“The Taste” Finally Gets Down to Business

February 6, 2013

By Karen

According to Eater, Anthony Bourdain’s ABC cooking competition, The Taste, lost 1.3 million viewers when it dragged out team selection over 2 weeks. It debuted with viewership of 6.1 million and took the time slot.

As a die-hard Bourdainiac, I resisted Betty White’s Off Their Rockers and stuck around last night to watch the game begin.

Tony’s all-female gang named themselves “Fierce.” As the first challenge got under way, Bourdain observed his cooks and said he was pleased to have no men and no “bleeping chest-beating.”

Despite claims of putting a fresh spin on food competition, the first challenge was to cook for immunity, the night’s theme was “comfort food,” and the cooks had one hour to prepare each dish.

But they introduced a “surprise guest judge” as sole taster for immunity – Gabrielle Hamilton, author of that dreadful memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter, that Tony claimed he wished he’d written.

Now Hamilton has the distinction of being TV’s first personality-free chef. Had she come across as any more of a nonentity, she would have been invisible.

Conversely, Ludo Lefebvre’s a certifiable asshole whose idea of mentoring is to order a team member to burn chicken skin and to panic and maniacally scream, “Mac and cheese, plate it, plate it, PLATE IT!”

In fairness, there WAS a twist. Each cook made a dish, but Hamilton only tasted one dish per team. So 12 dishes were prepared for the garbage.

Tony’s Ninamarie made a couscous Hamilton couldn’t identify (and in the next round, a chicken dish nobody could identify).

Lauren, the Mississippi trailer girl on Nigella’s team, won immunity with her chicken stew.

Lauren’s success earned for Nigella’s team mentoring by Hamilton for the big challenge, which 2 cooks would lose. The regular judges backed off so they wouldn’t know who cooked what.

In Tony’s kitchen, Diane quickly asserted herself as queen bitch, but then won the night when Tony and Nigella voted her Bi Bim Bap (whatever that is) best dish overall.

Mia’s dish reminded Tony of getting trapped in Beirut in 2006, which prompted him to tell his fellow judges he came right home and made a baby.

That moment couldn’t have been stranger if The Taste had suddenly turned into a musical, with Tony leaping onto the judges’ table to belt out a song.

Lauren insanely (with Hamilton’s mentoring?) made her first shepherd’s pie ever, which Nigella and Tony deemed “too cheesy” (is that possible?). Tony told Lauren, if not for immunity, she’d be gone.

Final judging was swift, but the contestants were all on camera in the background to hear the judges’ comments, but not see their faces.

The cooks were also the peanut gallery as 2 of their own (both home cooks) got the boot.

First to go was Micah from Malarkey’s team, who quit his job for the show. Next was Renatta from Nigella’s team, who dared make apple crumble with brown sugar, which Bourdain told her was a sin against palates as jaded as the judges’.

Slipping into Padma Lakshmi’s stilettos, Tony wielded the hatchet, but he did it swiftly, without insincere praise or faux empathy.

I predict a professional cook will win.

And I expect to see Jose Andres, Eric Ripert, Michael Ruhlman, David Chang, or perhaps Emeril turn up as future guest judges.


Book Review: Blood, Bones & Butter

May 12, 2011

By Karen

I’ve been churning this because every time I look at it, it just revives my lingering annoyance.

People who make food the all-consuming (pun intended) theme of their lives, which Gabrielle Hamilton glorifies in her memoir, Blood, Bones & Blather Butter, bug the crap out of me.

I never would have read BB&B, except that when an exceptional writer like Anthony Bourdain claims it’s the book he wishes he’d written, attention must be paid.

It’s easy to see where Hamilton’s life resonated with Tony:

1. As a teen, she developed a tough façade and a drug habit, and overcame them.

2. She began her restaurant career as a grunt.

3. She married an Italian and grew enamored with Italian family life.

She managed to top Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential descriptions of restaurant kitchen hell only because he never worked nine months’ pregnant.

For me, that’s where similarities ended. Bourdain should be thankful that, like her, he’s not an emotional cripple.

Hamilton’s MFA in fiction certainly paid off — she knows her way around clever similes and metaphors. But since most rhapsodic descriptions of food look to me like…

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

… on the page, I was more interested in Gabrielle the person. I really wanted to like her.

The book is marketed as “memoir,” but she only sprinkles glimpses of her adult life as garnish. The sin of omission is so chronic that very little about her personality adds up — except her obsession with food.

She claims a woman she met at grad school was probably “the love of her life,” yet gives her no more than two pages of ink, and never bothers to humanize her with even a fake name.

Then she marries a man she’s been screwing but professes not to love so he can get a green card, but decrees they live separately — then has not one, but TWO children with him.

I wonder how many years her kids will spend in therapy, trying to figure out Mom’s relentless, white-hot hatred of Grandma, and why they had to commute to see Dad for years because Mom insisted they all pretend she was single?

On the other hand, she loved her husband’s family in Italy (when she wasn’t furious at them for making her feel enslaved by the care of her children or by cooking meals after she commandeered her mother-in-law’s kitchen).

In 7 years, she never learned enough Italian to communicate with her in-laws beyond food terms, and then kvetched about how alienated she always felt.

I don’t know how any reader could not have been left with a strong urge to slap the shit out of her and wish she would just GROW UP.

I thought Hamilton ended the book on the implication that divorce was probably coming (well-deserved and long overdue, IMO). But NPR interviewed her in March, and she talked as if she’s still married and things are fine.

Who knows? Even if she brings it up, unless the topic is food, don’t expect candor from Gabrielle Hamilton.

One more Bourdain connection: They’re both represented by the same literary agent.

Other reviews:

Josh Ozersky fawns in TIME.

Frank Bruni largely agrees with me in the NY Times on the autobiographical angle.


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…


Bourdain Regains His Throne at TC

March 7, 2011

By Karen

Sorry, Zimmern. Anthony Bourdain came roaring out of the gate with Season 7 of No Reservations in Haiti, tweeting live during the broadcast, and temporarily crashing the server of Sean Penn’s Haiti relief organization, J/P HRO. (If you want to help out, donations are welcome.)

While I was watching Ghost Adventures the following Friday night, Bourdain dominated every commercial break. I may have to eat my words about No Res being on the wane. I hope so. Especially since this season will include Cuba. He’s there right this minute.

TIME magazine called the Haiti show a “thoughtful piece of cultural journalism.” Could there be Emmy potential in Tony’s sensitively incisive voiceover?

Speaking of Zimmern, Bourdain was on stage at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival last weekend talking his standard trash about the guy when Baldie himself showed up.

Wonder of wonders, AOL did a good interview with Bourdain. It always shows when the questioner is a fan.

Tony told Entertainment Weekly his favorite foodie films, and I’m sitting here looking at the March 11 hardcopy edition where he names his 5 most terrifying meals. They are: rotten shark in Iceland, warthog in Namibia, anything at Olive Garden, natto, and Dale T’s butterscotch scallops on Top Chef.

Last week, Tony appeared with Gabrielle Hamilton, author of Blood, Bones & Butter, at Barnes & Noble in NYC. His hobby of book blurbing is making him the Oprah of culinary memoirs. Hamilton will probably soon be on everybody’s radar, thanks to his enthusiastic endorsement.

Bourdain and Ripert appeared in Boston together on March 4 as “Good vs. Evil.” Most interesting was Eric’s story about how he once handled a complaining customer. I just can’t picture it.

Tony also talked to EW about writing for Treme. He seems to be finding a new niche with script-writing and, if Treme’s co-creator David Simon is any judge, Tony’s really good at it.

And finally, Top Chef All-Stars

Not even on my worst day would I ever dream of mashing hot dog buns into sour cream and cheese and calling it soup, but that’s what Mike did in the Quickfire. He should probably stick to stealing recipes.

Then Mike and Antonia found out that they are distant cousins and their contentious relationship did a complete 180. Now they’re BFFs.

Bourdain was MIA again, but the judges were all uncharacteristically kind in front of the cheftestant family members who dined with them. Padma didn’t even spit anything into her napkin. Apparently, every dish was truly excellent.

At judges’ table, they made a few weak stabs at nitpicking, and Padma almost killed Richard by telling him to “pack his knives,” but that was their idea of a “joke.” Instead, all 5 remaining chefs got to stay for the finale. They’re going to the Bahamas, where Padma will fulfill her fond fantasy of hosting in a bikini.

If you missed the show, here’s Max Silvestri’s funny and more detailed recap at Eater.

Tonight, No Reservations goes to Cambodia.


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