angelo make celery and peanut butter? As his only contribution? Kenny may be fast with his knife skills but Angelo is smoking him in the game playing aspects of Top Chef.
However all of Angelo's carefully laid planned could be ruined by the Chef Known as Sherry. Yes, this fame whore wanna be came up with the brilliant idea of braising chicken in sherry for her part of the meal.
The rest of her team, Winken, Blinken and Nod, put a weak defense but Sherry will not be denied her sherry chicken. Nod decides to do dessert. Sherry thinks she a doofus for picking dessert, confident that her sherry chicken will rock the lunch kids world. Winken and Blinken hope to hide somewhere in the middle.
Team 4 gets a lot of screen time because they understand that bitching and sniping at each other is the best way to get a lot of screen time. Team 3 gets very little screen time so they must know what they are doing and working well as a team.
Now after 6 seasons of Top Chef and 2 of Masters, I will, for the most part, be skipping over the shopping segment of Top Chef. It's an old dried up piece of meat that not even the dogs will chew on so we will all just assume that shopping happens without incident for the rest of the season. However this shopping was important if only for the fact that if you don't fight for your dish it will more than likely bite you in the ass later on. Above Nod shops for chocolate for her pudding.
And here is Sherry.....
...and here is the first subtotal before they start cutting down what they think they don't need.
Do they get rid of the 15 lb bag of basmati rice and go for a cheaper brown rice? No. Do they get rid of the sherry? No. They get rid of the chocolate for the chocolate pudding. Not even when Nod begs for her chocolate does Sherry relent.
Perhaps she thinks she's cooking for the children of the French Ambassador and she's a French Lunch Lady.
Not that any of the other teams are doing any better. They all come up heavy the first time at the register and end up doing a lot of creative product trimming which is kinda perplexing. Don't these folks know how to put down a budget before they get to the Depot? Don't they have an idea how much a jug of sherry costs? A bag of rice? Some of them may have worked OK together as teams but I didn't really see anyone step up and take control of their team.

Before I cut to the end, only one food picture of the vegetable dish for Angelo's team.

Nice, huh? Can you say punking your teammates?

You know I do a lot of bitching and moaning about Top Chef, mainly that they don't ever change the template much. You know if you're called in first to Judge's Table, you're the winner.

Surprise! You suck!
How awesome was that? Not only do they freak them out, they also freak out the teams left in the stew room thinking that they lost and spend their time waiting, figuring out in their heads who they will throw under the bus. But back to the losers. They just start blabbering. Nod explains that without chocolate she cannot salvage her dessert without adding two pounds of sugar. Sherry says nothing about her budget busting sherry. Apparently she's still in a stupor to be at the losers table. On the other team it's not much better. After pointing out their woeful lack of vegetables, Kenny tries to present evidence to the contrary with their roasted tomatoes on the burger. Too bad the guest judge knows his veggies from his fruit and doesn't hesitate in correcting Kenny's mislabeling his fruity tomato as a vegetable.

I'm pretty sure at this very moment Kenny wanted to go back to cutting chickens. He could learn from Angelo who decides to take the fifth when asked if he would make what he made if he didn't have immunity. And really, isn't that the chickenshit way out? As much as he bragged in the One on One interviews about being the One that everyone was supposed to chase, he's just another chickenshit coward who, in my humble opinion, threw this challenge in the hopes of getting Kenny auffed. But that was just part of a GREAT judges table. This is what we as audience members want to see. Blinken decides that he needs to jump in and help Kenny get auffed by criticizing Kenny's lack of vegetables. Considering that Blinken's rice was not exactly stellar, and seriously, if you can't make rice perhaps your silence would be golden. Kenny doesn't mind putting Nod's pudding in the line of fire with it's two pounds of sugar while his own apple bread pudding was well down the ladder for sugar content. Sherry suddenly finds her voice as she attacks the sugar content of Angelo's bizarre vegetable contribution. She's deep into her anti peanut butter rant before Ed points the stupidity of using sherry for a kids lunch meal. Oh silly man, I'm not having the kids drink that expensive sherry is the best she can muster before Gail breaks in with her own question as to why she used it. "Because I like it" Oh Sherry, Sherry, Sherry. Still she set Gail up for the best line of the night: " I like it too, there's a lot of things I like, like vodka but I'm not cooking with it."
Damn it, don't you know you're spoiling all of Angelo's best laid plans? So they let the losers stew some more in the stew room while they bring in the winning team and announce a winner.
Despite putting up with an amazing amount of bitching from her teammates Kelly wins with her Pork Carnitas Tacos with pickled onion and handmade oatmeal soft taco shells. Now onto the loser's team. But wait?
That's not a complete team? Suddenly Kenny and Ed's chances of going home are back at 25%. Did the producers make a sudden adjustment to keep a better chef in the game? Or maybe to screw Angelo because it looks like he threw the challenge? Not sure but it's not Kenny who is going home, it's Nod.
Not that it matters because I suspect Sherry will soon follow. One last word on Angelo. If you noticed in the post by Tom he ends with his thoughts on whether Angelo threw this particular challenge, saying that it appeared that way. Please keep in mind that Tom writes his blog posts after the show airs so he may be giving us a little foreshadowing of what might be ahead concerning Angelo and his game playing. It could be very interesting.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Simply Delicious


My garden, while chugging along in the summer heat, got a late start this spring. Until it starts producing I've been harvesting my container produce, lettuce, tomatoes and nasturtium. The lettuce is almost done but wow how wonderful it tastes.



My lettuce just before it gets a good wash and spin in the salad spinner. Yes, even though it was grown without pesticides or sprays outside my backdoor out of reach of the even the tallest dog, it still gets washed. Why? Have you ever seen how much a robin poops? 'Nuff said.


Added a sliced spring onion I bought at the farmer's market and a light dressing of the best balsamic vinegar and olive oil.


A wonderfully light supper on a hot humid day. A bountiful harvest worth all the sweat and dirty fingernails.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tom, in his own words

You know, Tom Colicchio and I don't often see eye to eye, especially when it comes to the wild and wacky world of Judging Rules on Top Chef. However Tom's blog this week was a little more serious than normal. So I thought I'd give the man his say on an issue he cares about very deeply. This was taken directly from his blog at Bravo TV.com. Agree or disagree with him, he certainly makes a passionate case.


Last week we met this season’s chefs. This week, the chefs hit the ground running, with a lighthearted Quickfire Challenge and a very serious Elimination Challenge …one that tackled an issue very close to my heart.

Recently Michelle Obama and White House Assistant Chef Sam Kass hosted almost 1,000 chefs on the South lawn of the White House to talk about how chefs can make a difference on the issue of school nutrition. I took Mrs. Obama’s words to heart, which is why I’m devoting today’s blog to the subject.

As I mentioned in tonight’s episode, my mother ran a school lunch program for nearly 20 years. My brothers and I urged her to retire long before she actually agreed to. When I pressed her about it, she said that for a great many of the kids at her school, the food she planned and prepared was the only food they’d eat all day. She wanted to ensure that they had at least one good meal, and she was loathe to step away and entrust their well-being to someone else.

So when my wife, Lori Silverbush, teamed up with fellow filmmaker Kristi Jacobson to direct and produce a film on hunger in America, I was more than glad to sign on as Executive Producer. The film asks why a nation wealthy enough to provide healthy and affordable food for all of its people has a massive problem with food insecurity. A core premise of the film is that hunger in the U.S. is fixable … and a key means to accomplishing this task is the provision of universal free lunch to all of our school children.

Currently, there are over 45 million Americans who are food insecure. Almost 17 million of them are children. That’s 17 million hungry children who cannot focus on their teachers and tasks in the classroom, and who are at risk of developing behavior challenges. Quite apart from how distracting the sensation of hunger can be, studies have proven that there is a direct link between proper nutrition and brain development. When the brain isn’t fed while our children are young, it sets off a chain-reaction of lifelong and society-wide issues.

Furthermore, our nation’s epidemic of obesity is not always due to lifestyle choices, but to lack of access or good options. Our First Lady’s campaign against obesity is, in fact, a campaign against an aspect of poverty. When families run low on cash or food stamps run out (which they do because the programs are underfunded), parents turn out of necessity to the cheapest food to feed their children, which is usually fast food or empty calories like ramen noodles. So not only are their children’s brains not fed what they need for proper development, but their children’s bodies are being primed for obesity, and for such dire health issues as diabetes and heart disease in the future. (This problem is compounded by the fact that so many schools have had to cut their physical education programs due to budgetary concerns.) The ripple effect of poor nutrition in the early years is staggering, not just for each child but for society as a whole: Some experts estimate that hunger and food insecurity costs our economy over $120 billion a year in health care costs, lost wages, and productivity, etc. Add to that the costs of health care incurred over a lifetime due to poor childhood nutrition that I just mentioned and you have an idea just how vital this issue is for all of us.

Currently, the government subsidizes schools to provide free lunches for some, reduced-price lunches for others, and lunches at “full price” for the rest (“full price” is in quotes because these lunches are also government-subsidized). A writer I greatly admire, Janet Poppendieck, argues in her book, Free for All, that lunches should be free for all children. Why? We make desks and textbooks free to all children in this country – not just the poor ones – because we recognize that without them, kids can’t learn. The current system stigmatizes the kids who can’t afford lunch, leading many who qualify to turn it down and go hungry (one kid I know explained that she’d rather be hungry than labeled and teased). We spend a fortune under the current system on the paperwork and labor to figure out who should get a free or reduced lunch – enough to cover the cost of a universally-available program. And just imagine the purchasing power schools would have if they were feeding all children, and the economies of scale they could employ in buying healthy ingredients; think of the systems for buying from local farms and producers that could be put into place, en masse, which would be a huge jolt to an agricultural sector that desperately needs it. Imagine the stimulus to the economy in training tens of thousands of workers to actually cook in schools, rather than simply heat up or reconstitute the processed food public schools currently serve. Some years ago, schools began treating lunchrooms like fast food restaurants by installing vending machines to sell branded products and soft drinks, as a way to raise more money for lunches. If universal school lunch was funded adequately, and nutritious and delicious food was actually being cooked and served to everyone, the schools could get rid of the junk food and the vending machines once and for all.

Some people argue that fast-food is all the kids want to eat. But when we talked with the kids at Alice Deal Middle School, they complained about the school lunch: “Pizza, pizza, pizza every day – we’re sick of it!” They loved the food we served (most of it, anyway!). They came back for seconds, thirds, fourths. They ate it voraciously and were vocal in their appreciation and approbation of real food. One young woman that my wife and I mentor always requests the same treat when we see her: salad. To her it is the most exotic, exciting food in the world – one that her family can’t afford. So to assume that all kids would only eat junk food when fresh, delicious, well-prepared food is available to them is giving them far less credit than they deserve.

And by the way, not only do I feel free lunch should be universal; I think breakfasts should be, too, and served right in the classroom – not in a separate (stigmatized) cafeteria. Studies of a pilot program here in NYC that provides breakfasts during homeroom showed a statistically significant increase in academic performance and good behavior among the children who received it. The teachers were over the moon about it. Sure, in an ideal world all kids would get healthy, nutritious breakfast at home, but we are deep in a recession, and many families – even those with working adults – need help making sure their kids get what they need.

As our Elimination Challenge highlighted, it is very difficult to create nutritious food within the current school lunch budget. The truth is, whole and nutritious food can be expensive, because it is expensive to grow. Junk and fast-foods are cheap because the USDA heavily subsidizes their main ingredients: commodities like corn for high fructose corn syrup, and soy, for cheap additives like soy protein isolate (i.e., MSG. )

Amazingly, fruits and vegetables, are not subsidized in this country. Small farms growing food with nutritional value lack the political clout to lobby the USDA for their fair share which they could, in turn, roll over to the consumer in the form of lower prices. The legislation and regulations have gone awry; what began as agricultural policies to help us through the Great Depression and WWII have become unwieldy and counter to this country’s best interests. We need to change the subsidies situation to make nutritious food more available and affordable to all.

Farm subsidies will be voted on in a new Farm Bill in 2012 – Hungry in America should be released right around then, and I hope it helps wake Americans up about how their tax dollars are being spent on outdated subsidies instead of important children’s feeding programs. In the meantime, there important childhood nutrition bills pending before Congress. They’re not popular initiatives on the Hill right now, since, like all spending bills, they require offsets from other programs. But providing universal free lunch and breakfast would have a huge positive impact on the health of our children and, therefore our nation’s future.

As for the Elimination Challenge: It’s amazing how one team was able to provide what seemed like so much more food than the others with the same budget. I commend their ingenuity. Whereas there was absolutely nothing good to say about Jacqueline’s dish. I wish there were, but it was starchy and terrible. And even were it delicious, it made no sense for her to serve the children a dish containing that much sugar. Adding all of that sugar flew in the face of the whole goal of the challenge, i.e., to feed the children nutritious, non-fattening food that was low in sugar and free of additives. I’ll add that Amanda is just lucky that Jacqueline’s dish was as disastrous as it was, since I cannot believe that no one stopped Amanda from making that sherry chicken for a cafeteria full of children. One last note: It almost appeared as though Angelo really played the rest of his team, trying to lose so that Kenny would be sent home. I don’t know if it’s true, but it certainly seemed that way…


P.S. To learn more about Ag Subsidies you can check out: http://www.ewg.org/farmsubsidies

A Whole New Way of Cooking


As a viewer of Top Chef, I'm always trying to figure out what it is the message they are trying to convey, the lesson they are trying to teach. What I've discovered is that Top Chef is morphing into a....
Culinary Clown College

...Culinary Clown College!! How else to explain the ridiculousness of the Quickfire? Where in real life is anyone going to cook like Siamese Twins? I'm not saying all the Quickfires have been firmly rooted in reality but at least they had a toenail hold. This was just a reality show ploy that was neither amusing nor produced any really interesting food. And please, the forced bi-partisanship banter from the guest judge? You got no spin skilz, ace. You got bamboozled into bad copy. Don't look for much of a Q Score Bump.

On the bright side nobody had to touch the dreaded Dread.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Would he?

Is he cocky enough to throw a challenge when he has immunity?
He certainly seems douchebag enough...

Monday, June 21, 2010


You know, someone always has to go first.  Normally I don't really care because really, unless you personally know the person, what difference does it make?  This time?  I cared.  Because if I had to see this hair for more than one episode I think I would have stopped watching.

Skeeve.  That best describes my personal reaction of that hair in a food preparation environment. I'm not naive in thinking there's not a lot of nasty stuff that goes on in the kitchens of restaurants but I'm telling you that long hank of dreadlocks just skeeved me out.  I know that's not fair, dude may keep it wrapped up and secured away from food prep areas....

 ...then again after many shots of sweaty guys dripping into their dishes (Howie of the Miami season immediately leaps to mind) I'm totally comfortable with this dude going first.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Lost it's Mojo?

Has Top Chef lost it's Mojo? The ratings numbers for their premiere for season 7 seem to point in that direction. Lisa de Moraes, the Washington Post's most excellent reporter on all things TV, spilled the ratings bad news this morning. Only a million eight tuned in for Top Chef DC's first episode, the lowest rated premiere since Top Chef started. What's worse is that it looks like a trend. Top Chef Vegas premiered at 2.6 million, down from Top Chef New York's 2.7 million. For a show that lives and dies on it's ad revenue, that's a trend worse than another pile of foam on your plate. The question is what will the producers finally do to inject some much needed seasoning into this pale pile of dreck.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

And for the Ladies....

Foreground Spotting with Shamu

Why, Hello Girls......and hello Gail and Padma.

Background Spotting with Shamu

I would totally remiss in my blog duties not to throw a shout out to our Northern Culinary Cool Cousins. Top Chef showing a little Maple Leaf love, Eh.

Top Chef DC

Top Chef DC

Did you watch?

Sunday, June 13, 2010


So the finale of Top Chef Masters was close. Very, very close. Marcus Samuelsson won by a half a star, not that you could tell by the editing. Since the exit of both Jonathan Waxman and Susan Feniger, the finale held little interest to me. There was no excitement, no unexpected twist to look forward to, just 3 men cooking the stories of their lives. The editing led viewers to think one thing (Marcus's third dish sounded like the most criticized of the night) when in fact something else happened. I think I've finally figured out my malaise with the Top Chef franchise - FMF or Fan Manipulation Fatigue. For instance...check out these quotes from Jay Raynor's blog.

"... No, I was nervous because I had absolutely no idea whether the producers and editors had decided to save me from myself or not. There was a lot of very good stuff in that finale. What there wasn’t was the moment, when I lost my temper in a red-faced, eye-bulging, vein-swelling rage, during the critics’ last discussions."

OK, gotta step in here and ask why the hell not? Why wouldn't the producers and editors include that? I want to hear that passion because I'm here to tell you, that finale was a snooze-fest. But it obviously wasn't Jay's decision so back to Jay.

"I will admit that as the competition went on, I became more than a little tired of Moonen’s posturing as both "the fish guy" and "the sustainability guy." The latter struck me as a little odd given that his restaurant is located in Las Vegas, possibly the least sustainable city on the face of the planet. Almost nothing grows there. It all comes from somewhere else, leaving massive carbon footprints as it travels. But all of this was irrelevant to the competition. Our job was to judge their food according to both how they had matched up to the challenge laid before them and the quality of the food placed before us. And that’s what we did, and Moonen went all the way to the finale fairly and squarely."

Again, Jay brings up some interesting points while ignoring the biggest which is next the US Military and BP, television and movie productions are the most un-green and un-sustainable industries in the US. So having Rick Moonen on a TV show talking about Sustainability at his restaurant in Las Vegas is a big nugget of crazy wrapped up in a tender cocoon of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. But after the Toby Young Experiment, all Top Chef crazy is relative. Jay continues.

"But at that finale the game changed, subtly. The challenge was very specific: the food had to tell their story. It had to be about food memories, the food that made them want to be a chef and, finally, and crucially for me, the food that defined them as a chef.

For this course Moonen cooked venison, and a lovely piece of venison it was too, with outrageous pear butter. He made it clear that he wanted to change the way we looked at him. He didn’t want to just be "the fish guy." He was a fully-rounded chef. The problem: that venison came from New Zealand, thousands of miles away. It seems he wasn’t the sustainability guy either."

Uh oh. Fame and Ego crash head on into ethics and morals. Rick picks a piece of meat flown all the way from New Zealand in his drive to win Top Chef Masters. Now, there seems to be some confusion to what Rick's philosophy is when it comes to sustainability. I pulled this from the RM Seafood website.

"When not behind the stove, Moonen can be found throughout the country educating about the dangers of over-fishing and ocean conservation. As an industry leader, he has testified several times for environmental and sustainable policy issues in Washington, DC and New York. He is a founding member of the Seafood Choices Alliances which named him Seafood Champion in 2006 as well as an active member of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Seaweb, and a chef's advisory board member of Ecofish. He also has served as a spokesperson for American caviar, a more environmentally sound alternative to the Caspian Sea varieties, and he is often quoted for his expertise with various indigenous and exotic fish."

Not only that but Rick is unapologetic about picking that protein, "I’m not a tree hugger. I’m a chef. I’m in a cooking competition." Jay seems more upset that Rick picked a protein that had a huge carbon footprint....not something that was ecologically unsustainable as farmed New Zealand venison is not. I would have been more impressed if Rick has used some good ol 'merican white tail but let's not act like he got a facial with gold tin of Almas Caviar. Still Jay wasn't ready to let it go.

"Bloody hell, but I was furious. For weeks he had worn his green credentials on his sleeve, bigged himself up as the savior of the planet. Even under cross examination about his dishes in the finale he declared that "we need to respect the environment you live in." I’m certain his restaurant in Vegas is run according to rigorous sustainability criteria. But, when it came to the last stage of a cooking competition, he shrugged it off. I felt like we’d been had, been spun a line by a shameless opportunist. I expect to see in the comments below this piece the rebuke that it was a cooking competition and we should only have judged him on the food. To which I will respond again, that we were to judge them on the challenge and that dish was meant to show us what defined him as a chef. And after weeks of singing "We are the World" he decided to throw every single one of his self-serving homilies out the window and use a staggeringly unsustainable ingredient, which had been air freighted thousands of miles. God knows what the carbon footprint of that single dish was. Mr Sustainability, Rick? I really don’t think so."

Love the honesty Jay is bringing to the back end of this but again, these are the kind of discussions that I, as a fan, want to see. Did Rick lose because of it?

"I should say here and now that this is not why Marcus Samuelsson won. He won because his cooking was better, especially his duck dish with that fabulous foie gras ganache. But I can definitely tell you that Moonen’s craven attitude to environmental issues is why I scored him as I did."

Half a star Jay, Marcus won by half a star. Jay gave Rick four stars but graded him down because of where the venison came from, not the taste of the dish he was served. Did he give Marcus 5 stars knowing it would be so close and to keep Rick from winning? The Diners (last season's finalists and Tom Colicchio) scored all three chefs the same with 4 stars so no help there. Seems that Jay's anger ruled the day.

Again we, the viewers, are left wondering if the best tasting dishes really won and who else pissed off Jay enough to lose stars in the process?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Winner?

Did we really have a winner last night? Here were the final scores, 17 Stars, 17 Stars and 17 1/2 Stars. How do you pick a winner from dishes that apparently that close? Discuss.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Summertime Grilling

I happen to be blessed to live in an area that has multiple farmer's markets. I can visit nearby downtown Kansas City and enjoy the oldest market in the area, full of vegetable and fruit vendors along with shops selling Middle Eastern, Italian or Vietnamese spices and products. Or I can go to the smaller neighborhood markets closer by but not as much variety. Recently I visited the Overland Park Farmer's Market to check out the early spring offerings. Mostly it was bright flowers and vibrant herbs. Lots of non-food items that didn't hold much interest to me but then again, they have sell something when it's too soon for veggies. Still lots of folks shopping and when you have a ready crowd, it's always good to whet their appetite. That's when I found, Rachel, one of the good chefs of the Culinary Center of Kansas City doing a dish demo. Set up with her little gas burner and lots of space to chop and talk, I found myself doing a Pavlov's dog routine. The recipe she was making was grilled bison with couscous salad. Oh yes, it looked good. But no samples at the table, oh no, smart people that they are the recipe was a ticket back at their store where you could get a sample and shop or maybe sign up for a cooking class. You know I'm all about the free sample. It was wonderful, with the bison sliced really thin and the sweet tang of dried cherries. Turns out the sample wasn't enough so I decided to make my own. Happily they post their recipes online so if you'd like to try it out here is the recipe: Grilled Bison Steak with Caramelized Onions & Spinach Couscous Salad.


First a couple of notes. While it doesn't say it in the recipe, use the Israeli or large grain couscous. The smaller grain is fine but with something as robust as grilled bison, the larger grain seemed more appropriate.

Even if you don't use the large grain couscous, definitely add the dried cherries. Since you're already going to be at Whole Foods buying your bison steaks, go ahead and pop for their dried cherries. They are addictive by themselves but they really make this dish sing. That grilled bison is a hearty contrast to spicy mustard dressing on the couscous and the sweet zing of the cherries. This is really a great summertime dish. The couscous salad can easily be made ahead of time. Set it out while the bison is grilling and it should be room temperature by the time your meat is done .

bison and couscous

Definitely not your normal backyard barbecue pasta salad but if you like breaking out of the rut of potato salad and hot dogs, this is the dish for you.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Scream Therapy

Issues. We all have our issues. Lately I've had a lot. If you thought there was an extra large set of cranky pants floating around here, wait until you see the Michael Moore size set we've got going on now. First to the most obvious "Technical Issues" Technically when your body rebels against itself so much that it hurts to do your normal everyday things, that's an issue. There's no need for gruesome details, just a need to move forward. Although, note to self, these would have helped.
Then there was this.
Last week's offing of Susan from Top Chef Masters. I won't go into massive detail but here's the gist, they had to make a dish drawing inspiration from a mythical god assigned to them. Susan chose Aphrodite, the goddess of Love. They were making tasting portions for 50 guests. Yet another catering style challenge but whatever. Susan made a dish that she loves and played on her interpretation as Aphrodite being the goddess of reproduction. Did the dish taste good? Gail Simmons liked it but that's about all the critique of how the dish tasted we got from our judges. What we got instead was suddenly an edict that a sandwich, no matter how it tasted, is not substantial enough to be considered Top Chef Master material.
I guess someone is going to have to break this news to Tom Colicchio. Susan goes home and here at the blog we're reaching Def Con Level 3 of Crankiness. I know I'm letting my emotions play way too much into this but I heard the faint echos of Top Chef judging creeping into Masters. I like TC Masters so much because it is not regular Top Chef. I grumbled to myself and set out to try and enjoy the last few episodes of the season.


Issue No. 3. The Great Top Chef Master Hoax. When this program emerged and the first season was done, I was pretty excited. I loved the show. I loved that we were getting to see adults acting like adults and really getting into the food. But let's face it, both TC Masters and Top Chef have hit a wall.That wall is the producer's belief that everything they throw up on the wall makes interesting TV or even makes culinary sense. You KNOW every Top Chef Crack Monkey out in the audience inwardly cringed (or outwardly shouted NO at the top of her lungs like I did) when Kelly told the chefs they had the night off and they would be enjoying a night of improve with the Groundlings. For those of you who are not TC Crack Monkeys, the idea is to make a dish from the words screamed out by the audience members at the Groundlings show, such as Burnt Sienna Depressed Avocado. Brilliant huh? I just don't get the logic of bringing this particular challenge back for Top Chef let alone using it for TC Masters. It sucked as a challenge then and it sucked even more as a challenge last night. My question is: Was this challenge worthy of being a Top Chef Masters Challenge? Oh. Hell. NO! So all that previous bullshit about Susan's sandwich not being good enough to represent a true Top Chef Master looks even stupider when they trot this thick gristly ham bone of a challenge for the last four chefs of the season!! I mean, Jonathan missed out on the finals because he had to make a dish that 1) tasted good, 2) incorporated or was inspired by the words Burnt Sienna Depressed Avocado and 3) make a dish worthy enough to be considered Top Chef Masters material. What asshatery. I want to see challenges that incorporate some of the things that actually happen in a real kitchen, like equipment failure in the middle of a dinner rush, finding out your supplier sent you the wrong fish and the cook who checked in the order from the supplier didn't catch it and now you have to totally improvise a new dish with that fish, or how about cooking in a power outage? I know plenty of restaurants who find ways to cook and serve during storms and weather events no matter what. But please, start smoking a better brand of crack than the one you're on now that lead you to believe the Improv Challenge was funny. It was not. Unless of course you find food shaped like a vagina endlessly funny because if that's what being a Top Chef Master means, somebody better get Michael Midley sobered up and ready in time for Top Chef Masters Season 3 because he will smoke anyone you put up against him.
If it was the producers intention to fool well known, established chefs into thinking that they would not have to dance the dance of Top Chef's stupidity, bravo, mission accomplished. It's only a matter of time before we see Top Chef Masters waking up in some horrendous bunk beds and when it happens it will be a sad day indeed.