Congratulations, Top Chef Richard Blais

March 31, 2011

By Karen

What a relief! The producers let Richard Blais and Mike Isabella cook without playing any childish sabotage games.

Well, almost. The kink of having them assemble potluck kitchen staffs from among the losers could have been disastrous. But neither of them got stuck with Marcel, and Mike caught Jamie on a day when she was in the mood to cook , so it worked out.

And Richard beat Mike fair and square, although there were moments I feared Mike’s that pepperoni sauce would top Richard’s grainy first batch of foie gras ice cream. Even though pepperoni sauce sounds more appealing to me than liver ice cream. Who in hell, besides cats, would want that? Especially as a dessert? Yeecchh!

As much as I’ve grown to loathe Tom and Padma, they did the right thing. Mike has had his moments, but Richard was obviously and more consistently superior in both innovation and execution.

In the after-show festivities, poor Fabio Viviani wasn’t chosen “Fan Favorite.” But if he had to lose to anybody, I’m glad it was Carla Hall. I can thank Fabio for my new Nutella addiction.

There’s still a reunion show to come, complete with an uncomfortable Real Housewives-like exchange between Colicchio and what’s-her-name, the first cheftestant out who told the press Colicchio’s a sell-out.

And over at America’s Next Great Restaurant, I’m still rooting for Joseph Galluzzi and his Saucy Balls, although his menu put him in the bottom 3 last week, and this week’s promos indicate he may jump the shark going gangster. But if he goes, so do I. I’m meh on the other concepts and judge Steve Ells’ nerdiness is starting to annoy me.

“Top Chef” Bottoms Out

March 29, 2011

By Karen

After 79 episodes, all that remains of this season’s Top Chef All-Stars is one more cook-off and a reunion. Can anybody remember the first dozen chefs? They must all be retired by now, driving everybody at “the home” crazy repeating glorious tales of the time they puréed peas on TV for “this really famous bald guy — not Brynner, not Savalas, aw, you know — he had this really tall girlfriend called Pardner.”

In last week’s faux finale, Antonia inevitably got the boot. Seriously, a woman was never going to win this. Stephanie Izard has been the lone female Top Chef since the show started, right?

If Top Chef demonstrates anything, it’s that celebrity chefdom is a boys’ club. Martha, Rachael, Giada, Ina, and Paula are mere tokens, too prissy, cute, sexy, or motherly to ever cut it in a real kitchen.

Mike benefited from the Quickfire challenge’s sadistic twists by getting to choose how Richard or Antonia would suffer. Predictably, Mike went after Antonia because he wants the final finale to be between men — him and Richard.

If Mike ever found a baby robin languishing on the sidewalk, he’d stomp it to death and laugh. Even when he’s crowing about being on top, Mike never lets self-confidence make him pass up an opportunity to do someone dirty. Gracious and fair aren’t in his vocabulary.

So Antonia had to cook with canned goods while physically tethered to Carla (in a cameo appearance) à la sack race, and Richard had to prepare hot dogs with one hand and overdid it with the ketchup.

Mike was limited only by having one pot and losing his utensils after his dish was essentially finished. And guess what? His prowess at shooting fish in a barrel won Mike the Quickfire.

The Elimination challenge involved preparing a “Last Supper” for 3 accomplished chefs. Max Silvestri at Eater shredded that absurd challenge name admirably, so I’ll let him have at it.

Even after Wolfgang Puck declared Richard made Wolfgang’s dead mother happy with his strudel, spaetzle, and goulash, Colicchio couldn’t resist an “It’s not hot enough” kvetch.

Antonia was supplied with rancid fish to serve Masaharu Morimoto, so she presented Plan B fish (tuna) beautifully in a bento box. Morimoto found her miso soup too salty, and Colicchio damned the whole meal as having “too much flavor.”

Too much flavor. Does he ever listen to himself? He single-handedly made “bland” a 4-letter word.

Mike lucked out again — in spades — with no-brainer fried chicken and biscuits for Michelle Bernstein (whoever she is). He wrapped an egg yoke in dough and called it the “biscuit,” and the coating fell right off his dried-out chicken.

Richard was pronounced safe, but Mike and Antonia were sent back to the kitchen to prepare “one last perfect, totally gratuitous bite” because clearly Mike’s food wasn’t supposed to be that much worse than Antonia’s.

So Mike produced a glob of lobster topped with raw beef. Comments ranged from, “the lobster didn’t ‘wow’ me,” to “the beef was bland,” his curry was “over-spiced,” and someone actually “despised” his olive-caramel sauce.

Antonia cooked grouper. Tom, who’d been wearing a look of pained constipation the entire episode, offered the only real criticism, calling the fish “very aggressively” spiced.

So naturally, Antonia had to lose because Mike has a penis.

For the finale, I’d love to see Mike and Richard cook their best in a well-equipped kitchen without spoiled ingredients so someone can win honorably. Fat chance of that.

Bourdain’s Back in the States

March 28, 2011

By Karen

Tonight Anthony Bourdain stays closer to home, exploring the Ozarks in Missouri in a new episode of No Reservations. There’s drinkin’, shootin’, eatin’, and singing by a home-grown group called Ha Ha Tonka

Tony blogged about it from Naples, where he’s with his family right now, possibly to attend a wedding (a guess based on a pic on Twitter), hopefully enjoying some R&R, and apparently taking a vacation from paragraph breaks.

Last week, Eater captured the Quotable Bourdain in Vienna. All that sausage and Jagermeister inspired just what you’d expect. Tony tweeted live again while the show aired. And I’m thinking it’s no coincidence that Travel Channel has yanked NR out of alphabetical order in their website’s show lineup and elevated it to “Featured” status. (Bizarre Foods is the only other food-related featured show as the B v. Z ratings battle rages on.)

Since he had nothing really to add to his tweets, Tony blogged about what he’s watching these days on TV and in movies.

On Bravo, here’s part 2 of that weird interview Eric Ripert did with Tony, and they discuss at some length the meltdown of Ripert’s employee, Jennifer, on Top Chef All-Stars.

Tony and Ruth Reichl’s bastard spawn, Ruth Bourdain, has been nominated for a James Beard award in a new humor category that may have been created just for him/her. RuBo responded by tweeting a link to how humorless and sour-grapey some food writers can be. Tony mentioned in his blog (in case you didn’t click the link) that his former Sirius radio show with Ripert, Turn & Burn, also got a nomination.

I’ve decided to relent and read Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, although chef memoirs aren’t usually my cup of tea. Bourdain’s effusive claims that she’s a far superior writer is something I gotta see for myself.

And as for Top Chef

Tony didn’t judge last week’s pre-finale, and I didn’t see him in the promo for the real finale (a.k.a. pre-reunion show) this week. I’m going to put it to bed in a separate post. Stay tuned…

Fancy Feast®: Next Gen

March 24, 2011

By Adele

Purina Fancy Feast® has made a mini-move to launch a new series of commercials with a plot. Check it out and get up to speed…

The kitten is adorable — for a Persian. But frankly, I smell a rat in this boyfriend. What guy turns his man cave into a cat playroom, has a heart engraved with “Will You Marry Us,” and makes an innocent kitten do the dirty work of proposing? If the woman accepts (and she will), she’s lucky to have the cat for emotional support when she realizes her husband is gay.

On the food front, Purina has been busy. The newest brand is Delights, basically the same-old, same-old sprinkled with cheese product.

Cheese is for rodents. (Photo - Fancy Feast)

The new slogan is telling: “The Best Ingredient is Love™.”

Yeah, right. Anything to keep real meat out of those cans.

On the other hand, Fancy Feast did something amazing at Christmas. After saying they were discontinuing the collectors’ tree ornaments they’ve been issuing since the mid-’80s for a few bucks and some UPCs, out of the blue they sent us a new one for 2010 — for free.

It was a little weird that it’s a delicate, clear glass ball — the dumbest thing you can hang on a Christmas tree with cats around. But it was the thought that counted and we appreciated it a lot.

I can’t wait for the next installment of the commercial. I want the kitten to get more of the action, like shredding the bride’s dress laid out on the bed on wedding day, or curling up on the groom’s tux and covering it with Persian fur.

But because the kitten is so cute, you know that instead of being mad, they’ll just smile and give it a big bowl of Fancy Feast cheese and gravy.

PS: I pick on Fancy Feast, but the Cats Working house brand is FF Classic. All meat with minimal crap.

Bourdain Takes the Plunge

March 21, 2011

By Karen

Is Anthony Bourdain trying to recapture his former wild and crazy days? First, he gets a snake tattoo in Miami, then he takes the world’s longest bungee jump in Macau. What next? A dive into the Bosphorus to retrieve his thumb ring?

Last week on No Reservations, Tony visited Nicaragua. It was another insightful, thought-provoking episode. No criticism intended here: If you squinted in some scenes, it could have been Haiti.

Tony blogged about Nicaragua, Macau, and tonight’s episode in Vienna. I’ll be happy to see him somewhere with paved streets and beautiful architecture. Ottavia was on that trip, which always adds a Where’s Waldo? element. Does she or doesn’t she appear on camera?

Between Nicaragua and Macau, Bourdain spent a week in Cuba, about which he’s been strangely mum. He tweeted the first or second day, then almost nothing after that. I’m thinking the silence bodes well for a great NR episode.

Since Tony and his crew embraced social media, we’re getting so much real-time information about episodes in the works, to watch the finished product months later gives me a sense of forever traveling in Bourdain’s wake. He’s always a few destinations ahead of us, “miles beyond the moon,” exploring some new Never Never Land.

Bravo has a video of Eric Ripert interviewing Tony about Medium Raw (why?) as they sit in an ineptly-lit echo chamber. Interesting to watch the interplay, though, and some of Ripert’s words are subtitled because he’s so utterly incomprehensible. (Sarcasm there.)

Houston food writer Robb Walsh takes Bourdain and others to task for preaching tolerance with foreign foods, but dissing Tex-Mex.

That got me curious. Readers, how do you feel about Velveeta? Tony loves KFC mac & cheese, and can’t have any illusions about what’s in it. Is it hypocrisy?

The Feast at NBC Los Angeles did a brief video interview with Bourdain. Not sure when, though, since he was in Macau when they posted it. He says Bravo’s The Real Housewives franchise makes him angry.

And finally, Top Chef All-Stars

Tony was mercifully absent from another act in this 3-ring circus of cruelty. Padma finally got her gratuitous semi-nude scene, standing on a dock in a bikini and absurd high heels. For the Elimination, the chefs irrelevantly demonstrated their snorkeling ability, gathering conch in waist-deep water, then bashing them open and cooking on an unpredictable makeshift wood fire for members of the Nassau Yacht Club.

Predictably, the judges bitched mostly about the cooking

Does anybody making that show ever LISTEN to the judges? I don’t care what Bourdain says about things being on the level, it’s beneath contempt and plain MEAN to always blame the cheftestants for not transcending sabotage.

Again, all the dishes were good, so the judges came off like effete whiners, even amid pampered yachtsmen. Padma found Tiffany’s soup with fresh coconut milk “too sweet.” I suspect Padma’s real beef was with the 552 calories per cup.

Antonia caught flak for cutting her conch too small and unevenly cooking her fish. Richard (in a wet bathing suit, outdoors, standing in sand) miraculously turned sweet potatoes into an impressive “pasta,” but parts of his lobster were allegedly undercooked.

When there’s nothing valid to criticize, focusing on form over substance works every time.

Mike was faulted for using butter (non-Bahamian) and making a greasy dish. So, naturally, he won.

Tiffany, like Carla, got eliminated for being too sweet and for, gasp!, allowing her soup to cool while portioning it on a windy beach and walking it some distance to the table.

I think even Max Silvestri at Eater must be running low on his ability to find any of this amusing. They are down to 3 chefs, but there are still TWO episodes left. WHY??!!

Fat’s Been Getting a Bum Rap

March 18, 2011

By Karen

If there’s any food-related thing I’m even more sick of than Top Chef, it’s nutrition “news.” You can’t pick up a paper or magazine these days without seeing that what was good for you yesterday is lethal today, and vice versa.

Now they’re changing their tune on fat, after we’ve all wasted years choking down dried-out skinless chicken breasts sitting on top of lettuce barely dampened with watery, tasteless, fat-free dressing. Turns out, we’d have been better off ordering big, greasy hamburgers.

Remember Susan Powter, that loud-mouthed freakazoid with the platinum buzzcut from the 90s? She wrote a book about going fat-free called Stop the Insanity, which said things like it was better to eat 50 plain baked potatoes than a steak.

Now anyone who followed her advice and lived on so-called “healthy” low-fat or fat-free products loaded with sugar and man-made chemicals is bigger than ever and shows like The Biggest Loser are exploiting the obese and raking in big advertising bucks. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Powter has virtually disappeared.

Dr. Atkins must be grinning in his grave. The medical community is coming around to what he said all along. The enemy isn’t fat. It’s refined carbs and sugar.

Even saturated fat, the kind you find in meat and dairy, isn’t the kiss of death and it doesn’t increase the risk of heart disease. How many egg yokes have we sent down the disposal, mistakenly thinking they were Satan’s spawn?

It may explain why Julia and Paul Child, who never shied away from cream and butter, both lived into their 90s.

As far as I’m concerned, the so-called “experts” can go back to the drawing board and doodle. They have no more idea of what’s really good or bad (except for smoking, I’ll grant them that) than the rest of us.

Tonight I’m eating steak.

Top Chef Finals Take a Nasty Turn

March 16, 2011

By Karen

Top Chef spared no expense to fly the last 5 all-stars to the fabulous Atlantis resort in Nassau in exchange for the privilege of misleading, sabotaging, endangering, and utterly exhausting them.

In the Quickfire, the cheftestants went head-to-head with the winners of their respective seasons, cooking outdoors in the sun (why?) on several nonworking burners. Carla couldn’t finish her rice, and Padma pounced on it as incisively as when she revealed to the nation that Target doesn’t sell coconuts.

For the Elimination, the chefs were told they were cooking for Bahamian royalty and logically assumed bluebloods would expect high-end fare. They planned accordingly with lamb and lobster and fantasized about working in a palatial kitchen for a change.

But the police escorted them to a nondescript fish restaurant where a bunch of nobodies in colorful costumes were dancing on the sidewalk. Ha, ha! “Royalty” was the “King of Junkanoo,” Bahamian Mardi Gras.

They had to cook in the restaurant’s cramped, ill-equipped kitchen, only to see 2 ½ hours of prep work go up in smoke — literally — when an unused deep fryer ignited. They evacuated while their food was marinated in fire-extinguishing chemicals.

With a shrugging “shit happens” attitude, Colicchio told them to go right back and start over from scratch. The show must go on.

They were tired, they’d had a bad scare, and they had to return to the same sucky kitchen. Any idiot could have predicted the results.

The judges must have still rankled from the excellent dishes served across the board the previous week because they were in full backlash, hunkered down in one of the restaurant’s booths like a bunch of mean girls. Eric Ripert even joined in, albeit with a few gratuitous swipes at fairness.

The only adult at that table turned out to be the King of Junkanoo.

At one point during the disappointing dinner, Gail and Padma wondered aloud if the chefs might be “a little disheartened” by the night’s events.

Let’s see… being flat-out lied to about the diners, having their food ruined in a senseless grease fire, consigned to cook in yet another craphole, or being forced to make their dishes twice?


If any judge dared to say anything even halfway complimentary, he or she was immediately drowned out with nitpicky bitching.

I have never wanted so badly to hit each of them upside the head with a skillet.

In the end, they hated EVERYTHING. The King of Junkanoo, who seemed to mostly like the food, must have felt like a total idiot.

Colicchio began the elimination by dismissively conceding the challenge was “tough,” but assured them the rest would be. Then he had the nerve to ask why they didn’t all rethink their dishes — once they realized they’d gotten a total screw job on who’d be eating them — while they were waiting to hear the outcome of the fire.

I’m sure Colicchio is a real prince in person, but if there were an Emmy for “TV’s Most Sadistic Prick,” he could win it (with stiff competition from Jillian Michaels on Biggest Loser).

To every chef’s credit, nobody blamed the the show’s obvious failure to prepare. That would have been unsportsmanslike. But it was open season for the judges to tear up food that miraculously came out as well as it did in spite of every effort to sabotage it.

Padma was offended by the sweet apple chip garnish on Carla’s pork. Gail was irate that her portion of Carla’s pork was raw, although that piece seemed to be a one-off. This was after Carla had tried in vain to deep-fry, then grill it BECAUSE THE KITCHEN DIDN’T HAVE A FUCKING OVEN.

Sweet potatoes put Carla’s dish over the top, and the judges’ unanimously damned it as “too much like a dessert.”

To hear them tell it, you’d think Carla slathered pork in chocolate ice cream and Nutella with Hershey’s sauce on top.

Tiffany also made pork. Ripert thought it should have been “more complex” and Gail found it “unmemorable.” Tif’s sides were dirty rice, curried slaw, and tomato jam. Ho-hum. THEM again?

Gail kvetched that Mike’s chicken was dry. Ripert thought Richard’s cannelloni was “too soft,” but it was another one-off complaint.

Antonia put pork in her polenta, which Gail said turned the pork into “mystery meat” like school cafeterias serve. (Spoken like a true mean girl.)

In the end, Mike’s dry chicken won and Carla went home for being too sweet.

I’ve revised my prediction for the final challenge. The remaining chefs will be presented with a larder stocked with rotting produce, decomposing meat, and bug-infested starches. Padma will purr, “Your final challenge, chefs, is to use these ingredients to prepare a dish that’s fresh, healthful, and delicious.”

I would love to see the final 3 get the last laugh by poisoning every judge just a little, even though Padma undoubtedly would relish the chance to puke off a few more pounds.

Bourdain Finally Reaches Cuba

March 14, 2011

By Karen

Anthony Bourdain tweeted last week that he was finally heading to Cuba to film No Reservations, but there’s no word on whether Zamir was included.

Speaking of tweets, Travel Channel is ecstatic  that Tony has acquired the habit. Apparently, NR in Haiti drew the biggest audience ever, and his live tweets sparked “hundreds of thousands” in return.

Tony tweeted again (presumably from Cuba) during the Cambodia episode, and now TC is all hot to get their other hosts tweeting. Now I think I know what happened to Room214. Why would TC pay some disinterested third party for social media buzz when they’ve got the talent generating it themselves?

And Tony’s expanding viewership in spite of TC’s noticeable lack of on-air advertising leading up to the season must have them feeling pretty cocky.

Eater compiled the Cambodian Quotable Bourdain, much of it centering on the bad haircut scene.

But herein lies the conundrum: Yes, it was nice to know Tony was watching the show with us and commenting but. objectively, his tweets didn’t really add all that much. What could he say? If he felt he did a good job on that episode, he probably thought it should have spoken for itself (and it did). Having him type, “Yeah, that was really tough to film,” or whatever in real time was superfluous.

Now if some host’s tweets really enhance the viewing experience a lot, then the show itself is probably crap because they obviously withheld the best stuff for Twitter. So why tune in at all if the show is only going be white noise to our tweet-reading?

Tonight, Tony visits Nicaragua and dines on braised iguana and fried bull testicles.

Remember the Rust Belt episode last season where Tony hung out in Baltimore with one of his idols, Snoop from The Wire? Snoop got arrested last week in a big heroin/marijuana sting.

Tony’s latest blog post is about the recent South Beach Wine & Food Festival, where he and Ottavia got matching tattoos and appearing with Eric Ripert in Boston.

Tony talked music with Maxim.

Endless Simmer explained how Bourdain can’t please all the people all the time after hearing him speak in Philadelphia in February. The good news is that Tony’s apparently been feeling stale himself and vows to retire much of his current schtick. I agree with Endless that it’s damn near impossible for him to surprise fans who read all his books and watch NR while staying on topic.

And some guy named Eddie Huang, the chef of a bun house in NYC’s Lower East Side called Baohaus, is being called the new Bourdain. has posted its first episode of its satiric foodie sitcom. Loved it!

As for Top Chef All-Stars, Tony wasn’t a judge last week and it deserves its own post, so stay tuned…

America’s Next Great Restaurant

March 11, 2011

By Karen

I just saw the premier of this new Bobby Flay-hosted NBC series and got hooked in spite of myself. It’s on Sundays at 8 p.m. ET and On Demand with Verizon for 9 weeks.

The premise is that ordinary people (not necessarily foodies) who think they have great chain restaurant ideas have to convince 4 judges that their concept will work in establishments in Hollywood, Minneapolis, and NYC, which the judges will personally invest in.

I’m going to continue to watch because…

I liked the way they quickly weeded down 21 finalists to 10 without all the faux drama. In all but 2 iffy cases, where they fairly let the guys cook another sample of their food, they gave everybody an immediate thumbs up or down — without dragging their decisions out with debate, “significant” looks, or pregnant pauses. And I’m betting there wasn’t a bottle of gin stashed under the judges’ table.

There’s no sexpot host. Judge Curtis Stone is the eye candy, but he’s also well-qualified. Steve Ells, the co-CEO of Chipotle, is endearing in a nerdy way. Lorena Garcia is the anti-Padma. And all those throw-downs seem to have kept Bobby Flay’s head out of his ass.

In this first episode, the contestants had to formally present their idea and prepare a sample menu item. This was a curveball for some of them who envisioned having “people” do the actual cooking. Everybody prepared standard food. No little piles of weird stuff sitting on smears of goo.

The judges based their decisions basically whether the concept had legs, if the food had wide appeal, and how much vision and leadership the contestant displayed.

The judges didn’t engage in any kvetchy nitpicking. All they wanted was decent food that could be prepared quickly for a reasonable price that “normal” people would want to eat frequently. My kind of standards.

I’ve already picked my favorite contestants, and they are:

Jamawn – W3’s (Wood’s Waffles and Wings)
Fran – The Sports Wrap
Sandra – Limbo (healthy food and decadent food – you choose)
Joseph – Saucy Balls (meatballs)

My money’s on Joseph to win.

Have any of you seen it? What do you think?

Cats Shed, Crimes Solved

March 9, 2011

By Adele

FINALLY, cats’ natural gift for shedding is gaining the respect it deserves.

Back in 1997, a murderer in Canada got 18 years in prison after fur found in the lining of his leather jacket matched Snowball, his victim’s cat. (Why murderers do only 18 years in Canada, who knows?)

That case was the first time cat DNA was ever used to convict somebody (an American scientist in Maryland actually performed the analysis). Not that there haven’t been ample other opportunities. Humans have just been slow to recognize the usefulness of shedding.

Now a scientist at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California at Davis has collected DNA samples “from hundreds of cats from 25 distinct worldwide populations and 26 breeds. The samples came from drawn blood, cheek swabs and tissues collected during routine spay and neuter surgeries.”

The myriad results have experts convinced that an individual cat’s DNA is as distinctive as anybody else’s. (Previously, they believed the DNA of all cats of a certain breed is basically the same. How stupid is that?)

Given the fact that no criminal could possibly enter any location where there’s a furry cat and leave with nothing on his clothes, using cats to solve crimes is no-brainer and checking for cat hair at crime scenes will become as routine as dusting for prints.

I won’t go all technical and explain the science, because it’s boring and I don’t understand it myself, but it should have come as no surprise to scientists that humans haven’t cornered the market on incriminating DNA.

So what does this mean for criminals? I’ll tell them…

If you’re thinking about committing a crime anywhere near a cat, scram! The chances of you getting away with it are now ZERO. You’ll be hunted down like a dog (no pun intended) and sniffed for so much as a particle of cat dander. Then you will pay for your crime. Promise.

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