Friday, May 2, 2008

Top Chef Chicago: The Midterm Report

Yes, it's that time again. Hands up, utensils down! No, wait...scratch that...reverse. With Season 4 of Top Chef now at the halfway point, it's only right that I take some time to go over what and who has been. This season, however, there's a little something extra: playlists submitted by the competing chefs. Operating as I do under the belief that a person's musical tastes is 30% of their personal worth, it's only fair to consider the songs that these yen-ta-bes crank for inspiration when evaluating if they got kicked off too soon, should already be gone, or will make it the distance.

NIMMA (sent home in Ep. 1)

AMUSED DOUCHE: The only black contestant of the new season, Nimma came from a hermetic Muslim family. She has something to prove, then. Just like last season's Clay, her father is evoked quite a bit. Hmm.

WHO YOU CALLIN' SUCCOTASH?: While Nimma may balk at the allegedly old-fashioned methods of child-rearing adopted by her folks, it's clear that single-minded, near-distrustful reticence runs in the family. She eschews the wonders of the pool table and couched small talk for focus and sleep. "I'm not here to make friends", she tells the audience.

YOU NEED MORE BACON: Nor was Nimma there to make edible food. After blowing the Quickfire to hell and daring to serve Bourdain the God a plate of supremely over-salted shrimp, Nimma was sent packing, to retreat back into a world of silent disapproval, suffocating overprotection, and persistent overcompensation.

ONE MORE CHANCE: I can't fully co-sign the early dismissal of anyone who puts "Rock Lobster" on their playlist. Even if they do commit the sin of sloppy shrimp.

LONG KISS GOODNIGHT: The appearance of LL Cool J's "Doin' It" is followed by, "One word...aroused." Uh. Not at all. No. "Chewin' it, oohin' it, all while we're doin' it"? Look, I'm down with the doing of it. The oohing of it also is agreeable. But chewing it? Chewing what? That's probably second to "When will I die?" for questions I simultaneously desperately want answered but desperately don't want answered, if you catch the breeze.

VALERIE (Debbie Downer'ed in Ep. 2)

AMUSED DOUCHE: Valerie was one of a handful of Chicago chefs to join the fray.

WHO YOU CALLIN' SUCCOTASH?: To some, facial resemblance to Rachel Dratch is undesirable, maybe even off-putting. Admittedly, it's not as good as looking like Dratch's buddy Tina Fey. But damnit, Dratch is almost as funny, and isn't that what matters?

YOU NEED MORE BACON: Despite proclamations of "upscale" proficiency, Val came across in her limited stay as outmatched and overwhelmed when it came to both tiers of the "game": in her final challenge, she made blinis, a food she was unable to pronounce correctly, much less make to satisfaction. In tight competition with Nikki's koala-droppings (I mean,mushrooms) the savvier Antonia threw Valerie smack into the grill of a Greyhound at the Judges Table. You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to scold 'em, Valerie.

ONE MORE CHANCE: A list of favorite songs that includes "Southern Cross" (one of the great overlooked songs of the past 35 years) and "Roam" suggests someone with a bit more gumption than was displayed over 90 heavily-edited minutes of television.

LONG KISS GOODNIGHT: Hey...that means the two chefs who included B-52s songs on their playlists were auf'ed first. How the hell could Andy Cohen let that happen?!

ERIK (imposed his way out in Ep. 3)

AMUSED DOUCHE: San Fran-based badass who has parlayed a lackluster showing on a TV show into a burgeoning business for custom-designed "tattooed" chef coats. Probably had his life changed the first time he heard Motley Crue, they let him know that there was a place for the freaks like him, dude.

WHO YOU CALLIN' SUCCOTASH?: Reminded me of last season's "Bruno Boy" Joey--gruff personality masking a heart sweet as a candy apple. Cooking skills? Maybe.

YOU NEED MORE BACON: Erik knew his corn dogs would get soggy whilst in transport to the block party, yet must have figured that someone else's dish would be shittier, or the soft pups would shine regardless thanks to their creators own innate awesome bursting through in every bite. Either way...loser. Erik also thinks Mexican food is "for the street people" and could not in any way constitute "fine dining". As someone who has found high-end Mexican food even in her back-asswards hometown, let me say: Erik, yaya tome una mierda.

ONE MORE CHANCE: Lost his virginity to "The Tide is High". "I'm gonna be your nuuuumber one."

LONG KISS GOODNIGHT: Points for Slayer, but not for spelling it "Rain In Blood". The song is "Raining Blood" and the album is Reign in Blood. Remember that "you don't have to understand your music in order to enjoy it?" commercial that ran not not too long ago? That always pissed me off.

MANUEL (kicked off in Ep. 4)

AMUSED DOUCHE: Quintessentially non-descript ethnic chef.

WHO YOU CALLIN' SUCCOTASH?: Well, he never pissed me off as I sat at home peering at the succession of images flickering across my flat screen. He never hauled off and called someone 5 pounds of horseshit in a 3 pound sack (either to their face or behind their back), nor did he try to sabotage another competitor.

YOU NEED MORE BACON: So what did the man people call "Memo" do? Basically, nothing, hence the ease with which the judges (in conjunction with the shows producers, don't kid yourself on that for a second) sent him shuffling off to Fukifino in a challenge wherein partner/leader/possessor of (repugnant) personality Spike should have been knifed.

ONE MORE CHANCE: Black Flag, aw, that's cool.

LONG KISS GOODNIGHT: Manuel is one of those who glean awesome epiphanies from Incubus songs: "We are all human". Fucking hell, we are! The discography of Dashboard Confessional is the new astrological chart for the crestfallen young, oh you ain't know?

ZOI (wrenched from her love in Ep. 5)

AMUSED DOUCHE: Not only was Zoi (like "Bowie") picked to compete this season, so was her equally cheffy girlfriend Jennifer. Dramas!

WHO YOU CALLIN' SUCCOTASH?: Part-Greek, confident, outspoken, and attractive. What's not to at least admire from a distance?

YOU NEED MORE BACON: Zoi's dishes all seemed very confused; she was repeatedly called out of improper seasoning (the seeming bane of head judge Tom Colicchio). Further, she took criticism as well as you or I would take a rectal thermometer reading. Will break Jenn's heart one day, as she was never once shown bigging-up her girl's prowess in the kitchen, while every other interview segment with Jenn featured much waxing on Zoi's fabulous (if imperceptible) culinary skills.

ONE MORE CHANCE: Amazingly, Zoi's playlist is the only one that does not contain a single distasteful song.

LONG KISS GOODNIGHT: So she should have been Top Chef.

RYAN (took the metro home in Ep. 6)

AMUSED DOUCHE: Self-avowed "metrosexual" whose parents forced him into the family business at either age 8 or age 11, depending on what fabrication Ryan chooses to spin at the time.

WHO YOU CALLIN' SUCCOTASH?: The closest thing to an attractive male chef this season, but even then only at certain angles and without that goddamn pen over his ear. Responsible for one of the greatest moments of television in 2008: in the kitchen, trying to figure out what the name of "that Christmas movie where the kid shoots his eye out" was called.

YOU NEED MORE BACON: Ryan was until just very recently a chef at San Francisco's Myth Cafe where among the illusions whipped up on a daily basis was that Ryan could cook. When you're called out by Rocco DiSpirito for being a little slow, it's over for you.

ONE MORE CHANCE: CCR is good, but that's all.

LONG KISS GOODNIGHT: Maroon 5? Fergie? Have I gone into what I think about Fergie? Do you know that said woman is a creature so treacherously repulsive, so utterly devoid of redeeming qualities, that not even a resume that includes voice acting for two Peanuts specials can save her? Do you dare consider someone so horrendously untalented and cloying that it retroactively eliminates any goodwill they may have engendered by voicing a Peanuts kid? It's a dark night of the soul, I tell you what.

JENNIFER (off to join Zoi, ep. 7)

AMUSED DOUCHE: AKA, "The Beast" (her last name is Biesty). Zoi's better half in almost every conceivable manner. Also, her hair is like a shark's fin.

WHO YOU CALLIN' SUCCOTASH?: Jenn was just starting to strut and stroll in the kitchen (Quickfire win and impressive showing in the Elimination Challenge) when she teamed up with the previously-unfuckwitable Stephanie in an ill-advised attempt at erectile cuisine. Stay in your lane, Jenn.

YOU NEED MORE BACON: After Zoi got the kibosh, Jenn was infused with renewed sense of purpose. Notre Dame did it for the Gipper, Billy did it for McGarnigle, and Jenn did it for Zoi.

ONE MORE CHANCE: First Notorious B.I.G. drop by a chef, for "Juicy". Also, Elton John is always winning.

LONG KISS GOODNIGHT: I'm not gonna start on "Maps". All I'll say is when you write a love song for your significant other, then they become the something-other, it takes a lot of gall to dedicate said song in concert to the new dude you're schnutzing.

MARK (the latest castoff in eppy 8)

AMUSED DOUCHE: New Zealander who everyone thought was Australian. Don't know if that's a mortal sin (mistaking an Englishman for Irish) or just venal (mistaking an American for a Canadian).

WHO YOU CALLIN' SUCCOTASH?: One of the most perplexingly non-interesting personalities to this viewer, all I can say is that Mark at least had the self-confidence and lack of shame to bathe with a man.

YOU NEED MORE BACON: Rude as hell to the fine helpful folks at Farmers Market and Whole Foods. Good manners cost nowt, mate. Also, the man he bathed with...Spike. Ew.

ONE MORE CHANCE: "Hey Ya" is still a quality song, I don't care how oversaturated it became.

LONG KISS GOODNIGHT: Couple issues here: "Pour Some Sugar On Me" is one of the the rare 1980s missteps made my pop-rock gods Def Leppard; and "Forgot About Dre" is by Dr. Dre featuring Eminem, although Em did write all the lyrics, so maybe Mark was being very literal. Anyway, get off my screen, thank you.


AMUSED DOUCHE: How is she here? Possible Sara M. of Season 4, but lacking the cheesemaker's endearingly blithe attitude.

WHO YOU CALLIN' SUCCOTASH?: Okay, I have something for this, wait a second...she likes animals! Probably more than kids! And that my friends, is a positive mark on any checklist.

YOU NEED MORE BACON: On occasion this season Nikki has rocked a big blowout Amy Winehouse 'do (all the better to store your drugs with, my dear). Actually ran out of food for the Judges at the Tailgating challenge and unbelievably skated by. Methinks Nikki has some pro photos of Andy Cohen in a comprising position with a woman.

ONE MORE CHANCE/LONG KISS GOODNIGHT: The only chef from this season to not submit a playlist. She lasts two more eps, tops.


AMUSED DOUCHE: Relocated to NY from Toronto. The raging epicenter of negativity in the Top Chef household.

WHO YOU CALLIN' SUCCOTASH?: Has one win under her belt...for bacon. Miso smoked bacon. I say that to say this: gimme some.

YOU NEED MORE BACON: Lisa's hygiene is way reproachable. Dirty like Pete Doherty and surly like a Gallagher brother to boot. In one breath she wins my heart by saying Dale "can go fuck himself" then almost immediately squeezes it into a gelatinous pulp by acting superior to not only the challenges she is ordered to perform but also the judges she is supposed to impress. By far the most despised female chef left, and maybe even ahead of Spike for the overall dishonor, the cheers that meet her elimination will shake a desolate Air Canada Centre to its foundations.

ONE MORE CHANCE/LONG KISS GOODNIGHT: Bland, like her beans. Gone next episode.


AMUSED DOUCHE: Behatted, catty, and spotty. Real first name is Evangelos, and he adamantly refuses to reveal the origins of his sobriquet. Possibly his siblings named him "Spike" after the dog they always wanted (instead of a little brother).

WHO YOU CALLIN' SUCCOTASH?: There is nothing, absolutely squat-all, I like about Spike. "Dregs with legs", I call him with a sneer. Nope, I don't even get the warm fuzzies from transferred thoughts of Snoopy's cactus-hugging brother.

YOU NEED MORE BACON: Per Bravo editing, the only chef to share misgivings over the Zoi/Jenn "storyline". His cruelty towards Jenn after Zoi's exit ("You can go and cry all night") and his bitterness after her subsequent Quickfire win ("Yay, lesbians!") earned him my eternal enmity.

ONE MORE CHANCE: None. He's a white guy who obsesses on Bob Marley, need I say more?

LONG KISS GOODNIGHT: Weed and reggae...making white people think they can dance since time immemorial!


AMUSED DOUCHE: Winner of last week's Quickfire and Elimination Challenges (just a mere episode removed from joining with Lisa to suffuse the Judges Table with the foul aroma of "arrogant cunt"), Antonia also got a feel-good plotline: she's the single mom of a young daughter that she likes to call up and tell dreadful knock-knock jokes to. And oh yeah, the challenge involved children! Sniffle!

WHO YOU CALLIN' SUCCOTASH?: Could be the first female Top Chef. Chops for days.

YOU NEED MORE BACON: But I don't want her to be the first female Top Chef. She basically played Darth Vader to Valerie's Admiral Ozzel in the second episode (while anointing Stephanie Admiral Piett), telling the judges she would eliminate Valerie despite not having tasted her dish.

ONE MORE CHANCE: Second chef to put Biggie on their list, this time the song is "Rise", I mean, "Hypnotize".

LONG KISS GOODNIGHT: I call for Bravo producers to institute a new rule, effective next season, that disqualifies any potential "cheftestant" that shows a tendency to enjoy the songs of Fergie. To make up for this admitted discriminatory policy, invite Fergie to be a guest judge on Step It Up and Dance. (The commercial will go as such: montage of last weeks action followed by a contestant voice-over saying, "And we look and oh (bleep), I can't believe who it is!" Harshly edited dance clips follow, then we see the unblemished-to-the-point-of-reflective face of a highstepping hopeful looking pensive as another, possibly out-of-context voice-over screeches, "Oh my God, where did that puddle come from?")


AMUSED DOUCHE: Has the name and nickname of two of last seasons top 3 finalists. Also, just like "Asshole" Hung, is of Asian descent. After a rocky start, Dale's wowed everyone from Daniel Bouloud to Refrigerator Perry with daring flavor combinations, focused techniques, and exceptional plating style.

WHO YOU CALLIN' SUCCOTASH?: No matter how loudly he insists on sphincter-hood, Dale is in reality not that bad at all. (Same as Hung, actually.) Sure he had that profanity-splotched, crotch-palming tirade once, but it was against Lisa, the woman who could have made Gandhi spit in her face.

YOU NEED MORE BACON: That temper, however, will prove lethal. I have Lisa going out in the upcoming Wedding Wars episode, but it could be her nemesis: previews show Dale punching an appliance. If he can make it beyond next week without being thrown off for putting Lisa in a full Nelson and forcing shampoo onto her hair, he's top 3 material.

ONE MORE CHANCE: The third, and final, Big Poppa lover.

LONG KISS GOODNIGHT: Says "Juicy" has "great production". Yeah, Trackmasters were geniuses to completely jack "Juicy Fruit" by Mtume and resequence it. Fucking brilliant.


AMUSED DOUCHE: High on life and coke, this foul-mouthed Tigger wants to make food "that impacts your soul". He needs some impacted wisdom teeth, really.

WHO YOU CALLIN' SUCCOTASH?: Has tamed considerably in the last few weeks.

YOU NEED MORE BACON: In addition to spirit impact, Andrew's into making people "culinarily crap their pants". Certain challenges give him "a culinary boner". Off my screen, you pest.

ONE MORE CHANCE: Oh no. See, now's when I'm gonna have to vomit. I was hoping it wouldn't get to this. Among Andrew's favorite music is Gang Starr, El-P, One Be Lo, Apathy, Cage and Cannibal Ox. Who all kick ass. Goddamnit. Andrew prob'ly has a Def Jux poster in his bathroom. I'm sensing top 4 here.

LONG KISS GOODNIGHT: Ignoring, as is always recommended, the three Tool songs, the heavy presence of hip hop makes his tendency to appropriate "urban slang" understandable if no less irritating.


AMUSED DOUCHE: Chicago-by-way-of-Connecticut, Stephanie was recommended to producers by Season 3 sensation Dale.

WHO YOU CALLIN' SUCCOTASH?: Two early EC wins and a string of episodes where all she did was place high, only to see Lisa get a trip to Paris for putting whipped cream on a flounder, or something.

YOU NEED MORE BACON: After two straight laps swum with the catfish, the self-confessed bundle of nerves must now seek calming counsel from mentor Yoda: "Peanut butter is good, yes. Tomatos make, you can. Together...meant to be they are not."

ONE MORE CHANCE: That's it...bitch has a Velvet Underground song on there. She wins not only Top Chef 4, but also life. Thanks for playing, everybody.

LONG KISS GOODNIGHT: "It's Cold Outside"? Are you in fact for serious? What's worse than sitting back sipping some hot chocolate, vibing out to the chilled Christmas tunes wafting from the stereo, and then that song comes on. I don't want any type innuendo in my Christmas songs.


AMUSED DOUCHE: Isn't he though? Cut from the Marcel mold, more concerned with the science of "molecular gastronomy" than how food actually tastes.

WHO YOU CALLIN' SUCCOTASH?: Likely the best chef of this go-round, the one everyone else fears head-to-head but wants on their team, preferably leading the charge.

YOU NEED MORE BACON: He has a goddamn fauxhawk. Refers to himself as "witty" rather than just give examples. That dumbass cameraman who laughed at Richard's weaksauce Seinfeld impression has possibly ruined the season. Possibly.

ONE MORE CHANCE: Loves Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (as also shown in the Movie Challenge, where we learned "pure imagination" equals a dish combining white chocolate and wasabi). Went to high school with Busta Rhymes.

LONG KISS GOODNIGHT: Arctic Monkeys, huh? Well, no one's perfect. Even if they are going to win Top Chef this year. Yes, I'm calling it. Don't believe the (female chef) hype.

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