Saturday, February 26, 2011

Top Chef Southern Style

It's the eternal Top Chef debate: should the judging take past performance into account? The show was developed by the same people as Project Runway with its "one day you're in, the next you're out" mantra and the judges have been very staunch, for 8 seasons now, in judging each challenge on its own. But does this really leave us with the best chef in the end?

I can't argue with many of the winners so far, but there's a side effect to this: the chefs hanging around by just not being the worst each week. The most egregious example of this was Lisa from season 4 who made it to the finale after being in the bottom group 5 of the last 6 eliminations. And in this All-Star installment with many of the chefs being people who supposedly left too early during their original just seems kind of ridiculous that Mike and Tiffany, who have both yet to win an elimination challenge are still in the competition while Angelo and now Dale are out.

I don't know if I really have any good suggestions to improved the judging but as a TV viewer who obviously can't taste the food myself, I can't not think about cumulative performance. When a chef is repeatedly in the bottom three...shouldn't that mean something? Towards the middle of the season I was pretty excited because it seemed like there were so many contenders for the title. But now I don't think I'd be happy with any winner except Richard. I love Carla and Antonia has surprised me by actually being memorable but it wouldn't feel right to have either of them win over Richard unless he has another meltdown.

This week's challenges were Southern-themed thanks to guest judges Paula Deen and John Besh. Paula Deen presided over, what else, a deep frying Quickfire challenge. Antonia either forgets or doesn't have time to plate a second dish and is disqualified even though Paula wanted to give her the win, Richard can't resist using liquid nitrogen again and makes fried mayonnaise, and Mike wins with a stolen idea from Richard? I didn't like Mike very much during his original season because he was always making these slightly offensive comments but this time around I'd been kind of dismissing him as just being a loudmouth. But I don't know, this move was pretty suspect. A chicken "oyster" served in an oyster shell is pretty dang specific and Mike himself admits that he got the idea from Richard's notebook. I don't know about "chef law" or whatever, but this was definitely not cool.

For the elimination challenge, the chefs have to cater a benefit party for fisherman displaced by the Gulf oil disaster. In a fun but not particularly meaningful twist, their proteins come with a sous chef: a recently departed cheftestant. Tiffany complains about Marcel, Carla is shocked that Tre doesn't actually know Southern food, and Fabio and Richard reunite the bromance but there isn't too much drama there. Richard takes the win with an unusual snapper and pulled pork combination over grits and wins a trip to Barbados, to which he invites Fabio! On the bottom are Carla, Tiffany, and Dale. The judges have problems with all the dishes but deem Dale's to the be the worst, and just like that, one of the frontrunners is gone.

I'm disappointed. I was actually a fan of Angry Dale from season 4 but was really happy to see Not Angry Dale do so well this season. It's definitely a shame that he's gone but at least he got some redemption in terms of how he presented himself.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thursday Top Threes: Game shows

J: Name your top three favorite TV game shows!

Mira: I really don't watch any game shows on a regular basis...
1. Jeopardy: I was really sad that I missed out on the Watson episodes. Secretly (or not so secretly anymore!), I prefer teen and college Jeopardy because there's a better chance of my knowing the answers. :)
2. Cash Cab: Makes me hope that one day I'll accidentally find myself on the show. I love how the lifelines are so perfect for being in a cab; asking random strangers on the street, etc. Plus Jeopardy makes me feel stupid, this game show makes me feel kinda smart (sometimes).

3. Family Feud: Haha, this was fun because it was all about blurting out the best answer you could think of to fit the category.

Jennifer: Um, yeah, I have the same exact list as Mira...evidently we like trivia!
1. Jeopardy. I don't watch it terribly often but it's far and away my favorite and the game show I'd most like to be on!
2. Cash Cab. I like how normal and excited the contestants are.
3. Family Feud. I like the format, obviously, but the only version I really watched regularly was the late 80s/early 90s one with Ray Combs as the host. Occasionally I would watch reruns of the Richard Dawson version and I was always really creeped out by how he kissed all the female contestants...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Thursday Top Threes: Presidents!

M: To spin off of Jenn's holiday-themed question last week... With Presidents' Day around the corner, top 3 Presidents portrayed in books/movies/tv?

1. David Palmer on 24. Since I pay way more attention to television than to actual politics, I sometimes think of President Palmer as the first black president. (His brother Wayne, however, is one of the more ridiculous fictional presidents ever.)
2. Laura Roslin on Battlestar Galactica. Um, she was President of the Twelve Colonies and not the United States but she was pretty kickass.
3. Bill Pullman in Independence Day. It's been years since I watched this movie so I don't even remember his character's name but he had that one great speech and he actually went into combat which seemed really cool?

1. Morgan Freeman as President Beck in Deep Impact. I dunno why, but his performance has always stayed with me, even if the rest of the movie did not. I simply remember while watching the movie that Morgan Freeman made a pretty fantastic president. :)
2. Geena Davis as President Mackenzie Allen in Commander in Chief. I actually did not watch this series in whole, but the few episodes here and there that I watched really impressed me. We have yet to have a female President in our country, but if we did, I'd hope it would be someone like her.
3. I considered stealing what I know will be Burkie's #1 answer: Martin Sheen in The West Wing, but since that's yet another show I did not watch in whole but only in bits and pieces, I think that I will pick someone else. Instead I will go with Harrison Ford as President James Marshall in Air Force One. A President who kicks ass, can give rousing speeches, values safety of his family and personnel above all? Yeah, he was kinda awesome in this one. I'd vote for him!

[Sorry for the delayed post, a second week in a row! Completely Mira's fault for forgetting to answer her own question. Posted 9:20AM Friday, backdated to Thursday.]

Top Chef: Brought to you by the letter T

Was that not the cutest Quickfire challenge ever or what? For some reason I don't have many memories of watching Sesame Street growing up but those muppets sure are adorable. Elmo especially brought it, declaring "TMI" to Padma's cinnamon-cardamom sidebar, giving an "Elmo loves you" shout out to Richard's daughter Riley. and yelling "cow chips" to describe Antonia's cookie. The challenge itself yielded pretty pedestrian results (as is generally the case when the chefs have to make desserts) but the commentary and judging by Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Telly was just fantastic. Dale took the win with a no-bake sweet-and-salty potato chip, pretzel, caramel and chocolate creation that sounded kind of amazing.

When I saw the preview for this week's elimination challenge, I wrongly assumed it was going to be a junk food challenge or something like that. But actually it turned out to be more a test of endurance. The chefs were dumped at a huge Target at midnight and given three hours to produce a dish for 100 employees. This Target appeared to have a pretty extensive grocery including meats and produce so it's not so much about the ingredients but the fact that they have to run around and get EVERYTHING they need from the store shelves, including tables, utensils, appliances, dishes, even decor.

I guess because the only burners available are pretty weak electric ones, most of the chefs decided to make soups, even though all of them talked about soups needing time for the flavors to develop and that was something they didn't have a lot of once they got everything they needed set up. Carla for some reason got completely discombobulated and lagged way behind the others looking for...tablecloths? Her soup was deemed underdeveloped and needing a protein or some more substance and landed her in the bottom. She was joined by Tiffany, whose jambalaya was mushy and Angelo, whose baked potato soup was inedibly salty.

In the end Angelo was sent home. I wasn't necessarily a fan of his--he can be annoyingly arrogant but is also just plain weird--but it is pretty crazy that he (and Tiffany) did these two seasons pretty much back to back. Last week I named him as a frontrunner so his elimination was definitely a bit of a shock.

On top were Richard, Antonia, and Dale. Dale won for his steam-ironed grilled cheese and spicy tomato soup, though I might have given the win to Antonia just because she successfully cooked 100 over-easy eggs. Are these three now the frontrunners? Richard has been extremely consistent, Antonia is getting better and better every week and Dale appears to have gotten his groove back (along with $25,000 in winnings  in a single episode). I still can't see Mike or Tiffany making it to the end, but I am still rooting for Carla to stick around. Only a few weeks left...

Friday, February 11, 2011

It's Late Night with Top Chef!

Let's start off this week's recap with a guest opinion. My brother's friend Tim had this to say:
I think the problem I have with Top Chef right now is these are some of the best chefs they've had, but they keep throwing them into rather mundane cooking challenges. These chefs should be expected to put out Michelin quality food, instead they're getting time constraints and team challenges. They cook pedestrian comfort food week after week for celebrities, not top culinary minds. No wonder Carla wins so much, or Antonia wins with a bowl of mussels. Or Dale wins every Asian-related challenge. They are too much into their comfort zones. The only time this year these chefs were really put to the test was that challenge with the 4 executive chefs at those really nice restaurants. That is what they need to do more, force them to take their craft to another level, not just finish the job due to time constraints. Hell, give them all the time they need. These are some of the best chefs in the country, but their cooking has been pretty uninspiring so far. Not what I expect from the best of the best.
I sort of agree with this, but really, this is just par for the course with Top Chef. This is still a reality show, so the time constraints are unavoidable and even on Top Chef Masters they have to cater parties and cook for celebrities. It looks like next week will have the requisite lowbrow challenge (are they shopping at Target?) and while this won't produce fine cuisine, I don't think Top Chef would be Top Chef without making the chefs do some ridiculous things.

Speaking of ridiculous, Fabio apparently can neither pronounce nor cook a hamburger. The elimination challenge this week was to cook a birthday lunch for Jimmy Fallon. The chefs went to a taping of Late Night where they played Cell Phone Shootout (I gather this is a regular feature on the show...I like Jimmy Fallon but I don't watch late night TV) to pick a dish. The choices were collected from Jimmy's friends and family and were generally in the comfort food category. Carla literally jumped for joy at picking chicken pot pie while Antonia got stuck with beef tongue (which Richard told her how to cook and basically helped her into the top group).

Most of the chefs stuck pretty close to tradition with their dishes, although there was no specific direction to do so. Carla took the win (and her third trip!). It looked pretty classic but I loved the sound of the dehydrated "pea salt." Tiffany and Fabio strayed the furthest--Tiffany with a chicken and dumplings that was more of a tortilla soup and Fabio with his "boo-ger" that was more of a dry meatloaf sandwich--and the judges knocked them pretty heavily for it.

In the end, it's Fabio who's eliminated. I can't say that I'm too surprised or disappointed...he's a great personality and Italian chef but he hasn't shown himself to be very versatile.

So with over half the chefs gone, let's check in on some stats (I love the handy little color-coded elimination charts for reality shows on wikipedia):
Quickfire wins: Richard (3), Dale (3), Antonia (1), Mike (1)
Elimination wins: Carla (3), Richard (2), Dale (2), Angelo (2), Antonia (1)
Carla, Richard, and Angelo have only been in the bottom once, Tiffany and Antonia have been in the bottom 4 times. Mike has been coasting safe for the most part, with only 1 appearance in the top group, while Fabio has been called out in either the top or bottom group every single week.

So looking at these stats, it looks like Richard and Carla are the frontrunners at this point. Dale and Angelo could be in that group too, but Dale's been slumping lately and Angelo hasn't won since the first two weeks of the season. Antonia's been building up some steam lately, so that leaves Tiffany and Mike as the weak links. But no one is running away with the competition, which is the way it should be since this is All-Stars after all.

- Disturbing: fondue makes Richard think of his parents at a nude party?
- I thought the Quickfire was pretty forgettable in general, even if they did get to judge each other. With Marcel and Jamie gone, there just isn't a whole lot of animosity among these chefs. That's not necessarily a bad thing...the producers have been focusing a lot more on funny rather than drama.
- I've heard that a lot of chefs don't really cook for themselves but seeing them eating those prepared Buitoni pastas was really...sad.
- Apparently you can download the Beef Tongue Song as a ringtone. Um...yeah.
- Does anyone else feel like this season has been really long already? I think it's because they did Restaurant Wars earlier usual (5 person teams instead of 4, or even 3 like in season 1). I feel like that challenge is usually the turning point where people stop just trying to survive and start trying to win but that didn't happen so the past two weeks have been dragging.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Thursday Top Threes: Romantic Comedies

J: In honor of Valentine's Day, what are your top three favorite romantic comedy films?

1. Bridget Jones' Diary. I've watched this way more times than I can count. I will forever love Colin Firth for basically spoofing himself and taking on a role that was based on his performance in the Pride & Prejudice miniseries. Plus, Hugh Grant is pretty great channeling his usual bumbling charm into playing a total cad.
2. High Fidelity. This one's a little weird because I don't actually root for the main couple, Rob and Laura, to get back together. But I love nearly everything else about this movie: John Cusack (of course), Jack Black and the "musical moron twins," the top 5 lists, Catherine Zeta-Jones as a crazy ex, the great soundtrack...
3. Sabrina. I LOVE Humphrey Bogart in this really funny and wonderful film. And I'm not a huge Audrey Hepburn fan (I find it hard to relate to most of her roles) but the scene where Sabrina is learning to crack eggs with one hand in the Paris cooking school is classic!

1. Love Actually. It's also one of my favorite holiday movies (two other holiday romcom movies that I love include: The Holiday and While You Were Sleeping). I love so many, if not all, of the little storylines and relationships in this movie. And there is not a single cheesy, cringeworthy moment line in this movie. :)
2. You've Got Mail. I grew up with the developments of internet and like many others, I first started with dial-up internet via America Online. So I fully understood the giddiness of hearing those magical words, "You've Got Mail." Plus, I love Meg Ryan (Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally) and Tom Hanks, I loved that she had a book store and was so attached to children's books, and it is simply a movie that makes me so very happy.
3. Serendipity. I, too, am a fan of John Cusack and for whatever reason I really liked him here. This movie does have a cringeworthy moment, which is usually enough to bump a movie, especially romcoms, off my love-it list: Kate Beckinsale's character's present boyfriend/fiance (played by John Corbett). He was gross! Haha, but still I love the sweetness of the connection between John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale and I love that because of this movie I can identify Cassiopeia in the sky and well, I love New York.

[actually posted on 11 February, but because blogster ate the posting from Thursday night!]

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Vampire Diaries: Team Stefan!

It's official: Stefan Salvatore is the best vampire boyfriend ever. And also, a really damn good friend.

I think it would have been easy for Stefan to be sort of blandly "good," especially when compared to the deliciously bad and conflicted Damon, but man, he's been in fine form lately. I love love love his friendship with Caroline and how he knew that even though she's a tough vampire now, that she still needed her friends after the horrifying torture she just went through. It was so sweet how he brought over Elena and Bonnie to her house and I totally melted when he mouthed "I love you" to Elena. Seriously, all you delusional Edward Cullen people out there? Meet Stefan Salvatore!

Anyway, I haven't properly blogged on The Vampire Diaries much because it's such a plot driven show and I want people to watch the show from the beginning without being too spoiled. But I'm happy to report that there's been no sophomore slump at all. I'm enjoying the pace at which they're revealing and developing the storyline with Katherine and how it ties in with the werewolves, but I'm also glad that the show has definitely not shied away from the shocking deaths and crazy cliffhangers that have come to define it.

Caroline as a vampire is super fantastic, and I'm loving the addition of new witches and vampires and werewolves to fill out the world. I do wish that poor clueless Matt and Jenna would finally be brought into the secret and that Alaric had more to do but overall I've been really happy with the directions of all the characters. There's just so much going on every week and it's always a blast. I'm glad to see that critics too are finally realizing what a ridiculously entertaining ride this show is. Still the best show you're not watching!

Top Chef: Molto Italiano

After the excitement of Restaurant Wars and no new episode last week, this week's Top Chef was kind of...boring?

The Quickfire challenge was truly bizarre. I guess Bravo wanted to do a little cross-show promotion inviting Isaac Mizrahi from The Fashion Show (Bravo's replacement for Project Runway that I, a big PR fan, never bothered to watch) to guest judge, but making a dish just for show that's not going to be tasted? For some reason this made me think of that plastic food you see in display cases at Japanese restaurants, but actually it turned out to be kind of an art challenge using food as your materials. I was a little confused by the judging, especially with Richard's win because I thought that black ice cream looked really gross. Meh.

Moving onto the Elimination challenge...this was similar to the dim sum challenge in that it zeroed in on a specific cuisine and put the pressure on a few chefs because of their background or self-proclaimed expertise. This time around, it was the Italians, Fabio, Mike, and Antonia who were confident that they would take this Italian-themed challenge.

Thankfully, this wasn't a team challenge. Three chefs each had the antipasti, primi (pasta), and secondi (meat) courses. (No dessert?) The ladies chose the appetizers and all fared well: Carla with a minestrone, Tiffany with a non-traditional but successful polenta and sausage terrine, and Antonia with a simple mussel dish that ends up winning. I've never been a huge Antonia fan...when the cast list for All-Stars first came out, she was the only pick that I didn't understand because I didn't think she was particularly likable or memorable or anything. So another meh here. I think I would have been happier to see Fabio win for his chicken cacciatore and polenta.

On the bottom was the entire primi course. I can understand why Mike and Dale decided to make their own pasta despite being told by Frankie Junior of Rao's that dried pasta was perfectly acceptable. Top Chefs in the past have made their own pasta with good results, and it's something the judges are impressed by. Too bad both of them messed up. Mike's dish could have been good had the rigatoni been properly cooked, while Dale's seemed to have failed in was bland and under-sauced. I know that Italians are pretty picky about their pasta but honestly, even I can make a decent pasta dish. Poor showing, guys.

As for Tre, he put out risotto, while everyone panned as being just completely technically wrong. I thought this was odd considering in his original season he did a risotto that was praised by Tom himself. Sometimes I feel like if the judges all agree on something, they just end up convincing each other that it's much worse that it actually is. And this ends up getting him the boot.

Tre was one of the All-Stars that seemed to have so much potential but never broke out during his original season and I'm sad to see the same thing happen this time again. He's clearly a solid chef and a nice guy too but I guess this just wasn't in the cards for him. Not exactly a shocker, but definitely a disappointment.

- I've definitely seen jars of Rao's pasta sauces in various stores, but I had no idea that it was actually a restaurant in New York. Probably because apparently no one I know ever has a prayer of ever getting a table there.
- That Lorraine Bracco is pretty fun. Perhaps I should watch Goodfellas finally.
- I don't know if I've ever had great polenta. Hm.
- Dale has been rising in the ranks for weeks but some might say that he deserved to be eliminated this week. I'm kind of glad he wasn't though, because I still want him to go all the way. Has anyone noticed that he's been mentioning his girlfriend an awful lot lately though?
- Next week: something with Jimmy Fallon!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Thursday Top Threes: Singing Along...

M: Top three favorite songs to sing in the shower (or basically when you think/hope no one is listening).


1. "Light My Candle," from the Rent soundtrack. One of my best friends from college and I lived in the same hall freshman year and dormed together sophomore year. Since we had communal showers, we would shower at the same time (separately, pervs!) and take advantage of the fantastic acoustics to sing this song together duet-style. It was fantastic-- until others happen to walk into the bathroom while we were belting out the song. :)
2. "Mr. Brightside," by The Killers. I dunno what it is about this song but it makes me want to sing my heart out.
3. Okay, my original number 3 was "Truly Madly Deeply" by Savage Garden, truly one of the sappiest songs I like. But after seeing Jenn's list I was reminded that my true number 3 is... "Praise Chorus" by Jimmy Eat World. I just love all the different parts of the song, which to this day I still don't understand, make me really happy and want to belt it out, too...
"Crimson and clover, over and over. / Crimson and clover, over and over. / Our house in the middle of the street, why did we ever meet? / Started my rock 'n roll fantasy. / Don't don't, don't let's start, why did we ever part? / Kick start my rock 'n rollen heart. / I'm on my feet, I'm on the floor, I'm good to go. / So come on Davey, sing me somethin' that I know. / I wanna always feel like part of this was mine. / I wanna fall in love tonight."
Jennifer: I only ever sing in the car...and apparently only to emo songs.
1. "Two Points for Honesty" by Guster
2. "Kill" by Jimmy Eat World (and actually almost all Jimmy Eat World songs)
3. "Hands Down" by Dashboard Confessional