An Idea for Bourdain’s Ultimate Cooking Competition

March 28, 2013

By Karen

I caught Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen one night on Fox while waiting to suffer through another episode of Anthony Bourdain’s recently-wrapped flop, The Taste, on ABC, and I got hooked. That jerk Ramsay’s strangely addictive, and he gave me a flash of inspiration on how Tony could meld formats into a cooking competition I’d watch.

First, limit the herd to 12 cooks so we can actually relate to them and pick a favorite.

Don’t mix home cooks with pros. It’s unfair. Period.

A season’s cast would either be all line cooks who aspire to chefdom, or home cooks, with challenges devised accordingly. Restaurant seasons could feature production cooking with the truffles and pea purées, but home-cooking seasons would be geared to potlucks, family BBQs, school lunches, holiday feasts — stuff “normal” people prepare.

Like Ramsay, Bourdain is head chef and sole judge. He devises each week’s menu to challenge the cooks and, hopefully, delight the diners. The food could be exotic, if he dares.

But instead of managing by berating and screaming obscenities, Bourdain mentors and teaches while trying to whip his crew into a crack team. Their failures are his failures. No lip service to how much judges “suffer.” He’d have skin in the game.

Tony in the kitchen, managing, would have plenty of ops for mayhem, with one-liners and bleeps —delivered with his customary snark or charm, not Ramsayish apoplexy.

Each night’s challenge is to impress a dining room full of chefs, food bloggers, foodie snobs, rubes, kids, some ilk-of-the-week. We’d watch them kvetch, retch, or praise, but their opinions would not determine anybody’s fate.

Instead, they give Tony and his crew feedback to soak in, with all equally accepting the glory, embarrassment, or blame.

Like Ramsay, Tony asks the cooks to pick someone to be eliminated, but he makes the ultimate decision. He might choose the one who’s 1) hopelessly inept, 2) incapable of teamwork,  3) lacking finesse in sabotage (serving justice by kicking out the culinary Omorosas), or for whatever reasons he thinks are important.

The winner is the one Tony would ultimately want in his own kitchen and can recommend “with no reservations” for a restaurant job with one of his chef pals.

Tony’s BFF’s might be invited guests to help him rally the troops in the kitchen, so we could see the likes of Ripert and Andres at work. And they would risk sharing the blame for meals gone wrong.

America could see how these guys earned the celebrity chef laurels they’re now resting on. The tone would be upbeat and instructive. When someone fails, it’s not because they’re being deliberately screwed and humiliated by pros hoping to boost ratings.

Bourdain believes cooking is a mentoring profession, as he says at around minute 15 of this interview at Serious Eats, so this cruelty-free format is a natural fit for him.

We’d be spared dead-weight judges like Brian Malarkey and Padma Lakshmi. Cooks would be assessed on whole meals, not one ridiculous bite. AND Bourdain could renew his “celebrity chef” cred, possibly ushering in the next generation of great chefs — all without slaving over a hot stove himself.

What do you think? (Discuss among yourselves; I bet you can improve on this even more. I’ll be back April 8.)


Weight Watchers® Online: Reached the Dead End

March 26, 2013

By Karen

Part 8 — WW Offers Zip for Success

At Christmas, I was within 10 pounds of my Weight Watchers® goal when I hit a horrible plateau. Since then, I’ve averaged about 0.6 lb. a week, losing zilch MANY of those weeks — extremely frustrating.

But yesterday I FINALLY hit 130 lbs. In fact, I saw 129 on the scale for the first time in many years.

In case you’re just joining us, I’ve spent 10 months losing 48 pounds using only WW’s cumbersome, TMI-gathering website. I stuck it out with the site believing I would ultimately achieve “lifetime membership” and get breaks on future fees if I ever needed WW again.

Upon reaching my goal, the site showered me with stars, but the next step, this tiny token — lifetime membership — was conspicuously missing.

They buried it well, but I finally uncovered  this little nugget…

Lifetime membership is only for Meetings members.

WTF??!! ARE THEY KIDDING??!!

My theories on why WW deems online members unworthy…

1. Online membership is cheaper than meetings, so our obesity isn’t profitable enough.

2. WW doesn’t trust us. They need to personally weigh us to believe PointsPlus® actually worked.

3. WW knows their plan rarely works long-term (which is why they have “lifetime” members in the first place).

Well, I intend to beat the odds by staying slim. For the good years I have left, I don’t want to be fat. Besides, replacing my wardrobe has been expensive.

The bottom line: I invested $189.50 in WW online for 10 months and dropped 27% of my total body weight. It has transformed my life and my outlook in amazing and priceless ways.

In the same period, I could have spent this on food from…

Nutrisystem® – $4,125 (or $2,500 on sale)

Jenny Craig – $3,655 ($85/week)

Since those plans don’t teach you how to deal with “real” food, once off their controlled meals, you’re at great risk of regaining.

WW online has been relatively economical, but it would have been even cheaper if I’d realized sooner there’s absolutely no payoff for reaching goal.

WW is the biggest loser here. I’m a walking advertisement that even post-menopausal women can succeed on their plan. And now they’ve lost me forever with a penny-wise, pound-foolish policy.

If you’re considering Weight Watchers Online, go for it! But just stick around until you master tracking and gather all the points information you’ll need (most of it is available free on other sites, anyway).

Then cancel.

The WW site layout is a pain, the content redundant, with too much no-brainer info, you’ll find better recipes elsewhere, and the member message boards really suck.

WW products in the grocery store (ice cream snacks, Smart Ones® frozen meals) contain no magic. You get as much/more taste for the same/fewer points with The Laughing Cow® and Lean Cuisine®.

In case you’re curious, read the benefits for WW lifetime members.


Bras: Torture That’s Perfectly Legal

March 21, 2013

By Karen

I was a 46DDD back in June 2012 when I started Weight Watchers®. I’ve since had to replace my bras twice with smaller sizes, and recently started round three.

FYI to 30-something A-C cuppers: In the 40Ds, there’s no such thing as “cheap” bras if you want to look like you’re wearing one. Or pretty bras. Or comfortable bras.

Let’s just say, I’ve lately invested a small fortune in bras.

Catherine’s has wire-free Serenada® bras that were GREAT — but I hit the wall after 42DD.

I thought 40DD was next, but the store didn’t have them, and the clerk told me they don’t exist. She lied; they’re online.

By the tape measure, I’m a 36C, but reality doesn’t support that.

I’ve tried on a range of sizes in Playtex, Olga, Warner’s, Vanity Fair, Bali, Maidenform, you name it. And I discovered there’s ZERO consistency in bra sizing.

And what’s with padded, molded cups everywhere? Am I the only woman who isn’t perfectly round and perky? I can stuff my entire fist into the top of those molded cups with room to spare.

I ended up at Soma, mistakenly thinking they specialized in hard-to-find bra sizes, but they only went to DDD, and their bras are bamboo. You’re not supposed to machine-wash or mash the molded cups for risk of “damaging” them.

All other options exhausted, I got Soma 38DDD, and was advised not to pack them flat, which means buying them their own suitcase.

But the real kicker is that these relatively pricey bras ($30 on sale) have underwire that pokes, straps that won’t stay up (a sure sign of bad fit), enough room in the upper cup for my pedometer although boob bulges out my armpits, they take up my whole bra drawer, and I F**KING HATE THE DAMN THINGS.

I once saw an episode of Oprah where women in the audience learned they were all wearing the wrong size bra, and many ended up happily in G and H cups.

I feel screwed and helpless. I should probably be in a 36G, but there’s no way I’m buying an untried cup size online. Measurement tables are useless. Bra-makers are evidently acting out some sick male fantasy with cup shapes and sizes.

And a lot of women are probably paying through the nose for uncomfortable, ill-fitting bras.

So now I’m hoping that if I stick with WW a while longer, I’ll starve the girls back down to a D cup and have a fighting chance of ever finding a bra that fits.


“The Taste” Takes a Final Bow

March 13, 2013

By Karen

Waiting for the season finale of Anthony Bourdain’s cooking competition, The Taste to begin, I caught the first hour of the season premiere of Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen on Fox.

Talk about contrasts. Ramsay had 20 contestants fly in to LAX, then immediately flew them to Vegas, where the winners of the first competition (the women’s team), held before a live audience of 2,500, were rewarded with meeting Celine Dion and seeing her show, while the men rode a bus through the desert back to Los Angeles.

Ramsay’s a jerk, but he makes The Taste seem quaintly low-budget.

But back to The Taste. Tony’s buddy and (Khristianne’s all-time idol), Chef José Andres, was guest judge.

Four contestants (and judges) were left: Diane (Tony), Sarah and Gregg (Ludo), and Khristianne (Malarkey). Nigella, having lost her entire team, became a roving mentor. The first competition required preparation of 3 different spoonfuls each, and would end in elimination of one cook.

Ludo devoted most of his mentoring to Sarah, tossing little snipes at Gregg. Remember, Gregg had been Ludo’s favorite spoon 3 weeks straight.

All I can say is, with friends like Ludo…

Tony gave Diane the benefit of his insight into Andres’ tastes, and agonized when it looked like Diane might be eliminated because Tony made her put tomato caviar on a prawn, which “stole” the prawn’s flavor, according to Andres.

Andres’ judging stood up to the pettiest kvetching you’ve ever heard on Top Chef. He complained of not enough “acid” on many spoons, and that a date Sarah served was “too big” for him to taste properly.

Gregg smelled victory when Andres pronounced his prawn perfectly cooked, and was stunned to be eliminated, but then he uttered the best put-down of the series…

“I’d rather lose doing it myself, than win having my hand held.”

Ludo pretended to be shocked, SHOCKED, that Gregg was gone, confirming my earlier diagnosis of Ludo’s schizophrenia.

So, Khristianne, Sarah, and Diane were charged again with creating 3 spoonfuls apiece.

Diane, superb sportswoman that she is, said, “I sure as heck don’t want to lose to a home cook.” (meaning Sarah)

And Tony said that viewers should want Diane to win “because she wants it so badly.”

In your dreams, Bourdain. In her TV debut, she wants us to think she’s a bitch. Bitches should never triumph.

As the final moments approached, I realized I didn’t give a rat’s ass who won.

Sarah cooked for Ludo’s sweet spot, and everyone declared all 3 of her spoons simple, yet well-executed.

So she came in third.

I don’t remember Diane’s spoons, but the comments weren’t all rosy, and she ended up “close, but no cigar.”

Khristianne, from the judges’ comments, thought she only had one good spoon out of 3. So she WON.

The actual judging was a blur, and I’m thinking it was deliberate to spare some judge from looking like an ass. But after 8 weeks of sitting through this train-wreck, I call a foul because viewers deserved to see which judges picked the winner.

Confetti fell as Khristianne received her trophy of 2 huge spoons on a pedestal. Tony congratulated Diane on winning — nothing.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Bourdain shared some final thoughts with Entertainment Weekly.


“The Taste” Semi-Finals Get Political

March 6, 2013

By Karen

With only one more week to go of Anthony Bourdain’s ABC cooking competition, somebody should sell souvenir T-shirts…

I Survived

skull-crossbones

The Taste

Last night was semi-finals, with the theme “Seduction.” Ingrid Hoffman was guest judge.

The show’s biggest waste has been guest judges. They’ve been ineffective human spackle on the logic hole created by having judges mentor and blind-taste.

This week’s prize for that challenge wasn’t immunity, but a massive cookware set.

Ludo reluctantly passed over Gregg’s spoon in favor of his new squeeze, Sarah the food blogger. And Sarah won.

We got another brief moment of Ludo and Sarah making goo-goo eyes. And after seeing how she stiffened and averted her gaze when Ludo kissed her cheek upon winning, you’ll never convince me those two aren’t an item.

Tony’s team was down to Diane, and while mentoring he coaxed her to remind us she once lived in a cardboard box under a bridge or something. Then he had a cut-away to swear Diane really, really wants to win.

Nigella worked alone with her Mississippi trailer girl, Lauren.

Malarkey still had Jeff and Khristianne.

(For the record, can anybody tell Khristianne’s gender? ABC’s website uses “she,” and I thought she’s female, but last night everybody was calling her “Christian.” Wouldn’t “-ianne” be a female name and pronounced like “Ariane?”)

Ludo still had Paul, Gregg, and Sarah. Swearing at and demeaning his team has been a winning formula.

While waiting for the big challenge to begin, Bourdain emphatically declared, “There’s nothing sexy about dessert,” to show he had no idea Diane was doing something uninspired with fruit and melted chocolate.

When judging began, Gregg and Sarah suddenly popped into the finals. Because nobody hated their spoons? When Khristianne became the first cook to get 3 gold stars (likes), she joined them.

Then the suspense got intense with only one slot left, and Lauren, Jeff, Paul, or Diane to fill it.

Lauren had prepared octopus, which she’s never tasted or cooked before, and it was good. So they sent her home and wiped out Nigella’s team.

Paul got sent home because Ludo hates him and has never given him the first break.

So it was between Jeff and Diane. Jeff had actually gotten one gold star; Diane none. And Diane had the pedestrian dessert.

If you think Diane went home, you’re wrong. They eliminated Jeff — and all doubt that politics isn’t a factor. Any IDIOT can see it is.

If Diane got the axe, both Bourdain and Nigella became spectators in the finals, watching Ludo and Malarkey duke it out with 2 cooks apiece.

Bourdain had to keep a dog in the fight, and no way was a little old down-home cook like Lauren, who stuck her neck out and succeeded, staying instead of Ludo’s new girlfriend Sarah.

Gracious, classy Nigella was the most likely judge to accept irrelevance in the finale. (Tony could have pulled it off, but as an exec producer and the show’s “big draw,” why should he?)

At the end, we got a glimpse of the coveted trophy, optimistically engraved “Season 1.”

Now, I love most of Anthony Bourdain’s work, and he’s often just brilliant. But if he never wastes another minute of his life producing crap like The Taste, the world will be a better place.


Will the Pope Revive His Love of Cats?

March 1, 2013

By Cole

I hated to see all this happen to a nice cat guy like Pope Benedict…

He learned  the hard way not to trust some sticky-fingered creep who stole papers off his desk and leaked them to the media, as if the Catholic Church didn’t already have enough problems. Because that act just exposed the fact that Benedict was trapped on the set of The Real Loaves-and-Fishwives of Rome, featuring a cast of ambitious men in dresses who thrive on petty jealousy and drama.

I imagine Benedict made up his mind to bag the whole thing one morning in the shower when he realized he was getting too frail to maintain a good grip on the soap. It was only a matter of time before he dropped it — and had ordained pervs lined up around the block to get a shot at him.

So he did what any sane celibate in such an untenable situation would do. He gave his two weeks’ notice. Instead of burning any bridges with, “Take this job and shove it,” he took the high road and quit in Latin so hardly anybody knew how he worded it.

To earn his final paycheck, he did a couple of appearances before a few hundred thousand people, then flew off into the sunset, leaving the troops to stew over their next move, since they were only trained to deal with dead popes.

Benedict wisely didn’t offer to stick around until they hired the new guy, or to help show his replacement the ropes (like where to hide his stuff from thieves assistants.)

Nope, he’s moving into a convent to spend the rest of his life trying to engage God in conversation.

Rotsa ruck with that.

A convent is his safest bet. It he meets any pervy nuns, they probably won’t want a piece of him.

I just hope the Vatican crowd doesn’t try to condemn Benedict to permanent solitary confinement and he’s able to get out and socialize, visit his family, and befriend some deserving cats to atone for the Vatican’s sinful “No Cats” rule.

With any luck, the convent ladies will be good Cat-holics, and allow Benedict to have as many cats as he wants.


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