Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sibling Revelry

This week on Top Chef we had Natalie Portman show up to give us the required vegetarian challenge. This inspired some of the chefs to wacky new heights while inspiring Gail to wear this bizarre green number that I can only assume was supposed to be the sartorial interpretation of bib lettuce that'd make any bridesmaid weep.

Once again this week, taking top honors was Kevin. His dish of smoked kale, turnip puree and roasted mushrooms made the diners not miss the meat. I don't understand how anyone could dislike this guy. He's good tempered, a great competitor, and an excellent cook and chef. Up until this week, he's been the meat guru who loves pork so much he's actually got a pig tattooed on his arm. He cooks comfort food with class, and has absolutely dominated this season while being humble and homey about it all. I loved the little bonus clip this week that had the chefs eating at Bartolotta. (On a side note, every single food show I've ever seen with Paul B in it, he treats the people to dine at his joint and treats them like kings. This is most definitely not a perk to be scoffed at, unlike the GE appliances that Kevin won this week that just made him giggle and say, "Okay.") But as Kevin's eating with the rest of the gang, he is going to town on the food, man, and actually comes out and says that it's not an accident that he's chubby, but that it's a personal choice. And that he once ate 130 wings in an hour. Oh my God, I love him.

On the downside, it seems that the Restaurant Wars loss has really crushed Jen's confidence. Instead of putting out an entree, she seemed to produce a plate that resembled a crudite. Interestingly, a couple weeks back when she was sick, she stated that she didn't think a person's mood should affect their food. Spoken like a true professional who doesn't want to make excuses and tries to focus and perform. However, once confidence gets shaken, that's different than just trying to overcome a bad mood. The spark of creativity can get dimmed with self-doubt and desperation never tastes good on a plate. It was almost sad to watch her shake as she struggled to ladle sauce onto the plates. I feel for her and I really hope she pulls out of her funk because it'd be disgusting for Robin or Eli to outlast her.

Robin did her customary crappy job of things. These chefs were let loose in Colicchio's Craftsteak and allowed to check out all the tantalizing proteins before having the pan pulled out from under them and being informed of the vegetarian restrictions. But when they then rushed into the veggie pantry, it was utterly stuffed with incredible stuff to make their jobs easier. Going for eggplants or mushrooms is a no-brainer if you're going to try to go for meat replacement therapy. Kevin found his success in mushrooms and Eli finally hit the upper echelon with eggplant. But Robin was her typical unfocused self who couldn't decide and grabbed everything and was attracted to fresh garbanzo beans which she'd never used, along with squash blossoms that she'd never used, so she used both of those!

Seriously Robin? I would like to feel sympathy for her, or at least feel sorry for her always being in the bottom and being treated poorly in the house and getting snapped at in the kitchen while everyone fumes that she sticks around while "better chefs" leave. But at this point, I do wonder if they're just dragging her along for the drama factor, and she even annoys me as a viewer and I only have to hear her prattle on for about 20 minutes a week. Cripes.

Nevertheless, it certainly did make for good, dramatic TV to watch her outlast big braggart Mike Isabella. That was some funny shit, yo! Since this season started, Mike I has been blowing on about how awesome he is while we've never really seen that in his food choices or cooking techniques. And it just chapped his ass to be outlasted by Robin. I just can't muster much sympathy for a guy who's a professional chef and doesn't know what eggs florentine is, nor for someone of my age who proudly claims to have never seen an episode of Seinfeld. That's either some "I'm too hip for that sitcom shit" outright lying going on, or some seriously self-absorbed, unhip cave-dwelling going on.

Speaking of blowing on, the prolonged blow job banter at the table was pretty funny. Even better lulz than Gail's dress, actually. Padma: "It was like a tiny prick on my tongue." Natalie, giggling: "Oh, don't say that." Padma, explaining: "It was big in my mouth." Tom: "So it went from a little prick on your tongue to a big in your mouth." Random Natalie friend: "That's what usually happens." That's why I love Bravo TV, right there. It's those tacky touches that make this show the superior plate to "Next Iron Chef."

And so that brings me to my favorite chefs, the Voltaggio brothers.

Fuckin' A the dysfunction is reaching near epic levels at this point, with baby bro Michael now transferring his Bryan frustration onto Kevin. Bryan, for his part, landed in the middle after struggling with time for the first time. More notably, he cracked a smile a few times. This was weird. Remember the scene in Edward Scissorhands where they teach Johnny Depp to smile and it's this nearly pained, contorted exercise and his face looks bizarre, like it might crack apart from the unnaturalness of it? That. That's what it seemed like to see Bryan smile.

Meanwhile, Michael also cracked a smile, but it got wiped off his face right quick. First, Bryan placed high in the quickfire, which kept the sullen pout firmly on Michael's face. Then, he produced this whimsical dish for the veggie challenge using asparagus and banana polenta which landed him very favorable comments, including his second comparison to Picasso. But in the end, Kevin's dish bested his.

This did not sit well with Chef Michael Voltaggio, but it seemed to set even less well with Michael Voltaggio, the younger brother. He snarked that he "could've made Kevin's dish in twenty minutes in his second year of apprenticeship." Oof. Then, in the stew room, he managed to shake Kevin's hand but had to look away has his own frustration stewed...and festered. It's so hilarious that "Glad" sponsors that stew room considering the general mood in there is generally the polar opposite of "glad." Eli even managed to kick something this week after Mike I's dismissal.

Michael V has often spoken about his take on food and cooking and how he approaches it artistically and enjoys taking risks. In striking contrast to Mike Isabella and his blowhardy and arrogant tones, this attitude and sometimes cockiness on Michael V's part always played okay because he more than backs it up and proves it with his food. It is different and risky and often artful and playful. Also, previously, the times we saw him get bitchy was with his older brother, where there was very clearly a long stewing sibling dynamic at work that'd often make the relationship between Cain and Abel seem cheerful by comparison. But now, with Kevin so clearly dominating this season and controlling the wins, it seems like a little bit of Michael V's snideness is actually frustration at not being top dog coming out and it's pushing all his "little brother" buttons. All this time, he arrogantly thought his biggest competition was Bryan, and now that he finally realizes it might be the portly redbeard, it's like all his long buried but suddenly re-awakened, birth order resentment got shifted onto the plump pork king. Or, maybe Michael V is just a dick who's sour grapes when he's not top dog.

After this episode, Michael V is now most certainly the villain of the season and easily takes the title of "Top Douche." At the very least, we can safely assume that he's not taking the Fan Favorite title. However, he's also now officially my favorite of the year.

I am not an apologist and make no excuses. He is a sullen, sneering, skate-punk who's often snide, snippy, and short-tempered. But he is also undeniably smoldering. His older brother Bryan is a bit taller and is more traditionally good looking. But Michael is just sexy. That snotty little perma-pout on his lips makes me want to just smack his bitchy face -- and then start making out with him. He's got that hyper-intense stare and he channels all his guts into his dishes, which end up these surprising and sexy creations. He's got the fire in his belly, and it ends up as passion on the plate.

While Bryan, and Kevin, for that matter, make more traditional and recognizable food, Michael's is more brash and complex, definitely in-your-face, just like his personality. Bryan and Kevin cook the kind of food you want to settle down with: Dependably top-notch and satisfying. But Michael's is the kind you'd really want to spend a wild weekend in Vegas with -- a bit volatile and unexpected and doing completely new things that can make you giggle or sigh. I don't need the Top Chef to be picked on the basis of having a genial disposition. Asshole or not, the winner should serve the best tasting, most innovative, thoughtful, and passionate plates. If the ingredients for success happen to be a long simmering rivalry paired with a sexy if snarky swagger and then finished with a dash of vain but innovative coulis, then so be it.

The nice guy who reliably cooks excellent bacon is never a bad choice. But this season is set in Vegas, where you're supposed to take the gamble, suffer the lows and celebrate the highs, enjoy the excess, soak up the sex, and, ultimately, reward the risk.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

High Voltag-gio

The sixth season of Top Chef, set in Vegas, continues to roll along. It lacks the lovable personalities of last season. There is no kooky Carly or fabulous Fabio (who's scored himself his own TV show on Bravo) but it is using some nice Vegas inspired twists such as high stakes quickfires. Though it lacks the cuddly factor, the food being put out by some of the chefs seems outlandishly refined, innovative, and inspired. The downside to watching a food competition like this is that there's no certainty in being able to form an opinion, because, obviously, I can't actually taste the food. Add to that, that I don't really trust twatface Tom Colicchio's opinion about the taste of the food, it's really impossible to get an accurate read. But, judging from what I can see put on the plates and descriptions of the ingredients used, I can get a sense of what's going on, and it certainly appears as though they truly have tapped into some serious talent.

There are four bonafide competitors this year who consistently put out plates that look delectable and interesting. There's redbeard Kevin, who looks exactly like the claymation Kris Kringle from those Christmas specials from when we were kids. He whomps out mole and meat like it's a celebration, and even though he stumbled this week during restaurant wars and undercooked lamb, it was a misstep that was tempered by him also producing another pork plate that looked succulent. Then there's Jen, who looks like she's grimacing even when she smiles. She's Eric Ripert's handpicked protege who mistook black cod for trout (whoops!) and screwed up a real trout dish this week when her sauce broke, but who also has taken top honors in a couple quickfires and eliminations.

And, then, of course, there's the Voltaggio brothers. By their general demeanor it'd be easy to tag them as the Brothers Grimm, with their scowls and sourpusses, but then I look at their food and it makes my mouth water even on screen. And, as the season has worn on, the dynamic between them has become even funnier to watch. The younger one, Michael, is so completely transparent and brutally obvious in his sibling rivalry one-upmanship. And though the slightly older Bryan seemed to be more even-keeled on the surface, there's no mistaking his reaction this week when he told Michael he didn't want to share his prize. The best is the look on the other's face when one of the them wins a challenge. There's this internal duality going on where they're half pleased for their sibling, and half seething that they were bested. It's great!

All the other contestants this year fall way below the top four's skill sets, and I'm really hoping we don't get a "shocking" elimination due to a screw up this year, thus opening the door for a bullshit winner like last year's Hosea. Stefan got totally robbed last year, and if these four don't make it to the end to battle it out against each other, it'll be rather shitty. Mike Isabella's overblown ego is worth a couple of laffos each week, as is watching the fuckery commence between Robin and Eli. But V is for villain and the Voltaggio bros, I think, also get to take top honors in that category. They really aren't bad guys, but it is funny watching Michael snap at Bryan and act like a typical, bratty younger brother regressing to six years old. It's even better to watch him take over the kitchen and bark out orders to everyone while they intercut that footage with him giving a monologue about he's a really great guy. And it's even better to watch him wear down Bryan week-by-week, leaving me to wonder if it's not a bit of gameplay to sabotage his biggest competition by making him lose focus.

In all fairness, I don't really think Michael is a bad guy. He's got sibling issues, oh yeah. (I bet Thanksgiving and Christmas is a real circus around that family table) But he probably is a nice enough fellow who happens to be a control freak in the kitchen. Thing is, I've worked in kitchens, and they can work just fine with someone in charge who's on an even keel, but someone most certainly does need to be in charge, and if they get snippy and bark orders, that's pretty much par.

In other reality/competition TV villain area, since the advent of DVRs, I picked up watching the old horse Survivor again. They're shoving Russell down our throats as a "villain" but I just don't see it. A real villain doesn't know they're an asshole. (Please see last year's Coach as a prime example of someone without a lick of self-awareness of their own douchery.) Russell is just a guy who's saying that he's a villain because he's taking credit for kicking everyone out so that he can look like a master gamer. Bleh. Given the focus they're putting on him, though, I assume he wins.

Speaking of villains who sort of aren't, Dexter murders all other current dramas, retaining its groove for this year. The thing is, even when I see certain twists telegraphed, it still manages to surprise me with how it's carried out, or it still manages to keep the tension high. And this week Michael C. Hall was inspired. I love it when he turns all evil and excited when he's ready to plunge the knife into some real asshole. This week, he had to trick his prey into hunting him before he turned the tables and, well, got her on his table, all wrapped up in cellophane and tape. When she made her second insouciant rape comment, he cracked me up with his, "What is it with you and rape? Nobody's raping anyone!"

Someone else who's not at all lacking in his own knowledge of what constitutes an asshole is Larry David. This year's Curb Your Enthusiasm is on fire! Oh. My. God. This show is cracking me up every week. Wheelchairs, blow jobs, pie, packaging, cancer -- all those things that make for high comedy. Larry never minded playing an asshole or villain, but this year he's also reveling in playing the buffoon. He's mixing in more physical and screwball comedy this year, while retaining the rapid-fire, improv dialogue and genius intertwined plots that come full circle. Meanwhile, he's always got enough dysfunction splashing around to make even the Voltaggio brothers humbled. All of that combines to make a concoction so outstanding that even twatface Tom Colicchio would have to bow down to it.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Last Sunday was the first episode in the much ballyhooed Curb Your Enthusiasm reunion of the Seinfeld cast. In it, potshots were taken at the Seinfeld finale, and we even got a few scenes set in Jerry's apartment, 5A. It was pretty funny and interesting, because in his scenes and dialogue, Jerry brought his lighthearted glibness to the generally acrimonious air of Curb, so it really did change things up a bit. But on the whole, it was extremely Curb as opposed to Seinfeld, and that's just how I like it. Enjoyable as it was though, I highly doubt that they're going to be able to top the previous week's episode, "Vehicular Fellatio." It was one of those wacky, crazy episodes that could only be aired on HBO, and yet, even though it was some pretty risque material, it never really felt dirty, it was just outlandish, hilarious, and perfectly constructed.

Also last week, Entourage finished up for the season, though it really felt a lot more like a series finale. Nearly everyone reached a major turning point. At the start of the season, I said it felt like this season was going to be about growing up, and Ari, Lloyd, Eric, and Drama all reached major milestones that'll alter their lives, and they all leapt into them with exuberant Entourage joy, which was only fitting, seeing as how they were goals they'd all longed for for several seasons. Only Turtle suffered a setback. And Vince, same as he was for the whole season, was basically a cypher with absolutely nothing going on. It was thanks to Vince, though, that we got the season's best star appearance in Matt Damon, who played himself as a class A prick. You've probably seen the viral video of him shooting a promo for his One by One charity and berating the shit out of Adrian/Vince during it. But I bet a lot of viewers missed his best part in the episode, as it actually aired after the conclusion of the final credits. So here it is in case you want to see it, it's definitely worth the lulz.

Meanwhile, over on Showtime, Dexter has returned and they haven't missed a beat with creating intensely suspenseful episodes. This year, the added responsibilities of Dexter's baby are pulling him in one direction while his dark passenger pulls him in another, and the severe sleep deprivation causes these things to collide with potentially catastrophic results for Dexter. Meanwhile, the living Carradine has returned to Miami to track a new serial killer. This year's competition for Dexter is played by John Lithgow, and he's most definitely the creepiest and scariest villain they've had so far. I can't wait for Dexter to dismember him!

Also, I was pretty much detoxed from True Blood until two things arrived in the mail this week. The first was Charlaine Harris's A Touch of Dead, which is a newly released collection of Sookie Stackhouse short stories. (YAY!) I'd been waiting on this delivery since about March, so it was nice to have it arrive, but I did manage to put it aside for now until I finish the current book I'm reading. TOLD you I was detoxed. However, the second delivery came as a bit of a pleasant surprise, as I'd ordered it over the summer but then forgot about it. It was a case of Tru Blood, the beverage. Unlike the short story collection, I tore into this immediately.

Now, here's a little personal tidbit about me. I don't drink soda. Almost never. I just don't really like it. In fact, the only things I really do drink are: water, juice, and vodka. That said, I tried the Tru Blood straight up, and it is a carbonated blood orange beverage with a fun red color and a nice sweet-tart balance. So, I'd guess most people would really like it, and it's a pretty cute novelty for Halloween, or freaky fans of the show like me. But for my taste? I found a way to improve it. Simply add this.

I add a lot of it, but your tastes my vary.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Literary Road Trip

Voracious book reading blogger Beth Fish was kind enough to allow me a guest post as a fellow Pennsylvania writer on her Literary Road Trip feature. So you can check out what I read all summer over there. Readers of my blog here won't be surprised at my mainstay for summer page-turning this year, but I hope Beth didn't think I was just sucking up since she's just as big a fan of the series. But I did manage to pull my nose out of Lousiana for a while to also read some other PA writers, such as Robin Slick and Michael Chabon, and a little twist of erotica, too. (Just keeping up with trends, yo!) So check it out over at Beth Fish reads!