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.

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