Carla Hall Goes From “Top Chef” to Cat Food

July 20, 2011

By Adele

Top Chef All-Star Carla Hall has parlayed her experience pleasing finicky Tom and Padma into a gig with Purina Fancy Feast® cat food.

I’m serious.

Carla is the guest judge in the Fancy Feast® TasteMakers contest, where humans and their cats concocted new flavors for Elegant Medleys®. Purina will go to any lengths to avoid just putting more meat in the can.

You know what that means. Unless the contest is rigged, Carla is going to have to EAT that stuff to make her decision. I hope, at least, they give her a fork.

Purina limited entries to a check-off list of acceptable ingredients (including CARROTS. and acini di pepe pasta. Ha!), so the 1,656 submissions quickly start to look alike if you flip through them.

The 5 finalists all have a protein with variations on wild or long-grain rice, spinach, and — get this — tomato FLAKES — steeped in “savory broth” or “classic gravy.”

Purina omitted the most OBVIOUS ingredient that would have made their contest truly special…

Ground MOUSE.

Here’s a video of Carla explaining the contest.

If you click to the second video, Purina’s chef says they watch “restaurant trends” for inspiration.

Translation: They make their cat food appeal mostly to HUMANS so they’ll shell out big bucks for minimal protein padded with spinach or carbs, and drowned in rich-looking sauces — the only thing the cats will like and lick off. The rest goes down the disposal.

Ka-Ching! for Purina.

The TasteMaker winner gets $10,000 and a year’s supply of Fancy Feast®. Purina is donating $1 for each vote to Adopt-a-Pet.com, up to $25K. You can vote once a day until August 8.

For the record, after heated debate (because that’s just how we roll), Cats Working voted for Purrrfect Sushi, inspired by rescue cats Wasabi and Ginger. It’s yellowfin tuna, shrimp, wild rice, and classic gravy. The one thing we all agreed on was that we’d spit out the rice.

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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’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 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.


“No Reservations” Season 7: Bourdain is Back

February 28, 2011

By Karen

The long drought is over. Anthony Bourdain travels to Haiti, where he meets Sean Penn trying to help the people recover from the earthquake. Travel Channel’s Room214 is MIA, so I didn’t get a sneak peak, but here’s the promo…

BONUS: Tony will be tweeting live @NoReservations during the episode. And remember, the new time slot is 9 p.m. ET.

The Bourdains just attended the South Beach Wine & Food Festival and returned to Miami Ink (where Tony got his skull tattoo and we got our first glimpse of Ottavia). This time, they got matching body art — a hissing snake. The Daily Mail published a great series of photos. And here’s a brief video of Tony under the needle.

All I can say is, when you can’t check out your wife’s new tat without your reading specs, you’re probably too old to be doing that stuff.

Rolf Potts at Gadling did a masochistic experiment to go “Around the World in 80 Hours (of Travel TV)” by watching Travel Channel. I only mention it because he ends his 5-part blog series discussing the NR Tex/Mex episode and how Bourdain personifies how good the Travel Channel could be (if it weren’t such a commercial-riddled crap-fest).

According to this Delaware Online recap, Tony outed himself himself as a cat person in Wilmington on the 22nd. Good work, Lupetto (Bourdain’s cat) and thank you! That should get certain felines around here who think my Bourdain posts make me a blog hog off my back.

During the Boston Phoenix interview about the NR episode Tony recently filmed there and his upcoming March 4 appearance with Eric Ripert, Tony called B.R. Myers “the asshole in the Atlantic,” while conceding that his anti-foodie article was well-written. Well, DUH! Myers quoted Tony.

The Dallas Observer thinks Jamie’s Food Escapes with Jamie Oliver on Cooking Channel may give Bourdain some stiff competition. The travel/food format is similar, but Jamie also cooks. If you want to check it out, it’s on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET.

And now, Top Chef All-Stars

Paula Deen took Tony’s place for last week’s Southern cooking challenges, which was probably a blessing. Tony declared North Carolina BBQ his favorite in the March issue of Budget Travel for its “purity” of being seasoned only with vinegar, salt, and pepper.

I’ve eaten a lot of NC BBQ living here in the South, and more often than not, its only saving grace is that big bottle of red BBQ sauce on the table because it’s so dry, you need lots of lubrication to choke it down.

Anyway, mustard was the undoing of one of my favorites, Dale. Now only Carla and Tiffany are left, although Tiffany has started to annoy me and I’ve developed soft spots for Antonia and Richard.

Mike is another story. Talk about your stereotypical Jersey scumbag (apologies to Morgan!). A few weeks ago, he shared his aversion to helping his competition, but he topped that in the latest Quickfire by hijacking a chicken oyster idea Richard had shared with him. Even worse, he WON $5K and, with a big smirk, gave Richard credit for “inspiring” him.

With that, Mike joined the ranks of every unscrupulous creep who has ever not deserved to win a reality show, beginning with Richard Hatch on Survivor: Season 1.

Thank God Richard prevailed by winning the Elimination Challenge and a trip to Barbados.

Tony didn’t blog for Bravo last week because he was at the SoBe Festival, but Bravo claimed a few days later that he was in Connecticut. Now I’m wondering if Tony’s messing with them by lying about his whereabouts. (He was speaking in Connecticut the night Top Chef aired on the 23rd, but probably didn’t get back to his hotel in time to see it.)

Max Silvestri wrote another great recap on Eater.

A new satiric series called Foodies is coming to the Web March 9 at www.freefoodies.com. It looks interesting, and I’ve marked my calendar to check it out.


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