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.

Travel Channel Tired of Bourdain?

February 14, 2011

By Karen

Season 7 of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations begins two weeks from tonight, and Travel Channel posted a video of Tony saying many of the shows were not only difficult to make, but “may be difficult to watch.”

That must be music to Andrew Zimmern’s ears.

I’d like to know why Travel Channel fails to mention in some of the new-season promos that Bourdain’s time slot has switched from 10 to 9 p.m., now that they seem to have settled on February 28 as the premier date, after initially announcing it as March 14.

Not to mention that Tony’s promos run less frequently than Zimmern’s and just about everybody else’s.

If you add all these little things up, you might get the impression that Travel Channel is subtly trying to sink No Reservations.

I’ve got a bone to pick with Bravo, too. Bourdain didn’t blog on Top Chef All-Stars’ week 9 when Fabio got ousted a lousy hamburger. Bravo posted on Tony’s page that he’s out of the country when the truth is that he’s making personal appearances around the U.S. most nights this month. He’s even tweeting about it @NoReservations.

Speaking of Top Chef, the snooze factor went WAY up with Fabio’s departure. Déjà vu to Tre and the glumpy risotto, Fabio was doomed by form over substance when he failed to serve greasy burgers that could drip on Padma’s ankles. Flavor wasn’t really a factor, except someone likened his burger to meatloaf.

Fabio’s done a lot of interviews since, but I thought Fancast got the best one, eliciting Fabio’s thoughts on Bourdain, Jersey Shore, and a variety of other topics.

Next up in week 10 of Top Chef, Bourdain is back at judges’ table and the Muppets judge the Quickfire challenge on — what else? — COOKIES!

Tony’s hitting the personal appearance circuit hard this month. Here’s what I’ve pieced together of his February schedule:

10 Red Bank, NJ
11 Easton, PA
12 Stamford, CT
13 Norfolk, VA
14 Glenside, PA
15 Pompano Beach, FL
18 Cerritos, CA
19 Palm Desert, CA
20 Modesto, CA
22 Wilmington, DE
23 New Haven, CT
24-27 Miami, FL (South Beach Wine & Food Festival)

Could screenplays be in Bourdain’s future? He’s been learning the ropes writing the restaurant scenes for HBO’s new season of Treme, including one where food critic Alan Richman guests. Remember him? Bourdain devoted Chapter 14 to him in Medium Raw, entitled, “Alan Richman is a Douchebag.”

Grub Street got Richman’s reaction to Bourdain’s screenwriting.

B.R. Myers, a South-Korea-based vegan opinion writer for Atlantic magazine, has foodies’ napkins in a knot over his recent article, “The Moral Crusade Against Foodies,” and he quoted Bourdain to do it.

I agree with Myers to a point. Even after watching Bourdain all these years, foodies still creep me out. I resent their belief that the world would be a better place if we all aspired to ever-greater feats in the kitchen, and that anyone outside their rarified circle should give a damn about whom they’ve anointed this week’s “world’s greatest chef” or care what comes out of his/her kitchen if we live beyond driving distance.

99.99% of us eat what’s available and don’t dwell on it nor feel compelled to photograph it. (Yeah, that’s why there’s obesity, blah, blah. That’s a separate debate.)

In a nutshell, “normal” people eat to live. We don’t live to eat. But these days it seems we can’t swing a cat without hitting a foodie.

The judges on Top Chef bemoan cheftestants’ “ignorance” of certain dishes as if they’re supposed to know every cuisine on the planet. It’s food snobs setting impossible standards solely for the purpose of tripping up (mostly) competent cooks with solid track records in their own milieu. Watching them go down apparently holds endless fascination for foodies.

And what was sicker than the intro to Medium Raw, where Bourdain rapturously describes joining unnamed food celebrities to hide their heads under napkins while they devour hapless, endangered songbirds WHOLE? All that was missing was the female guests killing the birds by impaling them on their stiletto heels.

Foodie fetishism can be as ugly and unhealthy in its own way as living on junk food.

Anyway, Village Voice and Salon jumped in and defended foodies with stinging rebuttals of Myers’ rant.

Bourdain’s Gone Fishin’

January 24, 2011

By Karen

Anthony Bourdain took No Reservations back to Brazil, where he fished in the Amazon and made an impressive catch. Is it a trick of light, or does he look unusually svelte? (Tony, not the fish.)

Meanwhile, controversy simmers back in the States after Hannah Hayes, daughter of a Cargill executive, publicly called Bourdain out on Chapter 9 of Medium Raw, his rant on “Meat” where he named food giant Cargill as a force of evil.

Bourdain was surprisingly benign in his blogged response, although he stood his ground (beef) on treating meat with ammonia.

A Faustian Bargain declared “Bullshit!,” saying Bourdain at any other time is “the Glenn Beck of the food world.” He also claims his comment on Bourdain’s Travel Channel blog got deleted, so he posted it himself and expanded upon everything that he thinks is wrong with Tony.

I’m going to claim non-foodie neutrality here and not pick sides. However, I do think that Faustian may be spot-on that Bourdain softened (or was advised to soften) his stance because HarperCollins’ lawyers smelled a potential libel suit cooking.

In the Win Some, Lose Some Department…

The 2011 Producers’ Guild Awards were held on January 22 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. No Res lost to Deadliest Catch for Outstanding Producer of Non-Fiction Television.

And on a lighter note, Chicago Foodies posed an interesting question: Is Bourdain starting to look like Eric Ripert? Hmmm…

Tony returned as a judge for week 7 of Top Chef All-Stars. If the Quickfire Challenge of filleting fish at Le Bernadin really was his brainchild it was, hands down, his finest hour ever on TC. Not only did he refrain from gratuitously making the cheftestants look silly just because he could, but he gave them an opportunity to display real-world skill.

Bonus: Padma was nowhere, which instantly elevated the challenge’s stature.

Tony shared judging duties with Justo Thomas, Le Bernadin’s resident fish prep chef and the hero of Medium Raw’s Chapter 18, “My Aim is True.”

Dale won the Quickfire, but the ensuing Restaurant War made me a bigger Fabio fan than ever. Last week, Fabio launched his own hilarious blog, and one of his first posts was about the Restaurant War, where he distinguished himself with a superior dessert and his management skills.

I’d like to see Fabio with his own cooking show. He could be the Italian Emeril.

Bourdain also blogged about the Restaurant War. In case you missed it, the increasingly scary/delusional Marcel had to pack it in with the foam and go.

There are many great recaps of this episode in the blogosphere, but David Dust’s had me laughing out loud.

Gawker was also hilarious. You know how I love a good Padma joke.

Tonight, I’m off to Sur La Table for Session 2 of Bourdain’s Kitchen Basics class, where I’ll learn about Stocks, Soups, and Sauces. Our dishes include: Rich Chicken Stock, Fish Stock, Mushroom Soup, Mussels Steamed in White Wine (Moules à la Grecque), and Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Bearnaise Sauce.

Full report on Wednesday…

Bourdain’s All A-Twitter

December 27, 2010

By Karen

The good news this week is that Anthony Bourdain has appropriated the @NoReservations Twitter account. It immediately showed vast improvement over the lame hype Travel Channel was churning out. Tony’s banter is comedy gold (watch out, RuBo!), and he’s already added roughly 3,000 followers to his original 192K.

Tony also posted a Christmas message, a list of some of his favorite things in 2010 and what he looks forward to in the new year. After a croc devoured a kayaker, I hope he also decides to give up his mad scheme to channel the spirit of Joseph Conrad in the Congo.

In the January issue of O magazine, Tony writes that he’d “love to learn how to make pasta from scratch” in 2011 as a way of embracing Ottavia’s Italian heritage. Maybe he can team up with Fabio from Top Chef for lessons.

Bourdain contributed a piece to a new Lonely Planet anthology, A Moveable Feast: Life-Changing Food Adventures Around the World.

If you didn’t read Denise Vivaldo’s confession last week about selling the Kwanzaa cake recipe to Sandra Lee, you missed it. Huffington Post has yanked the article for a TOS violation. I don’t get that.

Bourdain wasn’t a judge for week 4 of Top Chef All-Stars, and I don’t know if he’s on this week because I didn’t see him in the preview, but he blogged about Spike out-foxing his way to elimination. Spike wasn’t one of my favorites, but I’m sorry to see him go. A Machiavellian type always livens things up. Tony also noted that Fabio’s brilliant idea of grating cheese on a shelf rack for the Quickfire challenge, where they had to make stuffing without any utensils, was food poisoning waiting to happen. It was a most pointless, reckless, stupid challenge that forced everyone to compromise food safety. It’s a miracle Padma and the guest judge didn’t go down for the count.

And I’d like to know who left the ginormous loophole in the TC rules, whereby a cheftestant who fails to serve their freaking dish gets a free week’s pass. It seems to me the only fair result should be an automatic spot on the bottom, giving a reprieve to one of the other hapless schmucks who at least completed a dish. And if the reason the dish failed to materialize is lame enough (“My chickpeas didn’t soften in time because I didn’t know that dried beans cook like gravel”), it’s an automatic “Buh-bye.”

So far, cheftestant Jamie has managed not to deliver 2 of the 4 weeks of competition, yet she’s still there. Why? Eric Ripert thinks she should voluntarily drop out. I’d like viewers to have the satisfaction of seeing her kicked out. This week.

Bourdain Gets a “Top Chef” Smack-Down

December 6, 2010

By Karen

Tonight, Travel Channel airs the last new episode of No Reservations Season 6, a Christmas special. Here’s the promo, and I hope this isn’t considered one of the highlights:

Here’s another video clip of them talking about Santa.

But the blogosphere has been buzzing over Bourdain’s dust-up with Fabio Viviani during week 1 of Top Chef: All-Stars, which served to cement Tony’s reputation as the Simon Cowell of the food world.

Rock ‘N Roll Ghost snagged a lengthy interview about the season with Colicchio and Bourdain, and included some excellent photos.

Eric Ripert offered some advice to Tony. Ripert is critiquing each episode online, and I think I may be paying more attention to him than anything I hear from the judges’ table.

I’ve said that Carla and Fabio are my two favorite cheftestants this season, but that was before I realized Dale “Butterscotch Scallops” and Season 7’s Tiffany are also back, so add them to my list.

The Charlotte Observer quoted Bourdain as saying, “I find Fabio very lovable,” and the chef he’d most like to hang out with.

But during the elimination challenge, Tony said Fabio’s pasta looked like “an inside-out animal,” and the judges went on and on about his presentation, which involved a piece of paper.

They sounded like kindergartners, screaming, “Eeeww, what’s that? Yuk!” because they’d never SEEN pasta with brown sauce before, and WHO puts paper on the plate??!!

They’d have been more comfortable with ketchup on a bed of putrid green pea purée, perhaps?

Fabio was incensed by Bourdain’s repetition of the “inside-out” remark and intimated in front of all the judges that he’d love to punch Tony in the nose for mocking his food.

In a blog post at Bravo, Bourdain explained what was really going on. He also expressed remorse over his comment and admiration for Fabio for calling him out on it.

According to Tony, he and Tom Colicchio drink gin and tonic steadily off camera during the judging, and there’s wine on the table.

I’d guess their creeping inebriation isn’t lost on the chefs, who are usually compelled to work with ridiculous ingredients and time constraints to produce masterpieces, only to have them dissed on national TV by a pair of drunks. It’s not like the judges’ reputations and culinary careers are the ones in jeopardy here.

Elia Aboumrad, the first chef sent home, did a very frank interview with TV Guide. She tasted Fabio’s dish, said it wasn’t bad, and that pasta is routinely served on parchment in parts of Italy.

Who knows who’s right? Top Chef now hails Tony as the world’s foremost authority on pasta because he’s married to an Italian.

What gripes me about Top Chef is that I enjoy watching professionals cook when there’s no silly deadline imposed just to foster mistakes and drama. I don’t like watching people eat. And I don’t give a rat’s ass about their opinion of the food if they’re hammered or they’re vacuous sexpots like Padma, who’d feign a gastronomic orgasm for a buck.

Now, on other fronts…

On Nomember 11, Tony shared some advice about writing and his own habits with The Keystone of Kutztown University of Pennsylvania after his appearance there. Basically, he says to just do it.

Village Voice reports that Ruth Bourdain will be contributing a bi-weekly culinary etiquette column for CHOW.

The Bourdains spent the past week in Vienna filming a new episode of No Reservations, and Tony wrote a rare between-season blog post, where he talks about eating Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese with his room card.

On-the-Road Dining Tip: I once had penne pasta delivered to my hotel in Virginia Beach and it came with no utensils. After asking myself, “What would Anthony Bourdain do?” I used two Pentel R.S.V.P ballpoints as chopsticks.

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