Thursday, April 06, 2006

Top Chef - Episode Five

Ok. I just realized something. Billy Joel's Child Bride and judge Gail Simmons are the Rich Girls all grown up. Now hear me out. I know that Ally and Jaime are like actually ENTERTAINING as opposed to Billy Joel's Child Bride who is an automaton, but if you picture how these two will grow up, it will be into Billy Joel's Child Bride and Gail Simmons. Billy Joel's Child Bride has Ally's bored/stoned way of talking and if you think about how Ally Hilfiger would grow up, it's not a leap to see her take herself more seriously and lose that glint of self awareness about how ridiculous she is. That would result into the stoned/bored/deadpan delivery without any sense of humor. Also, isn't the career trajectory of Billy Joel's Child Bride perfect for Ally Hilfiger? Doing short stints of "working" at gourmet food places in the Hamptons, deciding that it was too much work and "startng" her own website before meeting some rich older guy at a Hamptons party whose real, earned fame would give her an entree into showbiz? And the slightly more zaftig Gail is the perfect Jaime to Billy Joel's Child Bride's Ally. Because she wasn't as skinny or conventionally pretty as Ally, Jaime would have had to snooze her way through college, get a communications degree, and have her daddy set her up in some magazine as an editorial assistant where she "works" her way up the ladder to become a food writer. Then one day Ally gets bored and realizes that EVERY hot socialite has their own reality show and they need to get back on that train and since she has like this food website, why not have rich husband's agents call Bravo and have her do a food show? And wouldn't if be fun if she got her old friend Jaime along to make bitchy comments, especially since Jaime writes or something? Of course since she's prettier and married to like a rich, famous person and Jaime is like working 10 hours a week for some magazine, so this show would be about ALLY and she would have to narrate it all the damn time. Hence you have Top Chef.

Cue morning wake up scenes. Lisa is feeling insecure about crashing and burning in the last challenge but expresses her desire to win while Andrea is asserting that she deserves to be there in spite of Stephen's disdain. In the fakest little scene, Lee Ann, Miguel, and Dave are on the roof of the house and "spontaneously" Lee Ann asks, "I wonder what the next challenge will be?" Cut to the Top Chef kitchen where Ally, I mean Billy Joel's Child Bride introduces guest judge Mike Yakura, chef at La Coloniale, a restaurant that fuses French and Asian cusines. I'd like to point out that Mike Yakura is kind of hunky in a stocky CA surfer boy way. I am hoping that there's some Top Chef fanfic where Mike puts a smile on Dave's face because Dave really does need to smile more.

So the Quickfire challenge is to identify 20 ingredients blindfolded in five minutes. We start with Lee Ann and go through several of her attempts to figure out what she's tasting. As we see, the challenge is pretty damn hard. It looks like she's only figuring out two or three ingredients. Cut to a montage of the other competitors tasting and it's a challenge for everyone. What's funny and what endears me to Dave even more is the fact he cops to being more knowledgeable about junk food than fancy ingredients. Tiffani, in particular, seems to be crashing and burning. In the end it was a chastened Tiffani and Miguel at the bottom having only identified one ingredient. In the middle is Lee Ann, Stephen, Harold, and Lisa with three correct answers. This leaves Andrea as the surprised winner with four correct answers. In the class/no class display is Tiffani, Dave and Lisa looking truly happy for Andrea, while Stephen and Harold look on with disdain.

The elimination challenge requires them to fuse Latin American cuisine with another cuisine to produce street food from a cart (which hunky Asian judge brings in). By drawing knifes, the competitors create teams ethnic cuisine. The teams are:

Tiffani and Dave - Morrocan
Harold and Lisa - Japanese
Stephen and Lee Ann - Chinese
Andrea and Miguel - Indian

Lee Ann warms the cockles of my heart by voicing her displeasure at Stephen as a teammate. Also not happy are Harold who is worried about Lisa's inexperience and Miguel who is worried Andrea has not incentive to win the challenge since she has immunity. Hippy dippy Andrea already has ideas for her dish which could mean good or bad things. Each team gets to go to an ethnic grocery store specific to their fusion cuisine and afterwards, they all converge at a Latino market. Lee Ann and Stephen agree to make a Chinese verrsion of a sope, a Mexican masa patty. Stephen proudly admits he's used to four star dining and not htis street food. POOOOR baby. Dave and Tiffani, on the other hand, are pysched for the challenge and are particularly excited to get the Morroccan option. They chose to steer clear of the cliched burrito. I think it's the same gender loving vibes they must be giving each other that is creating the team harmony. It also helps that Dave lets Tiffani take the lead and develop a Morrocan version of a Cuban sandwich. Dave also buys a short Moroccan fez. Andrea seems to be running roughshod over Miguel and convinces him to do a lentil burrito. Considering Miguel is Latino, he isn't asserting his own tastes in this challenge at all. Harold appears to lord his professional experience over Lisa and they go with a seared tuna and crunchy Latin salad for their street food. Lisa appears to be appreciative of Harold's experience even though he totally looks down on her.

At the Latin market it's total chaos. Andrea wins brownie points from me by noting that Miguel can speak fluent Spanish in the Mexian grocery store. I was fearful that she would say he spoke fluent Mexican. You see! I'm a total softy. When they are done with the shopping, the crew decides to cut loose at home and come up with a trashy, junk food version of the blindfold challenge. Dave and Miguel are the victims being forced to taste a variety of product placed items such as Whoppers, Hidden Valley Ranch, and of course KC Masterpiece. Miguel is the winner. What I love about this challenges is that the producers are editing it with the same seriousness as a real challenge. Well Played!

The next day it's total chaos in the kitchen. Harold constantly give Lisa pointers on chopping. It gets old. Tiffani is challenged by Dave being a big spazz in the kitchen where she prefers quiet and harmony. Chef Tom comes in and does the Tim Gunn thing but he's fairly useless and there are no Tim Gun style bon mots from Chef Tom. He expresses concern about Harold and Lisa and Andrea and Miguel in a confessional. Oooh foreshadowing. It's a scramble in the last few minutes for everyone except for Harold and Lisa who are done early, but ARE they? They all pack up to go to CA-Rebecca's stomping grounds - the Mission District. Certainly one of the funkiest and most diverse parts of San Francisco. Here's what happens on the street:

Harold and Lisa
- they go with a seared tuna with very California ingredients that include a lime vinaigrette and avocado. Unfortunately they forget the jicama which is the base of the salad part of the dish. In this predominantly Latino part of town, seared tuna is a pretty hard sell. It doesn't help that they serve their stuff in little bowls. Not exactly street food.

Miguel and Andrea
- they seem to be suffering from the same problem as Harold and Lisa in the fact that their Indian lentil-rice burrito is open face and needs to be eaten with a knife and fork. They serve it with a tamarind punch and Miguel's knowledge of Spanish brings in a crowd.

Tiffani and Dave
- Team Same Gender Loving doesn't need any Spanish spekaing skills because their Morroccan braised pork sandwich brings in a crowd for them. It helps that they nailed the whole concept of the challenge which is easily to carry street food. Tiffani's personality transplant seems to be in place because she is personable and happy. She applauds Dave for talking to the crowd and getting their praise. It's all about the Same Gender Loving. Tiffani is just happy to dish out the sandwiches.

Lee Ann and Stephen
- I know I hate Stephen, but it's pretty obvious who was responsible for what in their menu planning. On the menu is a sopa (kind of like a pupusa without the cheese) with Chinese Char Siu pork and vegetable slaw artfully arranged on banana leaves. This is served with a virgin lychee mojito. Stephen looks like a total tool in his orange tie and pinstriped suit. He's walking around the mission as if he's the sommelier for Courdoroy (although the sommelier at Coudoroy is certainly not a tool). Stephen smarms that he crowd who are pointedly ignoring him are "not their target market." Well for this challenge they are, STEPHEN. Once folks finally get to eat they enjoy the well thought out flavors.

The judges come and taste the dishes on the street. Chef Tom's comment about Stephen's inappropriate attire (as the best dressed man in the Mission) is contrasted with Stephen saying he and Lee Ann were bringing refinement to street food. Street food is plenty refined thank you very much. Hunky Guest Judge is a fan of the Char Siu pork. As well he should be. Char Siu Bao is one of the highlights of a dim sum menu. The judges no likey Andrea and Miguel's Indian burrito, pronouncing the rice bland and the flavors too varied. Miguel says he confident about the collaboration. What they judges do likey is Team Same Gender Loving's Morroccan Cubano sandwiches. Both Tiffani and Dave give each other props. Harold and Lisa fight over whether to tell the judges they forgot the jicama. Harold wants to come clean (a good choice since the judges would probably nail them for hiding something). Lisa wants to pretend the jicama was never part of the dish to begin with. They have to cop to it when Tom points out what's missing.

So judging. Team Same Gender Loving and Team China get called to get praise heaped upon them. In fact, Chef Tom thinks they are the strongest dishes of the entire competition. Dave and Tiffani get kudos for the mix of hot and cold flavors and textures and particularly for the fact that what they made was truly street food. Hunky Guest Chef is effusive about the lychee virgin mojito and wants to poach the recipe for his own restaurant. The winners are Team Same Gender Loving for the portability of their dish. Lee Ann looks sad because she has yet to win an elimination challenge. I have two words for you Lee Ann: Jay McCarroll. A plus for me is seeing Dave smile. I love that he looks boyish and goofy.

The judges then call the two remaining teams in. In their self-assessment, Lisa and Harold bemoan the lack of jicama. Lisa takes responsibility for the lack of jicama. When Chef Tom asks Harold about whether his team's dish was actually street food, Harold responds by saying he wanted to educate the customer and elevate their palate. Dear god, the educating the customer excuse is becoming hackenyed after the fifth episode. That's so sad. Hunky guest Chef excoriates Team Japan for their lack of vision declaring seared tuna so last season. Team Japan redeems themselves when chef Tom asks who should go home. Lisa volunteers herself because of her lack of experience and horrible past performances. Harold gains brownie points with me by saying that Lisa is definitely a professional. The judges ream Team India even more for the fact that could have made their burrito portable but they chose to serve it open faced. Uncharacteristically, Miguel totally fingers Andrea as the culprit for the bad open-faced burrito. Chef Tom points out that Miguel decided to take Andrea's lead even though she had immunity and had less motivation to do well. Miguel is totally digging a hole for himself as he defends that HE did most of the cookng. However, when Chef Tom tells him the rcie was bland, Miguel again points the finger to Andrea, saying the rice was her idea. I can't wait to see the footage of when they go back to the house.

At judging, Lisa's lack of motivation bites her in the ass and she is chosen to leave. Among the visibly moved is my new favorite, Dave, and Tiffani. Awwww, teary Dave is jsut as cute as smiling Dave. Harold is surprisingly upset at Lisa's departure. Miguel loses points with me by saying that the rough judging is the nature of the game. Oh Miguel, don't go Wendy Pepper on me.

Seeing Billy Joel's Child Bride as Ally and Gail Simmons as Jaime certianly makes the judging more bearable. It explains the Child bride's dead demeanor and Gail's limp bitchiness.


Stef said...

I love the Rich Girls analogy! Too bad the real life Ally and Jamie aren't bff's anymore, cuz I'd love a new season of overly-entitled whininess from those two.

I continue to hate Stephen and every facial expression he ever makes. I agree that Tiffani is becoming softer and more likable, and Dave rocks. I think at this point, Dave, Andrea, and Lee Ann are my favorites left. Miguel totally blew it in this judging, and showed that all his cute-funny antics mean nothing compared to his ruthlessness. I'm no longer in the Miguel camp.

Barbara (Biscuit Girl) said...

Hubby says the sommelier for Courdoroy would do a better job than Stephen did. And is it me, or did Stephen look like he had a stick up his rear as he walked around.

Dancer in DC said...

I admit I'm starting to crush on Dave just a teeny bit. Don't tell.

Stef said...

So, we're 15 minutes into episode 6 (sorry I'm jumping the gun on your next recap) and I can say I *still* hate Stephen. And I'm disappointed in Queer Eye Ted for rewarding his style-over-substance crap. That stupid little 24-yr-old just perpetuates my growing ageism. Little snotface.

Laura said...

I just found your critiques - this is almost better than watching the show! I can't wait to see what you have to say about Episode 6 and Miguel's meltdown.

Anonymous said...

i went to high school with gail. overprivileged, spoiled little snit. huge phony. i have no idea how she managed to vault to where she is and every time she speaks with such authority on food, it makes me want to hurl.