Project Runway All-Stars Season 2: Episode 6 – Green Dress for the Red Carpet

"Oak King" by Fi Bowman.

“Oak King” by Fi Bowman.”Oak King” by Fi Bowman.

You know the episode was boring when it’s noon the next day and you still haven’t even thought about the recap.

I’m not even sure why it was so boring. The High Line is an interesting project – a park built on defunct elevated freight train tracks on Manhattan’s West Side, creating beauty and life out of decrepitude, preserving rather than demolishing, all those cool things. Since this is a Green challenge, and since Diane von Furstenberg is the guest judge and she’s a major supporter of the project (meaning she’s donated enough to get a section named after her and is hawking expensive goods with her name on them to help raise funds), it kind of ties in.

AirDye is pretty interesting, too: a process of dyeing fabrics without using the large amounts of water normally involved. And it just so happens the Lumberjack Designers (Costello Tagliapietra) debuted the technology in their 2009 collection, and still use it today.

But it was still a boring episode. That’s Lifetime for ya.

The Challenge:blondie

Poor Blondie has run out of clothes, so she has cobbled together a dress from the sleeves of a cable-knit sweater with an old cut-up bodyshaper, a half-slip and some ace bandages. She meets the designers on the High Line along with a couple of suits from the project, who are there to get on TV and stand next to a pretty model. I’m betting at least one of them wonders what the hell she’s wearing.

The challenge: create a Red Carpet look out of their choice of a set of AirDye fabrics. They’ll also use “recycled” trims and embellishments from former challenges, meaning the stuff that looked so good in Mood but turned out to be godawful once they got it back to the workroom. To cap it all off, Blondie will wear the winning look to a Red Carpet event. Given the taste she’s displayed on this show, I wouldn’t consider that a prize, exactly.

In the workroom, Ivy’s hot. Casanova’s smelly. Anthony Ryan’s something, and they all get a little silly. Then there’s a bullshit session where Joshua asks if anyone’s ever done a red carpet gown. Althea did the Kardashian Girls and The Jenner Girls for a poster. I don’t know who the Jenner girls are, and I keep trying to forget who the Kardashian girls are, but everyone’s pretty impressed. And Emilio sent Audra McDonald to the Tony Awards. I know who Audra McDonald is. Dayum.

The Reddest of Red Carpets:

Laura goes for a pretty print. And it is pretty, at least it looked pretty out there in the sun on the High Line. Turns out, DVF is her idol, so this is a huge deal for her. She snarks on Emilio, that he’s a good designer but he’s a costume designer and there’s a difference. Yep, it means he has a breadth and a skill she should only hope to have some day. Is my bias showing? She talks over her plans for a jumpsuit with Casanova. Joanna calls it palazzo pants. Anthony Ryan isn’t impressed: “It’s like a little pig squealing in the mud.” I’m not sure I get that, exactly. But Anthony Ryan’s such a goofball, he can say stuff like that with his Southern Country Boy accent and get away with it. On the runway, the print is pretty, all right, it’s pretty horrid, pale, washed out. Over the past few seasons I’ve learned there’s an art, a skill, to working with prints: you have to know where the elements will fall, how they’ll look. This is more like what I’d do with a print. I like the draping in the back, though the band at the top is clunky, and I like the shoulder treatment, though I have to agree with Georgina, who points out the shoulders are narrow and the waist wide, giving a bulk-increasing triangle effect. DVF tells a story of screwing around in Rome when she was 20 and engaged to a Prince – seriously – and wearing a new fashion called pijama palazzo all the time and how wearing it makes one elegant and confident. Isaac isn’t sure what’s going on under the arms. I’m not sure we want to know, Isaac. But he applauds how she made the print fresh. Ok. This is the win Laura paid for, right?

Anthony Ryan picks a fabric with the right weight for movement, and he ignores trims and feathers: they’re not Red Carpet (don’t tell the starlets). He’s going flowy this time. Joanna gets it. She appreciates that he’s doubled the sheer fabric because, with those flashbulbs out there, life can be a nightmare. During fitting, his model keeps tripping over the sides. I thought I hated Laura’s; I really hate this. I hate the way it’s draped, leaving massive circles of fabric over the hips (where’s Kors when you need him to complain about making the hips look bigger?), and I hate the use of the black on the halter straps and especially in the back, where it looks like a bra band. And I hate the color. It’s the Anthony Williams’ Big Blue Condom from S7E12. But DVF likes it. It’s comfortable. Isaac is torn, that much color makes him think Hare Krishna. Wait, that’s orange, isn’t it? Are they branching out? Blondie worries about her undies – that’s her word – peeking out at the side. It’s true, Anthony Ryan did catch a peek of panty when the model turned, but “it’s ok, who doesn’t love a good panty.” Georgina loves the whole feel of the goddess approach. I wonder if I’ve lost my mind. Why are they so determined to make Anthony Ryan the Chosen One? He’s a very nice guy, and I wish he’d gone further on S9, but come on, this is horrible.

Uli grabs – guess what – a print. “It’s time for an Uli explosion.” Ok, could you do that over there, and come back when you’re done? She gets all kinds of embellishments; Emilio’s a little snooty about “feathers.” She thought the print looked bright out in the sunlight, but in the workroom she’s worried it’s too dark; she tells Joanna the fabric is like a rainy day in Miami. “That doesn’t sound like the Red Carpet,” Joanna Want a Bob Ross T-shirt? You know you do!wisely observes, but she has feathers and trims to make it light and happy. Nothing says light and happy like a boa of ostrich feathers and a strip of safety pins. DVF channels the beloved Bob Ross (who was about as far away from Rome and pajama palazzo as you can get) and calls it a happy accident. Isaac gets turned on when he shouldn’t like something, but does, which is WTMI. But – I agree with him. Against all odds, I like this. A lot. It’s true, the safety pin trim looks a little like a bandolier, but I love the shape and how the fabric falls perfectly. This, Laura, is how you use a print. I’d probably have given this the win, feathers or no.

The Faded Pink Carpet:

Casanova must’ve been there, but I have no notes about what he was actually sewing, just the runway note “Nice front.” And the whole “I stink” riff. Let me look: Oh, yes. The Scratchy Plaid Patchwork gown. The sad part is, I love the top of the bodice, with the lined fin that flips over and meanders around her breasts (yes, I know, it’s been done, so have plunging necklines and jumpsuits and goddess dresses but that doesn’t mean people don’t still make and wear them), and I like the side. I like the whole thing, in fact, just not in that print, which belongs on a bandanna.

Joshua also slides under my radar except for the runway. He thinks it exudes sex. Joshua, I think you do not know what this word means. He said his turquoise pantsuit for the disco challenge had the element of sex he’s known for, and I thought it was closer to office wear. His denim blue drape is a very pretty dress – I would’ve put it in the top, in fact, but I’m a sucker for denim blue – but there is no exuding I can see.

The Black Carpet:

Emilio decides he knows what the judges like from him, and it’s bold colors and silhouettes. So he picks the most retina-shredding red nightmare in the lot (on the Lifetime website it looks retina-shredding orange, but on my tv it was red. Not Christmas red or fire-engine red, but that awful cheap plastic toy red). He spends most of his time constructing the undergarment so the chiffon doesn’t have to bear the weight of the garment, which is fine; he did the same thing in S7 and got the win for it. The difference is, he actually finished that dress. He does take a break to complain to Casanova – in Spanish – that’s he’s not like Uli, who makes everything out of bedsheets. Hey, now cut that out, or you’re not going to be my favorite for the season much longer. Wouldn’t it be awesome if one of the other designers spoke enough Spanish to understand? Study a foreign language, kids, you never know when it’ll come in handy. Joanna comments on the “spectacular color” and in person, it may be spectacular. He tells her about the peekaboo drape in front and the low hardwareback – he can’t show her any of this because he’s still constructing – and she’s optimistic. But he never finishes the dress. He never gets the zipper in or the front slit sewn properly, and forget the hem. “It’s not the dress Joanna thought I could make.” He actually apologizes to the model; it’s the sloppiest thing he’s ever presented. Maybe that’s true: his hardware bikini was a lot of things, but I don’t think “sloppy” was one of them. It doesn’t look that bad until they do some closeups. It still doesn’t look all that bad, but I’ll take his word for it and credit him for not trying to bullshit his way around it. Isaac watches it move down the runway with his hand over his mouth in horror. DVF pretty much skewers him: the lining is a problem, the slip and trim aren’t necessary. I guess it was very different in person. Either that, or he was scheduled for a “fall-down” episode so he could “recover” next time. You think I’m making this up?

Ivy gets gold because she’s inspired by the sun and a woman should feel like a star on the Red Carpet. You know, I’m all about interesting inspirations, but Ivy’s aren’t interesting, they’re out of an American Girls book. She says: “I generally do maxi dresses or short length dresses so this is a challenge.” I couldn’t have heard that correctly, could I? What she actually does is make up a thousand pattern pieces, reminding me of Melissa of S10 who made a Rockettes costume out of seven thousand pattern pieces and still accidentally put a #1 on the front. It’s long. Then it’s short. I don’t care much for Ivy, but watching her cut into that fabric hurt. I’ve realized something about Ivy: she has these great sketches, and can’t execute them worth a damn. It’ a mess. The fabric, whatever it is, has the recalcitrant qualities of satin: the seams pucker and her gathers wilt. The idea is to showcase this eco fabric, and, as Isaac says, “This is the worst this fabric has ever looked.” So Ivy pulls out the “I don’t do…” card with “Red Carpet” on it. No dice. DVF can see the intention, but the execution “leaves to be desired.” Georgina says she needed to understand the fabric. Here’s the crazy thing: this is the same dress she made two of in S9 in the challenge that got her eliminated. She screwed it up again.

Althea must want to go home; that’s the only reason she would pick the Holly Hobby fabric she chose. Joanna tells her it could be a dreary fabric, but Althea’s talking exposed shoulders and panels at the bottom for movement, so it sounds like she knows what she’s doing. It’s an astonishing mess. It’s a less gaudy version of that Mesopotamian princess Santino had in S2, being held against her will until she designs her way out of it (or whatever; it was a dress for Iman), except in dotted swiss. Ashy pink and purple dotted swiss. No, it’s not dotted swiss, but it looks like it. A five-year-old after a fistfight? Or, as DVF says, Marie Antoinette meets Frederick’s of Hollywood. Even worse: Homework. Georgina can see she had a hard time with the fabric; it’s tatty. It looks like an old dress to Isaac. Yes, that’s it, it’s the dress worn in a post-apocalypse movie by the mean girl who survives just long enough to suffer a while. Althea may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but she’s better than this.

The End of the Carpet:

Laura wins, and you’ll never convince me it wasn’t part of contract negotiations: “I want to win the DVF challenge.” But fine, Blondie’s got the worst taste in America, so let her wear this somewhere. Just what kind of Red Carpet events does she go to, anyway? Is she really famous?

Althea is out. She didn’t do much this season. And she seemed stupider than she did in S6, though that may be because S6 was so chock full of idiots and all she had to do was stand next to Carol Hannah to seem brilliant. She cries while giving the traditional “it’s been a wonderful experience” interview, which made it really sad. The other designers seem to like her a lot, and she seems pretty nice, so I wish her well.

Next Week:

It’s time for the Unconventional Materials challenge combined with That Most Wonderful Time of the Year… hey, does this mean they’re going dark until after Christmas? That seems like a long time. And this season is already pretty forgettable.

Which begs the question: why am I disappointed such a horrible season will be interrupted?

Top Chef Seattle: Episode 5 – Pike Place Pickle

tweet

The unequivocal winner of the night is… Hugh Acheson.

I have to offer an apology to Hugh. Back in Episode 1, I kinda picked on him for being off his game (“What’s wrong with him tonight?”) when he made some lame comments about armor and big salads. I haven’t been feeling Hugh so far this season. But I am now. Welcome back, Snarkmaster.

As for the chefs:

“And then there were fourteen.” You aren’t going to say that every week, are you?
Stefan: “Chrissy who? Carla who? Bye, see you later, next in line.” Mr. Charm.
Tyler: “Being in the top don’t mean shit. Kuniko was on top, one day, gone the next. Carla was top one day, gone the next.” Tyler, you do realize, you didn’t actually win last week, right?

But Stefan does have a real problem: it’s his 40th birthday. And there was this TC5 Birthday Curse…

Quickfire

Padma is wearing striped pants with large beige back pockets; when seen from the back, it looks like she’s wearing Joshua’s assless chaps from last week’s PRAS. But this is the first time I’ve noticed Padma’s clothes this season, and that’s a good sign.

She welcomes the chefs to Pike Place Market and introduces guest judge Chef Daisley Gordon who runs a few joints there. In self-selected teams of two, they have one hour to make “breakfast on a stick” for 50 market workers using ingredient supplied by Daisley and cookware from the market vendor; both members of the winning team will get immunity.

Bart and Sheldon talk about making sandwiches with lots of hand gestures like neither of them realizes the other speaks English. Bart tries to bulldoze John out of his way on the way to grab a panini press, then falls down and worries, “I hope I didn’t break it” before punching his hand through it while inserting the plates. It got going, but died; Sheldon hopes there’s enough residual heat to finish their Green Forest Breakfast Sandwich: eggs, cheese, pancetta, bacon, and spinach. I thought maybe that was an actual thing, but I guess it’s Bart’s play on Black Forest, a sort of Belgian “screw you” to Germany. Daisley likes the clever combination of ingredients, it’s well-executed, and easy to eat off a stick. In spite of the Keystone Kops start, they’re the winners.

Josh and John end up together; it almost looks like John picked Josh, but they seem to think they were leftovers. Josh didn’t exactly make an effort to find anyone, so I don’t see what he’s bellyaching about. I’m a little suspicious (there’s nothing like competitive reality tv to turn me into a raving conspiracy theorist to rival the Birthers): John may be keeping his enemies closer. Josh suggests a take on a breakfast tortilla, and John’s fine with that. Padma likes the flavor of their Chilaquiles made of Tortilla, Salsa, Quail Egg, and Avocado-Heirloom Tomato Relish (I’d never heard of these before; apparently they’re sort of like breakfast nachos). Padma likes the flavor; Daisley likes the seasoning, and appreciates the riff on the mini-taco. They’re in second place, and John’s happy they managed to work well together. Maybe he’s just trying to get along? He’s a fascinating character, and I suspect (he brings out the suspecting in me) he knows it.

Brooke and Stefan know each other in LA; she knows he can be abrasive sometimes, but he’s all heart. I guess he just hides it well. He gets his panties in a bunch (his phrasing) because there’s too many people, but Padma shows up and wishes him a happy birthday and all is well. Their Croque Monsieur (which is really more of a Monte Cristo, since it’s made French-toast style) with roasted figs goes over well. But not well enough for a Top mention.

Micah and Kristen are the youngest, so they “click,” says Micah. Micah suggests a sweet/savory Waffle made with bacon, cinnamon, and blackberry and covered with pecan maple syrup and boysenberry-strawberry jam and melon and damn do I want some. Kristen nixes the first attempt as too dense, and they try again; she ponders whether her perfectionism is a blessing or a curse. Maybe she should have pondered sweet/savory waffles instead; Padma and Daisley move on without comment.

CJ and Tyler make an odd pair. Tyler takes the cooperative approach: CJ seems passionate about doing a Salmon and Cream Cheese Crepe, sort of a WASP-y play on lox on bagels, with avocado, arugula and tarragon, so why not. CJ takes the ridicule approach: something about being like a coach with his eyes bulging, I don’t quite see what he’s talking about but that’s CJ. Padma’s surprised it stays together on the stick, but no one comments on the taste. CJ calls after them as they move along: “We really want this win.” “I know,” murmurs a tactful Padma, omitting the “well you’re not gonna get it, nyah nyah” part.

Eliza and Josie have clashing styles. I’m not sure why, since neither of them seems to know what they’re doing in spite of overflowing confidence in their abilities. Eliza cites the summer she spent following Widespread Panic around the country selling vegan sushi out of a van as evidence of her superiority. Now, that sounds like a youthful indiscretion one would try to live down as an adult, but she seems to think it’s the culinary equivalent of inventing Facebook. She notes Josie is a chef used to being right, someone who thinks “it’s the way I do it so that’s why it’s right.” Seems to work for dumplings; for turkeys, not so much. Nor does it seem to work for Ricotta, Raspberry and Sausage Pancakes with jalapeno maple syrup. First, Padma’s falls off her stick before she can get it to her mouth. Then she observes it looks like a layer cake, and given the Foodie Fear of Sweet, that can’t be good. Daisley calls it a breakfast/dessert combo, and Josie says, “Yeah,” figuring, if that’s how he wants to think of it fine. But dessert at breakfast is not a good thing, as we all know. He found it much too sweet (told ya), and difficult to eat. They’re in the Bottom Two. I’m thinking that jalapeno maple syrup might be something I’d like to have anyway.

Danyele and Lizzie (I never know who Lizzie is until she speaks and her accent gives her away) find the dairy supplies depleted by the time they get to the pantry, so Lizzie thinks European breakfast: Summer Berries with Crispy Pancetta. In other words, take fruit from farmstand, slice pancetta, skewer, serve. A Sandra Lee breakfast. No, it isn’t that simple: they toss the blackberries in honey and the strawberries in cracked pepper. Sounds delicious, actually – Daisley praises the berries – but it’s not really cooking, and too late it occurs to Lizzie that it’s not very substantial and they should’ve made some kind of fritters (now that would be cool – fritters on a stick. Why didn’t anyone do that? No deep fryers?). Daisley says exactly that – they didn’t produce much in an hour. Bottom two.

Elimination Challenge:

They’ll stay in their teams, which makes just about everyone nervous. To summarize: Lizzie isn’t sure she knows Danyele well enough to cook intimately with her; Eliza is worried that she and Josie aren’t truly listening to each other; Josie is not enjoying this at all but she’s going to do her chefly duty, it’ll be over soon; Tyler finds CJ’s idea too simple but he’s a veteran so he’s in trust; John knows Josh is just barely tolerating him so is trying not to explode the wrath within; Josh is going along with anything John says just so they don’t start butting heads. I think these people need marriage counseling more than they need cooking.

Too bad, too, because it’s another really nice challenge: take a randomly drawn specialty ingredient, and make a lunch dish to highlight it. Time is short – an hour to shop, an hour to cook – but at least they get to cook in Daisley’s restaurant, which is a step up from electric griddles and hot plates. They’ll be feeding the very artisans – this is the word of the day: artisan, noun, the upscale and all-inclusive form for those who make high-priced chic versions of plain old stuff you’d normally just buy at the supermarket – who produce the ingredients (as well as Hugh-Gail-Padma-Tom). Lest my blogging license be suspended for high snide and sarcasamry, the products sound pretty amazing. There’s a reason this stuff sells.

Stefan and Brooke draw Rose Petal Jelly from Dale Nelson’s Woodring Orchards. Brooke: “It’s sweet, it’s floral, it’s a game changer.” Stefan: “It’s what women in the 1500s put on them to smell good.” I had rose water iced tea a few years back; once you get over the surprise that you’re drinking roses, it’s fine. I wouldn’t go out of my way to have it again, but it’s not repellent, and it’s kind of a fun variation on the usual avocados, salmon, and shellfish. Then again, I don’t have to cook with it on TV. They come up with a variation of a dish Stefan makes in his restaurant, Rose Petal Glazed Muscovy Duck with braised cabbage and cherry salad. The problem with making a dish you serve at your restaurant is, if it’s terrible, you’ve just shown potential customers how crappy this dish might be if they order it. Somehow the dish both loses the rose and overuses it: Gail gets sweet without rose, Tom needs some insulin, and Hugh needs a hacksaw for his tough duck.

Tyler and CJ end up with spicy pickles, compliments of Parker’s Pickles which is really part of Woodring Orchards which is actually a subset of Woodring Northwest – wow, an artisanal conglomerate. “I’ve got a great idea,” says Tyler, “you go first.” Aww, Tyler, that’s not the way to do it. CJ wants to make a pork burger with pickles on top, because, although he knows there’s a million dishes he can make with pickles, he can hear Tom bitching, “All you had to do was make a burger, nothing goes better with pickles than burgers.” (I suspect that interview was shot after the conclusion of the episode, for reasons which will become clear, if they aren’t already). Tyler was thinking potato oyster chowder with a pickle fritter – you know, actual cooking – but hey, CJ’s the veteran, so he lets CJ steamroll ahead with the burger idea. Too late, he wonders if they underthought. They put the burger on a crumpet for who knows why, because that’s what’s in the market, because they think it makes it less ordinary, whatever. It’s still a burger, or, more precisely, Pork Crumpet Burger with spicy dill pickles. Not even any fries, slaw, or salad? No, but lardo and pancetta, because fat is what wins. And sometimes it does, but not this time. Dale wishes it’d been more of a slider, with a less doughey bun. Hugh is less tactful: the bottom bun is spongy and gross. Tom’s stunned at the lack of originality involved in putting specialty pickle slices on a burger. Should’ve stuck to your guns, Tyler.

John and Josh find themselves with a bag of Uncle Woody’s Truffle Salt Popcorn courtesy of Cara Davis-Jensen who either is Uncle Woody or has an Uncle Woody, neither of which I wish to contemplate further as she seems quite nice and perfectly normal. John talks pork and truffle popcorn grits; Josh is a pig guy, after all. But he’s a pig guy in that he’ll barbecue a pig out back for a few days, and John wants him to slice and cook individual tenderloin medallions, which doesn’t really sound right to him, but he does it anyway in an effort to get along. John doesn’t like how he’s doing the pork anyway, which is ballsy since that’s how he told him to do it, but seems he expected a quick hard sear, but he’s afraid of Exploding Josh so he doesn’t say anything. Josh can tell the grits are way too thick, but John says they’re ok and he’s not going to start butting heads now. It’s much better to butt heads in the Stew Room when it’s too late to do anything about it, see. I’m having trouble wrapping my head around the idea of dumping popcorn into grits and calling it a dish. So’s Hugh, having had the disadvantage of actually eating said dish: “I’ve made grits all my life, and the grits suck.” Cara: “I would’ve liked to have seen them add some other flavors besides just the truffle.” Tom: “The meat’s screwed up and the sauce is a gloppy mess.” Daisley: “It’s not imaginative use of the popcorn.” I don’t know about that; I’d never think of it.

Kirsten and Micah are lucky to be dealt an ingredient one of them has worked with before: cheese curds. The Best Cheese Curds in Seattle, in fact, at least they were in 2010. Is there a lot of competition for Best Cheese Curds in Seattle? I’m pretty boring when it comes to cheese; I don’t want to think about words like “curds.” I definitely don’t want to eat them. They go with Cheese Curds Three Ways (in béchamel, raw, and fried) which seems a good approach to me, who doesn’t want anything to do with this dish, but the people who are sophisticated enough for words like curds don’t think so: too many components, the cheese guy thought only the fried curds stood out, and poor Padma was faced with a brown nugget she couldn’t identify.

Lizzie and Danyele luck out with coconut curry chocolate via Debra Music of Theo Chocolate (regular readers may be wondering why is it I usually avoid product placements in posts and scorn the products, but here I am not only including them but finding the websites and providing links? Well, these product placements have something to do with the challenge. And they’re kind of cool. Too cool for me, but I could be tempted to up my cool tolerance for some of this stuff. Especially chocolate). Lizzie had an idea for “snapper or fish” – did she just say fish? With chocolate? I get the coconut curry link, but chocolate? – but Danyele says they have to do a dessert so she – say it with me – goes along rather than argue; they haven’t found their rhythm yet. I wonder what the producers think of all this cooperation, after such a promising hint of blood spillage to come a couple of weeks ago. Anyway, back to the Coconut Curry Chocolate Mousse Tart with Orange Tea Syrup: Debra is dismayed to see other chocolate incorporated into the dish that’s supposed to feature her chocolate; Tom doesn’t like how it’s assembled (there’s a hard disc on top so something squirts out when he tries to cut it, giggle); Gail finds the flavors overpowering.

Josie and Eliza aren’t really collaborating well, and the cardamom bitters, courtesy of bartender and bitters entrepreneur Miles Thomas, aren’t helping. Josie doesn’t want to get too aggressive with the cardamom; it should be an accent, like a pearl necklace, at which point America falls over laughing. At least those of us with a hidden twelve-year-old. There’s a discussion of who gets the clams and who gets the juice, which would mean nothing if the pearl necklace didn’t already have my mind in the gutter. Eliza wants to make Josie happy. But Josie isn’t happy with the pistou, but she just crosses her fingers which must be a technique she learned at the Art Institute’s Culinary Program. They end up with Curry Cardamom Broth with Manila Clams and Seared White King Salmon and Bok Choy, which should be great but 1) the broth is salty, 2) Gail gets a rock, and 3) Padma gets sand. Miles is sad that his cardamom bitters are muted by the salty broth; Hugh doesn’t hear it singing. He’s just lucky he doesn’t hear Gail screaming as she breaks a tooth on the rock.

Sheldon and Bart have immunity, so who cares, but they still have to do something with Anders Miller’s salmon candy. Sheldon’s perplexed; it’s sort of like salmon bacon, and they don’t have anything like this in Hawaii. Hey, Sheldon, they don’t have apples or cows in Hawaii either, buck up. I love ya, man, but this shtick is getting old; you’re beginning to sound like Ippy from FNS. Bart wants to balance the sweet with cucumber (for freshness) and rhubarb (for acidity) which sounds like a plan. The process for their Candied Salmon with Sweet-and-Sour Salad is complicated: rilletes of ground up salmon candy mixed with sour cream on top of quick sugar-cured salmon sashimi, with some kind of powdered salmon bacon cubes on top. No one chokes on it- Anders likes the rillettes – but it wasn’t much of a showcase for the salmon candy. Tom wanted more; Hugh didn’t see any salmon candy celebration going on; Gail missed the texture of the salmon candy that makes it so special. There’s also something about throwing stunt fish. This actually makes sense if you check out their website.

Indigestif:

If you’re a regular reader, you may have noted I haven’t included the usual “top” and “bottom” notes for the Elimination Challenge. There’s a reason for that. The discussion at the table after the meal is grim. Gail didn’t see a lot of finesse. Padma apologizes to the artisans: “Really, they’re actual chefs, they’ve served really good food this season so far, they just really screwed up the ingredients you’ve invented and made with your own little hands. Or at least your own little outprocessors.” Tom has no favorite: they were all bad.

Consider this tweet that went out about this time:

Brian Fairbanks ‏@BrianFair
BREAKING: #topchef eliminates all these contestants, goes dark
Retweeted by hugh acheson

No, it’s not quite that dramatic, but Tom goes back to the chefs cowering in the back and tells them nobody’s winning, he’s sure as hell not giving $10,000 to anyone when they had to apologize to the diners, the food was bad, there was no imagination, a lack of technique, and what’s wrong with you guys, step up, take a risk, you can always get back in through Last Chance Kitchen. Oh, yeah, like that’s the way to win Top Chef.

The losing team will go home. Both people.

Since I don’t believe the producers are nimble enough to handle this kind of curve ball, I’m assuming this was the plan, unannounced, all along. So those who figured they’d let someone else screw up and be able to deny responsibility for the faulty component will have to find another plan.

Stefan: “It’s the birthday curse.”
CJ: “No one feels safe.”
John: “Josh has been on the bottom a couple of times and I don’t want to go home because of him.”
Brooke: “I’m doing this for my family.” Yes, because reality tv is the best way to care for your family.
John: “I’ve never been this uncomfortable before. Ever.” That’s because you were stoned.
Tyler: “I guess if it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go.” An attitude he may have picked up in AA. But Josh takes offense. Josh is weird, y’know? I didn’t think he was at first, but he is. He’s just looking for a fight. Tyler apologizes, which annoys me. I know all about fear of conflict and deference, but he has a right to his feelings. No wonder he drank.

Next for our entertainment, Stefan tries to teach Josh about Last Chance Kitchen, using pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one. “I saw it, I know how it works.” Josh muses: “We click. We’re both on the arrogant a—— side, but both pretty likeable.” Um, Josh? Not so much, no. Stefan at least is funny when viewed from a distance. Until someone gets an eye out.

Judges’ Table:

Tom tries to figure out what went wrong. And it is strange. They’ve worked in teams all along, this is the first total meltdown. The ingredients were unusual, but based on pretty standard flavors. Gail points out it was just a global disappointment: the food wasn’t well made, and it didn’t taste good.

Bring on the excuses, and warm up the bus:

Josh and John: Tom asks why he’d cook pork that way, and the best Josh can come up with is, “John told me to do it this way. Not to throw anyone under the bus or anything.” Uh-huh. And he knew the grits were bad, but he didn’t want to create friction, so he did what he was told and kept quiet. Tom scorns the complacency and advises them to fight to make the dish better (and provide drama). Gail notes there was no artistry or presentation. Tom says it looked like something served by someone who hates cooking. Ouch.

Stefan and Brooke: the tough duck doesn’t get much attention since everyone’s trying to convince Stefan the cabbage was too sweet, and he keeps insisting he kept adding vinegar to it. Hugh offers wisdom: if it’s too sweet and you add stuff and it’s still too sweet, you still have to fix it. And this immortal thought: “If you get too much rose petal, it feels like you’re eating someone’s grandmother.”

CJ and Tyler: CJ didn’t want to take away from the integrity of the pickle. Oh, so that’s where CJ’s integrity went! Tom wonders why they didn’t think of all the things to be made with a pickle, and CJ tells his “I heard your voice” story. He gets a laugh, but it was still a crappy burger. Gail tells them Top Chef wants them to be creative. Tyler says he was thinking lunch. “I like a creative lunch, too,” says Gail. Where’ve you been all season, Gail?

Then the moment you’ve been waiting for, whether you know it or not. As the chefs leave Judges’ Table, Padma calls out, “CJ, did you want to say something?” Yes, he did. The dessert was diabolical. It was a catastrophe. Horrible. Hugh: “Uh oh, ’cause youre burger was even worse.” WHAM! Five points, Hugh. I’ll never doubt you again.

The judges deliberate, and that CJ would bring up another dish, a dish not even under consideration, isn’t lost on them. “That’s the mentality,” says Tom. I really don’t get it, was he thinking they’d say, “Oh yeah, that was terrible, CJ’s right, let’s send them home instead.”

And Hugh isn’t done hitting them out of the park. When it comes to the rose petal jelly: “If you get too much rose petal, it feels like you’re eating someone’s grandmother.” Another two points.

Trouble is, each judge had his or her own least favorite dish. For Hugh, it was the burger. Tom hated the pork and grits, Padma the duck dish. So it’s all up to Gail. Could it be any sweeter?

CJ and Tyler are out. I’m sorry for Tyler, though I don’t think this is his venue. But I’m relieved CJ is gone. If this cooking thing doesn’t work out, he could make a fortune selling used cars.

I loved this episode. I wish the food had been better, but there were interesting ingredients and ideas and lots of laughs. And no nastiness. I promise, it is possible to tell someone there’s a better way to cook pork, or grits, or cabbage, or bitters, without being a jerk; these chefs need to learn how. And they need to learn how to listen when someone has a better idea. But then again, it wouldn’t be Top Chef. The knife isn’t their logo for nothin’.

Next Week:

Bring on the actors I’ve never heard of. But Rick Moody (oops… make that Moonen… I didn’t realize I’d made this typo until I read David Rees’ Grub Street recap of the next week and he referenced Moody, at which point I thought, Oh, no, I think I did the same thing last week. I know who Rick Moonen is, I promise. He’s the Sustainable Fish guy. I read his book Without a Doubt but I still get farmed salmon because it’s half the price. And I feel bad about that. But not bad enough to pay $15/lb for salmon) shows up, and it seems John used to work for him. And Gail takes a hit of acid.

Last Chance Kitchen:

CJ and Tyler join Kuniko in LCK.

CJ and Tyler will be working as a team again, since that was one of the many ways they failed last time. “True chef means you have to be a leader, you have to work as a team. Welcome to your nightmare all over again.” Hysterical laughter from Tyler, who at this point is wondering if he’s ever going to get out from under CJ’s thumb. And since they were so critical of the dessert in the Elimination Challenge, they have to make a dessert.

Kuniko‘s all by herself. She calls her dish Frozen Banana with fruit compote, lemon curd and brown sugar syrup. “A lot going on in here,” says Tom: pink peppercorns, tea, olive oil. It’s good – he’s a fan of savory desserts – but he doesn’t like it plated in a bowl; it eats like a big soup. Kuniko thinks it’s a “personal choice” – (!) – and allows everything in one bite without missing something. Like maybe for sloppy eaters.

Tyler and CJ: Team or no team, CJ’s clearly in charge, and he decides it’s time to bring out the hay ice cream. They stock hay in the Last Chance Kitchen? It’s a dish from Noma, and it seems hay is catching on. If you’re wondering how to make Hay Ice Cream: 1) Toast hay in oven. 2) Steep hay in cream. 3) Strain. 4) Blend. 5) Liquid nitrogen. Voila, Hay ice cream. And where do you get hay? Geez, do I have to figure out everything? Tyler Oh-Are-You-Still-Here makes an oven-roasted-cherry fritter to go with it, but that’s just a formality. CJ makes a sauce with some cherries, and adds some arugula and chocolate to the plate. Tyler’s freaked by the arugula. Oh, ok, the hay ice cream, no problem, but the arugula is out there? “Anything you wouldn’t have done in here, Tyler?” asks Tom. “I never would’ve thought arugula.” Yeah, the hay, you would’ve thought of, but the arugula’s a stretch? Tom thinks there’s too much arugula. What’s with the arugula? It’s lettuce. Sure, it’s got some zing to it relative to iceberg or romaine, but put it with ice cream and cherries and it’s lettuce. In spite of the abundance of rocket, as Gordon Ramsey likes to call it, Tom likes it; everything on the plate has a purpose.

CJ and Tyler win. I’m very disappointed. But it was inevitable that Kuniko would be out, and it’ll be good to see CJ lose again at some point.

Next Iron Chef: Redemption (2012) – Episode 5, Risk

Hello I am Zin and today is all about Risk!

This episode starts off with great drama! An aircraft hangar! Chairs! A huge flag! Paddles! Domes! Eighteen wheeler trucks drive in! What can it be? Falkner thinks it is the Hunger Games and live animals are going to come out of the trucks and eat them! Marcel is thinking live cows! None of it is necessary by the way: they could have done the challenge in the same studio, but it would not have been as dramatic!

The Challenge:

It is the Auction from last season! The whole episode Alex and Falkner are talking about last time when Anne Burrell won the week before so had the advantage and put Zakarian in the bottom, but then ended up in the bottom herself and then lost to him in the Showdown. So it is all about whether this year will follow the same pattern!

If you do not remember, the chefs have to bid time on each ingredient (“I can cook that cow head in 75 minutes… I can cook it in 70 minutes), but they do not know what all the ingredients are so the longer they wait, the more they risk getting stuck with something they do not want. And the last person gets the last ingredient and automatically gets five minutes less than the least cooking time, so the last person is completely screwed!

After they cook, Falkner will pick someone to be in the Showdown, though we will not know who until the end, and the judges will pick someone as usual! I am not sure what would happen if they picked the same person! But that is silly, of course that would not happen, this has all been carefully choreographed in advance, I am sure.

The Dishes:

Item One is a rib of bison, starting at 75 minutes. Nate thinks the butchering is too time-intensive and the ingredient is not risky enough so he ignores it. Alex wins it at 45 minutes. She makes a sauce by pressure cooking the bison and adds some cow tongue and fat she steals from Marcel! “I think if you really want to win sometimes you have to steal a little,” she says! Wait, that is a terrible thing to say! I mean it is fine on NIC, it is all a joke, but she should be ashamed of herself for advocating stealing to win! Of course Marcel was ok with her taking the stuff anyway, so it probably was not stealing, they probably just added that in at the end to ramp up the excitement! She makes spice-rubbed bison steak with pommes Anna which sounds very fancy but is a very simple potato cake made only with potatoes, butter, and salt! But she cooks it with some of the fat from Marcel. Falkner thinks the steak is a little rare. Simon and Zakarian think the use of the tongue and fat worked, and it was cooked perfectly. Donatella tells her the risk is supposed to be what you do with the ingredient, not in stealing something! I wonder if Alex is beginning to feel a little confident, she is the sous chef for Zakarian when he does ICA after all! But she is safe all around!

Item Two is cow heads! Falkner and Marcel bid, Marcel has never broken down a whole head before but he will try, he gets it at 50 minutes. He braises the tongue in one pressure cooker, the cheeks in another, and the leeks in a third! His usual process for tongue takes seven days but he is speeding it up! He makes “tongue and cheek” – hey, Blaise made that for the Top Chef All-Stars finale! He won, too! And when Edward Lee was on ICA, that was his theme ingredient! Or ingredients. He makes them with white corn polenta. Falkner thinks it is pretty tough and needs fat. But Zakarian calls it his most modern dish, and elevated! Donatella agrees, it is well-balanced and delicious! Simon notes that the pressure cooker sometimes brings doom but it is a terrific dish and he is now a serious contender! Aha! Redemption! I wonder why it was tough when Falkner tasted it, I wonder if they have to cook the stuff for the judges after Falkner tasted, like they do on ICA after they make the single plate, so it had more time to cook. Except Alton kept telling them to make sure they made a plate for Falkner. I do not understand the logistics, but I do not think the stuff sits around as long as it appears.

Item Three is paiche, a fresh-water fish from the swampy waters of the Amazon basin. That is true, but I suspect the fish they have there is farmed in Peru, because it is a protected species due to over fishing (!) and there is now a limit on wild caught fish which does not allow for export, maybe, it depends on which website you look at, and only recently has farming been possible. Just what we need, Iron Chefs cooking endangered species! Falkner and Amanda go for it, and Falkner gets it at 50 minutes. She calls it “alligator meat” and “some kind of giant goldfish” but I do not think that is right, it is compared to sea bass or black bass, though it is a fresh water fish. It has these huge scales so she is frying them to make chips, which could work, I have seen that before (Edward Lee again, but on Top Chef Texas). She makes pan roasted filet with the loin smoked and grilled in a ceviche (I do not understand, it is cooked, is that still ceviche?) with a Peruvian corn salad and the chips seasoned with smoked paprika. Unfortunately everyone hates the fish scales, but Donatella likes the corn and Zakarian likes the fish.

Item Four is a huge wheel of Parmesan cheese! Mehta thinks it is the least risky ingredient so he does not bid. Amanda gets it at 40 minutes. The biggest problem she has is getting the wheel open, she pounds and chops and it takes her a while to get it to split. She makes parmesan ice cream and parmesan almond shortbread with basil soufflé, a prosciutto crisp, grilled fig, and pomegranate molasses. I do not understand, ice cream and a soufflé? Is that a meal or just random stuff thrown together? She calls it a cheese course! Falkner thinks the soufflé is slightly underseasoned but applauds the ice cream. Donatella thinks something is too salty (maybe she adjusted after Falkner said it was underseasoned?) but risky, and Zakarian thinks the soufflé is too eggy, more like a frittata.

Marcel wonders: “Mehta, Nate, do their paddles work?” They have not bid on anything!

Item Five is Ostrich Eggs, and now the guys bid like crazy! Mehta takes it at 25 minutes. He has never used ostrich eggs before, but he says the albumin is more watery.He knows Zakarian is a soufflé connoisseur, so he makes yogurt soufflé and ice cream with French toast. Falkner tells him the soufflé is not as successful as he wants it to be! Zakarian thinks the soufflé is bland, Simon agrees but loves the ice cream. Donatella loves the salt and sugar.

Item Six goes to Nate and he will have 20 minutes to make something with a gigantic Mortadella sausage! Mortadella, that is cold cuts! At least it does not require cooking! Nate cuts off “just the tip” (giggle) and goes for mortadella foam! He calls it mousse and says he is putting it in the whipper but it is a foamer! He wants it light and airy. He makes mortadella and polenta fritter with mortadella mousse and a fennel, pistachio and raisin compote. Falkner calls the mousse “not your best effort” which sounds ominous! Zakarian thinks it is tasty and well constructed but an odd dish. Donatella does not like the mousse, and Simon says, “A blessing from the Pope would not save the mousse.” Uh oh! See, everyone makes fun of Marcel and his foams, but he at least knows how to make them!

Judging:

The judges name Marcel the winner! That is quite a comeback! Amanda is second in spite of her seasoning missteps. Neither of them were named by Falkner so they are safe! Alex made the tastiest dish but she was also the least risky so she only comes in third and she is also safe! Mehta had a bad soufflé but he is safe!

That leaves Nate and Falkner, and she named him as her choice for the Showdown and he is the pick by the Judges as the least favorite, so they are up against each other! And everyone ooohs and aaaahs that this is the same way it happened last time to Anne Burrell!

The Secret Ingredient Showdown:

The ingredient was voted on by viewers at the FN website: Anchovies! That is a good ingredient! I hate them, but chefs like them. They have all the varieties, fresh, white, oil and salt packed.

Nate is ready for blood: “She put me in the bottom, she no longer exists to me now.” Wow, that is heavy! He is most worried about controlling the salt of the anchovies. He makes an anchovy Spanish tortilla (like a frittata or pan omelet) with anchovy romesco sauce and an anchovy aioli and blanched kale. Simon loves Spain and he captured it; the aioli is the best thing he has made in the competition. Zakarian loves it too! Donatella thinks the tortilla is slightly underseasoned and did not get much anchovy in two of the components! I wonder if she is tasting the same thing as the other judges!

Falkner does a classic Caesar dressing with mustard, anchovies, olive oil, garlic, and lemon in the blender, but then puts it in alginate for spherification! Marcel, he is an expert at this, he worries she will not have enough time, because it needs to rest to set the membrane, but it works fine and it looks great on the plate. She calls it Caesar bursts with pasta alla sarde (pasta with sardines) with raisins and pine nuts. Simon thinks the saffron is too strong. Donatella agrees but it is taking her to Sicily. Zakarian thinks the saffron is too much, but she took more risk.

The Final Cut:

Donatella says, “Nate cooked food we want to eat, but Falkner took risks.” So since the theme of the day, Falkner is out! What? That does not make sense! Still they all agreed she had too much saffron while only Donatella thought Nate had a problem, so I guess it does make sense. So the Curse of the Auction remains! And it is all nonsense anyway, I do not believe anything the judges say, it is all a matter of who gets the most screen time. I am surprised they let Marcel stay this long! But I hoped Falkner would be the Next Iron Chef. Oh well, Maybe next year!

Next Week:

A Vegas wedding! Peppermint and Chicken Livers! This sounds like Chopped!

Project Runway All-Stars Season 2: Episode 5 – You’ve Got Male

Robert Hartl: "Androgynous Buddha"

Robert Hartl: “Androgynous Buddha”

I once took a college math class with someone whose sex I never knew; I decided at one point she was female, just because. She was very tall, very slender, with glasses and straight hair, always wearing jeans and t-shirts and a jacket. Not unattractive, but fairly plain. It drove me crazy until I gave up trying to categorize her and started focusing on L’Hopital’s Rule. She was, I think, accidentally androgynous; it wasn’t a fashion statement, it wasn’t gender confusion or a sexual identity crisis, it was just what she looked like, how she liked to dress, and she saw no need to change it. She got me thinking about gender roles, especially how unthinkable it is for a man, at least a straight man, to have any female characteristics, while the reverse is more acceptable. Tomboys are cute; pansies are anathema. Women have worn pants, at least for work, since pants were invented; men wear dresses when hell freezes over (except in Scotland where hell froze over a long time ago, and only then in costume). It’s considered a sign of approval – a promotion, of sorts – to be “one of the boys.” You don’t call a guy “just one of the girls.”

So I’m all for androgyny. And since it’s the hot “fashion forward” trend this season, that’s the challenge. Subtitled: avant garde, but I suspect that’s inherent in the idea of androgyny.

Joshua’s psyched, of course. Kayne thinks of all the androgynous people he knows, like David Bowie, Adam Lambert, and Lady Gaga. I guess that means he doesn’t actually know any androgynous people. Emilio’s excited about it, too. Laura and Uli, on the other hand, feel like they’re up shit’s creek. I get Uli’s problem, but Laura’s done some very structured, architectural stuff which could easily take on characteristics associated with masculinity. But that, of course, would require conceptual thinking to modify her mindset, and I don’t think her mind is up to that.

Sketch, Mood. Then Georgina shows up in the workroom. It must be fun to have everyone groan when you walk into a room. But they know what’s coming: twist time.

The actual challenge is to make two outfits, one boy and one girl (I’m using those terms because it’s easier), that will complement each other. Emilio’s plan is screwed. Ivy looks like she’s having a panic attack. Kayne asks his model if he likes boys or girls, and offers to fix him up with one of his sisters.

Jason Wu and Robert Rodrigues are the guest judges. BTW, Blondie didn’t bother me as much as usual; she actually made some coherent observations during judging. And her outfit in the opening modeling pose was quite sharp, though for the runway, she was back to hideous in something that reminds me of the reptilian science fiction horror from the S6 movie challenge. But she still needs to learn how to talk to adults.

Avant Garde Androgyny (the top three):

Emilio initially was headed for women’s wear in menswear fabric, a suit, something cool and avant garde, with circular fins that go around the body. Wait, man, you had me, then you lost me – circular fins? Fins? He’s a little thrown by the twist, since he’s already going quite masculine, but he deals with it: he turns the fabric inside out. Joanna thinks it’s well-put-together and dramatic; she can’t tell the boy from the girl, which is androgyny, right there. My first thought when they hit the runway: Gangsters. Not gangstas – gangsters. Incredibly cool gangsters. The walk is perfect – this wasn’t a runway, it was theater. I think I held my breath. Georgina appreciates the attention to detail and the use of the fabric turned around, but isn’t sure about the fins; he did nail androgyny, however. Robert can’t tell the boy from the girl, either (neither could I, but it was awfully dark), and the fabrics and colors were amazing. Jason declares, “This is what androgyny looks like,” which, well, what more do you want. Isaac wonders if it’s too heavily reliant on the hat. Nah, but that’s definitely the perfect finishing touch. Blondie calls it “music video ready”; she’s hot for the boy and starts fanning herself as they leave the runway (ok, this wasn’t where she surprised me with insightful comments).

Uli of the flowy gowns is not sure what to do, but she finds some trim with an armor feeling, uses a strong shoulder, and a shirttail for the boy. Joanna loves the detail and the safety pin trim (apparently safety pins are big this year; I immediately think of Chris March). Joanna learns the term “ball room” which makes perfect sense to me. The girl’s outfit is pretty cool, but I hate the feathered shoulders on the boy’s shirt; it’s something Michael Costello might do on one of his more tasteless days. Uli calls it “tribal-inspired” which always makes me nervous. Georgina loves the girl’s top under the jacket, and she’d wear everything; someone calls it “sick” in a good way. Jason wants the pants; they’re good pieces, more than meets the eye. Robert would wear the boy’s outfit. Isaac finds it a sophisticated take on androgyny. I still think the boy’s top is awful.

Anthony Ryan goes evening-inspired, with a boy dress, but decides to put pants under it. He shows Joanna some yellow fabric, but she worries it’s going to look like a wasp with the black stripes (that’s a bumblebee – wasps are all black – but good point). He ends up with a lot of sheer over print, which isn’t bad, though the girl’s doesn’t strike me as androgynous at all. Robert finds it wearable; Georgina is thrilled to see him do anything other than another dress. Jason thinks it looks well-made and expensive; Isaac loves the textures and points out the seaming on the print that turns it into something else.

Not so much, no (safe):

Trent

Ivy breathes into a paper bag and makes something hideous that I think I’ve seen in a Star Trek dominatrix scene (ST-TNG, “Angel One”). She shows Joanna a pair of male panties with a little pouch for the goodies; she did not just do that. Yes, she did. But she’s putting something over it, she says. Too late, I can’t unsee it. The jackets aren’t bad at all, the multiple lapels are really nice and I like the girl’s top, it’s her pants, and his panties under sheer, that’s just awful. Seriously, can’t you just see that guy on the planet ruled by women episode? I don’t think that’s the idea behind androgyny. She and Joshua get into it while waiting in the lounge: he’s pretty brutal – she’s made the same boxy jacket over and over, she has no courtesy for others, she should’ve already left – and she doesn’t really fight back much, which is a surprise. Maybe she doesn’t think he’s worth the effort. I don’t think either of them are. But he almost made me feel sorry for her, and that’s quite a trick.

Joshua wants to make a skirt with assless chaps, but Anthony Ryan tells him he could get arrested for that. “You think it’s costumey?” Joshua asks. “No, that’s just vulgar,” says Anth0ny Ryan. He tells a dubious Joanna he wants to make a yoke for the shirt “and trim the fur down to make it loo like a pony.” A pony? “Whoff, that does sound avant garde,” says Joanna. Then he makes a dust cover for his boy’s clutch out of fur. Excuse me, a dust cover? Is this like a real thing now, all the fashionistas use dust covers for their purses? And he thinks Ivy should be out? I think he now holds the record for the total number of incredibly stupid things said during one episode. What really scares me is that (whisper in small voice) his outfits weren’t half bad. I actually liked the boy’s, and without the furry sleeves, the girl’s isn’t too bad. They aren’t all that androgynous, though, and there’s nothing avant garde about them (fur does not make something avant garde, just stupid). I think he earned his safe spot. His sniping in the lounge is immature brattiness laid on top of fear.

Althea surpises me with her cluelessness: “Our looks need to be sexless.” No, no no – what, doesn’t anybody read anymore? Androgynous doesn’t mean neuter, it means using both male and female elements for an outfit that could be for either sex. She’s using leather and making coats. Joanna sees a cult out of Eyes Wide Shut during her walkthrough; I have no idea what that means, but the final looks, while quite appealing, rely on bulky coats to obscure rather than blur the lines. Sharp, attractive coats; but the guy looks like he’s wearing his mom’s winter closet, which isn’t exactly the idea. Still, I would’ve put her in the top three instead of Uli.

Not at all (bottom three):

Casanova hasn’t done menswear in a while, but he figures he can pull it off. He’s got this amazing cutwork going on, and I’m wondering what’s involved in that: does it require special equipment, or just a super-sharp exacto knife? Joanna wonders what man is going to wear gold leather. Come on, Joanna, who’s going to wear any of this stuff off the runway? She sees scorpions and gladiators. Ivy helps him a little with his pants, to the dismay of Laura and, surprisingly, Anthony Ryan. Emilio sees amazing craftsmanship, but not a bit of androgyny. It’s Casanova’s interpretation of warrior armor. I’ve been impressed by Casanova this season, but here we’re back to crap, and again, I’m thinking Star Trek, this time, costumes for TOS, which was always operating on a shoestring. Georgina likes it, she says unconvincingly, but it’s not androgynous. Isaac thinks the boy looks like the girl’s accessory, which is hilarious. Blondie doesn’t like the knees of the girl’s pants. Jason doesn’t see androgyny or avant garde; they’re nice outfits (really?) but not the challenge; they’re costumes, his least favorite.

Kayne goes into orbit, as expected. Strong shoulder, houndstooth, and neon yellow. Leather flowers. A smiley face in black on a neon yellow metallic mesh tee. “It’s either hideous or…” says Joanna. Kayne nixes the smiley face, showing he has a few functioning brain cells. He tries heels on his boy model, and Joshua – Joshua, who was going to do assless chaps – tells him it’s too much. When Joshua tells you something is too much…. I hate the shorts on the boy, (but I hate short suits under most circumstances), I hate the ruffled lapel on the girl, the print’s a little loud and the girl’s pants a little vulgar, but dang it’s well-made and sharp. Isaac thinks the yellow brings and inexpensive feel to it. Blondie would’ve rather seen her bare, it would’ve been very sexy (no, it would’ve been undressed). Georgina is impressed with how he cuts and sews, but he needs to edit. Hey, you guys, he did edit, you didn’t see the smiley face or the heels: this is Kane, edited. Georgina notices that he did better with the boy; when it comes to a woman, he goes askew. Isaac’s annoyed because he can really sew, it’s what he chooses to sew that’s the problem. He’s right: those jackets are incredibly polished, and they fit perfectly. They could’ve come out of a store, and he made them in two days. Along with the smiley face shell. Aww, Kayne.

Laura thinks smoking jacket with exaggerated proportions and feminine cutouts. Joanna warns her to watch the details; her lapels aren’t parallel. “That’s exactly the sort of detail that Georgina will swoop in on like a crow on a carcass.” A lot of things aren’t parallel. The boy’s look is sloppy, and has nothing to do with the girl’s. You can’t just cut squares in flimsy fabric and expect them to stay square when worn; Casanova’s cutouts stayed perfect but that was leather (and I’m pretty sure there was a lining underneath). Isaac can tell it was hard for her; the textiles look inexpensive. Jason sees too many ideas. Blondie doesn’t like the gold buttons or the cutouts. Robert finds it over the top. Georgina says it collapses on itself, and she should’ve played to her strengths and brought more of her feminine design to the boy.

Decision:

Emilio wins which was pretty obvious all along. His models should win something, too; they oozed ‘tude. Considering she had some halfway decent comments during the runway, Blondie now reverts to moron: “It’s you, Emilio!” I’ve never appreciated Heidi more. But Emilio… he’s been far out in front of the pack lately, after a slow start. I realized tonight, when I saw all the stuff he had looped around his neck, I’ve been conflating him with Fabio. That’s not a bad thing at all.

Kayne is out. As he packs his knives… oops, cleans up his space in the workroom, the hat and the pink jacket say to me: Gay Frank Sinatra. I like Kayne, but his days were numbered. Laura clearly had the worst stuff on the runway today, but they really hate his particular brand of gaud.

Next week:

Going Green with Diane von Furstenberg.

Top Chef Seattle: Episode 4 – 50s Food Flashback

The mystery is over. We now know who Stefan will be bird-dogging all season: Kristen. And she seems just fine with it, since the position comes with foot massages. I have to say, I’m disappointed in her taste. There’s a difference of opinion about whether her feet smell. I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

Oh, and News flash: CJ and Josh hate John. We’re treated to an extended replay of the Stew Room Squabble just to make sure we remember, complete with new footage that includes barbs like “Oklahoma” and “balls.” Stefan’s thrilled: “John pushes buttons so hard, I love it, it’s like Real Housewives.”

Enough of this crap, can we get cooking, please?

Quickfire:

Naomi Pomeroy is waiting in the kitchen with Padma. I like her; I wish she’d been in the finals on TCM3. We’re treated to the clip that made her famous: yelling at her father during a Quickfire. It’s not all that, actually, but it doesn’t take much to get famous on TCM. Josh is glad to see her: she does “land-roaming animals,” which is right up his alley.

And land-roaming animals it is (vegetarians, you may want to avert your eyes): two hanging sides of beef await them. They have one hour to butcher and cook something. Now I see why they made sure we remembered the animosity amongst the contestants: nothing says Emmy like giving men who hate each other knives and saws and yelling, “Your time begins… NOW!” But the only blood drawn is Eliza’s, and that from a routine minor chopping mishap. The editors had some fun with this one: they show everyone cooking merrily away while Carla and Josie seem to struggle forever to lift one of the sides off the meathook.

And, oh my, look what happens! CJ, John, and Josh are the Top Three! Wow, what Drama, amongst these arch-enemies! Raise your hand if you think this is crap…? I do, I do!

CJ decides to do a tartar with raw juniper and kohlrabi. Now, I’ve never butchered anything bigger than a chicken, but isn’t that kind of avoiding the whole butchering issue? He claims he knows what he’s doing, and runs off with a giant hunk of cow, so maybe I’m off here, but can’t you just chop up pretty much any of the meat and call it tartar? Naomi likes it, though, and gives him props for perfect knife cuts, so maybe it’s more complicated than I realize.

Josh grinds the shoulder (again, avoiding delicate butchering, and even avoiding knife work) to make a meatball with creamy polenta and pickled shallots. Does anyone else automatically hear Grayson saying, “Like a meatball?” any time anyone makes a meatball now? It seems like kind of an odd choice, seeing as he’s a meat guy, but maybe pigs really are that different from cows. In any case, Naomi likes the acidity and how the flavors come together.

John sings the praises of the sweet unctuousness of oxtail; he braises it, then braises it some more, adds some potato gnocchi, braised veggies, a sauce, and some artichoke chips. That sounds like a lot of stuff to me. Naomi’s impressed with the tenderness. John wins.

John wins, and CJ and Josh throw up a little in their mouths.

Then we have the Bottom Three:

Tyler starts out in a bad place because he was in the bottom on Faux Thanksgiving; he’s got to prove himself, and chooses Hispanic Crudo with Charred Tomato Sauce & Cilantro Radish Slaw as the way to do that; it’s not typical steak-house fare, and he hopes they notice. They notice, all right. Now, I live in Maine, I don’t get out much, but is “Hispanic” the right word to use there? And he grills it – chars it, in fact, and the recipe calls for medium – so can it still be called a crudo? I’m so confused, linguistically. Naomi is also confused, culinarily: it’s underseasoned and falls short. John drops his head. “I can’t do anything right.” I don’t know if he’s putting the dejection on a little for the interview camera, but dang, he’s got Charlie Brown down pat.

Eliza doesn’t seem sure if she’s dealing with flank or skirt steak, but ends up with soy-and-lime marinated grilled flank steak with cherry-cognac reduction, asparagus, and a potato cake. Naomi wonders if the others are jealous because she got the flank steak; I never knew it was that great a catch. Padma calls the asparagus and cherry combo “interesting” which could go either way, but in this case, it went bad: the combination didn’t work, so she earns her bottom slot even though her steak was well-cooked.

Lizzie does battle with the pressure cooker: Pressure cooker: 1, Lizzie: 0. She makes braised foreshank with turnips and dill. The foreshank was tough; it needed more time, but Naomi gives her props for taking a chance.

Then we have everyone else:

Micah goes for oxtail, too; he knows John’s working with it, but “he’s stuck in his ways” so no problem, Micah has this one in the bag. Famous last words. The oxtail isn’t as tender as he’d like, so he chops it up, and serves oxtail polenta with Truffled Romanesco Cauliflower. I confess, I’d never heard of romanesco cauliflower (I thought it was a recipe, like Swedish meatballs). Naomi likes it, and compliments him on a great job butchering. Too bad there was already an oxtail dish (not to mention a Drama Trio) in the top.

Stefan makes Braised Top Round Ravioli with Marjoram & Aged Parmesan; he’s really proud of the marjoram in the pasta. Naomi likes the flavors.

Sheldon has never done a whole side of beef before, but he grabs a hacksaw and gets to work. He ends up with round steak and makes kalbi with Tomato Cardamom Broth & Fennel Salad. Isn’t kalbi made with short ribs? Naomi likes the flavors, but prefers it closer to medium.

Brooke digs out a hanger steak, which is one of those things, like flat iron steak, they didn’t have back when I was learning to cook; I’m not that interested in cuts of meat, so I haven’t been inclined to experiment. She makes Grilled Hanger Steak with Smoked Onion Figs & Cauliflower Puree. Naomi loves hanger steak, calls it the hardest cut to cook and slice correctly; it’s a little rare for her. Brooke decides she’s being supercritical because it’s her favorite cut. Whatever gets you through the night.

Carla presents a Sirloin Medallion Wrapped in Bacon with Asiago Risotto and Marsala Sauce. Sounds Vegas. Naomi likes the flavor and the sauce.

Kristen, running on her freshly massaged feet (how does anyone tolerate having someone touch their feet? Doesn’t it tickle?) grabs the first piece she finds so she could get cooking, and ends up with Top Sirloin Tartare with Mustard Sabayon & Carpaccio Salad. No comment.

Danyele‘s Grilled Flank Steak with Chickpea Frites and Parsley Chimichurri gets no comment.

Chrissy does Grilled Hanger Steak with Brown Butter, Parsley & Radish Salad but gets no mention.

And then we Bart, who didn’t even get camera time for his Kidneys with Kidney Fat Roasted Vegetables & Cherry Vinegar Dressing, Beer Pickled Turnips and Black Garlic, though we heard someone mention kidneys as the butchering started. Come on, they guy cooked kidneys, isn’t that worth a mention?

Elimination Challenge:

Welcome back to the 50s – a time when no one knew what cholesterol was, when “dinner” meant shrimp cocktail and roast beef, when desserts were sweet and no one apologized for them, a time before people used words like “arugula” or “balsamic vinegar” in polite company. A time when Peter Canlis opened the restaurant that invented “Northwest Cuisine.” On only $50,000, which was a lot of money in the 50s, but not enough for him to have a house, too, so he lived over the restaurant. The chefs will be reviving the original menu for the current Canlis crew, Peter’s grandsons. Finally, a prize: $10,000. And, oh, it’s a double elimination. Hugh and Emeril join Naomi at the table with the Canlis boys; Gail is still MIA this season. Gail? GAIL?!?

For Starters:

Lizzie makes marinated herring. Naomi loves it, Padma finds it full of flavor, and Tom thinks it’s nicely marinated. Emeril loves, of all things, the saltines she serves with it. Tom says they should’ve been still wrapped in little plastic sleeves to be totally 50s, but admires the audacity. Top Four.

Tyler serves a lettuce plume. It’s actually crab leg cocktail but the romaine leaf standing straight up in the sundae dish is priceless. And really 50s. I can hear Gordon Ramsey screaming at someone serving that, it’s so 50s. Apparently it tastes good, too; Padma likes it, and Tom appreciates the chopped lettuce on the bottom. Hugh finds it straightforward, a beautiful rendition of crab. Top Four – oh, good, that’ll cheer up Charlie Brown.

I kept calling Josh “Oklahoma” in my notes this episode, because of the opening scuffle, but I need to stop that before it becomes a habit. He isn’t helping matters when he complains they don’t have the French onion soup he’s assigned in Oklahoma; he’s more used to calf fries, aka testicles. I knew that, actually, since I just learned about lamb fries on Chopped this week. John offers to help with the soup, but Josh blows him off. That might’ve been a mistake: the soup is salty – almost inedibly so (though Tom walks that back a little in his blog) – and cold, and the Canlises call it “not guest friendly” since it requires a spoon, a fork, and a knife to cut the hard crouton on top. And Naomi misses the cheese. Bottom Four. It’s gotta burn.

Chrissy takes the Special Salad, which should be easy, but it’s also a very particular dish that’s been served for 62 years so she’s got to get it right. And she doesn’t. It’s overdressed, the croutons are soggy, Tom isn’t happy she used the outer leaves of the romaine, Hugh’s offended by “naked” tomatoes (?), and Padma wants more mint. Chrissy is bummed to be in the Bottom Four for a salad, but that’s how it goes sometimes.

Brooke makes Seafood Salad a la Louis; the Canlises think it’s right out of a Time-Life cookbook (I used to have some of those), Tom thinks the seafood is cooked well, but Naomi thinks the green beans are undercooked.

John knows about the 50s, like he knows about everything else in the universe. His father was a foodie and used to take him to the Rainbow Room and Luchow’s, which was pretty high-end sutff back then; but if he’s really 54, he would’ve been born in 1958, so he’s blowing smoke about something. He makes Steamed Clams Bordelaise which goes over well, Rainbow Room or no. But not well enough, it seems. Either that, or they’re just tired of him winning everything. However obnoxious, seems like he can cook. Since he has immunity, he also expedites. CJ and Josh aren’t thrilled with his expedition, but no one else seems to mind. He does one thing that endears him to me, even if only for a split second: He yells “Who has tape so I can set up an expediting line? Anyone? Beuller?”

Mains:

Stefan thinks of the dirty martini when he thinks 50s food, because he likes it dirty. He probably thinks he’s cute, doesn’t he? He gets that most beloved of dishes, Calf’s liver which was called calves liver in the 50s (and probably still is by the casually agrammatical). He’d prefer to pan-sear it, but it’s supposed to be grilled, so he grills it. And they love it: Tom thinks it’s nicely cooked, and Emeril gives him props for leaving something alone and respecting the product. Top Four.

Kristin is mad – that’s the word she uses, mad – because she’s got two side dishes, and simple ones at that: fried onions to accompany Stefan’s liver (wow, that sounds weird), and mushrooms, a simple dish only requiring four ingredients. She knows if she’s only got four ingredients to work with, everything had better be perfect, so she heads for simplicity. Good move: everyone loves them. And her onion rings are perfect. Top Four.

Carla is kind of uncertain about the squab; it isn’t something she makes everyday. They come back too rare – “apparently people like that bird a little more cooked” – but the ones the judges eat are overcooked and underseasoned; Tom doesn’t like how she didn’t debone the rib cage. Padma likes the red wine sauce, but it isn’t enough; she’s in the Bottom Four.

CJ decides to sous vide his lamb after grilling for his kebabs and pilaf, and everyone watching at home groans. The meat isn’t seasoned, there’s no marinade flavor, and it’s mealy; Tom can tell it’s been sous vide’d. Even the pilaf fails: underseasoned, soggy, mostly orzo. Bottom Four.

Sheldon manages to snare the Mahi Mahi for his own; I’m surprised this was around in the 50s. I know Polynesian was hot after the war and after Hawaii became a state, but it always seemed limited to pineapple and pork. One of the Canlis boys tells an interesting story about the mahi mahi: it’d never been seen before (aha, see?), and it was “imported” by packing it in ice in the flight attendant’s suitcase. Oh, the good old days when the airlines cared about customer service. Naomi likes it, a Canlis loves it, but Tom got bloodline. Oops.

Micah makes some mediocre veggies: the carrots are very underdone, the turnips are overdone. But Naomi gives it props for looking right.

Josie signs up for baked potato. This isn’t just your average russet, it’s The Potato that Ate the Eggplant that Ate Chicago, it’s “like a planet,” look out, it’s loose, we’re all gonna DIEEEEEeeeee… nah, they’re big potatoes, ok? Yeah, those aren’t typically served as baked potatoes, but we’re not talking genetic mutations. I think everyone was waiting for her to serve them medium. They’re ok, but not hot enough (?), and Padma wants more oil on the skin to make them crispy.

Bart makes an ok New York steak, though Naomi doesn’t like that he sliced it with the grain instead of across.

Desserts:

Eliza serves a Fresh Frozen Hawaiian Pineapple Parfait and some melted sherbet. Tom likes the parfait: the fruit is ok, the crunch is ok, what more do you want from a parfait. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it’s better than some desserts have gone in the past.

Danyele makes a lot of sundaes at work, which strikes me as bizarre. But she’s all set to go with the Vanilla Ice Cream Royal Hawaiian Supreme, scary as that sounds. They love the ice cream. One of the Canlises loves the hit of salt from the peanut brittle with the vanilla ice cream. Padma appreciates how the desserts smacked of the 50s. A Canlis nods: “50s, and sugar.” That’s what desserts were then.

Judges’ Table

Top Four Lizzie, Kristin, Tyler, and Stefan, wait to hear… and Kristen wins. Stefan is happy for her. I hope he’s not screwing with her head.

Bottom Four: Carla, Chrissy, CJ, Josh. Two will be out. Josh is shocked his soup was cold, and bad-mouths John for his expediting (“He was a monkey… he thought he had a plan but it failed.” Wait… a monkey? What does a monkey have to do with this? Is this Hung’s monkey?) Tom rakes Carla over the coals for not checking on the grilling of her quail. Chrissy did her interpretation of the salad, and that wasn’t how they saw it. CJ shocks them with tales of sous vide.

Carla and Chrissy are out. The kitchen’s gonna be a lot quieter without Carla. She seems surprisingly disappointed. I’m a little sorry for Chrissy, but come on, messing up a salad is pretty indefensible.

We could quibble about Carla having a good sauce while everything on CJ’s plate was a mess, and Tom called Josh’s soup “borderline inedible” due to saltiness, but I’m not inclined to do so. She seemed over her head from the start once she moved away from meatballs. And she was annoying as all getout.

Next week:

Gail returns. Everyone goes equipment shopping for one of those absurd “make stuff under conditions no one would ever make stuff” challenges. Bart wears an amazing shirt; Kristin goes Unabomber. A team elimination. Sigh. I knew it couldn’t last: catering plus drama. Oh well, we had four pretty good episodes before they went all craptastic on us.

Last Chance Kitchen:

Finally, it’s back. Jeffrey, Kuniko, Chrissy, and Carla line up in the kitchen. I’d like to see Kuniko take it, but I could live with Jeffrey. Kuniko is happy: she can do this. I think she’s right; it’s a better venue for her than the main competition, with less distraction. Carla can’t think; she’s confused. Fine.

They have 30 minutes to cook the same ingredient, though not necessarily the same dish, that got them eliminated. I’m assuming Tom will take into account that some people have harder ingredients than others. Like salad vs. quail. Hell, I can make a pretty good salad.

Kuniko finds herself facing down a potato. “This is the revenge of my potato.” She’s so cute. “I feel two butterflies in the stomach.” I wonder if she practices these things or if they come naturally to her. She makes an Asian style chowder. “Pavé time killed me, if I do it I’m stupid,” she tells Tom. She’s right. “I don’t need to convince Tom I can make a potato pavé, I need to convince him I know how to cook a potato.” Good decision. Tom asks if she’s happy with it; she is. He moves on without comment. But turns out, it was pretty good chowder; she wins.

Jeffrey has the dreaded halibut he overcooked in E1. He adds morels and peas, sautéed with cream. Tom says it’s definitely better than the one that got him kicked off.

Chrissy makes the same salad she screwed up, only, hopefully, without the overdressing. She had some problems with wilting before, so she takes care with temperatures to make sure that isn’t an issue. Tom thinks it’s much better; she wouldn’t have been eliminated with this salad. It’s got great acid punch, and the mint and marjoram are there this time. “Yes, you can make a salad.” Which is a backhanded compliment if I’ve ever heard one.

Carla has to bone and cook a squab in 30 minutes, which seems a little unfair. I’m not sure what she’s doing, but it looks messy. “It takes me 12 minutes to debone that bitch.” “People should not have to cook anything in half an hour.” I can sympathize; I think word limits should be outlawed, myself. She’s the only one talking in the kitchen, and it’s driving Chrissy nuts. But she’s screwed up the squab twice in a row. The breast is nice, but the legs are raw, and it’s not seasoned. Carla’s disappointed, but hey,”Everybody knows I’m not too good on quickfire, but I have a good reputation, it’s not because I suck.” Maybe. “Give me time, give me the kitchen, and I will serve you the best squab you’ve ever had in your life.” No thanks.

There’s also a “Save a Chef” deal where viewers can vote for another chef to move on in addition to the LCK winner; at least, I think that’s what it is, I’m not exactly sure. I’m not sure it makes sense to have people who haven’t tasted anything vote on which chef deserves another chance, but that’s just me. It involves Twitter or text and as much as I’d like to see Jeffrey continue, I’d rather not. But check it out if you’re inclined.

Next Iron Chef: Redemption (2012) – Episode 4, Transformation

What a lot of fuss over.... this?

What a lot of fuss over…. this?

Hello I am Zin and tonight the chefs are Transforming Canned Meat! Alex: “This is not gonna be pretty.” That is right, but the fun part is in the Showdown! But we have to get there first! Patience!

Transformation: The Challenge :

Alton explains they have to redeem the reputation of canned food through transformation! I think there is something wrong with the use of the word “redeem” in that sentence (which implies that the reputation needs to be restored to its original good standing) but no matter, he points out Spam, corned beef, Vienna sausage (“You have been to Vienna? This is not like that!”), clams, and three cans of different sizes with question marks for the adventurous! Everyone picks, and then Amanda can steal whatever she wants if she is not happy with the can that is left.

Falkner takes one of the question marks, and does not recognize it when she opens it, it is dark brown liquid but she tastes what is in the liquid and it is roast beef! And it is dry even though it is in the liquid! I am not sure how it could possibly be dry – she even has to drain it – but “dry” is what food people say when they do not like something. She starts with the idea of Beef Bourguignon and makes a Bordelaise Sauce using cognac. She roasts root veggies in foil, then makes gougères with truffles (little cheese puffs) to bring to mind Yorkshire pudding. Zakarian loves the velvety winey flavor and Donatella is impressed she made something awful palatable, though the gravy maybe needed some acid burned off. Still it is good and she is the Winner!

Amanda does not steal from anyone but takes the Corned Beef that is left: “Let them go down for what they choose, not what I choose.” She makes these square potatoes that look really cool. She has a terrible time opening the can, it is one of the old-fashioned kind with the keys, but finally she just gets a can opener. She says it looks dog-foodish once she gets it open! Yes, I know what she means! A few years ago I got a can of hash, because I remembered it from when I was little and I thought it was pretty good, but it was an awful gelatinous mess and very greasy. She mixes some corned beef with mustard greens and bacon fat, makes a mustard cream and some rye croutons for an homage to corned beef, a deconstructed corned beef sandwich! Zak calls it five-star camp food, luxurious and extravagant, though the sauce was not reduced quite enough. Simon: “It makes me want to carry you off and make you my chef forever.” Ewwww. Donatella questions whether the corned beef itself is the star of the plate or is more of a garnish, which is interesting, it is really a salad with a little corned beef and bacon sprinkled in. But it is quite good and she is safe!

Mehta takes a question mark can and finds out he has chicken! I so hate canned chicken, when my cat was so sick I tried to feed her canned chicken and it was pretty disgusting, though I like real chicken. Mehta: “I need to redeem canned chicken by making it stand out like a lion.” He coats it in arrowroot batter to remove the canned taste and makes chicken pakora with green curry and rice. He knows the rice is mushy but can not do anything about it now. Donatella likes it a lot, it is perfectly seasoned with beautiful heat and the chicken is juicy and transformed! Zak calls it genius. Simon agrees, but the rice is overcooked. Alton is sure to prompt him (it must not be his turn to be in the bottom): “But it did not ruin the dish, right?” and he says no, not at all.

Nate also takes a question marked can and is pleasantly surprised to find Tuna! But it is dry (again, it is in water, how can it be dry?) and devoid of flavor (how can tuna be devoid of flavor, it smells to high heaven!). He decides to do tuna three ways. He makes tuna putanesca sauce which is appropriate (the name means “of the whore” and was called that because sluts would not go get fresh ingredients but use things in cans), with capers and olives, then purees more tuna into pesto, makes some ricotta gnocchi, then freezes tuna with liquid nitrogen and grates it onto the top to look like parmesan cheese! That is the sort of thing Bobby Flay does, using the Secret Ingredient in every component of the dish! He is worried the pesto is salty. Zakarian likes the idea of the shaved tuna. Donatella does not think the two sauces go together, and so it is transformative, but not all that good. Simon does not like the pesto at all, it has a metallic taste. Still he approached brilliance by shaving the frozen tuna so he is safe!

Alex gets Spam and makes sugar snap pea ravioli with crispy spam, basil pesto and fried sage. Donatella says it is like eating grass, and Simon calls it “Kermit in a blender” but gives her credit for turning the ingredient into something light and fresh. Zakarian says it tastes better than it looks! So even though she served pureed lawn clippings she is safe!

Marcel got to choose first and he took clams! He makes a clam cake, acqua pazza (crazy water – a tomato broth) with the clam juice, and simmers kale in it. He hopes they appreciate his restraint and more mature plating style! But he serves it in a super-wide-brimmed bowl with a little ceramic cloche, so it is still kind of flashy! But at least he does not serve it in the can! Alton is making faces as they all taste; Simon compliments the presentation but it is very salty and is one of the worst bites he has had all season! Donatella agrees, and Zakarian says there is something else unidentifiable in addition to the saltiness. Alton calls it inedible! Marcel: “It’s kind of a major mistake.” Kind of? (By the way, I am watching ICA as I type this and I see a piece of marinated fish on a scallop shell, a piece of fried fish on newspaper, which the challenger must have brought it with him, a copper dish nestled in a bed of salt on a platter, and something in a half orange! Not to mention a big flower served on one dish! And no one complained!) But oversalting is another matter, and he is obviously in the Showdown!

Spike gets Vienna Sausage and turns it into a Vietnamese crepe! Maybe he was matching words? Vienna and Vietnam? He uses mushrooms, ramps, and nuoc cham (a spicy Vietnamese sauce) for his crepe. Simon is worried about the heat (Spike interviews he brushes his teeth with nuoc cham and there is nothing wrong with that sauce) and Zakarian thinks it would have been better as an omelet rather than a crepe. It is missing cohesion! He is in the Showdown!

Oh no! The two buddies have to do battle! Spike says he and Marcel were friends playing frisbee “back when we were nobodies” which makes me so sad that he thinks they are not nobodies any more! But I think they will get the message by the end of this show!

The Iron Chef Kitchen Stadium Secret Ingredient Showdown Challenge:

The Secret Ingredient is revealed: Lobster! It sounds like they used a recording of the Chairman to call out the word, or is Alton imitating him? I suppose since the first challenge had such difficult ingredients, they are using something easier, the opposite of what they did last week when they could use anything they wanted in the first challenge but had cereal for the second.

Marcel and Spike are nice to each other! They yell “I love you man.” How dare they? The other Chefs watching hate it! They get mad! Alex: “This is not a showdown, this is a brodown!” Amanda: “Are they working together?”

It is crazy how they all pretty much gang up on these two Top Chef guys who are clearly outsiders and pick on them for… being friends? It is so strange, the same thing happens on Project Runway when one designer helps another finish a garment, there is always someone who will complain but here everyone is complaining! This makes me really sad because I still remember how Marcel was so bullied on TC-S2, and you know what, now that I think about it, I think maybe this whole bro-thing and outsider thing and all the criticism is playing on that incident! Maybe to make him an underdog, maybe to capitalize on his TC notoriety (a lot of people hate him), it is interesting, because people who felt sympathetic back then will feel sympathetic again, and those who hate him will hate him again, so it is kind of an all-purpose typecasting!

But the real fun starts when Marcel and Spike decide to plate together! Except not really, it is just that the bowl of soup will go on a big plate that contains the salad! It is not like they made a lobster pie and one made the meat and the other the crust and toppings! They are two separate dishes, just in proximity, like soup and salad! I do not get the big deal but the other chefs are outraged!

Nate: They are making a mockery! (This show is all about mockery!)
Falkner: You do not win Iron Chef as a pair! (Anyone ever tell you not to do something?)
Amanda: They are breaking the rules! (Like using the canned corned beef as a garnish?)
Alex: This is unprecedented! (Like a woman heading up a kitchen?)
Nate: It is the worst decision they have ever made! (like leaving a major NY restaurant to work at Chipotles?)
Amanda: It is an act of defiance! (Just like the judges in Japan did not like Bobby Flay standing on a cutting board at the end!)
Mehta: It is a race and only one person finishes! (Yes, Mr. Serial Killer!)
Donatella: It is arrogance! (Can you spell that?)
Zakarian: We are being played (Like going bankrupt rather than pay your employees!)
Alton: Maybe I’ll have to talk to the Chairman about that! (You mean the dancing actor?)

These chefs are really being ridiculous! I think it is fun, and unexpected, the sort of thing an Iron Chef would do! I wonder if the producers have engineered this whole thing! And they are missing the point, they were two separate dishes!

Spike wants to make food that makes people want to go home and have sex! Or fall asleep! Wait, that is not the same thing! He makes laksa and lobster noodles using the meat from the tails pureed with egg and scallions then squirted through a pastry bag into boiling water! He is on a Vietnam kick today! They try to build suspense about whether or not the noodles will work but of course they do!

Marcel makes lobster and mango salad. He makes hibiscus gelee which really takes 48 hours to heat, cool, and thicken it but he is doing the quick version with liquid nitrogen to make a sauce! Then he makes black bean chili sauce! And seaweed (I think someone said it was kombu). Say what you want about Marcel but that is a lot to do in 30 minutes!
Marcel interviews “When I become the Next Iron Chef not only can Spike be my sous chef, he can stand on the podium and go [swoosh-swoosh with his head]. Marcel, sweetie, that kind of comment is the reason so many people hate you!

They play with the whole “you first, no you” thing, but Spike goes first, and that turns out to be a mistake for Marcel! His dish is cold and more delicate, it should have gone first so it would not be affected by the spicy laksa!

The judges hate the plating idea but love both dishes! In fact it is for both of them the best dish they have made! But Marcel wimps out when the judges ask if they should both go home together! That is too bad, they should have taken a stand!

In the end they reward creativity and originality so Spike is out and everyone gets to look smug and superior while clucking at Marcel.

Alton: “No one on the other side of that wall wishes you well.” Wow, they should pay royalties for using his Top Chef persona so much!

Next week: Cow heads! Auction! “I can cook that cow head in 55 minutes!”

Sunday with Zin: A Capella Series 2012 – part 2

Hello I am Zin and it is time for two more a capellas!

Wait – do not go! Please… the first one is very funny! And the Christmas one is very beautiful!

Rolling in the Higgs

Are you still there?

See, back in July, there was a lot of excitement because the scientists running the large hadron collider in Switzerland (aka CERN) announced they had discovered the Higgs Bosun! This is one of those things like the speed of light or relativity, it is a huge deal (but do not ask me to explain it to you, read what the New York Times had to say instead!

So physics student and “harmony addict” Tim Blais wrote a song! Well, he wrote lyrics to “Rolling in the Deep” which is a song Adele wrote! And he called it “Rolling in the Higgs!”

There’s a collider under Geneva
Reaching new energies that we’ve never achieved before
Finally we can see with this machine
A brand new data peak at 125 GeV
See how gluons and vector bosons fuse
Muons and gamma rays emerge from something new
There’s a collider under Geneva
Making one particle that we’ve never seen before

The complex scalar
Elusive boson
Escaped detection by the LEP and Tevatron
The complex scalar
What is its purpose?
It’s got me thinking

Chorus:
We could have had a model (Particle breakthrough, at the LHC)
Without a scalar field (5-sigma result, could it be the Higgs)
But symmetry requires no mass (Particle breakthrough, at the LHC)
So we break it, with the Higgs (5-sigma result, could it be the Higgs)

And then there is Verse Two!

But the valiant Mr. Blais was not done yet!

He sang this song in… I do not know, four, six, eight part harmony? All by himself! And put it on video! And he is pretty good though his percussion could use some work! If this physics thing does not work out for him he can become a professional a cappelist!

He got a writeup on the Scientific American blog so his lyrics are legit! But I think it is just funny! And if you go all the way to the end, you will find just a snippet of what might be his next video, to “Bohemian Rhapsody” – “Is string theory right? Is it just fantasy? Caught in the landscape out of touch with reality?”

Merry Christmas Music

And now for our Christmas a capella: Everyone knows the Praetorius ” Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” (“Lo How a Rose Ere Blooming”) but that was not good enough for composer Hugo Distler (he has a very sad story! He lived in Germany at the worst possible time! His music was declared “degenerate” by the Nazis and he killed himself rather than end up in the army fighting for a regime he despised, so even though he was a straight white Caucasian Christian, he too was a victim of the Third Reich) so he composed a Bach-style cantata called “Die Weihnachtsgeschichte” (“The Christmas Story”) which included variations of the Praetorius scattered throughout! And they are so beautiful! The whole cantata is about 45 minutes, but I am just using one of the variations for my purposes here, my favorite!

Two more next week! In honor of the cancelled Sing-Off!

Top Chef Seattle: Episode 3, Tom vs. Emeril: Turkeypocalypse

The World in Dumplings

The World in Dumplings

I once helped out with a Thanksgiving dinner where the bird turned out pink inside. Scary pink. I told the host-cook, “You can’t serve that,” but she waved me away. “It’s ok, it’s organic,” she said with the logic of the righteous. “We’ll just eat the outside.” And there was the stuffing I’d contributed, a beautiful combination of veggies, dried fruits, spices, herbs, and artisan breads, all marinated in campylobacter juice. We put the stuffing back in the oven while we finished preparations, but I wasn’t convinced. Was I being over-cautious? Was the host being reckless? What to do? Should I warn the guests? Did I have to eat that potentially contaminated stuffing? Fortunately, someone else noticed the pinkness of the bird and asked some pointed questions, so I wasn’t alone with the secret. I forced myself to eat the stuffing; it would’ve been cowardly (and awkward to explain) otherwise. The good news: no one got sick. But it’s an awful feeling, to cut into an undercooked turkey. It makes everything on the table seem contaminated.

We’ll get to pink turkeys. But first…

Quickfire:

Dumplings!

What’s cuter than a dumpling? Pretty much anything, actually, but they’re still irresistible. And there’s a dumpling – at least one – for every country. It might even be a rule: you can’t be a country unless you have a dumpling.

Dana Cowin joins Padma to deliver the challenge: pick a country off the board, and, in one hour, make a dumpling authentic to the cuisine. Product-placement tablets are helpfully provided to allow five minutes of research, since even the best chef might be unfamiliar with, say, fufu. Or buutz. And authenticity counts.

(I’ve included general recipes for reference, as well as those by the chefs, when available)

Josie knows dumplings: they need to be cooked delicately to maintain structure and texture. “You put love in envelopes. Or purses. Then you eat it.” She may know dumplings, but methinks she needs a little work on metaphors. She makes Korean Mandu with pork, tofu, shiitake mushrooms, scallions and ginger. Dana: “Is kim chee traditionally part of this?” “Sure,” says Josie, the Global Soul Chef, “Any time you go to any Korean restaurant, it’s one pickly, fermented, fishy type of town.” Yes, and any time I go to a Chinese restaurant, I get a fortune cookie, but that doesn’t mean they have anything to do with China. So does her dish contain kim chee too? I can’t tell. I hate to be a party pooper – you know I do – and I like Josie, but has the global chef (and Yankees exec sous, btw) ever travelled anywhere besides the Hamptons? Bravo refers to her as a “world traveler” but offers no specifics, and I can’t find any other information. Dana loves her complete-dish dumpling – it’s authentic, and she wants to eat more – and Josie wins; she gets immunity. I guess it pays to hang out in Korean restaurants.

Stefan also knows dumplings. Well, of course he does, he looks like one. No, wait, that’s a thumb he looks like. Anyway, he grew up in Germany for pete’s sake, and he manages to snag klopse off the board, so no excuses. “It’s a peasant dish,” he assures Dana, as if she doesn’t know. She likes the ground lamb filling, mashed potatoes, and caper sauce; it invites her into Grandma’s house: “This would be really good for a day at the harvest.” Stefan’s relieved; he couldn’t screw this one up and go back home. Top three.

Micah, bless his heart, is a little late getting to the board, so he ends up with Kazakhstan. “I didn’t know Kazakhstan was real.” Yes, it is, it’s where the nuclear weapons are. Or, maybe, were. Not to mention some biological and chemical shit that would keep you up nights if you knew about it. But it’s ok, even Sam Seaborn got it confused with Kyrgyzstan. Which is also real, but without the WMD. What does this have to do with dumplings? Nothing, but I just love any excuse to revisit The West Wing. In addition to WMD, Kazakhstan has some awesome dumplings called manti, and Micah does his best to approximate these (leaving out the horsemeat) by using lamb, dates, curry, and cinnamon. Dana’s impressed: “You went really bold.” Top three. Yes, Micah, there is a Kazakhstan.

Carla isn’t doing so well. She’s got a bandage the size of a volleyball on her hand, which gets in the way of using the product-placement tablet. And she’s got to make these West African fufu. So she makes Italian fufu instead. Dana is not pleased: “These dumplings came to Africa by way of Italy.” Carla understands, and, to give her credit, is appropriately chagrined. But when all you have is a hammer… Bottom Three.

Brooke has no flour. How can you have no flour? What, is this a new torture method, only provide enough flour for 16 chefs and let them play duck-duck-goose? Josie is sympathetic but hasn’t got any flour to spare. So Brooke’s Indonesian siomay are unwrapped filling. Tasty – Dana likes the flavors of the chicken, shrimp, peanut sauce, and daikon – but not a dumpling. Literally, a nudie dumpling; if only she was doing Italian, she could’ve called it gnudi. Bottom three.

Kuniko knows takoyaki (octopus dumplings), though she doesn’t make them at home; she goes to the takoyaki shop and buys them. Of course; where else would you get takoyaki but the takoyaki shop? She’s got the octopus cooked and chopped, but nothing gets to the plate. She’s embarrassed. Brooke is surprised: she’d expected more from the chef at Comme Ça. CJ feels bad for her. Is this more of the already-professed lack of focus? Bottom three.

Sheldon knows every dumpling on the board. Oh, wait, no, that was a joke. Hawaii isn’t big on dumplings, it seems, but he manages to get one he knows, Chinese jiaozi, with pork and shiitake mushroom filling. Dana’s excited to meet him, since he’s a Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chef. He does a good job. But not better than at least three other chefs.

John approves of the challenge, to the great relief of the TC culinary production staff, I’m sure; it’s technique-driven, and a good judge of the talent of a chef. That he’s right doesn’t make it any less annoying. But I agree: it’s a good challenge, combining several basic skills (dough, sauce, flavor combinations) with flexibility to produce something that might be out of one’s comfort zone and probably isn’t something any of them cook every day. John calls out a warning when he notices someone’s dumplings are burning, which is a nice thing to do. He’s a walking contradiction, isn’t he. Interesting. He’s got Swedish Kroppkakor, which, incredibly enough, I happen to know something about. My aunt, who came here from Sweden as a child, used to make them (along with vetebrod) for my family. I confess: as a child, I hated kroppkakor, though I might feel differently today. She pronounced it “KREP-Korker,” not “krep-KA-ka” as Padma and Dana do. Dana hasn’t seen it with a béchamel before. If John doesn’t stop wearing those glasses on his eyebrows, I’m going to develop a nervous twitch.

Lizzie makes Szilvas Gomboc , a Hungarian potato dumpling stuffed with plum and cinnamon. It must sound better than it tastes.

CJ loves pierogi, and uses veal, pork, and gooseberry puree. Dana compliments him on a pretty plate.

Bart makes a Norwegian hairball. Which is what happens when you make a Norwegian potetball, a perfectly innocent potato dumpling stuffed with lamb, and cover it with fried spaghetti for some reason known only to Belgian beer knights. Dana: “what about the crazy fried hair?” He wanted to add texture. Next time, try carrots.

Kristen‘s Nepalese momo, stuffed with pork and chicken liver spiced with ginger and cumin, pass without comment.

Some chefs got left on the cutting room floor (though, oddly, three of them are the only recipes posted so far), but international dumplings deserve mention, even Chrissy’s Indian samoas, the papas rellenas from Mexico via Danyele, and Eliza’s Mongolian buutz. Tyler made something, too – there’s a picture to prove it – but the details are a state secret, possibly to avoid an international incident.

Elimination Challenge

Well surprise surpise, here it Nov. 21 and it’s a Thanksgiving challenge, filmed last July. Two teams will each prepare a Thanksgiving meal for FareStart, a Seattle non-profit that trains the homeless and disadvantaged to work in culinary fields.

Now the twist: Emeril and Tom will “guide” the teams, setting the tone: Creole vs Italian Thanksgiving. Dana and Thierry Rautureau round out the table. I’m happy about this, since it’s kind of boring to watch the constant stream of Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving Feasts pouring out of Food Network this time of year.

Gray Team – A Creole Thanksgiving:

Josie makes Triple-Spiced turkey with cayenne. There’s nothing like hearing Emeril tell her to “stuff that ass with butter” to make your day. “I have immunity,” says Josie. So I can screw up the protein, which will rack up a loss for the team, and get someone else truly talented out of my way, she thinks. “Oh, so you can push the envelope,” says naïve Emeril, who gets paid the same whether his team wins or loses. Yeah, I’m sure that’s what she meant. Actually, I’m pretty sure that is what she meant (I don’t see her as having anywhere near the required level of deviousness to pull off such psychopathic sabotage), or it was a sincere offer to do whatever was riskiest, which usually means dessert. But it doesn’t work out that way, and the blogosphere is pissed. Poor Josie. She started out as the “who were you again” of the returning chefs, and now it turns out one of the global soul chef things she can’t do is roast a turkey. She’s not seeing color on the bird, and she’s intimidated by the glistening, majestic Red Team (or at least their turkey), so she takes the temperature down for a low-and-slow approach, which, well, I’m not a global soul chef, but that makes no sense to me. Wouldn’t you turn the oven up? Maybe she had already turned the oven down, and then turned it up at the end, because it looks like it’s got plenty of color when it comes out. In fact, it looks burned, and she’s now worried it’s overcooked and dry. I don’t know if there’s a shortage of meat thermometers in addition to the shortage of flour, but for whatever reason, it’s pink when they cut into it at the table. “Practically raw,” says Dana. But well-seasoned, as if anyone cares.

Tyler is excited to learn how Emeril makes gumbo; he gets a lesson on roux. We find out Tyler’s had some struggles with alcohol and is seven months sober. I’m guessing he doesn’t have a sponsor, because no sponsor on earth would ok anyone with seven months going on a high-pressure reality show famous for showing chefs guzzling from whatever bottle happens to be handy. His Andouille and Shrimp gumbo is, shall we say, a disappointment. Emeril finds it a little bitter. Thierry thinks it lacks flavor; Emeril wonders what happened to the Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce.

Kuniko is so busy helping John prep (and helping Tyler do something with… tongs?) she doesn’t work on her own dish and brings out a raw, underseasoned potato pavé (a sort of compressed scalloped potato dish). “Go back to the kitchen and actually cook it,” says Thierry. “Simple.” You’d think. Emeril wonders how she could serve without tasting. Tom wonders how she got a knife through it without realizing it was uncooked.

Sheldon makes greens – kale and chard – with ham hocks. Tom loves the flavor, but the greens need to be cooked more; as Dana says, “They’re not falling apart yet.” Padma appreciates the texture, though. I thought he made collards, which I’ve never had; I know something about chard, and I’m with Padma on this one. However, the objective was to make a Creole dish.

Danyele‘s version of Emeril’s Mom’s stuffing with chorizo and cayenne is great; Emeril approves.

John asks Emeril if it’s ok to put bacon in the cornbread; sure, says Emeril, “and jalapeno isn’t a bad idea either.” The resulting stuffing is a hit.

Kristen makes Assiette of Root Vegetables (don’t panic, “assiette” just means “plate”), Parsnip Truffle Puree & Crème Fraiche. Emeril thinks it’s a great idea, but underseasoned; Tom doesn’t think it needs the crème fraiche.

Brooke offers super-tender sweet potato biscuits. Dana loves the crunch of seeds; smart dish. I want one. Or seven.

John goes for a deconstructed pumpkin pie, aka spiced pumpkin and goat cheese Ricotta Torte. It’s a little grainy – even John notices it – but Thierry loves it anyway.

Chrissy asks Emeril if she can say “bam” when she puts vanilla in her batter (though if it’s bread pudding, isn’t it a custard?). They might have to pay Food Network for that clip. Her white chocolate pecan bread pudding goes over well.

Red Team – Ringraziamento

CJ somehow takes the lead on this team, maybe because he’s making the turkey. Or maybe because he’s the tallest. He’s pretty full of himself and his leadership until Carla tells him to leave her alone so she can make her soup. I was all ready for him to be in the bottom line-up weaseling out of it with, “There was no team leader,” but this was his episode to be the Hero. His butter-basted braised turkey (Tom insists there’s about three pounds of butter under the skin, which seems impossible to me) with “Tom’s Stuffing” (foie gras, sausage, fennel, and kale) is a big hit. When he explains it’s a recipe Tom’s family has passed down for generations, Thierry laughs: If there’s foie in it, it isn’t passed down from generations. Good point. Tom grins.

Carla is worried because Tom wants her to make 30 meatballs. I don’t understand; why should that worry her? She makes meatballs every night. Then she gets into it with CJ (“I know how to do soup”), and then with Stefan: “Girls are ‘honey’ and ‘sweetie’ and guys are ‘chef.’” As annoying as she is, she’s got a good point (and I’m kind of annoyed that she’s got me agreeing with her). I hate being called “honey” by anyone I’m not on soul-kissing terms with. When anyone at work, male or female, used to call me “honey,” I’d call them “darlin’,” on the theory they were channeling some old Southern gentleman unable to change his ways. Stefan’s freaked out by Carla because her husband’s a Mafioso and he doesn’t want to get stabbed. ” That’s why I left Europe. European women! ” So many stereotypes, so little time. Her carrot soup with turkey meatballs is a huge hit. Great meatballs, yummy creamy soup. Good thing she was on Tom’s team, or they could’ve been eating Italian gumbo.

Lizzie manages to impress everyone with mashed potatoes. How? Well, Dana wonders if she’s going for Joel Robuchon’s version, which is half butter and half potato. It better be a great dish, since you can only eat two forkfuls before your heart explodes. But she doesn’t go quite that far: two pounds potatoes, one pound butter. Plus a little cream. Damn, now I want some mashed potatoes. It’s been a while.

Micah likes having freedom to express himself within a plan. Dana isn’t too happy about how he expressed his Brussels sprouts with bacon, cranberries, and shallots; they’re underseasoned and a little greasy. Thierry loves them, though.

Bart somehow gets away with making a salad of Fennel, Gorgonzola, Orange & Pumpkin Seeds. Salad? How many Top Chefs have run into trouble over salad? Carlos went home in S2 – in the Thanksgiving episode, in fact – because all he did was a salad. Dana finds it a great palate cleanser, but Padma thinks it could use more refinement.

Joshua makes a sweet potato ravioli that Emeril thinks is the weak link on the plate; they’re a little tough. Tom complains about the thickness of the double layers of pasta around the edges.

Eliza (who? Oh, right, the paler version of Brooke) sends out a Chocolate Tart with White Chocolate & Mint Syrup. It’s too much chocolate. Emeril, Thierry, I’m sorry, there’s no such thing as too much chocolate.

Stefan manages to get his Panna Cotta with Orange Cardamom Crisp & Candied Pecans done in spite of his fear of European women with Mafia husbands (not to mention crowded kitchen quarters), but it’s more of the dessert letdown. Thierry doesn’t like the jam. Padma thinks the cardamom is too strong (and if Padma thinks your cardamom is too strong, you’ve got a problem), but that’s Tom’s favorite part.

Judges’ Table:

Tom and Emeril abstain from the Team decision, since they were involved, but it’s not even close: Red Team wins in a unanimous decision that surprises no one. You just don’t undercook a turkey and win the Thanksgiving challenge. CJ, Carla, and Lizzie are up for the individual win.

CJ gets a pat on the head from Tom for his leadership. His turkey was perfect, moist, well-seasoned.

Carla apparently created some confusion without even realizing it. Tom was expecting cabbage soup, and it looks like right up until Lizzie explains “I think she must’ve said ‘carrot,’ not ‘cabbage,’ he was looking for the cabbage. Whatever it was, everyone loved it.

Lizzie gets a lot of props for mashed potatoes. But looking at the scorecard, nothing else was universally well-received, so I guess it was by default.

Carla wins. CJ glowers. Ok, now that she’s won something, can you send her home please?

Gray Team loses. Tyler, Sheldon, and Kuniko are up for the loss, and Josie gets called out because her sin was that egregious.

Tyler has to face Emeril about his anemic gumbo. “It was perfect when I left yesterday; what happened?” Seems he added more roux but didn’t add more Worcestershire or Tabasco, which left it weak.

Kuniko is really proud that she learned about Louisiana, then tries the “I didn’t have enough time” card, but that doesn’t fly when you have five hours to make scalloped potatoes. Josie jumps in to defend her, saying she was helping everyone out. Padma sorrowfully says they can only judge on the potatoes they got, and they were plain and undercooked.

Sheldon gets a lesson in Southern cuisine from Dana: the greens should be melted. “But they’d be mush!” he says. Yes, exactly. I don’t know much about greens myself, aside from spinach; I just learned about massaged kale a couple of weeks ago, courtesy of Episode 1 (and this video is worth watching if only for all the people trying to get money out of the poor woman – oh, I get it, that’s why the site is called “Cookus interruptus”). But the table agrees they needed to be cooked longer.

Josie really gets smacked down by Tom: “Your team lost because the turkey was undercooked. You’re the reason this team’s here.” Ouch. Up until the moment they tell her the turkey was undercooked, she was sure it was overcooked. I feel kind of bad for her. But I feel worse for Kuniko.

Kuniko is out, to no one’s surprise. Dishwater gumbo isn’t good; raw, unseasoned potatoes are terrible. Again, I’m very disappointed to see someone I like go home, but I don’t think this is the kind of atmosphere where she was going to flourish. Her parting words: “If I didn’t help anybody else and just took care of myself that’s worse than me going home.”

Back in the Stew Room after the goodbyes, John starts in on Kuniko’s failings (“She should be able to do potatoes in her sleep”), which is pretty nervy, considering he’s been her best buddy through both episodes and benefited from her help. He gets flack from CJ, among others: “Why do you have to say something like that right now? Everything turns into a lecture with you.” Can’t we all just get along? Of course not. Egos at work: This is Top Chef.

Next week: Will Josie and Carla get that side of beef off the hook before the season is over? And something that looks like Restaurant Wars – already?

Next Iron Chef: Redemption (2012) – Episode 3, Simplicity

Hello I am Zin and I am all about Simplicity!

The Challenge:

Our chefs meet at a Farmers Market! Alton looks pretty spiffy but maybe in time warp, he is wearing a windowpane jacket, white shoes and a straw boater!

We have a Special Guest, Todd Selby, journalist, illustrator, and photographer! He is probably hoping someone will realize his book Edible Selby is just right for the foodie on your Christmas list (it is quite beautiful, his website has an extensive sneak peak) but he does not mention it and I respect that so much I will mention it for him! It is quite a cute book! The photo above is part of the Table of Contents!

He is there to take pictures of all the chefs at the Farmers Market to capture their personalities! Alex is not in a mood for fooling around, she wants to know how this relates to the challenge! But Alton just says “All will be revealed” and herds them inside.

Marcel tries to figure out which is his good side. Todd gets a pretty cool pic of him stirring caramel in a huge cauldron with a wooden paddle, because as Todd says, he is a Mad Scientist! That is true but how did Todd know that? I think he must have had a briefing!

Eric is a grilled cheese master so he is photographed holding an armful of cheeses that say “I am juicy and delicious!” I am not sure what juicy has to do with cheese, but I stick with pretty basic cheeses myself.

Mehta adores spices so of course he is in a spice shop! Amanda is happy doing what she does so she is smiling, it looks like she is behind a deli counter handing over a package of sliced ham to someone which is a pretty pathetic idea!

Falkner and Spike get to make pizza, and Spike does a very good job of tossing it!

Appleton butchers a huge slab of beef! And Alex is stuffing sausage into casing! I wonder if there is a hidden message in that! Alex tells Nate he looks homicidal in his photograph! She is right! And Falkner notices all the women are smiling! They are! And none of the men are! That is really interesting! Is it because women are expected to look pretty and men are allowed to look threatening? Or is it just that these women are smilers?


The pictures of the men are also much better than those of the women! The men look like interesting portraits and the women look like snapshots! I wonder if that is the women, or the photographer!

Now Alton tells them the challenge: in a previous season, they had to prepare one bite that showed their personality. This time, they have to create a bite that reflects the personality of another chef! Nate says: “I don’t know what Chef Guarnaschelli tastes like. I don’t know what Marcel tastes like. I know what carrots taste like.”

By the way, I would like to point out that while this is a pretty interesting challenge, it has nothing to do with simplicity, which is the theme of the week! Caviar, sea urchin, foams, soufflé, anchovies, this is not simplicity! Do not pretend it is!

Because Mehta won last week he gets to pair everyone up, and each pair will compete against each other with one chef from each pair going to the Showdown!

The Cooking:

Falkner is fierce so Mehta pairs her with Amanda. I think he has insulted someone!

Amanda thinks of Falkner as misunderstood because everyone thinks of her as a pastry chef but in her photograph she is in an Italian trattoria! So she wants to use the most misunderstood of ingredients, anchovies! She makes spaghetti with Sicilian anchovy sauce! Falkner likes that idea! And the judges love her dish! Zakarian loves her story! They are all crazy about it! Hey, it is a great concept, but the dish, it is spaghetti, let us not get carried away! But she is the Winner of the pair and the Winner of the challenge!

Falkner makes sea urchin with avocado cucumber puree and caviar because she has seen the twinkle in her eye and she is sexy like the sea urchin! Ok… This is hilarious! Donatella did not get all that from the photo – so, wait, she is saying Amanda is not sexy? Zakarian likes the plate, but Simon thinks it is flat which is definitely not Amanda. Falkner is bummed. She missed the theme again! She is in the Showdown.

Alex and Marcel end up together because “they both have opposite spectrums of work.” I am not sure what that means, but it sounds like someone is being insulted and I would bet it is Marcel!

Alex goes high-tech to capture Marcel! She makes souffléd goat cheese on toast with honey and shattered lemon: the toast is like the paddle he is stirring the caramel with in the photo, the honey is the caramel, and the liquid nitrogen shattered lemon and soufflé is a nod to his fondness for high techery! Zakarian loves it! Donatella loves the lemon but Simon does not get lemon and scolds Alex for inconsistency! I think he is just being contrary! She is Safe!

Marcel thinks Alex has that motherlike quality (really?) so he wants to include eggs, and he includes butter because that is the name of her first restaurant, and in the picture she is making sausage so he throws in some chorizo butter, plus some truffles because she spares no expense. Alex is ok with being characterized as scrambled egg! This is breakfast, yes? Truffled egg with sausage and croutons and a foam? Oh Marcel, you just had to do the foam! Zak thinks it is playful and technique driven but there is not much there there, it needs more substance! Donatella also thinks it is like eating a lot of air! Simon does not disagree but appreciates the homage. He is in the Showdown!

Nate and Eric will play opposite each other. Eric says “Nate is the last guy I want to tangle with” while Nate says “This is a softball, he is easy.” I wonder if that means he is easy to capture in a plate of food or if he is easy to beat!

Nate butts heads with Marcel over truffles (it is ridiculously complicated: Nate pushed Marcel at the refrigerator so Marcel will not share, they are like four year olds!) so now they are Enemies! “That will come back to bite you!” He sees Eric as a happy man and what makes people happy is big, bold flavors so he goes for a brazen bold shameless surf and turf, prawns, tri-tip, béarnaise, caviar, truffles! Simon warns him about using luxury ingredients to impress judges but he admits the dish worked in balance. Donatella calls it indulgent and great. Eric is happy: “I am luxury personified!” Nate is Safe!

Eric takes his cue from the photo of Nate: the look in his eyes says “devil” so he does deviled quail eggs on sea urchin with pancetta! The sea urchin because Nate is prickly and dangerous on the outside but elegant inside! Typing this is a giggle fest! Zakarian is looking for more devil in the egg, but Simon thinks it is just the right amount of heat, and he too sees the devil in the eyes! Simon is dismayed that he has to choose between them but he must so Eric is in the Showdown!

Mehta takes Spike for the same reason Alex put him on her team last week! Everyone seems to think Spike is the clown of the group! I will not argue with that! But Spike says not to let the “hairy face and messy hair” fool you, he is here to win! His hair is the least of his problems!

Spike thinks Mehta is slippery and you have to keep your eye on him so he makes bacon-wrapped shrimp over apricot chutney! In the picture he has creepy eyes so he is like the shrimp, with a hard exterior but inside is pure bliss and sweetness! Zakarian loves the apricot chutney and the shrimp is cooked perfectly! Donatella does not think bacon makes sense with Mehta, and Mehta says his third world background did not teach him about bacon, oopsie! Still he is Safe!

Mehta knows Spike is Greek and he was making pizza in the photo so he makes pizza dolmas with chorizo and eggplant! Simon likes the idea but the execution was flawed and the heat is too pronounced. Donatella agrees and it is also a bit soggy. Zakarian disagrees, he loves the “delightful marriage” of cheese and chorizo, he felt he was eating Spike! Spike is not sure he tastes like soggy dolmas! I think Food Network should really stop trying to be cool with the double entendres because they are not good at them! Poor Mehta, he thought he was going to trounce Spike but Spike is safe and he is in the Showdown!

Secret Ingredient Showdown:

And the Secret Ingredient is… Cereal! Specifically, Rice Krispies and Raisin Bran! Oh no, I so want Rice Krispies now, they are almost a craving! I rarely buy them because I go through the box in a really scary short time, I love cereal but it is such a waste of calories I only buy the ones I do not like that much! Rice Krispies are perfect for when I am feeling very tired or in any kind of pain (they are easy to eat, you do not even need to chew them). But back to the chefs! They must use both cereals in one dish! Everyone is confused, what can you make with cereal? Oh come on, have you guys never seen Chopped? Eric is upset because he is up against “three pastry chefs” which made me mad at first, because that is usually an insult, but I think what he means is that cereal lends itself more easily to dessert dishes and everyone else has done more of that than he has!

Falkner makes a variation on tartufo bianco which literally means “white truffle” but just as truffles can be mushrooms or chocolate, so can white truffles be mushrooms or ice cream coated with marshmallow! She makes what she calls a giant marshmallow, apparently skipping the ice cream part, and folds in the Rice Krispies for a lighter kind of Treat, adds the raisins from the Raisin Bran to the chocolate ganache which sounds really good! I do not know what she does with the bran part of the bran. Then she has to set the ganache, and they only have such a short time so she uses liquid nitrogen! See, everyone is playing with the toys that only a few years ago were dismissed! Simon tells her he is going to send her to the Showdown round every week because it is there she does her best cooking! Zakarian calls it simplicity itself, which finally works in the Simplicity theme, though I think it is a stretch to call this simple! Donatella is happy she reinvented the Rice Krispy Treat (funny how all the chefs know all about such a mundane item) and Falkner wins the Showdown! Yay!

Marcel has Spike cheering him on, which makes sense since they are kind of the outsiders –
Top Chef interlopers – in this group! He does a take on cereal with milk, because that is what cereal is for! He makes coconut ice cream and a variation on rice crispy treats (which I hate by the way, go figure) and you knew someone was going to do that! He serves it in a coconut shell which is probably going to get him in trouble, but if he were on Iron Chef they would love it, that is how these things are! He is very confident! And that is ok, because they like it! Zakarian calls it yummy and he used smart technique in perfect balance! Donatella loves the ice cream and says Falkner better watch out for him! You know she is in no danger from Marcel but it is nice that they say that, I do not know why there is this ice cream mystique on this show, I think maybe the viewers like it when people make ice cream so they encourage contestants to do so by praising it so they will do it more often! Simon likes the dish but calls the coconut shell “juvenile” and says it looks like there was an accident in a tiki bar! He is an old poopy face! The shell has lots of coconut so it makes sense to me, you can dig some out as you eat your ice cream! But shell or not Marcel is safe!

Mehta makes crab cakes and a kind of chevda which is an Indian snack resembling Chex Party Mix! Simon likes it, he remembers it from his childhood! Donatella likes the crunch of the crab cake but says it is greasy, though Simon disagrees (of course he does) but Zakarian also disagrees, he thinks it is the best dish Mehta has done. Mehta is very restrained during his interviews and he says “One of us has to go home but it will not be me” in a way that reminds me of Hannibal Lecter! Maybe that is why he appeals to me, for a murderer and cannibal Lecter was a great character! As it turns out he is right, it comes down to Mehta and Eric and it was pretty obvious but Mehta is safe!

Eric has Nate on his side because of course the enemy of my enemy is my friend! But no one understands why he picks tuna, the meatiness does not go with cereal! But he poaches the tuna in olive oil and crusts it with the cereal. Zakarian does not think it works but not because of the meatiness, it is because tuna is a lightweight protein and the dish lacks fat! Simon disagrees (of course he does!) but thinks the sunchoke puree clashes badly! Bad news, and Eric is out!

Eric is angry to be out! Alton tells him he was outcooked and he make him repeat that, then stomps away (and it looks like there was something missing in there, maybe he argued more or he asked “Is this where I am supposed to act really angry?” or something) and in his interview insists he was not outcooked and they were wrong!

This season is working out pretty well, the challenges are interesting (I really liked the photo challenge) and the food has a lot of variety and I am seeing new things, like Indian Chex Mix!

Next week: Canned food! We all know much chefs love to work with cans!

Sunday with Zin : A Capella Series 2012 – part 1

Hello I am Zin and I miss The Sing-Off!

I was surprised by it when it showed up for four days in December 2009! I was thrilled when it came back for two weeks before Christmas in 2010! I knew we were headed for trouble when they made it a three-month series in 2011, but I enjoyed every minute!

And then it was cancelled!

How could they?

So in mourning for The Sing Off which should be running about this time, every week between now and the New Year I will be posting links to all kinds of a capella videos! Because a capella covers a lot of ground from Praetorius in the Renaissance to barbershop in the early 20th century to my beloved Pentatonix who won The Sing-Off last year! One will be a Christmas song, and one will not!

So you are sneering? Are you rolling your eyes at me? Stop it! Because, come on, I dare you to tell me something that is more fun than watching six guys sometimes upside down singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight with a German accent!

And for the seasonal part of our program, enjoy The King’s Singers (sort of the British version of Halbtrocken, except they came first, so it is really that Halbtrocken is the German version of the King’s Singers) and their Christmas version of The Gift to be Simple.

Project Runway All-Stars Season 2 Episode 4: Made In The USA Today

First: There is nothing interactive about this challenge.

Second: I’m pretty sure Blondie’s judging dress was on Fashion Police recently as a Fashhole nominee. The first one, well, obviously she didn’t get the memo from Michael Kors that illusion fabric is for old-lady-ice-skaters.

The Teaser Line:

In spite of the “interactive” thing, it’s just another “design a dress from a picture” challenge, just like the Harlem School for the Arts episode or the “go out and take a picture and design a dress from it” challenges that have been part of PR from S2 when Andrae took a picture of gutter water and turned it into a gorgeous gown. This one is even less interactive, in fact, because while “fans” tweet in pictures and designers use them as inspiration for a look, there’s no contact with the photographer, no explanation of the pics, nothing except the picture and the name of the photographer. It’s less interactive than designing for makeup colors, or hats, or even Heidi’s running shoes, because those involved actual communication with the creator of the inspiration. So let’s just call it a photo challenge. The designers also need to come up with a headline. Uh oh. Words? Really?

And then USA Today gets into the mix.

USA Today claims to be a newspaper. It’s really a daily advertising supplement, but ok, let’s humor them and call it a newspaper. A rep from USA Today joins Joanna in the workroom and pitches their “infographics” and “visually driven storytelling” which is what you get when nobody wants to read anything over 140 characters. The winning designer, and the person who sent in the photograph, gets to be in USA Today. Oh, goody. A USA editor accompanies Joanna on her walkthrough: “You were probably feeling some emotion in the picture; make sure it translates into the final product.” No one from USA Today is on the judging panel, so who cares what they want.

There’s a lot of fuss about the order in which they pick the photographs (mostly to give Laura the chance to pout about being picked last again and complain about how no one understands her because she grew up rich), since the setup only allows two at a time to view them. To me, this showcases the limitations of their product-placement computers, but to people who consider this an interactive challenge and who think USA Today is a newspaper, it’s probably very exciting.

The guest judges are designer Charlotte Ronson and some sixteen-year-old fashion blogger, which fits perfectly with today’s theme of pretending things are more than they are.

You can find the photos each designer used, and the designs they created, on TLo (thanks, TLo!); for some reason (stupidity, probably) Lifetime decided not to include them, so I’m not bothering with links other than the one that shows everything. In fact, I may do that from now on, since I like TLo so much more than Lifetime anyway.

Today’s News:

Top Stories:

Emilio picks a picture of little Sophie; he has a niece about her age, and he’s taken with the All-American, young, fresh, innocent qualities. He’s done bold so far; now’s the time for his softer side. His “headline” is “Sophie’s Choice” which is a cute pun but is about as far away from all those qualities as you can get. See, this is what happens when designers do words. Joanna, bless her heart, points out maybe he’s just playing on the name and his headline has nothing to do with his design. When his look comes out on the runway, I jotted down, “Emilio – weird,” but after looking at it a while, I kind of get it. It’s kind of the kid’s version of his circus dress, which IIRC Michael Kors said was his favorite look ever on PR to that point. I think the hoop skirt needs to be a little better, because it almost looks like a mistake this way. And the top is just a shift, with no reason for being there other than to hold up the skirt. It’s clearly not ready-to-wear, but the challenge didn’t ask for that, now did it? Isaac loves it: it’s light as a feather, totally modern, and a fresh idea, it’s playful and fun, but the shape could be pushed out more. Georgina loves the inspiration, and the dress evokes that emotion with a wink to creativity; she loves that he stepped away from everyone else. He was in a different place, and he was right and everyone else was wrong. Now that’s not fair: if the idea was to go avant garde, they should’ve specified that. On the other side, it’s not fair for Charlotte to point out it’s not an easy dress to wear. No, it isn’t, but that wasn’t part of the challenge, either. See how important words are? Is this a runway challenge, a photo challenge, or an event challenge? If you don’t specify, you can’t complain.

Laura has a pity party all episode; Joshua comforts her and tries to explain that what she thinks is talking about her childhood might be coming across differently. Y’know what, if an adult woman doesn’t know that, why bother with her. She takes a picture of a little whirlpool of water and uses silk charmeuse and her own dyeing technique to capture the fluidity. Joanna notices she’s more emotional than usual (“tensions get higher”), and asks, “When do people wear long gowns?” And again, I’m bamboozled by the lack of definition given the challenge. But Laura hits it out of the park: “I’m not making clothes accessible to the farmers of America, but things that are fashion forward and progressive.” She should go work for Romney, she’s got the same deft turn of phrase guaranteed to make everyone hate her. But I’ll tell you, I like her gown. I love the vest-like top, I love the dye job, I love the shape; I don’t like the use of the dark fabric in the back, but other than that, and I hate myself for this, but it’s gorgeous. The judges like it, too, especially the print, but wish the long skirt touched the floor (I like the arch in the hemline). Isaac likes it, but it isn’t a “wow” dress. Yes, in fact, it is, but it’s a quiet “wow.” And again, the challenge wasn’t to create a “wow” dress, it was to interpret a photograph. I hate that I’m defending Laura, who divides the world into the farmers and the fashion-forward. That’s what PR has driven me to.

Anthony Ryan picks a black-and-white graphic print that evokes paths crossing; his headline is “Always Moving Forward” referring to his cancer treatment. Ok, this is going to sound insensitive and callous. I have some idea how life-changing his experience has been. I applaud his ability to pick up and move along, and hope his RockOne1 idea grows. But he’s got to realize, in a competition setting, it’s nearly impossible to bring out the cancer card without seeming to exploit it. That said, his dress delivers. I don’t know what it has to do with the photo, or with moving forward, but it’s very sharp, and the back is interesting. Isaac sees a sexy, in-control woman, and gets his intention; it coud be too sexy but it isn’t. Charlotte worries the back is a little too low (it is) but likes the longer length.

Filler:

Casanova plays with a fusion of masculine and feminine, for a white pantsuit. It’s quite beautiful; I love how he used the print on the pants, and I’m crazy about the jacket. I’m surprised how much I’m liking Casanova’s clothes this season.

Ivy chooses a butterfly picture and goes with evolution and change (I guess she hasn’t seen Silence of the Lambs). It’s not the most original thought out there, but I love the outfit she makes; it’s the first time I’ve ever liked the boy-shorts-under-sheer thing, maybe because they’re boy-shorts and not panties, and maybe because the print obscures them enough. I love the vest-like top; again with that technique, I guess it’s what’s being done this year. I’m no Ivy fan, but it’s lovely. And I wouldn’t have blamed her for smacking nemesis Laura for yawning during the runway walk of her design (though it’s quite possible that was edited in and it didn’t happen that way at all; I don’t trust Lifetime with anything).

Kayne picks a photo of brightly-colored vintage jewelry, which surprises no one. He comes up with…a very nice red dress? Yeah, it is. Casanova doesn’t think so (“a Parisian prostitute with a chicken on her head”) and I hate to argue with someone famous for dressing his models like whores but I think it’s quite nice. I guess the connection with the photo is vintage and bright. The black lace in back, which Joanna warned him about, is just on the ok side of too much. This is supposed to be the dress he said was Kate Middleton; I can see why he’d say that (the hat alone does it) though I don’t know enough about her to agree or disagree. But it shows some restraint, and that’s always been his Achilles’ heel, so it’s a success.

Uli uses a picture of clouds from an airplane, comes up with words like “free” and “peaceful” – and I just realized, literally as I was typing that, because I remembered she used the word “free” in her S4 photo challenge, and combined that with the comment she made last week about getting out of East Germany immediately when the wall came down because everyone figured it would go right back up again – “free” has a special meaning to Uli. A lot of us bandy about words like that, but I suddenly got struck by how important that word is to her. But… she makes a nightgown. It’s a lovely nightgown, if a little too nude. It’s the second nightgown she’s made. I guess sleep is free and peaceful, but what was this about a new Uli who doesn’t just do flowy designs?

Tabloid Territory:

Althea has this amazing picture of the inside of a big architectural train station; she’s taken with the colors and shape (and remembers the moment her now-husband proposed to her though I don’t remember why; were they in a train station?). She decides to do pants instead of a dress; she’s been in the Safe zone all along so now she wants to get in front of the judges. So she makes the ugliest thing possible because that’s one way to get screen time. She’s a separates designer, but she’s going to push it more than she usually would. Joanna’s concerned (or she would be if she were Tim): she loves the colors in the photo, but the fabric is taupe instead, where’s that coming from? I don’t think Althea bothered with the photo; one brown tone is as good as another, it’s got shapes, round shapes, long shapes, close enough: let’s make kangaroo pants. Isaac doesn’t get it; it looks like a wound. This comment makes me wonder about Isaac: just what kind of wounds has he been looking at? Georgina appreciates the effort to do a suit, the nod to the drop crotch and extreme jodhpurs, but no. Just no. We’re all in agreement, then. I think she was trying to recreate the glory of her “paper bag waist” win in S6, but boy did she go wrong. And the color is mud.

Andrae chooses a photo of a black woman with a headband looking down; he gets “forlorn” from it, and he’s sad, too: he was picked last again, and he has nothing in common with the other designers. Because they’re, like, working designers, and he’s more of a playing-in-the-basement kind of guy, I’m afraid. I love Andrae, but he hasn’t progressed since S2, and he’s outmatched on all sides here. Emilio sees him as a “personality” rather than a designer; that’s kind of a mean thing to say, but it’s not completely inaccurate. He’s making “modular units” that zip together, so if you wanted to wear, say, a shirt with a blue patch on the side, you could, then you could unzip it and zip in a yellow patch. This isn’t a totally crazy idea. But he isn’t up to it, not yet. Joanna’s trying to figure out if it’s bonkers or brilliant. Laura thinks it’s wackadoodle (her word) which makes me want to like it. But… I can’t. It looks like an ill-fitting color-blocked wetsuit. Oh Andrae, I’m sorry. Isaac doesn’t get forlorn (I do: if I had to wear that, I’d feel plenty forlorn), and he doesn’t understand the panels. Georgina senses a Teachable Moment: when you use stretch fabric and a stiff zipper, the zipper will buckle and disrupt a smooth line (aha! There’s actual theory for this). Charlotte gracefully allows that with more time he might’ve been more successful.

Joshua is another one who breaks my heart, not because I like him, but because he’s, artistically, much like me. But first… his picture is orange and blue and squares and circles. I have no idea what it is (water meters on a rusted panel, maybe?), and that’s fine. Joshua doesn’t know what it is either, I guess, because he’s reacting to the colors and squares and circles. And his shirt is colorful round-cornered squares. Don’t you just love it when everything comes together? Joanna’s concerned about the artsy-craftsy vibe of the top, but he keeps going: “Boo boo, you have got to hurry up.” For some reason he reminds me of Nick Verreos when he says that; sorry, Nick (I do like Nick, very much). Here’s the exact first-reaction note I wrote when I saw it: “Joshua, if I can get past colors, I don’t like it.” And yeah, that’s about it. The overall shape of the top is ok, though it should either be more boxy or more tapered, but it’s the pasted-on effect of the stripes that does it in. And the skirt, well, the color’s off, I hate the asymmetrical hem, it’s too short where it’s short, and too flowy for the jacket. And too shiny. Why does he remind me of me? Because neither of us are able to execute what we have in our heads. Take that exact outfit, give it to, oh, Seth Aaron or Mondo, someone who works with colors, even Mila, and it’d be improved a thousand percent just by small changes, like tapering the colorblocks or slanting them (though the fabric of the skirt needs to be changed, it just does) and executing it well. You give me seven items and ask me to arrange them on a table, and I’ll make a mess of it, whereas an artist knows how to get the eye to flow. I can tell when a story I’m working on doesn’t work, but I don’t know how to fix it. That’s what being an artist is, it isn’t about matching colors and making shapes, knowing to switch up sentence lengths and vary structures; it’s about intuitively knowing how to make almost-right, right. And Joshua just isn’t blessed with that sense; neither am I. The difference between us is, I don’t go on Reality TV and try to convince the world I’m an Artiste. It doesn’t get better, either. It’s not like discovering new methods, new inspirations. It’s more like colorblindness. It’s the difference between Talent, and Not. Anyway, for all that, Georgina finds it costumey and schizophrenic, with no resemblance to the image, and Isaac sees too much to think about. Someone suggests it’s “military geisha” and Isaac tries “Sgt. Pepper.” No, it isn’t; Sgt. Pepper was gaudy and stupid but it flowed. This doesn’t flow, it stops and starts.

The Lead (hey, when I bury the lead, I really bury the lead):

Anthony Ryan win; his photo and interview appear in the online USA Today. This is not to take away from his design – it’s a striking dress and I think he deserved the win – but I suspect the decision was made when the USA Today editor did her walk-through and heard the word “cancer.” I’m glad his work didn’t make it awkward to explain it.

Andrae is out; I’m sorry our little lamb has gone astray, it was baaaa-d, baaaaa-d, baaaaa-d. But it was great to see him again. His last words: “This is something I’m proud of.” Me, too, sweetie.

Next Week: androgynous clothing. And naked men. With a twist. I’m guessing they start of designing for women, then the men come in. But I could be wrong. I’m looking forward to this from Joanna: “Did you just say there isn’t much ball room?”

Top Chef Seattle: Episode 2, A Shock at the Space Needle

They really mean it – the back to basics thing. At least, so far. Great episode – interesting food, clear display of cooking techniques, and a big surprise. Oh, and geoduck, which are always fun.

Quickfire:

I never heard of the “waterfall look” before (and it doesn’t show up on the first page of a Google search, so I’m assuming it’s not just because I’m an old fart), but that’s what Micah calls it – that head-to-toe appraising glance, with an edge of intimidation, that happens in a first gathering of people who are going to be together a while. Or maybe it means scoping out potential bedmates, I don’t know. It’s actually a clever phrase. Hugh now gives it to his dog a lot. That’s a little creepy.

It’s a pretty straightforward challenge: they divide themselves into five teams of three, and prepare local shellfish in twenty minutes. There’s a pretty good video of Supervising Culinary producer (and S3 contestant) Sandee Birdsong setting up the challenge, which included hiding geoduck and razor clams in the mud, and putting the mussels underneath the huge crabs (to make the quick-cooking mussels harder to reach than the more time-consuming crabs). And if you like behind-the-scenes stuff, there was a cool article on Nosh Pit this summer.

Guest judges are former contestants CJ (S3), Stefan (S5), and Josie (S2).

Blue Team: John, Sheldon, Kuniko

John picks Kuniko because she’s Japanese so maybe she has good knife skills. Ok, it’s stupid, but at least he didn’t call her “Origami.” He knows from watching all the past season that the decisions you make are as important as how well you cook (which is true). He starts plotting with his teammates while Padma is still giving her spiel: “Excuse me…. Listen up.” Weak, Padma. The guy is begging for a beat-down. But he’s working well with Kuniko: “Who says the most hated chef in Dallas can’t get along with people?” He’s playing that title for all he’s worth, isn’t he.

Kuniko isn’t all that good at expressing herself in English and worries that’ll get in the way.

Sheldon knows seafood, being from Hawaii. I kind of wonder if Pacific Northwest seafood isn’t a bit different from South Pacific seafood, but maybe it’s close enough.

Their Winning DishGeoduck Sashimi, Ponzu, Apple and Cucumber. CJ loves the thin slices of sashimi (which John did, so there’s a limit to how far he’d trust Kuniko’s knife skills), and the apples are great. Stefan loves the pine nuts, though he and Padma agree it could use just a hint more salt. The prize of immunity is determined by a knife draw, and what do you know, it’s John. “The nice thing about immunity is that you can have an extra glass of wine and sleep.” You know he’s lying: he’s one of those hyperdriven achieving types who expects to win every challenge. But he was really pleased to win this challenge. He’s not really living up to this fearsome reputation. Other than talking in class.

Yellow Team: Danyelle, Joshua, Eliza

Joshua sends Eliza to get geoduck, and is disappointed when she comes back with razor clams instead. “Stefan’s a bit of a dick, one of those guys who knows everything.”

Danyelle has this red Cosette hair, its driving me nuts; sometimes it’s really pretty but in her interviews it looks like a cheap wig. And a dirty one at that. She’s bummed about losing out on the geoduck.

Eliza tried, she really did, digging around in the mud, but the last geoduck was gone. She figures the ex-competitors are going to be vindictive, since they’re the losers. Ouch. “You can burn something and call it Cajun, you can undercook something and call it mid-rare, but you can’t underseason.” Yeah, well, you can’t really get away with that other stuff either. But I’m looking forward to watching you try.

The Losing Dish Razor Clam and Grilled Corn Chowder with Fresno Chili and Grilled Lime. It’s underseasoned and watered down, even if CJ does like the grilled lime.

Green Team: Kristen, Micah, Tyler

Kristen wants geoduck since it’s something that can be done quickly. “It’s great except it looks like a penis. A really big one.” Yes, it does (I remember my first geoduck… it was a summer day at the brand-new Public Market, and Portland Seafood had this thing sitting on ice…). She proposes geoduck two ways, sashimi’d and fried belly.

Micah and Tyler don’t say much.

Fried and Sashimi Geoduck, Radish and Bok Choy Salad, Yuzu Chili Vinaigrette: Josie’s impressed by the nice contrast in texture of the geoduck; CJ and Padma wish the sashimi was cut thinner.

Orange Team: Carla, Chrissy, Lizzy

Carla is a chef but a woman so she wants to look good when she’s cooking: “I want to be a James Beard [sic] and I want to have a nice ass.” She also wants to jabber nonstop. Loudly. Repetitiously. Five minutes into the season, and I’m praying she goes home early.

Chrissy: “There’s an extreme lack of communication right now.” You could call it that. Everyone’s talking and no one’s listening. My shoulders were up around my ears just from the six-second shot of the nightmare that is Team Orange. And by the way: “Stefan looks like a thumb.”

Lizzy isn’t happy with the dish, and she would’ve rather Carla was drowned at birth. “With Carla I almost want to say, “Be quiet.” Almost? I want to tell her to shut the fuck up, myself, and I have the volume control. “You can see the crazy in the dish.”

Oven Roasted Crawfish with Fennel and Herb Salad. CJ wants more acid, but Josie thinks it’s well-seasoned and gives it two thumbs up. Everyone wants Carla to go away. And by the way – I was surprised to see crawfish in a Seattle shellfish challenge; I thought they were gulf critters. Turns out there’s more than one kind of crawfish, and some of them like Seattle just fine.

Gray Team: Bart, Jeffrey, Brooke

Bart: “In Belgium, we’ve been conquered so many times, we just keep everything from everyone who’s conquered us.” Dang, he’s right: The Romans (57 BC), the Franks (5th century AD), Austria (1477), Spain (1566), Austria again (1714), France (1794), Holland (1815), and Germany in both world wars. And Belgium is still there. That’s flexibility.

Brooke prefers a more rustic approach than Bart’s French emphasis, but she’s a team player so she’ll go along. She, too, tried to get geoduck, but John found it first.

Jeffrey… well, he’s there, yes, he is.

Crawfish with Pickled Red Chili, Fennel and Crawfish Cream. CJ thinks it’s a little old-school. Stefan finds the crawfish well-cooked; it’s good, though there’s a little too much dill.

Surprise!

Now that Stefan, CJ, and Josie have made a lot of friends criticizing everyone’s food, Padma announces they are joining the competition. As fellow competitors. They become the Red Team.

Really?

It took me a while to wrap my mind around that. Why would they bring people back? Why would they bring these people back? Actually, two-thirds of that is easy to answer: I would imagine they didn’t want to do another All-Stars season, but figured they could get some mileage out of these guys.

CJ was pretty well-liked during S3 (though IIRC he could be a little devious in subtle ways) – Padma had tears in her eyes when she sent him off for bad airline food. I still remember his introductory line: “I have one testicle and I’m here to cook.” In fact I thought of him when Anthony Ryan said something similar on PRS9. He just did a stage at Noma in Copenhagen, which a few years ago replaced El Bulli as the Best Restaurant in the World. I’m not sure what it takes to get a stage there, but it’s not easy to get a reservation.

Stefan was the runner up to “Hootie…. Who?” (aka Hosea) in S5, in probably the most disputed call in TC history. “I have nothing to prove. I drive a Porche. I own eight restaurants. I lost to Hosea, and there isn’t one person I’ve met who hasn’t said, ‘You should have won.’” Including, I have to admit, me. But that doesn’t mean I want to be stuck watching him again for a whole season. Especially if he continues to bird-dog the women.

Josie became kind of famous, not as the Global Soul Chef, but as the target of a gay-bashing following her TCS2 appearance. She didn’t exactly ace S2: she went home on the fifth challenge (though she was saddled with a less-than-helpful teammate). Seems like a pretty random selection.

Needless to say, the other chefs are not happy about this. Me, I like it fine, but I’m just watching it on tv. I saw something on TWoP last week about “returning chefs” but I kind of skimmed by it, not sure what they were talking about. Now I know. It’s kind of a cool twist early in the game, like the cattle call last year. And for me, a fun surprise in a show that doesn’t really offer that many actual surprises any more.

Elimination Challenge:

You knew when you heard “Seattle” the Space Needle was going to figure in there somewhere. And it does. They stay in teams, and head to the rotating restaurant up in the sky to prepare a dish for Seattle chef Tom Douglas (“Seattle’s got a lot of great restaurants, and he owns half of them,” says Tom). The guy beat Morimoto at Iron Chef. That says something.

The teams have 47 minutes – one revolution of the restaurant – to cook. They go “shopping” in the Top Chef Pantry which has been stocked with all manner of Seattle comestibles.

Blue Team: Kuniko, John, Sheldon:

Kuniko wants to poach cod in chili oil; that scares me; isn’t that awfully strong for fish? But John’s impressed: “She’s challenging me after all these years, I’m loving her choices.” John does the veg, Sheldon the dashi. John gets a little nervous when Kuniko burns the chili oil. I do, too: they call her over to tell her it’s smoking, and she looks at the pot: “This is the chili?” like she doesn’t believe it’s her pot. She explains she starts thinking and can’t stop, and loses focus (I can relate to that). But the re-do works fine: the Chili Oil Poached Cod with Dashi, Spot Prawn Shabu Shabu is a hit. Tom D. likes the smokiness of the dashi, Tom C. is surprised the chili oil isn’t overpowering (me, too, but I feel a little less stupid when he thinks the same thing). Gail loves the spot prawns: “It’s nice and light; the first thing I put in my mouth in Seattle isn’t bad.” Wait a beat. “That came out wrong.” Oh, I think it came out perfectly.

Yellow Team: Joshua, Danyelle, Eliza

In the Pantry, they encounter a Headless Fish. They do not know what kind of fish it is. Eliza guesses monkfish and salmon; Joshua thinks it’s cod, but then he seems unsure, it might be some kind of salmon. Now, I’ve never touched a whole fish in my life, but doesn’t salmon has pink flesh? The ones I eat do, and it’s silvery; this fish is brown, and has white flesh. Monkfish is huge and kind of the shar-pei of fish, right? So I’m wondering if they’re idiots, or if it’s really that hard to tell. Me, I don’t know anything beyond betas, harlequin rasboras, and cardinal tetras (I used to have an aquarium) but come on, they’re chefs. They take the fish, which turns out to be cod. Joshua is out to prove the little guy from Oklahoma is a great chef. Joshua, hon, you ain’t that little. But he did know what the fish was, Oklahoma or not. They serve Pan Roasted Cod, Mushrooms, Fava Beans, Picked Green Apple and Garlic Scape Pistou; Tom D. finds the cod translucent and perfectly cooked, but there’s not enough pistou; Tom C. likes the apple best, but it needed more; it’s loaded with raw garlic.

Green Team: Kristen, Micah, Tyler

Crispy Seared Salmon, Local Vegetables and Spot Prawn Butter Sauce. Micah’s really a leader, but it’s a team, so he’s being a good soldier. Tom C. likes the spot prawns; Gail lost the texture. Tom D. loves the salmon, it’s got a nice firm mouth feel. No, that isn’t dirty.

Gray Team: Bart, Jeffrey, Brooke

They question Jeffrey about his ring, since he says he’s not married, just engaged. “Ah, I get it, she said if you’re going to be on TV you’re going to wear a ring, right?” “He,” says Jeffrey. That’s so cute. Problem is, he sears the halibut on both sides; Brooke thinks it’s overcooked; it’s now how she’d do it, but who is she to say. His teammate, that’s who. Thing is, she’s afraid of heights, so when they go out to present the dish, she’s more concerned about looking out the windows than what she’s putting down. And yes, the Pan Roasted Halibut, Mushrooms, English Peas, Wheat Beer with Herb Sabayon is overcooked to hockey-puckness, per Padma. Tom D. likes the pickled radish salad on top, but doesn’t get any hops flavor out of the beer sabayon; Gail gets nutmeg.

Orange Team: Carla, Chrissy, Lizzy

Please, please, let Carla be out soon. That’s all I have to say, other than after service she cuts her hand putting her knives away. I can’t snicker too much, since Hugh says he’s done the same thing. Unfortunately, she’s good to go, though she’s going to milk it for all its worth. And yes, I’m being callous – I truly don’t want anyone to do serious bodily harm. But if she doesn’t shut up, I might. There’s no recipe listed for the poached salmon with beurre blanc and fava beans, but it’s perfectly cooked. It’s not seasoned that well, but the beurre blanc has lots of flavor.

Red Team: CJ, Stefan, Josie

In the pantry, CJ grabs a couple of really big reddish fish; Stefan decides to get eight quail too, “just in case.” CJ had good potatoes at the Space Needle when he was seven, so he has a soft spot for the site. What the hell does “good potatoes” mean? But no time to ponder that: CJ notices everyone’s doing fish (well, it is Seattle) and wonders if they should do the quail Stefan snuck in under his raincoat instead. Now see, here’s that possible subtle deviousness again – he suggests changing it up, but Stefan has to make the protein, which is really the thing you go home for if it’s screwed up. But everyone agrees to the switch, though Josie’s a little nervous – “it’s really risky to change your dish just before you start cooking.” Same setup, more cherry, says Stefan. He’s not happy with the cherry emulsion Josie CJ first makes. She Josie tries to make another using the ten remaining cherries, but you can tell this is going south in a hurry [addendum: thanks to MoHub for the correction: CJ made the original, rejected cherry sauce, and Josie stepped in to replace it, making me want to keep a closer eye than ever on CJ]. Stefan is used to bigger breast, but hey, whatcha gonna do. “Little breast, it’s the only breast I’m going to be touching for six weeks.” Even though Gail makes him sweat in the armpits. This may be hard for you to understand, Stefan, but I don’t want to know where you’re sweating. Whatever the dish was to be originally, when it’s served it’s Quail Breast with Confit Spot Prawn, Cherries and Porcini. Tom D. likes the cherries, but Gail wants to taste them more. Emeril gets some bitterness at the end with the broth. Tom D. thought it was good: “You guys are tough.”

In the category of casual chit-chat, Emeril reminisces about pink scallops, which, Tom D. tells him, are now called Singing Scallops. I don’t hear much scallop singing on that video. Clicking, and wheezing (which might be the camera operator) but no singing. Tom C. admits he almost moved to Seattle back in the day, after a tough romantic break-up (awwww), but he stayed in NY because he was afraid his car wouldn’t make it. Tom D. is glad, one less competitor for him.

Judges’ Table

Overall, they’re impressed. Gail notices the dishes were very similar, so it was easy to compare. Tom D. thought they did very well, other than “a couple of clunkers.” In the Stew Room, the vets try to convince everyone they don’t have an advantage, they’re hampered by knowing what’s to come. No one’s buying it.

Blue is the winning color – John, Kuniko, Sheldon. Tom C. asks Kuniko if she typically cooks cod in chili oil: “No, I work in a French brasserie, we don’t do such things.” “Maybe you should do it again,” he says. Gail gives John props for the spot prawns. Tom D. called the dish the essence of Seattle. Because she did the fish, Kuniko gets the win: “Oh my gosh, this is going to make everyone go, Who is she, we didn’t even know she was there.” That’s cute. I would’ve expected the Most Hated Chef in Dallas to have taken the protein, the most likely component to win, for himself. He’s very solicitous – “You have to swallow the pill of perfection” – and it makes me nervous. And I’m nervous watching his glasses propped up on his forehead. But in general, props all around, they did what they needed to do with no muss or fuss, they even handled the problem of the burned chili oil on the low-drama setting. A very satisfying win.

On the Bottom:

Red Team (CJ, Stefan, Josie). As soon as the vets walk out of the stew room, everyone starts dishing on them, how they have an unfair advantage. I’d certainly expect so. But look what good it did them. Arrogance erases a lot of the head start. Padma asks Josie if she know why they’re in the bottom. She’s clueless. “I think something is imperfect, maybe missing texture…?” Tom is incredulous: “Really?” Stefan initially defends his overcooked quail (“They were really small”) but in the end has no excuse. Stefan in the Stew Room waiting for the verdict: “You’re a zebra, you’re wounded, you’re walking around Africa…” You’re the zebra who overcooked the quail, Stefan, stop acting like a victim.

Green Team (Jeffrey, Bart, Brooke) : They’re very different, see. Brooke does rustic, not French. Bart wanted to do the fish, but changed his mind when he couldn’t find the right beer, and made the sabayon instead. Jeffrey did the fish fourteen minutes before service. Padma was not pleased with her hockey puck: everything was dry and lacked flavor. The sabayon was overly herby; Gail got a weird flat texture.

Jeffrey is out for the overcooked fish. I’m disappointed – he seemed like a nice guy, and has an impressive background; I was looking forward to watching him. But that fish did look pretty bad, and according to both Gail‘s and Tom‘s blogs, while Stefan’s quail was overcooked, the fish was destroyed. So I can’t argue.

One final note: Top Chef Kitchen is indeed back – and the last chef standing has an automatic in to the finale. But, since there’s only one chef eliminated (the guys who never got to Seattle don’t count), there’s no TCK episode this week. I don’t expect Jeffrey to last to the end, but I’m hoping he stays in a few rounds.

Next week: Thanksgiving. Always a fun time on Top Chef. Just keep in mind they filmed this back in July. Tom and Emeril are working in the kitchen; is that Dana Cowin sitting with my little buddy from TCM, Thierry Rautureau?

Next Iron Chef: Redemption (2012) – Episode 2, Innovation

"Art of Innovation" -  Poster by Martha McGinnis representing a speech given by Guy Kawasaki

“Art of Innovation” – Poster by Martha McGinnis representing a speech given by Guy Kawasaki

Hello I am Zin and this week the Next Iron Chefs have to innovate global food!

Here is how it works:

Alex won last week so she gets to divide them up into three teams according to which food they will cook: falafel, tacos, or banh mi. Then they will all make their dishes, elevating and innovating the hell out of them, and one person from each group will go to the Showdown!

Banh Mi Group:

Greenspan also uses an Italian inspiration, with panzanella (Italian bread salad) and a trio of pork in the banh mi. He makes pork ceviche: the raw pork is frozen then shaved super thin on a meat slicer and then cured with citrus, which would make me awfully nervous but I guess I am not sophisticated enough for raw pork (and do not try to convince me the citrus cooks it)! Donatella is so used to getting grasshoppers from him, she is happy to have regular food! And I am sure he is happy to cook regular food! Zakarian does not get the marriage of the panzanella and the pork trio (oh, Zak, what is wrong with you, it is a deconstructed banh mi), but Donatella does, she would marry him on a first date for this dish, it is that sophisticated and smart! He is the top dish in the group even though it was not cohesive because the panzanella was so good!

Nate Appleman is not happy! He does not innovate, he is a purist! But that is too bad, he will have to innovate anyway! And he is not sure what to do because it is already a pretty perfect thing, a fusion of Vietnamese and French food! But he has to do something, so he thinks of soup and sandwich, banh mi and… pho (a Vietnamese soup with its own website)! Pork belly and short ribs for the pho, chicken liver for the banh mi. But he worries his broth is a little salty. He calls it “meatball pho with chicken liver crostini.” The crostini is to include the bread of the sandwich and get a charred flavor! Zak says it is exquisite! Simon and Donatella agree the broth is a little salty! But it is good enough and he is safe!

Falkner thinks she will use pasta instead of bread: banh mi ravioli with pork sugo (Italian meat sauce), and pickled veggies and spicy mayonnaise! But she has trouble with the pork, it is not cooked when it comes out of the pressure cooker, so she purees chicken liver and pork loin for the sugo and turns the pasta into wide strips like papparelle! She adds lemon grass, and anchovy for umami. Donatella does not think the sugo looks appetizing (well of course not, it is not supposed to!), and something, the pasta maybe, is dry and mealy. Simon thinks the plate is a mess, and what is it with the fusion confusion, Italian and Vietnamese, and by the way the pickles against the pesto is harsh! Wow, that does not sound good, (and it does not make sense since he did not complain about panzanella or crostini, but that is pretty much what you can expect from these clowns) but he says the pasta is superb, still, it does not rescue the dish, it is the weakest dish he has ever tasted from her! I wonder if they actually remember all the dishes they have had on that show, not to mention all the other things they taste over the course of a year! It is so weak she is in the showdown group!

Falafel Group:

Mehta uses a meat grinder for his chickpeas because a food processor will make them too pasty! He and Marcel get into it over changing the temperature of the pan Marcel has on the stove but I am not sure what happened there, I will come back and edit if I figure it out when I see the rerun! Basically Marcel is feeling sabotaged and Mehta thinks he is a whiny sucky baby! Spike sees what is going on and says no one should try that with him, yes, you say it, tough boy! I do not like Spike! But that is why he is here! Mehta mixes Mediterranean with Asian and comes up with a rice paper wrap with hummus, and accents of chili oil, yogurt sauce, and cucumber! Simon loves the crunch and though it looks less than glorious it tastes glorious! Donatella thinks it is pretty (she and Simon are playing off each other on the judging panel disagreeing as much as possible, this is a tired ruse and they should stop it, it used to be Steingarten who played this role but now it is Simon). Mehta is not only the group winner, he is the overall challenge winner! For some reason I like Mehta, I love his voice!

Marcel wants to use different textures! He pressure cooks garbanzo beans in black sesame tahini, fries some other chickpeas, sticks in a crispy pita, and serves them in a bowl held in place on the plate by raw chickpeas! Oh no! He calls it “Chickpeas three ways with black tahini” and one of the judges calls it a parfait, which is cute! But they let him have it for using the raw chickpeas as a sandbag! “Rubbish” says Simon! Zakarian thinks it is completely odd but completely delightful! He is safe!

Amanda is happy with this challenge since she uses Mediterranean ingredients a lot! She makes a spinach falafel with a hummus flan and some marcona almond tahini and a crispy green salad! Then he worries she might have put one too many things on the plate! She puts baking soda in her falafel to keep it light, that is interesting! Many recipes use baking powder. She tells them she took apart the elements and brought in Indian fare (Indian?). Simon likes the individual elements but they do not work together! Donatella loves it more than the original! And poor Amanda, her dish was beautiful but not innovative so she is in the showdown!

Taco Group:

Alex makes Maseca-battered squash blossoms and yellowtail crudo with a grapefruit sorbet. Other than the Maseca I have no idea what any of that has to do with tacos! But it sounds classy, and I want some grapefruit sorbet right now! Just typing it makes me crave it! She made the sorbet because she screwed up ice cream once before, she over-turned it, and she wants to redeem herself! But she almost over-turns it again, and Alton tells her, “When redeeming yourself, it is important not to damn yourself again!” Zakarian loves it! Donatella calls it sublime and gutsy and is impressed that the batter is not greasy! Simon would never equate this with tacos, and he loves the sorbet but he is not sure about the crudo! Alex is the group winner!

Spike wants everyone to know that Alex made a mistake putting him in the same group with her (it probably means she considers him easier competition) because he is In The Zone! I see, that is why you were in the showdown last week, that is the zone you are in, you little twerp! I do not usually get mean, I am not a mean Zin, but Spike annoys me, he is the Paris Hilton of the culinary world! He makes a fish taco using crushed corn tortillas to crust the fish and puts the other ingredients on a composed plate, which does not sound like a very good Zone! He tops them with corn sauce and includes avocado balls. Donatella loves the heat and the crust, and the fish is light. Zakarian calls it a solid dish but it needs another level of innovation. Simon tells him to leave the melon baller at home, this is Next Iron Chef, not Next Home Dinner Party Cook! I actually thought the avocado balls were a good idea and I was thinking about making them that way, tossed in vinaigrette, served with tomatoes and cheese for my next salad, but then again I am a home cook so their point is good! But Spike is safe!

Dusky is insulted that Alex put her in her own group, because it implies they are the weakest competition! Yes, it does! So? You got a problem with that? I am just mad at Dusky because she took the spot away from LeeAnn Wong or Madison Cowan, and because she looks like Olga Korbutt (I try not to judge people on looks, I really do, but there is something about her that irks me. But it has nothing to do with her behavior or her food so it is not really her fault or her problem! I just need to acknowledge my biases so they can be taken into account). She goes for a twist on soup and salad, which has nothing to do with tacos but why not, and makes taco soup with fried tortillas and panzanella with duck cracklings (which sounds amazing by the way). Simon is overpowered by the cilantro! Zak disagrees, it is fun! Simon does not think she met the challenge, and she is in the showdown!

Sudden Death Secret Ingredient Showdown:

Staring Dusky, Amanda, and Falkner! The Secret Ingredient is: White Bread! They all sneer at the loaves of white bread on the table! It is not so much white bread as it is white sandwich bread, which is beloved by schoolchildren (and those of us who still like to sometimes make little balls out of it, even now that we know better) but not chefs!

Dusky thinks breakfast: bacon, eggs, toast! So she makes egg yolk ravioli (which is the sort of thing chefs love but I would vomit just looking at) with ricotta cheese holding the yolks in place, and bacon-and-brown-butter crouton, which also sound really really good! I think making ravioli in a half hour is pretty impressive! Then she sprinkles a little bacon salt over it, which also sounds cool. Oh, there is such a thing as commercial bacon salt, it is salt with bacon flavoring added, and it is vegetarian and even kosher, gee, why bother, I like the homemade real variety better, it is almost-burned then pulverized bacon with salt and pepper added! That sounds cool, I think I might make some! This is the most exciting thing to happen to salt since Carla Hall made pea salt for her chicken pot pie! See, even if you take an irrational dislike to someone, she can teach you something! Donatella loves the light pasta, Zakarian wanted more effort with the bread but Simon thought the croutons were superb but it is not a bread dish, it is a dish with bread in it.

Amanda says she has a 1-in-3 chance to win. No, no, no! I am so tired of people saying that! If the selection of the winner were random, she would have a 1-in-3 chance, but this is a matter of skill! If I were to compete against any two of these chefs, I would not have a 1-in-3 chance of winning! Just ask Nate Silver, he will tell you all about probability! Anyway, Amanda makes pork meatballs with bread crumbs and a speedy tomato sauce. She starts with a panade which is bread soaked in milk, instead of bread crumbs. But she sprinkles parmesan breadcrumbs over the meatballs! And she serves it all with grilled eggplant! That sounds like a lovely meal but the bread is even more hidden than in the first! But Zak calls it “marvelously integrated!” I call foul!

Falkner does breakfast too! Bread and breakfast, I guess that makes sense! She makes a monte cristo (I have never thought of that as breakfast, brunch maybe, but whatever, it is one of my favorite things in the world!) using goat cheese and then she makes French toast ice cream by griddling the crust in butter and adding cinnamon and nutmeg and throwing it into the ice cream machine (presumably with an anglaise in there somewhere). Breakfast is such a wonderful meal! Simon uses words like “perfect” and “wonderful” and “stunning.” Zakarian likes that she used and integrated the bread perfectly!

The Verdict:

The Monte Cristo with French Toast Ice Cream by Falker not only wins the Showdown, it is one of the five best dishes ever on NIC! Yay Falkner!

Between the other two it is a matter of who best showcased bread, and that is Amanda (which is bullshit, by the way, though I like Amanda and I am glad she is in, but putting bread in meatballs and topping them with breadcrumbs does not sound like showcasing bread to me).

So Dusky is out. If I were her I would be miffed.

But I think all of this is decided well in advance, especially with chefs well-known to the public! They know who viewers want to see, and everything else is just a matter of distributing screen time! But it is still a fun show, and I still learn something from it!

Next week:

They have to make a dish that reflects the personality of another chef. Ooooooh, this could get nasty! Lots of vinegar and spoiled milk! I think the quote from Nate Appleman will go down in google history: “I do not know what Chef Guarnaschelli tastes like. I know what carrots taste like.” I would guess that Chef Guarnaschelli tastes nothing like carrots.

Project Runway All-Stars Season 2 Episode 3: Up Your Aerosol

Didja ever just want to cry because something incredibly wonderful got fucked up by idiots?

Here’s what shoulda happened:

5Pointz Aerosol Art Center is this amazing place in Long Island City, NY (in Queens) that features a 200,000-square-foot factory building as a canvas for graffiti artists, who come from all over the world to show off mad skillz. And if you have any doubt that this is art, check out this time-lapse video of the creation of “Fire Marshall Bill” by 5Pointz Curator Meres One (aka Jonathan Cohen). I promise, during the last minute, you’ll swear tree stumps just sprang up out of the cracked ice.

Or check out some of the art created by Sen2, owner of graffiti-supply store Da Bakery in the Bronx. Or this video interview with graffiti artist (and Sotheby’s art handler) Zimad.

These three artists meet the Project Runway All Stars to introduce them to the techniques (like these) they’ll need to create their own art on white fabric, either cotton or chiffon, which they’ll then design and construct into wearable art.

And what we got instead:

Blondie #1 sprains an eyelid doing her sing-song “Your challenge is to create WEARABLE art but instead of using canvas or walls you’ll be creating your own patterns using this …” with a Price-is-Right reveal of crates of spray paint. And she had a helluva lotta nerve taking credit for the logo, even in jest, even for a second.
Suede and Joshua read scripts that prove no one’s ever used the phrase “aerosol art” in a spontaneous sentence.
Blondie #2 (Laura) explores new depths of idiocy with: “I’m not a graffiti artist but I like to spraypaint old furniture.”
Ivy: “This challenge is really exciting for me because it makes me think (pause…what was that phrase again? Oh, yes – ) out of the box.”
Suede: “Suede has NEVER in his entire life held a can of spray paint.”

Lest you think this is an impossible situation in which to say anything remotely intelligent, Althea manages (she does her own prints so she’s excited to be creative) and Emilio hits it out of the park (“the people who do [graffiti] well, do it really well, and if you try to do an imitation of it, I think it just comes out looking amateurish” so he’s going to be inspired by graffiti, not try to imitate it). So it can be done. Of course, if you’re Laura, you’re worried about your expensive clothes, and who’s helping whom, and who’s using the same colors as you. And if you’re Ivy, you’re worried about Laura bragging about how rich her family is and how good she had it growing up. And if Suede is Suede, Suede is Suede.

This made me sad.

So I watched the Fire Marshall Bill video again, and I felt a little better. [addendum: to feel even better, watch the NYT slide show of the development of subway art in the 80s and 90s by Henry Chalfant. Real graffiti, the way it was meant to be]

Then the Lumberjacks arrived, and I felt downright giddy.

These particular lumberjacks just so happen to be Jeffrey Costello and Robert Tagliapietra, actual fashion designers. And their clothing line has nothing to do with plaid flannel. And2, they’re really nice, really thoughtful judges.

So the hell with those Lifetime morons…

Let’s do clothes:

Kings and Queens:

Emilio has drips, but he turns them so they’re dripping up, which is so cool I could scream. When his model comes out on the runway, I could scream again, this time from the colors drilling into my brain. I’m not a big fan of super-bright colors, and I hate orange, but once I put on sunglasses, I have to say, it’s amazing workmanship, and decent use of the graffiti idea, as well as print placement. The problem is: it’s too big. The model looks like a linebacker. Some of that is deliberate – he specifically used the way the fabric was stiffened by the paint. But the jacket sleeves have too much fabric, don’t they? None of the judges have my issues, though. Georgina sees a divine silhouette; Isaac loves the marble top and graffiti bottom, and the Lumberjacks think it feels honest though they’d prefer a brass zipper for the back of the skirt to the black one; they aren’t crazy about the belt either. But they’re all salivating over it. I’m surprisingly ok with that, first because I’m glad Emilio is finally getting some love, and second because the parts I don’t like are about my personal preferences. But come on, I’m not saying it shouldn’t be in the Top Three, I’m just wondering, isn’t it a little huge?

Ivy goes with a suit for the meeting between girl power, superhero, and pop art. She tells Joanna she’s thinking of Lichtenstein (presumably the artist, not the country) and superheros which is why she spraypainted words (like “Passion” and “Tenacity”) on her clothes. Joanna asks her, “Looking around the room, how important is taste?” Ivy says you’re born with it, or you’re not. I wonder if Joanna’s trying to tell her something. Georgina thinks it’s modern and sensual, with a juxtaposition of flirty and feminist. Isaac doesn’t like the word choice, but he likes how the front is pristine and the cutout back is a surprise. The Lumberjacks wish the white skirt was a color rather than white. These guys are good, y’know, because they’re right. Georgina does notice it’s the same jacket Ivy’s made before.

Anthony Ryan makes a fabric I’m sure he (or someone on PR) has made before, or used before – three horizontal, three vertical, I’m sure of it, but I’m overwhelmed with work so I can’t be bothered to go search for it. If you know what I’m talking about, please tell me (never mind – found it). He used to be a graphic designer, so this is a good challenge for him. His dress is adorable. Georgina loves the proportion and the cutout in back, as does Isaac, but thinks it ‘s a little safe. The Lumberjacks (forgive me for lumping them together; there’s no way I’m going to be able to distinguish between two Lumberjacks sitting next to each other on Project Runway) love the print and that it’s young; they aren’t sure it’s art gallery, but hey, what on the runway is?

Knights:

Althea makes a graffiti giraffe print; Joanna notices it looks very much like the print she’s wearing at that moment. Which is also a print Althea designed, so no surprise. She makes a very pretty dress but she herself figures it doesn’t stand out.

Casanova also makes a very pretty dress. In fact, it’s possibly my favorite thing Casanova has ever made on any PR episode. I even like the touches of sparkle. But the graffiti aspect is minimal. I like the placement of skyline stencils, but at first, I thought they were price tags, and I was so excited by that concept, I was disappointed when I found out they weren’t.

Uli makes – wait for it – a very pretty Star Trek dress – hah, fooled you there, didn’t I. Joanna asks about graffiti on the Wall in East Germany (isn’t that the sort of thing that would get you killed at one time?) but we don’t really hear much about that; we do find out Uli took off like a bat out of hell as soon as the Wall came down, because no one believed it would last long. It’s the kind of conversation I wish they’d have more often on this show, instead of the lunchroom sniping.

Joshua tries to convince Joanna his hairstyling technique makes him an aerosol artist. Oh, do shut up. His design isn’t as bad as I was expecting – I actually like the highway around the waist – but it doesn’t fit, it isn’t made well, the peplum looks disgusting, and the skirt belongs to another outfit. I would’ve put him in the bottom instead of Suede, in fact.

Andrae made a joke for his model to be in on. That isn’t fair – our little lamb caught the spirit of the challenge pretty well, but I don’t get the green panels reaching around the sides from the back, gaping open on the bodice. The bow, well, obviously we could do without that, but it does have some element of graffiti, with a solid center and netting blowing outward. In fact, if he neatened up the bodice, he’d have something, with the explosions of sheerness mimicking the fade of spray paint.

Toys:

Laura annoyed me so much this episode, I just wanted her to go away, but I don’t completely hate her dress. It’s more tie-dye than graffiti (a common issue on this runway), it’s way too short, and the horizontal bands in the back don’t work – I get that they’re structurally necessary, but part of the work of design is to accomplish what’s necessary in an aesthetically pleasing way. I don’t hate the fringe as much as I hate the netting that goes with it. I;m kind of surprised she’s in the bottom, actually. Georgina loves the top, but the bottom cheapens it. The Lumberjacks like the spatter effect, but it’s too short.

Suede kisses up to Joanna by designing for a bra-wearing woman. She asks if he can win this challenge; he should’ve listened to that. And here’s where I get myself in trouble: I like it. Let me clarify that: I like it for a graffiti challenge; I think it very cleverly captures a lot of graffiti elements. The grayness of the skirt speaks to an urban vibe, the chiffon is spray-painted, and since tagging is a subset of graffiti, I love all the “tags” on the bodice, tapering off and sprinkling down the skirt (though I have no idea if that’s what he was thinking). Also, graffiti is the art of putting artsy stuff on practical stuff, and that’s what the circles do. And I think it’s kind of pretty (though who knows what it looked like in person). And when they did their six-pack critique, I didn’t realize Suede was in the bottom. Georgina loved the feminine approach, but felt the circles lost the spray paint feel. Isaac doesn’t think it’s wearable, and the pailletes are costumey. As opposed to having words painted on a jacket? The Lumberjacks love the softness of the handkerchief hem, but not the waistline.

Kayne – no, I’m not going to address his dinnertime cattiness – tells Joanna he’s using velvet ribbon as brush strokes. Joanna tells him it’s a fine line between hideous and fabulous, which should tell him something. But he thinks his model looks like Kate Middleton. Maybe in some weird alternative universe only he can see, she does. I don’t know much about Kate Middleton, but my impression is she’s got way too much class to wear a plunge-to-the-neckline halter or a kindergarten project (for the record: Kayne sent a tweet during the broadcast that this comment was a technical foul: “BTW! Editing nightmare! I said the Kate Middleton comment about next weeks dress. Stay tuned. #imnotstupid”). Poor Kayne, it’s a replay of his Recycled craft project. But you know what? Tidy up the plunge, get rid of the mermaid tail, and it’s not a bad look. He thinks the black ribbon is like the outlining of graffiti letters. Isaac acknowledges it’s dramatic, and he loves the top, but there’s a disconnect. The Lumberjacks don’t like the stripe across the knee creating the illusion of girth, stopping the flow. Georgina lost the fun in too many ideas. Isaac brings out the word “tacky.” “Almost tacky,” to be exact.

Judgment:

Emilio gets his first gold star.

Even the worst looks weren’t bad this week, but someone’s got to go, and Suede gets his airkiss goodbye. He’s just too creative, see. His last words: “Make daddy cat proud. Suede out.” Oh, Suede, I was all set to defend you, throw Joshua to the wolves, but that, no, that did it. Buh Bye Hon.

Next Week:

In Blondie’s words: “The first… … … … interactive … … … … … challenge … … … … EVER!” What the hell is an interactive challenge? Don’t worry, I’m sure… … … she’ll … … … … EXPLAIN it!

Top Chef Seattle: Episode 1, The Ultimate Chef Test

There’s no Seattle in Top Chef: Seattle Episode 1.

We’ve got Tom. Of course. Without Tom, there is no Top Chef. We’ve only got Padma in voice-over; maybe she’s still trying to find just the right outfit. And we don’t have Gail at all. We’ve got Emeril, who has in past seasons of Top Chef risen above the idiot level the Food Network made him famous for. We’ve got Wolfgang Puck, who had so much fun throwing a donut in S6, he signed on for a whole season. And we’ve got Hugh Acheson, the Man With The Brow and the Dry Wit to Use It.

But we start the season with an Audition Round, a variation on what they did last season: teams of 5 or 6 chefs meet one of 4 judges at their respective restaurants to perform a task under scrutiny. Some will get a jacket and move on to Seattle; some will go home and forever more (or at least for the next couple of months) be known as the chef who almost was on Top Chef. But don’t get your hopes up: I’ll tell you right now, there’s no Stone… Chef Tyler Stone… (who, for all his self-promotion, lasted all of two minutes) in this episode. But there is a Belgian knight. And the Most Hated Chef in Dallas.

Let’s meet everyone:

Emeril Lagasse challenges his five hopefuls with his ultimate test of culinary skill: soup. Structure, seasoning, depth, ingredients, passion. Soup is not simple. They have one hour to impress him with soup, as well as organization and stamina.

Josh Valentine was chef-owner of Oklahoma City’s Divine Swine, specializing in all things pig (and he even looks like Kevin Gillespie, with an impressively waxed handlebar moustache to rival Kevin’s beard) when his wife got him to first audition for TCS. Now he’s there, and she’s pregnant, due in three weeks. Missing the birth of his first child is one of those sacrifices one makes for fame. Was it worth it? No one knows how much he gets out of it, but he’s since moved on to become pastry chef at a Dallas restaurant, and promises to bring his signature Candied Bacon Sticky Buns with him. I want one, right now. His Roasted Corn & Coconut Soup with Mussels is a little sweet, though the mussels are perfectly cooked; Emeril’s waiting for the chile, waiting, waiting… and there it is. The Moustache is in.

Jeffrey Jew is a Citizen of the World: he’s part Chinese, part Norwegian-German; he’s CIA trained (that’s chef CIA, not spy), has travelled all over, worked in Italy, London, and Washington, uses Asian, Moroccan, Ethiopian, and European influences, and now works… as a personal chef in St. Pete, FL? Ok. He seems focused and just a touch nervous. Because the weather is hot, he’s making Chilled Watermelon & Tomato Gazpacho, Peppers, & Ceviche. Emeril doesn’t believe he can get the soup, bubbling on the stove, cooked in an hour: “You got a chiller in your pocket?” No, he’s just glad to see you. That intimidates Jeffrey, but he spreads it in a hotel pan and puts it in the freezer. Emeril vows to send him home if he serves hot gazpacho. And guess what: it’s cold, it’s lovely, and he’s in.

Kristen Kish was Model Boston of 2007, and she looks it – gorgeous in a seriously classy way. She also went to culinary school and has worked at some pretty high-powered Boston restaurants, so she’s not just a pretty face. She and contestant Stephanie are co-workers (more on that coming up). Emeril asks why she’s poaching her lemon peels three times; she explains it draws out the bitterness (I’ve made candied lemon peel, and that’s exactly what they tell you to do and why; I suppose Emeril is finding out if she knows why or is just following directions she picked up somewhere). She adds the lemon peel, some apple, and a sautéed scallop to her English Pea Broth and calls it a day. The scallops are nicely cooked; Emeril praises the soup as one of the best he’s tasted in a long time, so she’s in.

Stephanie Cmar, also from Boston (she and Kristen worked together at the time of filming), lives in the same apartment building as Kristen, and they have matching tattoos. “A lot of lesbian rumors because of this, which we’re not, just to clarify,” she says. Ok. Emeril isn’t all that impressed with her Cauliflower Soup with Corn, Lobster, & Pea Tendril; he wishes the cauliflower came through more. But he’s only sending people who can win, and while “one of you hit it out of the park, one missed the mark.” Sorry, Stephanie, no jacket for you. Maybe Kristen will let you borrow hers when she gets back from Seattle.

Tina Bourbeau isn’t a restaurant chef; as close as I can figure it, she invents recipes for a New York grocery delivery service, which presumably delivers prepared meals as well. She sees people grabbing blenders so she wants to avoid purees. She goes with Shellfish & Chorizo Soup with Croutons & Garlic Mayonnaise. Emeril finds it garlicy, but the shellfish isn’t overpowered. But still, it just doesn’t cut it, and she’s out.

Wolfgang Puck wants an omelet. It was the culinary test he was given for his first job, and he failed, so as punishment he had to make omelets for the staff dinner, all 80 staff. It’s one way to learn how to cook an omelet. He demos for his brood when they finish cleaning their stations. Back during Food Network Star 2011, demo’d risotto for the clueless (and humiliated) Jyll; maybe it’s in his contract, he’ll guest judge only if he gets to teach something. Just about every omelet had a serious flaw just by looking at it, so it becomes evident Wolfie (I used to have a VW bug I named Wolfie, during my Amadeus period, I loved that car) was told to cut one and only one chef.

Carla Pellegrino seems to want everyone to be impressed that she was once married to Frank Pellegrino, Jr. and that she was the chef at Rao’s (remember the wiseguys dinner on TCAS?) – I guess if hubby can host a TC episode, ex-wife can compete on one. If this is supposed to be one-upmanship, it’s pretty weak. She knows she’s loud, and some people are annoyed by her, so fine, they’re annoyed. She’s annoyed herself that she doesn’t have white pepper. Wolfie complains that her Mediterranean Omelet with Arugula Salad is like a woman with too much makeup, it’s all covered with mushrooms and other crap. Yes, it’s a mess, but an angry Brazillian with Italian connections is no match for an aging Austrian (and the producers are salivating over the Drama she’s going to bring), so he passes her through on the strength of the “juicy vegetables.” Foul, foul, foul.

Eliza Gavin is playing with mushrooms when Wolfie comes by and advises her to add steak to it. So she ends up with Steak & Eggs, NY Strip and a Morel omelet with a fennel-tomato reduction. He calls it complicated and tasty. She’s in.

Chrissy Camba does omelets at her restaurant but is still nervous. She’s Filipino so she goes with that, a “Torta” Omelet with Lobster, Bacon, Caramelized Onion & Fennel. Wolfie likes that she brought her heritage, and it looks pretty good, though it needs a little salt. She gets a jacket anyway.

Kuniko Yagi got bored with Tokyo banking so came to the US and landed a job in a noodle house. The rest, as they say… She has something to prove to her family. Her Chamomile Milk, Morel Mushroom & Ham Omelet is one of the messier ones (“your technique is almost there”), but she’s in.

Tyler Wiard has already bad-mouthed Tom in the past (I’m guessing it’s why he’s on the show) but he’s “an omelet away from Seattle” so he’s going for it. He makes an unholy mess, throwing fingerling and fennel salad on top of his bacon, shallots, asparagus and roasted red pepper (what, were there no other ingredients left?) omelet to cover up the browning. But he’s in anyway.

Daniel O’Brien is “quietly confident” – I can’t figure out his resume (something about a Wu-Tang-Clan-inspired menu) but after he refers to Kuniko as “Origami” I’m not interested in anything he has to say. Fortunately, he quickly makes a mess of things. His omelet is overdone, though it might be ok to eat in the dark. All these disasters are running together, but Daniel is the one on whom the axe falls. He is not pleased. I am.

Hugh Acheson assigns salad. It’s a test he gives his own chefs; there’s space in the world of salad to show skills and explore flavors.

Bart Vandaela is a beer knight. Belgium takes beer seriously: “The knights, also known as le Chevalerie du Fourquet des Brasseurs, are descendant from the 400 year old noble order honored for protecting the public and providing quality beer. ” You don’t have to go on a crusade, or rescue a damsel in distress, or even ride a horse. Just serve beer. Now there’s a country for ya. While he’s cooking, Hugh asks if he wears a suit of armor in the kitchen, to which Sir Bart (no, don’t call him that, he says, keep it simple, just Bart the Chef) replies: “No, we don’t.” Ok, it was a stupid, graceless question, but that’s no reason not to have a little fun with it. Then again, he is cooking, so maybe he’ll have a better rejoinder later. It’s a big salad, says Hugh (what’s wrong with Hugh tonight?) of the Spiny Lobster Salad with Beets, Asparagus & Potatoes. “It’s a big boy who made it,” says Bart, which is not much of a comeback improvement. “It’s a lot going on, ” says Hugh. “That’s what we go for,” says Bart, then wonders, “Did I not understand?” But he’s in. They couldn’t send the knight home.

Sheldon Simeon worked his way from dishwasher to Exec in ten years; he hadn’t been off Hawaii until he worked at Disney World, where he snagged a wife and brought her back to the Island. He starts off frying Brussels sprouts, which is fine except, as Hugh points out, the season ended three months ago. Hey, they don’t do seasons in Hawaii. And by the way, they need vinegar. But his Fried Brussels Sprout Salad with Orange Thai Vinaigrette works well enough to earn a chef’s jacket.

Danyele McPherson got a degree in anthropology; when she realized how useless that was, she started cooking. She’s firing tomatoes on the grill, drizzling oil on them while the flames shoot up to the dismay and scorn of everyone in the kitchen; apparently you’re not supposed to do it that way. But Hugh likes her Grilled Watermelon & Tomato Salad with Charred Tomato Vinaigrette (it’s “very Texas”) so he passes her through with a plea not to burn the kitchen down next time she grills veggies.

Brooke Williamson impresses Hugh with her Kale Salad with Brussels Sprout Leaves & Lemon Vinaigrette without getting scolded for out-of-season Brussels Sprouts. And it’s a pretty simple salad, though there’s a beet vinaigrette underneath the lemon-tossed greens. It sounds pretty good, and as she’s sent to pick out a jacket, she realizes, “Wow, I really have a chance of winning this whole thing.”

Gina Keatley is a Movement. And a ferocious tiger who’ll tell anyone to get out of her way. Unfortunately, when the veggies of her sautéed & Grilled Zucchini with Carrots, Pea Sprouts & Balsamic Reduction are overdone, Hugh tells her to Movement herself out of his way.

Tom Colicchio has the most complicated setup: he wants his potentials to work a service in his restaurant, alongside his regular chefs. He wants to see how they move in a kitchen, the skills they have, how they mesh with other chefs, and not only can they cook but can they figure out what it takes to win these competitions.

John Tesar is The Most Hated Chef In Dallas, and don’t you forget it. He’s also, he says, Jimmy Sears of Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, a talented but wild-card chef derailed by drug use. Tom knows him, knows he’s a good chef, but he’s a hothead. Top Chef is one way he’s fighting his way back. He handles the fish so well, Tom sends him through right off the bat. As Hugh tweeted, “We’ve got our villain.”

Lizzie Binder is from South Africa but has also cooked her way around a few continents. She’s smitten by Tom’s blue eyes, as he tells her to stuff and shape some tortellini. “You’ve made tortellini before, I can tell,” he observes. Yeah. She’s in.

Micah Fields treasures attitude. He went from line cook to exec, skipping the sous chef step, so he doesn’t impress Tom with his fish filleting skills. But he handles duck breast much better, and he moves with purpose, so he gets the blue coat. “I have the drive, the hunger, the thirst for blood. ” That’s nice, dear, move along before Tom hears you and changes his mind.

Anthony Gray is Art Smith’s protégé. Talks like him, too. He’s given ducks to butcher, which is just fine with him, but Tom wonders why he’s using a paring knife. That’s just the way it is; for the record, Hugh admits in his blog that he butchers with a paring knife, too. But Anthony’s tentative, hanging back. He gets more confident with the Hamachi, but then slacks up. “You missed the mark. Pack your knives and go.” I guess Padma released her copyright on that line, because everyone’s using it tonight.

Jorel Pierce (Wait – Jorel? Wasn’t there a Jorel on last time? Oh, no, I remember, that’s what MinxEats – hi, Minx! – called Ty-lor. I can’t wait to see what she calls Jorel) has the second waxed handlebar moustache of the night. I don’t think I’ve seen one in a decade or so, and now we have two? Is this a new thing? He’s eager to break down the chickens, seeing as he can butcher a pig with his eyes closed, but unfortunately, he doesn’t ask how Tom wants it done, so he produces boneless breasts when they should’ve been on the bone. He’s sent to make beurre fondue, and it’s salty. Guess what… no go. There will be no dueling handlebars this season.

We’re left with Fifteen Chefs for TC: Seattle. I like this way of introducing the contenders; it’s a head start on figuring out who’s who.

Next Week:

Actually, it’s a This Season on Top Chef montage. They promised us, back to basics. I see things that don’t look that basic. Boy, am I gonna be surly if basic means roller skates, mud, and a snowy plain. What is Curtis Stone doing there, isn’t he foisted on us enough? On the bright side, there’s The Chef in the Hat, Thierry Rautureau.

Next Iron Chef: Redemption – Episode 1, Resourcefulness

I always knew kale would get somebody, some day!

I always knew kale would get somebody, some day!

Hello I am Zin, and welcome to the 2012 version of NIC! I thought about just changing the titles and names and seeing if anyone would notice but that would not be very nice, so we will move on and see what The Chairman has in store for us!

Previously on NIC:

The theme this year is Redemption, or, “We are using the same crop of celebrity chefs because real chefs will have nothing to do with us!” In theory all the contestants failed in a prior season, except for a couple of newbies who failed at other things! Which makes it pretty silly, but the Food Network, like the Republican Party, does not worry about consistency and logic!

There has already been a pre-competition! On the Internet! I did not watch it, but I hear Duskie Estes, LeeAnn Wong, Madison Cowan, and Roberto Trevino were the contestants and I was hoping either LeeAnn (almost-finalist on TC1, and the technical producer for five seasons after that) or Madison (who became a breakout star when paired with Lance Nitahara on Chopped) would make it! But no, Olga Korbut (aka Duskie Estes, the resemblance drives me crazy) is back!

The Ins and Outs and In-Betweens:

The format is the same as last time: First, a Chairman’s Challenge, and then whoever does the worst in that does a Sudden Death Secret Ingredient Showdown which seems like an awfully long name for that! I think they wanted to get the word “Death” in there but also the whole “Secret Ingredient” and they could not decide so they just melded them together! I actually kind of like that because it is the sort of thing I would do!

The judging panel is: Donatella Arapaia (she wants the chefs to take risks and stay calm under pressure) and Simon Majumdar (who does not want to see mistakes, duh), and the winner from last year, Geoffrey Zakarian (he wants big bold flavors and I am sad that “subtle” has become a dirty word in American society), who may or may not have paid his employees the back pay they were due before he opened and closed his Miami hotel restaurant though he may be too busy planning his newest restaurant on a luxury cruise ship. It is a good thing he has Iron Chef or his whole family would be out on the street and how embarrassing for them if they should run into those former employees!

For the first challenge Alton meets the chefs at the beach! They have to cook the ingredients that led to their failures last time, which is the sort of mean thing Next Iron Chef just loves to pull!

Time to Eat:

The Top Bananas (and lobsters and grasshoppers):

Alex Guarnaschelli gets the Lobster that did her in last season! She cooks it three ways, in a skillet, in foil, and in a bowl of water, and I thought that meant she was making Lobster Three Ways but no, she was just trying to get a lobster cooked right! After all it is an open pit fire at the beach so it is not that easy to do, and that is where she misstepped last time! The bowl of water does it and she serves it with corn, ginger, lime, butter sauce and shallots, and this works for her! Zakarian says it is heavenly luxurious treatment and Simon likes the layers of flavors – he says it is “almost perfect” and I can sense a “but” there but we do not hear it so maybe not! Or maybe he just does not believe in perfection! Alton tells her she wins so fast she thinks he is kidding, but he is not, she is the winner, and will have an advantage for next time!

Eric Greenspan really draws the short straw on this challenge, since the dish that sent him home in the first (ouch!) week of Season 2 was – wait for it – grasshoppers! And now he has to cook with grasshoppers again! I do not really remember him and was not particularly cheering for him but this makes me feel sorry for him so I am suddenly on his side! He is furious! I do not blame him! But he gets philosophical: “The good thing about grasshoppers is, if you lose with grasshoppers, nobody blames you.” He makes critter fritters with spiced Asian slaw and grasshopper grilled cheese sandwiches which is a good idea because it kind of hides the grasshoppers in yummy stuff! And again he gets philosophical: ” Some people may say grilled cheese is a cop out, and I agree, but I mean, I have grasshoppers!” Well, that is not really philosophical, but it is pretty good! I am beginning to like him! I like him even more when Spike refuses to let him have some curry powder so he steals it! They all make up some excuse for calling their approach “resourceful” since that it the theme this week, but he truly is: he does not have a spider to take the critter fritters out of the oil, so he makes one out of tin foil! As he serves, one of the judges says, “There is a bug in my food!” And the judges love it! Zakarian: “You have evolved grasshoppers into something more elegant, if that is possible.” I would say it would be difficult to evolve grasshoppers into something less elegant, actually, but I get the idea, and I am happy for this chef! They tell him he embodied the concept of redemption! I wish they had given him the win!

Nate Appleman is a complicated person with an interesting history – from James Beard winner to Chipotle’s. He reminds me of “Rocket” Romano from ER (the helicopter guy), and in his first NIC appearance he acted like him too! But then his son got sick and he became a New Man! There was something about him I kind of liked before even though he was a bit of a meanie in NIC2, and I am not sure about the new, earnest version, but it is not his job to amuse me, and I hope he is happy! He has to do bananas since that is what got him in NIC2! He goes savory because risk is what redemption is all about! Actually I think redemption is more about changing your life when your son needs you so he has already done the real thing, but who am I to say, whatever he wants to call it is fine with me! He makes charred curried bananas with clams and uses the peel and banana leaf and yogurt and Aleppo pepper! That is a pretty fancy ingredient to have in a “limited pantry!” He is aiming for an herbaceous Thai curry, and they love it! Zakarian calls it sophisticated and delicious, and Simon says yes, it is authentic Thai and the smokiness suits the banana.

The Middle Tier:

Elizabeth Falkner became one of my favorite people because of her appearance on TCJD1 – you remember, she was so nice to the “Red-Hots are for my mommy” guy! She lost NIC4 (to Zakarian) on black garlic, so that is what she finds in her cooler! She likes its mushroomy soy sweet flavor, so she puts it in barbecue sauce for duck breasts and makes summer veggies with black garlic vinaigrette, and cornbread with black garlic honey butter! Cornbread! Over an open pit fire at the beach! Cool! But I am biased! Simon loves the combo but the duck is overcooked and a little tough! Still he says the cornbread is the best thing he has eaten on NIC/ICA which is probably an exaggeration but I am happy for her! Zakarian loves the use of the garlic but the veggies are undercooked.

Amanda Freitag, another favorite of mine, has to face the shiitake mushrooms that sent her home from Tokyo in NIC2! In fact she thinks it was one single raw mushroom by one single judge that did it! So she does grilled marinated skirt steak over lemon-poached mushrooms and a twist on gremolata that uses sunchokes and mushrooms! Donatella loves the balance! Simon likes the juiciness once he gets over the sliminess (ewww) of the mushrooms, but it is missing heat.

Jehangir Mehta is another one of those people who could be annoying but somehow is not! He was a little sneaky in NIC2! I think I remember he grabbed more grape leaves than he needed just to keep someone else from using them, IIRC! And he said “I have to do it” in that way the psychopath in a horror movie might say it before he slices off a body part – or, yes, like the mother in Sybil when she strung her daughter up and got the button hook! Those are some heavy-duty associations but somehow he is still quite likeable and by the end I was hoping he would win NIC2! He has to deal with buffalo which is awful. He makes a hot (satay with beer and mustard seed) and a cold (tartare) with a mushroom salad and pomegranate dressing. Simon struggled with oversalty buffalo and the mushrooms were swamped by pomegranate syrup, but Donatella thought the sweet and salty while too much on their own balanced each other and it was a lot of fun!

The Cliffhangers:

Duskie Estes annoys me for some reason I can not name! It must go beyond the horrible pigtails! And it was before she beat my favorites for the final spot, I did not like her on NIC3 either but I am not sure why, she has done nothing untoward! She is dealt calamari, and makes a po’ boy by sautéing the tentacles in chardonnay and frying the bodies in beer batter! Then she makes a garnish of pickled asparagus and watermelon rind, this sounds like a very good sandwich even to me and I do not like any of the components but it sounds like it goes together! The problem is Donatella has trouble eating it and the bread is soggy, but the flavors are very good! Simon loves the pickles and it is too bad they are not the main element. Zakarian wishes it was a composed salad because the bread got soggy and was awful and in the way!

Marcel Vigneron is a newbie to NIC but he qualifies as needing redemption because as he says he “made it to the final round in more than one cooking competition but has not won yet.” His biggest claim to fame is nearly getting his head shaved on TC2! His second biggest claim to fame is being a bit of a jerk. He has to work with avocados, which apparently figured into one of his prior losses somewhere. He makes avocado cannellone with salty peewee potatoes, and there is something about shrimp and coconut. Duskie comes over and asks if she can cook her asparagus in his potato water and he says fine, and I wonder if that is a good idea, since asparagus is more likely to flavor (and color, for that matter) potatoes than the other way around! But it seems it does not matter, and they like his dish though Zakarian wants some acid and they all think it is a little one-note.

The Losers Facing Sudden Death:

Tim Love has not been on NIC before, but on ICA he actually beat Morimoto on Battle Chiles (is that the one where Morimoto ate all the chiles to check the heat and sweetness?) so I am not sure what he needs redemption for! His ingredient is kale, which got him eliminated from the very first round of TCM1 – oh, so that is what he needs redemption for, except nobody is allowed to say those words on this show so they just ignore it and figure people either know or not (or they look it up which is what I did since I do not remember, I just remember I do not like him much from his appearances as a judge on TC, though I am not sure there is a specific reason). So he makes kale and celery green salad with apples, pork fat, slab bacon, cheese, and citrus. He knows it is risky to do a salad when he is the steak king, but he does not want to overcomplicate things and so to make sure he does not do that he is resourceful by making a skirt steak for his own consumption! Now that makes no sense! Since the exact dish he lost TCM1 on was skirt steak and kale, I think there was more to this, but for what ever reason he just serves a salad which everyone knows is the kiss of death! At least on TC! And here! And his salad is greasy! Maybe I was wrong about him! Because you really have to be talented to make a greasy salad!

Spike Mendelsohn is the one you call when you need a culinary extra man. I have yet to hear anyone say they like him (except Marcel, it seems they were college roommates or something) but he is always around! They throw scallops at him, big surprise! They say it is because in NIC4 scallops got him eliminated but we all know he will never live down sassing Robert Tramonto in the TC4 Scallopgate! His approach is to include more textures and flavors and ingredients, and yes, he includes cauliflower couscous with pickled raisins (which he seems to have borrowed from a hockey player with a chef degree), and just about everything else, mango, curry, he kept naming ingredients and I could not keep up! Simon lost the scallops, as of course you would with so much stuff! And he was overwhelmed by the curry powder! But Zakarian found it complicated and flavorful!

Sudden Death by Pineapple:

Tim is surprised and angry that he is even in the cookoff! Hey, buddy, you made a greasy salad, then you had the nerve to make lunch for yourself, you deserve it! Alton even says they think he was lazy! Ouch! And Not Resourceful! Take that, cowboy! And he is not happy about the pineapple, it is “a piece of crap” ingredient, he made pineapple salsa back in 1984 and that is about all he has done with pineapple! What an attitude! To be fair, all the chefs seem to agree it is not a good thing to work with as a main ingredient. Alex says it does not know how to work well with others, which is cute! He makes quail breast with pickled pineapple, corn milk and crispy kale, because in the first round Donatella said she likes her kale crispy, so he deep fries it! Now that is crispy! I think he does not like criticism! Zakarian is surprised to find he likes it, but there are these huge pieces of chile thrown in there which are just not edible when that big. Simon loves the corn milk and the quail is cooked perfectly! Donatella is worried about the crispy kale, and Simon says it is “a bit of an up yours as we say in England.” We say it here too! But I do not know why it is a problem, deep fried kale is a real thing! I think this is a pissing match, and it is not a good idea for a contestant to get into a pissing match with judges!

Spike is not happy about pineapple either, it is a fruit salad ingredient to him, but he stews it in a whole bottle of hot sauce! Then he makes branzino for a sweet and sour fish. It is something inspired by his travels in Vietnam. Simon likes it, the pineapple fits in well and has a nice texture, and the fish is terrific with crunchy skin and meatiness! Donatella understands his personality and thinks it is a little sweet but the heat works. Zakarian says it is smart and creative but a little too sweet!

And Finally… Tim Love is out! He does not think the judges understood his food! That was a hard choice for me, I was hoping they would both go out!

Next Week: Going Global!

Project Runway All-Stars Season 2 Episode 2: Put On Your Dancing Shoes

Stay Tuned for our New Feature: The Tin Foil Hat Theory of the Week.

Stay Tuned for our New Feature: The Tin Foil Hat Theory of the Week.

Uli goes Bitch! Suede cries! And a little bit of Casual Racism! Did I say last week I thought this season was going to be boring?

I’m So Excited:

Bring on Product Placement Challenge #1: The Shoe Store. No, I’m not going to say which one, but you can probably guess from the Product Placement Accessory Wall.

They meet at The Shoe Store. Suede: “Shoe peasant-arama.” Huh? Ohm wait, that was “Shoe heaven-arama.”

Disco is the theme of the week: select a shoe and create a matching look inspired by 70s disco. Wendy’s happy, since she lived through the 70s. An orange cork heel speaks to Kayne. Uli’s worried, since she grew up behind the Iron Curtain: “My disco was different from everyone else’s.” They had Disco in East Germany? Apparently so.

The prize – oh, now they have a prize – is inclusion in a fall ad campaign for The Shoe Store. I assume that means the look they design. Or does the designer get to pose in the shoes?

Between days, there’s a painfully staged disco scene (Wendy wants to dance with Joshua; isn’t she just so cute) and an equally painful thrilling video of Karl Lagerfeld.

The Hustle:

When The Runway finally rolls around, the Current Model Host tries to bring side boob to high fashion (please stop that, Current Model Host, side boob is still ugly and makes you look fat and flabby), and the Film People decide flashing black and white is the way to go (please stop that, Film People, it’s painful and distracting). The Shoe Guy is guest judge. I think it’s a hallmark of PRAS that I can’t tell, even after the runway critiques have been given, who’s Top and who’s Bottom until they spell it out in What Passes for Chat. When you can’t tell the difference between praise and censure, you’ve lost the whole idea of a competitive reality show, haven’t you?

That’s the Way (uh-huh uh-huh) They Like it (uh-huh uh-huh) – Top Three:

Uli wants to do white, because it’ll stand out. Is White the new Black? Joanna isn’t sure it references the 70s, unless it was the few moments of the 70s when she was asleep. But Uli keeps going with lots of fringe: it’s the New Uli, and Fringe is the New Flowy. This would be the perfect place for some Michael Kors Pocahontas-Flapper snark, but it doesn’t go like that; everyone loves it (and I have to admit, I like the photo a lot more than I liked it on the runway, though now I think it looks like fishscales). The Shoe Guy wants to go dancing with her (sure he does); Isaac sees a futuristic Cherokee, which is as close to Pocahontas snark as we get; he sees Cher, but wants more skin on the back. Georgina likes the use of a simple shape plus the embellishment of the fringe; it’s sharp looking and modern. In private, they agree she didn’t do 70s disco, but it was “a jewel of a dress.”

Casanova wants to go short, simple, sexy, with a spiderweb on the back. He’s stuck on S’s. What he likes: It’s nightlife, it’s slutty, it’s Casanova. I think he just likes saying “slutty” because I don’t see slutty at all in his dress. He wants his girl to be comfortable, meaning he doesn’t want her worrying about her boobs popping out or her panties showing. Joanna likes that he’s thinking of comfort. To me, it doesn’t look comfortable at all: isn’t she going to be tugging on the arms all night, making sure they’re even and aren’t falling down? And I hope she doesn’t intend to actually dance, because raising her arms over her head is a recipe for disaster. But it’s a nice dress. I wish the spiderweb in back had more organization to it; randomness is fine, but even randomness needs a distribution pattern or it just looks sloppy. On the runway, Casanova is wearing a harness that reminds me of the training harness Capt. Kirk wore as a thrall in “The Gamesters of Triskelion“. Fabio could pull off the ropes, the floral wreath, and Williamsburg chic, but this on Casanova, not so much. The dress,however, is a hit. Everyone likes the back. Isaac loves that it’s sexy but not dangerous. Where is this focus on Safety coming from? Is Safety the new Chic? Georgina loves the color but it’d be more chic if it were longer. Privately, she didn’t dislike it but it didn’t say anything new.

Ivy wants to do a jumpsuit in emerald chiffon. That idea gives me a headache. She tells Joanna she’s thinking the ad will be about the shoe, so the dress is a supporting player; before I can formulate the words “that sounds like a bad idea,” Joanna asks if she’s answering the prize and not the challenge. But it’s a tricky thing, because the winner will be chosen primarily by how well it will fit in an ad for the shoe, so it is a consideration. She’s running out of time so Casanova helps her put embellishments on her dress “because there’s a bunch of crappy designers who need to go home.” I see, so we’re going to add Casanova’s rep to the trashpile with Mondo’s? The outfit, whatever it is (it doesn’t look like a jumpsuit to me, but maybe it’s a romper or shorts under the chiffon) isn’t as bad as it sounded – the green is more subdued than what I think of as “emerald” – but I hate the double horizontal of the shorts and skirt. On the runway, Ivy explains that the 70s was about bell bottoms or jumpsuits – so she made a dress? I don’t get it. Georgina likes the flapperesque look; I’m not sure where that is. Isaac doesn’t like that the stones aren’t set on the yoke in the back; this is a function of time and he should shut up. The Shoe Guy wishes it was shorter – yes, if the chiffon ended just below the romper, that might be cool – and it’s a little too pulled together. I think that’s what he said. But privately he loves it. What? Maybe I should watch this with the sound off. Isaac remembers older women looking like that, which isn’t a good thing. And just how many older women go to discos? Or is “older” the fashion world’s term for a 35-year-old?

Stayin’ Alive – Middle of the Pack:

Althea gets ignored this week, except for her snark that she finds Laura annoying and prefers Emilio and Uli since they’re more on her level. I like her outfit, but it’s more of a suit than a disco thing. If she made the skirt shorter and flirtier, and cleaned up the back, she might have something.

Suede tries to spin his bottom-three finish last week: he got feedback, so “Suede Says that can work in his favor.” Using Suede Says (the name of his “brand”) and third person, however, will not, I promise. He’s Wendy’s new best friend. Joanna is dubious on her walk-through; she’s feeling the white man’s overbite, which made me laugh out loud, literally; that wasn’t anything I ever expected to hear from her. I don’t quite understand what a long dress is doing in a disco, or why the skirt is so sheer, or what’s 70s about the Grecian Goddess back, and it’s way too much gold. I suspect he ran out of time, since the neckline in the back is just pleated together without any finesse at all.

Laura doesn’t care that everyone else has friends and she doesn’t. She doesn’t need friends. Joanna’s worried when she hears she’s making a blazer: “Just the word blazer makes me shrivel up.” But no worries, it’s a loose gold sequined blazer over a tie-died jumpsuit, and if that isn’t a mixing of metaphors, I don’t know what is. The blazer isn’t the problem; it’s the horizontal-pattern jumpsuit that looks like pajamas that does it in. Casanova thinks it’s a look for the office. It’s official: no contestant on this show has ever been in an office.

Emilio makes a flowy yellow satin gown with pink straps and belt; he calls it gold, but it isn’t, it’s yellow. Almost chartreuse. I do not think he knows what disco means. Either that or he isn’t paying attention to the words either. As a gown, the bodice humps up at the chest a little too much; it’s just off. Emilio, what’s wrong with you?

Anthony Ryan made a cocktail dress – he calls it that himself – and a damn ugly one at that. Not to mention crooked. Well, he did threaten to use a glue gun in the first segment.

Joshua chooses the disco challenge to make a turquoise pantsuit complete with belted blazer (I can just feel Joanna shriveling). He put the element of sex he’s known for in the back, which… nah, I’m not gonna go there.

Don’t Leave Me This Way – Bottom Three:

Andrae needs a look that doesn’t require explanation, so his fabrics have to have a lot of vocabulary. He seems to have succeeded in that, as Joanna asks if one fabric is pot-scrubber material. Maybe “kitchen cleaning products” is not the right vocabulary for disco. He tells Joanna about the coat he’s making, and she warns him she’s never worn a coat in a disco – and she used to go to discos a lot. Ooooh, Joanna, how you talk, girl. When dressing his model, he puts the top on upside down and inside out. What happened to Andrae? He’s a mess, he can’t even communicate with the judges on the runway. Isaac wants the coat gone, then says what remains is “gorgeous.” I’m not so sure about that; it looks like upscale secretary to me. Privately, Isaac wonders if he’s lazy or random; is he thinking? The Shoe Guy wonders how he’s going to survive if he keeps falling apart with every critique.

Wendy goes for a leather pant, a “punchy” print, and a silver chain. Joanna thinks it looks Halloween, and the ersatz belt buckle looks like a spoon rest. Joanna’s doing a lot of kitchen imagery in her walk through. Uli: “It belongs on the street in some back way at 5 a.m.” Uli is pretty sassy this time around; are they trying to get her to assassinate her own image, too? Not that I disagree. But Wendy’s confident. To me, it looks more disco than anything else on the runway – come on, that silhouette, those bells, the chain, I had fake snakeskin bells and a chain belt – but that isn’t necessarily a good thing. She tells the judges she started with a tuxedo pant; you lost me there, Wendy. Everyone agrees it’s too much. A bit much? As much as I don’t miss Michael Kors’ ghost written zingers, there is a time and a place for remarks like, “She looks like her last john stabbed her.” And this is the time and place. Georgina doesn’t get tux either, but applauds the blood… er, color. Isaac thinks it’s a bit theme park, a little junior. In the judges’ private discussion, the model-host, whatever her name is, shocks me when she says, “Are we in Spanish Harlem?” I’m even more shocked no one edited it out. I guess racist remarks aren’t that big a deal any more.

Kayne is going Donna Summer. Or JLo. Or something. He’s doing palazzo pants with striped fabric arranged in a chevron pattern, and seems surprised to find out it takes more fabric to do that correctly. Joanna warns him to get them right, and bless his heart, he does, in double chevrons all up and down the pants. I think he deserves a lot of credit for that, but Isaac isn’t that impressed; “Doesn’t mean it’s good.” Actually, it’s the right shape, it’s sparkly on top – it’s disco. Disco was an ugly time. If they didn’t want 70s disco clothes, why’d they make it a 70s disco-inspired challenge? Kayne thinks it’s Studio 54 meets Michael Kors Resort. Um, maybe not, hon. Isaac sees the JLo, but that works against the disco thing. Make up your minds, people, do you want disco or not? Nobody likes the top. Georgina is very happy to see the chevrons lined up perfectly, but there’s no mystery.

Who Will Survive:

Uli wins.

Wendy’s out. That’s a surprise; I figured it was Andrae as soon as he got called for the runway. It makes no sense: Uli didn’t make anything disco, and she wins; Wendy made the ultimate disco, and she loses. Lesson to be learned: don’t listen to the words.

Suede’s heart is broken because his newfound friend is out already; he’s really crying, which is kind of sweet and kind of stupid at the same time.

Tin Foil Hat Theory of the Week:

I used to wonder if they paid designers to be on this show. Now I’m wondering if the designers pay them. So much per episode, so much per Top Three, so much per win. It would account for what seems random choices.

Even TLo says: “They’re just checking names off a list. ‘Okay, it’s Wendy’s turn to go home. Let’s see what she did and then figure out a way to justify eliminating her.’”

I’m just taking it a step further:

Casanova: “I want two top-three placements, and to last to the final five; how much will that be?”
Wendy: “I don’t think I need more than two episodes to remind people I’m here and get more of my townsfolk to buy my cookies and soup. Hey, laugh all you want, but soup and cookies are a lot easier to make than clothes.”
Andrae: “I prostituted my cat to afford four episodes, and damn it, you’re going to keep me on no matter what I do.”

Next Week:

I have no idea what the challenge is, but apparently it’s time for some Drama.

Project Runway All Stars Season 2 Episode 1: Redemption on the Runway

In an austerity move, this season losing designers will just be vaporized.

In an austerity move, this season losing designers will just be vaporized.

Wow, this is going to be boring, isn’t it? There’s no one to root for.

Sure, there are some good people in the mix. Uli has what’s practically a cult following, so she’s probably the nominal “favorite” to win. I’m pulling for Emilio, myself; aside from that hardware store disaster, I liked his stuff in S5. While Laura’s decoy collection would’ve won S9 hands down (since she never did anything that impressive during the season, I’ll always wonder if she had a little help, or if it was just a factor of having more time and fewer restrictions), and Althea had her moments (if you can call anything that happened in S6 to be a “moment”), they were in far weaker seasons.

But things can change – who’s been working somewhere with professional advice and feedback, who’s been just trying to pay the rent in a niche market, who’s put some effort into developing skills, it could easily make a difference.

Getting Started:

With her first sentence, new host Carolyn Murphy gave me hope that she was an improvement. By her third sentence, she’d taken it away. Do they learn that wide-eyed wonderment over the prizes, or the kindergarten teacher lilt, in model school? At least they had the sense to leave Isaac Mizhrahi, Georgina Chapman, and mentor Joanna Coles alone. Guest judge Rachel Roy was a good thing. Mondo…. Hmmm. I liked him better in lederhosen than a cow costume. Mondo is a good example of how not to expand your fan base via PRAS.

They start with a group challenge. Oh joy. Of course, this is All Stars, so there won’t be any juicy stuff. The challenge is basically “make stuff” – each team selects a one-word concept and makes a mini-collection. This is a challenge?

Team Bold: Joshua, Peach, Laura, Emilio, Andre, Suede.
Team Confident: Kayne, Uli, Casanova, Ivy, Althea, Anthony Ryan, Wendy.

I’m bewildered: Joshua picked Peach ahead of just about everyone else? It’s no surprise at all that Wendy was left until the end. Hey, you’re the one who set yourself up, and reaffirmed yourself, as Queen Bitch, no whining over the consequences of that. Though I’m sure the editing will be, as Tim says, kind. I bought Tiffani Faison’s rehabilitation. I’m not buying this one. And come on, those team names? Thoroughly generic, along with the others not picked: Independent, Ferocious, Provocative. Bleh. How about, Team I Want To Be An Astrophysicist? Team My Inlaws Are Coming To Dinner and The Dad is Super-Hot? And for a real challenge: Team I Got My Period Yesterday (balance the bloat, irritability, and discomfort, then call in a tampon company to judge for a commercial bragging about lowered accident potential). Those could yield some interesting interpretations. Or, even better: Team Shy, Team Insecure. Shy, insecure people need clothes, too. Come on, have some imagination.

The Runway (and Designer Intros because I was too busy to do a Preview Post):

Team Confident: Winners. That’s what confidence will do for ya.

Anthony Ryan Auld, S9: He’s been busy in the past year: he started Louisiana Fashion Week and his charity for cancer victims, RockOne1. Not so much designing, it seems, though he says he’s done some custom work. He really grew on me during S9 (though there wasn’t much competition, in the area of pleasant personality). It’s only been a year, so there hasn’t been that much time for him to develop (though he says his aesthetic has done a 180; I’m not sure I know what his aesthetic was in the first place). And he was on a very weak season; he might be in for a struggle. But not tonight: his pants and top are a hit. Not so much with me – I think it’s completely nondescript, a bowling shirt over pants, and the back, while nice, doesn’t make sense to me. But the judges beg to differ. Georgina loves the surprise in the back; Isaac overlooks the weird-fitting crotch (thank you for at least acknowledging it) but loves the pants; Rachel loves the fit of the tush. Top three. So what do I know.

Ivy Higa, S8: She talks about taking time off to build capital for her capsule collection; I’m not sure what that means exactly, but apparently it includes working at Zac Posen, DVF, and Theory, all of which may serve her extremely well in this competition. For all her ranting about her terrific construction skills, she never turned out anything in S8 that I actually liked, and a lot of her stuff was sloppy, possibly due to planning more than she could accomplish in limited time. We’ll see if she’s learned how to be pleasant – or if she needs another needle in the eye. And surprise – she finally admits to being a bitch in S8. She was under a lot of stress at the time, see. As much as it annoys me, I have to admit her shorts suit is really nice. I’m a little ambivalent about the lace insets – at a glance, it looks like some humongous ink stain spreading out. But… I also like that. I even like the shorts. Georgina loves the jacket, though wonders if lace shorts would’ve been better than leather; Isaac thinks pants would be better. But they’re all impressed, and though I hate to admit it, so am I. Top three.

Casanova, S8: If you’re only going to read catch-up interview, this is the one to read. “I became a bag designer because I’m lazy….The show helped me to define my design aesthetic as risqué.” You get the idea. The biggest surprise is: he works for Ivy as a design assistant. And surprise on top of that: Neither of them mentioned they would be on PRAS. Either they both honored the secrecy thing, or they don’t actually talk to each other. I’m not crazy about his leather-and-lace dress; because it’s black, it’s hard to see, but there’s nothing about it that appeals to me. The judges again think me wrong: Top Three. Georgina loves the lace in the back; Isaac and Rachel think it should be a little longer. Mondo likes the tone-on-tone, but doesn’t find it exciting.

Wendy Pepper, S1: she makes clothes for sale in her home town, as well as cookies and soup. Diversification is a good thing. From the promos, sounds like she’s vying for the Villain role again. And imagine, she’s hurt she gets selected last, then is encouraged when she gets a compensatory toast back at the apartment. It’s election season, so I’m damn sick of people who manipulate and exploit and twist everything to their own advantage. And I’m not that crazy about people who make dresses with pubic hair either, no matter how confident they think it is. It’s actually not a bad dress, if it weren’t for the little lace thatch in the front.

Kayne Gillaspie, S3 : He’s doing evening wear, as well as shoes for Benjamin Walk and intimates for Empire Intimates. I like his use of color; if he can tone down his rhinestone addiction and ruffle fetish, he might be a contender. But that’s like asking a fish to live in the desert. He looks strange on the intro video – iridescent duskiness. Lay off the bronzer, hon. Or find a better shade. And Joanna was so right on her walkthrough: his look is Catwoman from the 60s. I was actually thinking Jill St. John in a 007 movie, but Goth Catwoman will do, too. But damn, boy can sew.

Uli Herzner, S3: She wants to be known for more than flowy print resort-wear. That’s pretty much all that’s on her website, but her L&T dress is very tailored. IIRC, her first All-Stars appearance also featured more tailored clothes, and it was quite a disappointment. Did Anya poison the well for flowy prints? Uli’s work is far more sophisticated and goes well beyond picking a pretty fabric; there’s real design there. But steering away from her strength – and her signature – might not be the best strategy. She sends down a nightgown. But a very pretty nightgown. With leather straps and a neckpiece. I don’t understand the neckpiece, but without it, you couldn’t wear that out of the boudoir.

Althea Harper, S6: She spent a year working at Tory Burch before starting her own lines; she’s got some nice stuff on her website. What interested me most about her Lifetime catch-up interview is that she’s never watched any season of PR except her own. So she doesn’t know she was on the Worst Season Ever? She could do well here; she’s got very expensive taste, and she’s been working a while, developing skills. Thing is – she’s not the first person you think of when you think PR. And this is first and foremost a TV show about ratings. She looks great; she’s lost that simpering Barbie look she had in S6. I really like the white and lace dress she sends out; the lace is pretty, and the asymmetry is interesting. I especially like the little black edging on the slit.

Team Bold: aka Second Place, and considering we’ve only got two teams, that’s a problem.

Suede, S5: He’s been working on the “SuedeSays” line of Simplicity patterns. That’s interesting. No, seriously, it is, I’ve never heard of anyone who’s done that before. Then again, I haven’t looked at a Simplicity pattern, or any pattern, since my required Home Ec class in 1969. Men’s, women’s, kids’. And he’s making things with an eCraft machine; I have no idea what an eCraft machine is, but the dresses are pretty amazing. I doubt any of this will help him in the competition, but he’s definitely got a niche. And the minute I saw his dress on the runway, I thought, “Folded Napkin Dress.” Sadly. Because, while the dress isn’t that bad, folded napkins never go over well, unless they’re extraordinary; these weren’t. And the sleeves are layered breast cups. Yeah. Sorry, Suede. I’ve had a soft spot for you ever since you said you studied the cello for 12 years, but this isn’t going anywhere. And sure enough, he’s in the bottom three. Mondo credits him with good ideas but they don’t work, they’re working against each other; Isaac loves the skirt (much to my surprise) but not the top; Georgina sees two different dresses, and it’s too much visually.

Andrae Gonzalo, S2: From his questionnaire, seems he’s been doing custom work and theater work, but nothing at a professional level. I get the sense he’s been struggling. But he’s very sweet, and I had hopes for him. But he starts out rough, with a mélange of sheer and not that could’ve worked but didn’t; I don’t mind the sheer overlay or the blue twist; in fact, the only thing I hate about it is the sheer belly, and that it looks kind of amateur. He’s in the bottom three. He defends it by saying the blue fabric directs the eye towards areas of interest. Silence. More silence. The judges are confused by it – is it a tank, a dress, what’s going on with the zipper in the back? Georgina likes the intention and edginess, but it’s too complicated; Rachel finds it “so difficult.”

Peach Carr, S8: She has a line of “tennis-to-day dresses” and is “dabbling in stretch sequin cocktail attire.” Apparently she’s doing well; I’m glad, she’s another sweetheart. But her range seems limited, and short time limits were always a problem for her. Her runway look seems off to me; the sleeves, the neckline, it just looks rumpled and ill-fitting. She tries to explain, and Isaac stops her: “The more you talk the more I dislike it, so stop talking.” It seems she was trying to make something that fit in with the collection rather than the things she normally does; Mondo and Georgina encourage her to stick with her strengths. So, if she’d sent down a tennis dress, you’d be ok with that? I’ll just bet.

Joshua McKinley, S9: Oh, it’s too soon, do we have to? His palazzo pants midriff top look pretty cheesy to me; the straps in the back don’t really help. Hooker chic?

Laura Kathleen, S9: My, she’s been busy, clothing and jewelry available in boutiques. Her S9 decoy collection was a huge hit, so she has that to live up to. I’m dubious. But boy am I surprised: her look was my favorite; it doesn’t look that great in the picture, but it did in motion. I love the flare of the top. She was the judges’ favorite, too; too bad she was on the losing team.

Emilio Sosa, S5: In addition to his line, he’s been working in theatre, and was nominated for a Tony award for costume design on Porgy and Bess – that’s the real Broadway production, not some regional theatre troupe. That’s pretty impressive. He’s my guy; maybe it’s the Year of the Dominican-American (since Junot Diaz just won a $500,000 MacArthur “Genius” grant). Sorry, Tim; hey, anyone can have an off day and end up with a string-and-washer bikini. Unfortunately, I didn’t so much like the dress he sent out. The black band squashes the breasts, and the fabric on the side of the bare midriff has a tendency to gap.

And the Winner Is…

It’s between Anthony Ryan and Ivy for the win, with Casanova a distant (I hope) third; I thought Ivy had it for sure, but nope, it’s Anthony Ryan. Really? This is not off to a good start, aesthetically.

Among the losers, Suede is safe, leaving only Andrae and Peach. Well, you know how the axe is gonna fall, and sure enough, Peach is out.

Next week:

Disco party! And Joshua wants to puke, which makes two of us.

Project Runway Season 10 Episode 14: Final Finale

"My nerves are travelling through the screen right now and if you touch it I'm sure it will be shaking just like my heart is right now"

“My nerves are travelling through the screen right now and if you touch it I’m sure it will be shaking just like my heart is right now”

Oh, the angst (and a quick game of pool) following last week’s critique!

Fabio and Christopher “knew all along” they’d all be going to Fashion Week.

Fabio’s going luxe, Dmitry’s going sexy young thang, Melissa’s adding color, Christopher’s pouting: “I didn’t see myself as a colorful person this season, I was confused as to what they thought they would see from me; I’ve been doing this for five weeks and to get it shot down now, I don’t know….I’ve been the front-runner all along, I’ve won four challenges, they make me feel like they’re doing me a favor by moving me forward,” he interviews as he sends a pool ball into orbit. Can you say “entitled”? Did he seriously think all he had to do was show up and collect his prize?

In the workroom, Tim comes in and does a gather round, and starts singing: “It’s a new dawn, a new day…” And from my living room I finish it for him: “and I’m feeeee-eeeeee-eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-lin’… gooooooood.” They have two days, $300 and a half hour at Mood. “Don’t be thinking about a new collection; how do you take what you already have and enhance it.” At Mood (where a glum-looking Swatch lies listlessly on the floor), Fabio gets an expensive looking fabric that drapes the way he likes. Dmitry gets black silk. Melissa gets blood orange leather (“Blood orange? She’s so pretentious. It’s f#&@in’ red,” sniffs Christopher Pout-face. Has he been this bitchy all season, and I just didn’t notice?). And Christopher wanders aimlessly. I’m confused: is this a winner-edit or a loser-edit?

They work for a couple of days. On walkthrough, Tim’s startled at Dmitry’s mention of silver leaf in his models’ hair (it was the hair stylist’s suggestion) – will the audience see the hair and not the clothes? Christopher continues his bitchstreak by hoping he uses it all. I get the sense these interviews were filmed after Christopher found out he lost. Tim’s concerned about Christopher: he’s making too many new looks, his new fabric looks cheap. Melissa notices Christopher looks exhausted. He does, to the point where I think he’s been made up to look that bad. She also notices he’s feisty: “Like extra-crispy.” Yeah, he’s that, too. Then she brags about making the most complicated piece she could with three hours to go. Maybe, but she’s made that dress at least three times now so she should be able to crank it out pretty quick. Tim loves Fabio’s new fabric: “You’ve had an epiphany… I have goosebumps.” Even Christopher notices: “I think he took the judges’ critique and ran with it. We’ve never seen this side of Fabio before.” Any side of Fabio is fine with me.

At the 15-minute warning, Christopher protests he has two more looks to make. “You were done this morning,” says Tim. “No, I wasn’t,” says Christopher, looking seriously cowed. That’s some meek whipped-dog look. Has he been taking acting lessons? Because he’s shown us the Many Moods of Christopher in the past half hour.

The Runway:

Jennifer Hudson is the guest judge. That’s nice. She’s pretty superfluous, and won’t be mentioned here again. It’s nice to see Kooan in the audience. Hi, Kooan! My heart belongs to Fabio now, but you can share if you like.

Christopher:

It’s about deconstruction and reconstruction. I get it, the x-rays of broken bones with restorative hardware.

His first look, a brown top and black skirt, gets me thinking he’s turned this around; I like it very much. Looks like he used his fabric-strips technique, as well as the bleached leather. Interesting angles.

His second look – ostrich(?) jacket with a Melissa collar over a slim black dress – is really nice, too, collar and backdrop dress aside. It’s a great jacket, with an interesting diagonal closure.

Then we go bump-thud: it’s those horrible too-short-shorts with the see-thru sweater; it’s covered by a very interesting jacket that looks like clipped-together leather, but the shorts and sweater make it so awful the jacket visually turns into poodle-fluff (aka lambswool). What is his obsession with those shorts? Swapping out the vest he used last week for the far better jacket didn’t elevate the look, it devalued the jacket. It’s an astonishing come-down from those first two looks.

Then we have the leather shorts and print top, which I liked last week and still do. But he’s ruined the turn-around the first two looks created.

Another new look, a purplish-blue trench, follows. The front has some interest at the waist, but it’s a pretty standard look. The seams in the back don’t look pressed; I’m not sure if that’s poor finishing or the fabric’s fault, but whatever it is, it isn’t good.

The leather vest and bustier over high-waisted brown pants comes next. Above the waist, it’s great. The pants seem too tight to me, but maybe that’s because the website picture caught a serious case of camel toe, and I can’t unsee it. Overall it’s not a bad look, assuming the fit problem is my imagination.

Next comes a print blouse over black pants. The pants are pants; background. The top is nice – great use of the light and dark of the print – but not enough to put with background and call it a day.

His blue jacket over pink-and-grey splotchy pants doesn’t work for me, but that could be just my preference. The pants look to me like they’re taken from Heidi’s babywear, and the blouse and jacket just look old-lady to me. I’m not sure what the technique is for the jacket – press pleats, his fabric stripping, or something else – and it’s a very pretty effect, but I don’t like the overall shape. And I’m not sure what this and the blue trench have to do with the leather and x-rays.

His one-shoulder x-ray dress is striking; the print is put to great use. It’s a simple design, sure, but figuring out how to position the fabric is the key, and he did that very well.

His final look is the stunning gown that shades from beige to brown to black. It’s lovely.

I say: he’s got serious potential, but the collection was uneven. 70%.

The judges say: Huh? Michael loved the opening looks, the print and leather, but the romantic gown didn’t fit. Heidi gives him props for some amazing pieces like the shiny (of course) leather jacket and the one-shouldered dress. Nina says he has the most wonderful ability to take fabric and make it look light, but she wishes he’d made something unforgettable. Uh oh, that sounds like see ya later.

Melissa:

She looks gorgeous, by the way. Her collection is about a new exploration of death to life, fitting for spring. I didn’t really get that, but I’ll take her word for it.

First, we have The Jacket. You know which one – white leather with high black collar; she cut off the black cuffs as requested. It’s very striking, much better than it looked last week.

Next, a grey vest over a slinky long black dress. It’s striking, too, in a completely different way. The vest has some cool texture and detail; it’s either lined or reversible (I assume the model would’ve reversed it if it was reversible). Pretty simple. But a nice look.

The high-necked black tunic over slit skirt looks so much like the black dress she showed last week, I’m going to have to wait to see if there’s a second black dress. I hate the purple tape around the waist as a belt. Overall, ok.

The swimsuit looks so awful on the model it’s hard to realize it’s actually got some interesting construction going on.

And now it’s time for her so-what look: the generously-roomy pants from last week paired with a white tank and black vest. It’s perfectly fine for a casual look; the fabrics on top look interesting, even if the bottom does look like a kid’s snowpants, complete with all that room for a diaper. But I’m not sure this is what Fashion Week is for.

Then again, is Fashion Week about a black tank dress? Ok, the white insert in the back is unexpected, but still…

Things get a little back on track with the one-sleeved white leather cocktail dress. I like the combination of the sleeve on one side and the cutout on the other side of the waist.

She’s got another interesting jacket over a red vest, white shorts, and a black cutaway. From the chest up, it’s winter, whereas south of that, it’s warm and sunny. I guess that’s appropriate. But I love the jacket, and I love the layering.

Then we have a big mistake. It isn’t the white tank dress itself; I like the cut, even if I’m not crazy about the leather in the back (I think it looks like masking tape again). The problem is that the model can’t walk in it. This is the “Binders full of women” look: it’s a hobble-dress. Melissa knew it at fitting, and she chose to do other things rather than fix the dress, so her model took baby steps all the way down that very long runway and back. Bad move.

It’s followed by a stunner of a blood orange leather dress with the piled-higher collar. It’s gorgeous. I think blood orange is a good term for it, since sometimes it looks red and sometimes it looks orange.

I say: Repetitious, and some pieces that are kind of silly, but the two jackets, plus the blood orange dress, might just do it for her. 75%.

The judges say: oooooh. Michael says she understands how a girl wants to look; he loves the gesso leather; but why oh why did she send out an unwalkable dress? Heidi loves the hair and makeup; Nina loves the red dress, it’s sexy without being slutty.

Dmitry:

All about organic architecture and geometry. Query: what would inorganic architecture be?

His first look is the white dress from last week. I wish I could like this more; it’s obviously got some cool stuff going on, but I still just don’t think it looks good on the model, and that’s mostly because of the fit; yet I think the fit has to be loose to get that “floating” effect. Maybe it should be a more obviously floating style? This looks like a sheath that’s two sizes too big.

His white jacket using the same technique is a lot more successful. It’s nice he found a place to use that triangular sleeve he brought to the last challenge. And I love that he paired it with the skirt that got lost under that hideous jacket last week. Great look.

Then we crash and burn. It’s the sheer black top over geometric pants. Good lord, it’s out of LulaMae’s Happy House or something. And what did he do to that poor model to make her look so ugly?

His fringed diamond dress isn’t as pretty as it sounds. It’s well-made, there’s some obvious craftsmanship at work (as opposed to, say, a tank dress) but damn, it’s tacky. It’s made for doing the Charleston, though.

But wait, there’s more! His fringed-sleeve diamond jacket over a sheer top and blouson pants boggles the mind. Last week they told him this jacket with the sheer top and the bra was too much, so in a stunning leap of logic he took away the bra. And the pants, forget what I said about Melissa’s pants having room for a diaper, these could hold their own zip code. But it’s the jacket that is truly, amazingly, hideous. And, again, the model. What did he do to these girls? They’re models, they can’t be that ugly, can they?

In a complete switch, we have a black one-shoulder tank over a pale yellow skirt. Ah, sweet relief for my overexposed retinas. Pretty. Simple. And here’s where everyone starts sneering, “Too simple.” Hey, diamond patterns plus leather fringe, I can use some simple right now. Not sure what one has to do with the other, but I’m grateful.

A pretty one-shouldered black pleated cocktail dress follows. It’s nice. A little too folded. A little too party-ruffly, if that makes sense. I’m not sure what it has to do with organic architecture. And I think the long sleeve makes it too heavy. But it’s not bad.

Time for more yellow: a dress with studded cap sleeves. I can’t tell what the sleeves are, actually. Beads? Spikes? Chain mail? Those things you clean your grill with when Brillo isn’t enough? I hate them. But other than the sleeves, the dress is pretty, if you can tear your eyes away from the spikes.

The silver gown is pretty. I’m not big on metallics, but it’s fine.

And for his finale, he sends out a ballroom dance gown. Sparkles! Slit! Organza fringe! This would’ve won the stage-costume-for-Christina Aguilera no question.

I say: Dmitry has made some great looks over the course of the season, and it’s sad (and puzzling) that this is how he wants to be remembered. 50%.

The judges say: Wow! Really? Yes, really. Heidi thinks the fringed jacket looks young now (I want to see her wear it), she likes the dress, and falls all over herself saying nice words Michael says it’s all impeccably made (which it is), fits beautifully (ok, most of it is), and looks expensive (bullshit). He does say the final gown is treading into costume territory. Treading? Nina proclaims fringe editorial; she’s very impressed. WTF?

Fabio:

Cosmic tribalism as a deep reflection on his heritage.

First out: shorts and a sheer top over a sports bra, all under the asymmetrical vest from last week. I like the shorts; he found the perfect striped fabric to go with his pastels. It’s better than anything he showed last week. I’m still not a fan of the sheer-over-bra thing, but this bra looks more like clothing than underwear, thanks to the substantial coverage and print. I don’t know what to call it; it’s about the shape of a sports bra, so that’ll do. I’d call the whole look good.

The blue tunic and white pants that follow, not so much. I can’t really tell what’s needlepoint necklace and what’s tunic, and I hate the needlepoint. I think there’s some nice draping going on, but I can’t really see it that well, and the overall effect is still, fat lady muu-muu.

The sleeveless jacket over the sports bra with white skirt isn’t too bad. I like the bottom of the jacket. I don’t like the notches; I still say the effect is that she’s popped her buttons, which obviously isn’t the case. But overall, yeah, not bad.

The blue-to-white dress is another muu-muu to me. The back has a lovely drape, though.

The white draped dress is far more successful for me. In fact, I actually like it. This makes me happy.

His loose white pants with sheer top over sports bra is kind of nice from the front and back, but not so much the side. I like the “X” effect at the waist; I even like the fit of the pants, though I’m not usually a big fan of loose pants. And I like the top. Yeah, I like it. I really like it!

But then there’s the grey tunic over white pants. The pants are the same jeans-fit, background. The top is, well, I’m undecided. It’s relaxed. It’s got some pretty drapes. Is it fashion? How would I know.

But then I know. He finally dresses a model the way he dresses, in a pink jacket over a pink print vest over a pink print sports bra over white pants with a grey skirt tied over them. This is what Fabio does; it’s like what Jay McCarrol did, mixing pieces perfectly. Any individual piece might be meh on its own or with something else, but all together it works great. Love it.

And maybe we’re on a roll – because aside from the needlepoint necklace, this sleeveless white dress is ok. I like the straight horizontal on one side and the diagonal on the other. Yeah, ok.

Then we close with pajamas. You know, this is the same mix-n-match thing, except the satiny tie just screams “bathrobe.” But it’s so close. The jacket is really quite nice, if I can avoid the tie. And the rolled pants and long tunic are quite nice, especially for pajamas. Would people really wear this outside? I don’t get it. But it’s beautiful.

I say: I adore Fabio. No kiddin’, right? I love how he himself dresses. But I haven’t really understood most of the stuff he’s sent out this season, or for this show. It’s hard to admit that. But go check out what TLo had to say about Fabio’s collection: that it worked much better in person than in pictures or on tv, and there was a palpable uptick in audience excitement when these pieces came out. I believe that. I want to believe. 60%.

The judges say: Aaaaaaahhhhhhhh… Heidi loves it, all this ethereal fluid stuff after all the dark looks. She’d wear the long coat (over a shiny short tight dress, maybe). Nina sees he listened and upped the sophistication level. Seriously? Michael credits him with taking Jordan almond pastels and working them, the draping is effortless and makes a fashion statement that could be interpreted into real life. I don’t know what that means. But that’s appropriate, considering it’s Fabio we’re talking about.

Down to brass thimbles

The judges ask why they should win, and everyone says “because I want to launch my career and I’m ready and I know who I am and I have a distinct point of view and I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonit, people like me.”

The judges send them backstage so they can dish in private: Christopher’s collection was inconsistent and not really a collection; he should’ve made pretty clothes like he did all season. Melissa did the same thing she’s been doing all season so there was no sense of surprise. Do you get the sense that no matter what some people do, they’re out of luck? Fabio had no misfires, and knows what people want before they know it themselves, but can he do that all the time? Dmitry is a perfectionist with polish but also commercial appeal and a definite signature.

It’s between Dmitry and Fabio. Wow, was I wrong. Until the judges started talking, I was pretty sure Melissa won.

Dmitry wins. As perplexed as I am, I can’t really complain. He’s made great stuff all season, should’ve won at least two more than he did, he’s got serious chops, and he’s a nice guy. I can overlook that eyesore of a final collection.

Oh, Fabio, I’m sorry. I’ve loved seeing you on my tv every week, and I’ll miss you.

Next week:

What ever happened to reunion shows? Now they were fun.

But no, next week we get to start another All-Stars season, because the last one went so well (huh?). I hear they’ve replaced the model host, but Joanna Coles and Isaac Mizrahi will be back. I doubt I’ll have time to do a preview, so here’s the list:

Hooray:

Andrae
Anthony Ryan
Emilio (my top pick)
Peach
Casanova

Boo:

Ivy
Joshua
Wendy

Meh:

Kayne
Suede
Uli

Who?

Althea
Laura

Let’s see who’s changed, for better or worse.

Project Runway Season 10 Episode 13: Finale, Part I

Even <em>The New Yorker</em> understands the value of styling.

Even The New Yorker understands the value of styling.

The best thing I can say about this episode was that it kept me from obsessing about the debate.

I don’t know what I was expecting, maybe one little something that would make me go”Aaaaahhhh!” Or “Oooooooh!”

Instead, I went, “WTF?”

Even Tim’s visits, usually a highlight and the only reason for this absurd excuse of the first half of a two-part finale, were boring.

It’s just not fun anymore.

The whole sad story:

Heidi and Tim meet the four victorious designers on the runway to tell them they aren’t so victorious after all: “You’re not guaranteed a spot in the final three.” The phrasing is very important: notice she doesn’t say, “Only three of you will go to Fashion Week.” She doesn’t say, “One of you will be out.” Just that there are no guarantees, which turns out to be a guarantee after all. She sends them off with $9000 and five weeks.

Tim’s Home Visits:

Christopher seems to live with his parents on Long Island. He uses leather, and fabric created from his boyfriend’s x-ray (yes, it sounds like he says it’s his mother’s, but he corrects that in his tweets); it’s really quite interesting, because the design aspect becomes figuring out which part of the fabric to put where. Tim’s worried about the leather bustier: the sweetheart neckline is too sweet. Christopher shows in a piece of whether that he “ruined” with bleach, just to see what the bleach would do to the leather. Tim loves the effect, and says it takes it to another dimension; he should think about using it in the bustier. That’s the sort of experimentation having months instead of weeks would help with. At this point, he’s only got a couple of weeks, so sure, he can splash bleach on the bustier, but given time, he could really develop the idea. Still, Tim is excited. Then it’s family time complete with a table of cakes. You know you’re in trouble when the best line of the night is, “This looks so very… caloric.”

Fabio is using his best friend’s dad’s space in Brooklyn as a studio. On the Lifetime video we get a true glimpse of what it’s like to be a PR contestant:

Tim: How long have you been working here?
Fabio: Since I got out.
Tim: You make it sound like prison.
Me: Well, if it quacks like a duck…

Fabio describes his process of making the pink fabric: “It was grey fabric, I painted it pink, then extracted the color, so I did a discharge on this dress.” That’s worse than Elisa spitting. He also did some work with tiles, and his accessories – necklaces, purses – are made from what looks like large needlepoint plastic. Apparently they are made by someone else, which I guess falls under the heading of specialty item. I wish they fell under the heading of “discard.” His concept is cosmic tribalism, and each look is a different persona in the tribe, such as the priestess. Tim is a little worried since Heidi has a well-known dislike of pastels, but Fabio says it’ll be okay. It will, huh? Tim worries about the pants; they’re like long johns. And he hates the shoes; Fabio likes them clunky and ugly, but Tim thinks they look like winter: “The woman wearing this dress wouldn’t remotely consider those shoes.” That is exactly what Fabio wanted. Tim: “You had me in your arms, but now I’m baffled and confused. There’s so much potential for wow factor, but it’s undercut by other things that are happening.” Fabio’s mom joins them for Family Time. I didn’t know that Fabio was born in Brazil, and his mom came to New York without him when he was four; he lived with his grandmother in Brazil until he was 11, when he joined his mother in New York.

Dmitry resigned his job to be on PR and lost his lease, so he’s staying at a friend’s (very nice) place in Jersey City while they’re in Spain. You don’t suppose they arranged the finalists to mostly be in New York, to make up for that trip to Trinidad last year? Dmitry’s inspired by organic architecture, geometric but fluid. He loves leather and fringe, so he’s made a jacket with fringed leather sleeves; I have to say, I hate it. There’s a very pretty, but simple, yellow dress; he asks if Tim likes the color: “No, but I can see how it would work.” Now there’s a ringing endorsement. Tim’s worried: is there enough so the judges won’t say they’ve seen this before? But Dmitry somehow thinks it’s one of his best critiques. I’m concerned, Dmitry. They have tea on the patio; no family, no friends. It’s what I’d do. Poor Dmitry.

Melissa is working out in San Francisco. Her “wow” piece is a crackle-painted leather jacket. That sounds like a garment that can only be worn once. Tim says she has an aura about her that says “I know what I’m doing and I stand behind this.” He thinks it’s clearly her look. In fact, I don’t remember any negative comments that all. They go for a boat ride with her parents and boyfriend; turns out she’s only been sewing for four years, which is a surprise.

Back to New York:

Tim tells them they’ll be presenting a show of three looks the next day, to see who qualifies for Fashion Week. Melissa has a crisis of confidence when she sees the other designers’ collections; maybe she didn’t push herself enough. Tim gives her a pep talk, and she feels better. Oh, the crisis of confidence, I smell a winner. That jacket probably wins it for her on its own. Christopher is leaving the selection of the three looks for the last minute. Why? He’s got a gown that’s absolutely gorgeous; unfortunately, I think it’s similar to something Christian did in his finale. Tim tells Fabio they’ll either love it or hate it; it’s a very distinct point of view. That’s one way to put it. Fabio, I adore you, you’re one of my favorite PR people ever, but I don’t get your designs. And here’s what’s really strange: or his introduction questionnaire, he listed a Brazilian website (in Portuguese) showing his designs; he is the model, judging by the tattoos, and the clothes are amazing. I love how he dresses himself; I just wish he dressed his models the same way. Tim seems most worried about Dmitry; it wants more color. Isn’t it a little late for that?

The Runway:

As usual for the almost-finale, there’s no guest judge. And I realize this episode has really missed the mark, since what I’m most interested in is what Fabio is wearing himself. What makes that really sad is that overall this is probably the strongest slate of finalists in three seasons.

As a side note, I looked at the Extended Judging videos and forgot to keep the notes separate, so I’m not sure where the episode left off and the videos began.

Christopher sends out shorts, vest, and a see-through sweater over dark bra. I’m the first to admit I know nothing about fashion, but I know crap, and this is crap. To be fair, the vest is interesting, especially the back with the asymmetrical flat ruffles and seaming. If I could see the bleach I’d probably like that, too, but I suspect you have to be within arm’s length to get the effect. The sweater could be nice, and might be up close (the knit looks like it might be interesting), but over the dark bra, just looks like that Goodwill thing you get because they don’t have anything else that day. The shorts look like they have that sewn crease of the polyester stretch-pants I thought I’d never see again. Christopher has lost his mind. I could understand this being a look snuck into his collection as casualwear, but sheesh, at best, it’s – let me borrow a Nina word – ordinary. No, I’m being polite: it’s just stupid that he sends this out as representative of his work.

He also sends out more shorts! I confess, I liked this better. In fact, it’s not a bad way to include shorts in his collection. The shorts themselves look nice, and I’m not sure why, maybe it’s the leather or the waistband (did he say it was ostrich?), they don’t look like just shorts you could get for $9.99 at Old Navy the way the other ones did. And I very much like the way he used the fabric for the top; it doesn’t look like an x-ray, and I like that it might be a secret only the wearer would know. I hate the chain in the back, though. But two shorts when you can only send three looks? Stupid.

His third look is a narrow skirt in the print, and the leather bustier, now with a straight neckline. While the structure itself is pretty standard, the design comes in the arrangement of the fabric so the white accent, still not identifiable as an x-ray (though in the back it kind of looks like braces, but that’s probably because I know what it is) lines up slightly to the side. I wouldn’t call it a “wow” look – he left that back in the workroom for some reason – but I think it’s got distinct appeal.

He explains the print. Heidi’s glad she didn’t know about it because that’s a little creepy. Michael says if he’s going to go dark that way, fine, but he needs to stay that way, keep the volume raised so there’s no snooze. And this is definitely snooze material: the silhouettes are all normal. He’s got fabulous prints, he needs to try different combinations because these looks aren’t that interesting. Nina agrees; the vest is beautiful, there’s nice detail, but there’s “very little clothes here” (sic; typing that hurts but that’s what she said) and everything is too similar. Heidi tells him he can’t send the first shorts look down the runway, it’s too boring, and she doesn’t get why he used that today (I agree with her). Christopher says there wasn’t enough time for pants and coats: I assume he means to fit pants and coats, and that’s a valid issue since they only had one day. But he’s going to have to fit all of his looks eventually.

Dmitry replays his biggest success with a white dress using the floating-in-space illusion he did with the black jacket over the print. Except there’s no print. I keep trying to figure out the dress, and that’s the interesting part. Visually, I’m not so sure: it looks a little big, and it points to her crotch. I have to admit I’d love to spend some time figuring out exactly what he did – there’s some kind of sheer fabric underneath, but how are the pieces connected? It’s more interesting to think about than beautiful to look at, which is ok; I appreciate stories I describe that way, so I’ll give it to him.

Unfortunately, things get ugly in a hurry. His jacket with fringed-leather sleeves might work if the body of the jacket wasn’t that diamond print; as it is, it’s so ugly I can hardly stand to look at it, but I don’t dare look at the blouse underneath, because that’s an absolute horror. It’s all over a skirt that has some kind of longitudinal texture, which could be interesting, but with the other stuff, just screams “Am I the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen or what?” And here I thought Christopher took that honor already.

Looks like it’s gonna be tough competition for ugly tonight, because his white pants are in it, too. For some reason I’m thinking “lounge lizard.” But it’s the top, another black see-through number, this time with ruffly short sleeves and a bedazzled chest inset, that takes it to a new level of good-lord-how-could-someone-who-made-some-of-my-favorite-clothes-this-season-do-this?

He explains to the judges about architecture and the Guggenheim Museum and Sidney Opera House and Nina shocks me by saying “It looks like you’ve done a lot of work, it’s polished, expensive…” Ok, I give up, was someone holding a gun to her head off-camera? She thinks he needs to work on the styling; some pieces could look better. Yes, most of them would look better under trench coats. She wants him to let the purity and simplicity shine. Sure, Nina, and then you’ll tell him it’s too basic. Michael thinks he has too many ideas and he doesn’t know where to look; hint, Michael, don’t look at either sheer top or the white pants. He thinks the dress is fantastic (no complaints about doing what he’s done before; they’re really being gentle to him), and the pants are great but not with that top; pair them with something simple. Same with the jacket, take it down a bit. He has the model take off the jacket and calls the dark skirt and sheer black top the Dmitry version of a Little Black Dress. It is much better, though I still don’t like the see-through with bra underneath (not that I’m suggesting she not wear a bra, not at all…). Michael wants the styling to be younger and cooler, with some sex appeal, because it looks dowdy and matronly. Now Michael has a gun to his head: I suppose there are dowdy matrons wearing see-through blouses, but aren’t usually hanging over filthy bars in disreputable parts of town trying to make the rent? Heidi tells him to pick a wow piece and stick it with something more boring. But not too boring. Heidi’s drunk the idiot juice again, hasn’t she? Basically, they want him to swap the pieces around. I want him to bury the pieces.

Fabio breaks my heart by sending out pointless pants, a grade-schooler bra-top, and an asymmetrical vest. Ok, I like the vest, quite a bit. I hate the necklace; it’s craft-fair. The thing she’s holding in her hand like a purse doesn’t bother me as much, probably because I can’t see it that well in the pictures. Oh, I do like the shoes, now that he’s painted them in a lighter shade and added funky laces. But my favorite thing is the scarf he’s attached to the back of the cap he is wearing. Once again, Fabio’s own clothes beat anything he’s put on the runway.

The skirt and cropped jacket he sends out for his second look might be fine, but all I see is gaping at the bust like it doesn’t fit. Not because it doesn’t fit, but because of the starburst designed into it that bursts all over. As much as I hate the front, I adore the back with the draped lace hanging down; that’s gorgeous. It’s too bad she has to go out facing forward. Then there’s the Leggo purse… I hope it’s just me being fashion-blind. I want Fabio to have every success. Just don’t make me wear this. Except the back of the jacket.

His third look is a nightgown. Oh, Fabio, I love you so much, I love what you did with the fabric, discharging all over it, but this is so not PR. Maybe that’s a good thing, in the grander scheme.

Heidi shocks everyone by loving his completely different POV. Oh, wait, that isn’t exactly what she said: she loves that he has a completely different POV, somewhere between space and schlumpy (and where is that exactly, Heidi?), it’s got a cool vibe, modern and out there; she’s intrigued. She thinks the necklaces and bag are fantastic. Guess who has a gun to the head now. Though I’m guessing Heidi hasn’t been to that many grammar-school craft fairs, 105 kids or not. It’s something she hasn’t seen before. True, and there’s a reason for that. Michael thinks it’s cool that the pastels are normally considered sweet and saccharine and that’s not the look at all; he likes the tension that creates. He’s glad someone did color, and he likes the demented shoes. But not the wigs. He likes the cutouts and the skirt, but thinks the combinations need to be better balanced. Nina delivers the fatal blow: some pieces, like the vest, are beautiful. But it needs to look more luxurious and expensive. The tie tank and pants are neither here nor there, it looks junior, and he needs to up the sophistication and polish to elevate the very conceptual design. There it is. Exactly what she said to Mondo a couple of season ago. Sorry, Fabio; maybe they’ll do another All-Stars after the one that starts next week.

Melissa does shorts, too, in a white fabric that’s two layers, giving them some texture something like breathable underwear. She’s got a vest that’s open at the bottom and exposes the bra a bit. Bras are the new granny panties, I guess. Then she piled on a scarf around the neck, maybe because she couldn’t figure out a way to make a stand-up collar for the vest. She should market to throat-surgery patients, tracheostomies and thyroidectomies, people who want to cover their scars. For all my snark, it’s not a bad look.

Then comes her cracklin’ jacket over pants roomy enough to hide a family of four in the crotch. Since no one said anything about the crotch coming halfway down the thighs, I’m going to assume it’s stylish. It kind of could be; I liked how Alicia used that cut sometimes, but I think Alicia did better with it. Again, it’s not a bad look, for all that. Maybe my expectations have been lowered.

Finally there’s a little black dress with a high collar. Maybe there’s something about it that raises it above the level of every other LBD I’ve ever seen, but I don’t know what it is, and no one mentions anything. She had other stuff that looked interesting; why did she send this out?

She explains she wanted to show them shorts, pants, and a dress, hence her choices, and point out the texture of the “waxed linen” but I’m not sure which fabric that is. Heidi says it’s definitely Melissa. The jacket is the hero; the dress is fine but too simple, and there’s nothing else. Michael asks if she has enough to create head to toe looks with impact; Melissa assures him she does. He too loves the jacket, and the handbags, but hates the wigs (I kinda like the wigs, actually). Nina asks if there’s anything with color; yes, of course, there’s one red dress. You can do black and white, says Nina (oh, good, since everyone does) but she has to have extraordinary styling when the clothes are so limited. She gets a sense of coolness, but it needs something else. And the cuffs on the jacket sleeves look like Robin Hood. Melissa folds them back, but nope, cut ‘em off, says Nina. And oh, by the way, none of this is going to project to the fifth row. Wow, that’s pretty scathing, considering Tim’s critique was so positive.

So who goes to Fashion Week:

They’re all winners; it’s the Trophy Kids season, so there’s a Final Four.

Maybe the judges are as shocked as I was to see the dreck on the runway, and figured everyone deserved a chance to fix it. Or maybe they set up a little “send out your worst looks and we’ll scold you then you’ll have a great resurgence in the finale” drama because they don’t think anyone will notice when nobody makes any changes and they suddenly start praising to the high heavens the stuff they panned tonight. They might fool me, but they won’t fool TLo.

I think it’s clearly between Christopher and Melissa; they’re the Cool Kids this season. I think Dmitry surprised them, unpleasantly; they were expecting masterful tailoring, and they got Ballroom Dance. And Fabio, maybe they love him as much as I do and figured, hell, why not – if so, I’m glad it broke my way for once.

Next week: it’s all over but the blogging.