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.)

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Screwed Myself on Bourdain Ticket

November 19, 2012

By Karen

Tickets for Anthony Bourdain’s April 23, 2013, Guts & Glory appearance in Richmond, Virginia, went on sale Friday, Nov. 16. While trying to coordinate with a small party, I waited until Saturday morning, intending to purchase a VIP ticket.

ONE. FREAKING. DAY.

VIP tickets were sold out. But I was able to get a good seat (alone, I stopped caring where anybody else sits). I’ll be in the Orchestra, 7th row, undoubtedly within spitting distance of the VIPs.

Not to belittle Bourdain, but find it unbelievable that one nondescript mention of him at the end of a long, unrelated story in Wednesday’s food section in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and a few other bits in local outlets caused this box office stampede.

I smell a rat and wouldn’t be surprised if some corporate entity bought the VIP seats as a bloc.

So I won’t have another Bourdain encounter after all, but Cats Working will report nonetheless.

Here’s a nicely done recap of Tony’s sold-out G&G appearance on Nov. 16 at Boston’s Symphony Hall. Can’t say that I’m seeing him cover any new ground here, but maybe it wasn’t included.

I caught 2 more episodes of The Mind of a Chef on PBS, which aired at 3 a.m. here. (See what I’m saying about Richmond lacking the foodie gene?)

One episode was called “Rotten,” and included an hilarious demo on how to make kimchi:

In the other, David Chang traveled to Denmark for a lesson in how Scandinavians will eat just about any flora, and even the yukky skin that forms on hot milk.

And in the Tony’s Friends Dept.…

May 11, 2013, Tony is making a joint appearance with Andrew Zimmern in Minneapolis. Even though Tony will be a distant memory at Travel Channel (and possibly in litigation over the Cadillac commercial) by then, Zimmern still seems eager to bask in the fading glory. It’s kind of sad.

Eric Ripert is on a merchandising rampage. Now he’s launching his own line of Imperial Select Caviar. A 4 oz. tin sells for $525.

Top Chef co-host Padma Lakshmi has done a spread for Playboy because it seems there’s nothing she likes better than being naked or nearly so. And you know the world’s clamoring to see a woman who gave birth at nearly 40 in the altogether.

Padma credits her svelteness, which does appear to be waning, to a “fast metabolism.”

I’m thinking it’s that — and lots of quality time hunched over a toilet bowl.

And this just in… Padma never watches Top Chef.


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.


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??!!


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?

Ya THINK?

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 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.


Bourdain to Curtail Road Trips

February 21, 2011

By Karen

Anthony Bourdain’s hard heart melts at his daughter Ariane’s tears whenever he leaves on yet another personal appearance marathon, so he’s severely curtailing his gigs in the future. I’ve only found 3 more through 2011, and 2 of those are with Eric Ripert.

It’s not that interest in Tony as a speaker is waning (although he plans to develop a lot of new material). Last night he sold out the 1,250-seat Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto, Calif. In fact, he broke the record for selling out faster and sooner than anybody, so Gallo held a video simulcast to the overflow crowd for the first time ever.

The rest of us have one more week until Season 7 of No Reservations begins in Haiti. Here’s Travel Channel’s promo clip.

To verify last week’s contention that Travel Channel is dissing Tony, last Friday night watching Ghost Adventures, I timed Bourdain and Zimmern’s commercials from 7:30 – 10 p.m. with a stopwatch. Here are the results:

Bourdain 4 spots 1:30
Zimmern 6 spots 3:00

Zimmern got one full-minute ad, Bourdain didn’t, and all but one of Zimmern’s ads were at least 30 seconds long. Overall, it felt like Zimmern was in my face all night.

Palm Springs Metromix got an interview with Tony before his February 19 Palm Desert appearance, and he mentioned the possibility of Zamir getting a spinoff series.

And last week Tony returned to judge Top Chef All-Stars

We need a new word for “ridiculous” after last week’s elimination challenge. The cheftestants were forced to raid a closed Target to assemble complete cooking workstations from store merchandise and prepare meals for 100 employees by 3 a.m.

Bourdain paid tribute to the utter absurdity of the situation by showing up in a sweater he picked up at Mr. Rogers’ estate sale.

In the end, Angelo went home for over-salting potato soup, after Dale skated by on the same offense the week before.

The rationale was that Dale’s saltiness was merely annoying, where Angelo’s was lethal. I think tastebuds were destroyed.

I’m not sticking up for Angelo. I never liked him and I was glad he went. But the judges took us one step closer to the no-time, no-food challenge so they can pick the winner based on what he/she might have cooked.

And then Padma got uncharacteristically feisty when Mike mistakenly asserted his soup contained “fresh coconut milk.” She repeated, “Fresh?” as if everybody knows you can’t get fresh tropical produce at Target.

Gee, Padma, maybe Mike was a tad confused after running a marathon all night on no sleep, feeding an army with crappy portable appliances on a folding table. He’d have spent all his time draining coconuts if he could have.

Padma’s misplaced aggression probably arose from the sting of Sesame Street Muppet Elmo’s “TMI!” when she tried to tell him where cinnamon and cardamom come from.

But the night’s true douche moment was Colicchio and Bourdain’s reaction to learning Tiffany used creole seasoning in her jambalaya.

“You used a PREPARED seasoning?” A spice BLEND? From a JAR?”

Oh, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! The unspeakable horror… dried herbs. Mixed TOGETHER!

McCormick, Mrs. Dash, and Emeril, there’s a special corner in hell waiting just for you.

Tony, back from his “overseas hiatus” in Pennsylvania, blogged for Bravo about Angelo’s downfall.

Later, defending the judges’ decisions in a post-show interview with Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch, Bourdain heaped praise on Colicchio, lest anyone forget he’s an American treasure…

“Tom Colicchio is a giant of the industry. He changed the world of cooking…. He’s a one man Rushmore.”

Now, readers, raise your hand if you’d ever heard of Tom Colicchio before Top Chef, and name one thing he’s said or done that has changed the way you cook.

Just one…

Coming up empty? Me, too. This is the sort of cliquish foodie-with-head-up-ass statement that makes people like B.R. Myers write nasty things about foodies.

To top it off, Eric Ripert tweeted that he’s never been in Target, and wonders how someone could even prepare Top Chef-worthy cuisine from ingredients purchased there. Take that, Middle America. I wonder if Ripert has Target confused with 7-Eleven?

In Top Chef recaps…

BestWeekEverTV did it with great illustrations.

And Max Silvestri at Eater was hilarious, as always.

We end on some disappointing news…

Tony blogged that his new graphic novel, Get Jiro, is looking great, but publication has been pushed off to some time in 2012. No reason given.


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