The Wife:

As my husband already mentioned, we gave up some TV time last night to go support Bruce Campbell, the greatest actor of his generation, and his new film, My Name is Bruce. Let me tell you, in the words of my good friend Sarah, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Bruce Campbell being interviewed by a zombie drag queen. This is the truth, in the name of Peaches Christ. Amen. We did make it home in time to squeeze in a super-sized holiday-themed episode of Top Chef, but I have to say that this episode was a giant culinary letdown compared to my evening up until this point. I understand that these chefs get tired, cooking so intensely for shifts longer than their restaurant shifts for a straight month or so of filming. I do understand that it is very difficult to compete in a profession-based reality competition program. It’s less stressful, say, to try to win the love of one Brett Michaels when all you have to do is drink booze and get in slutty cat fights for a month. That’s so much easier than making a runway-ready dress in 48 hours or catering an entire holiday party in 24 hours. But, really, Top Cheftestants? Really? You all dropped the ball in these challenges, and I will discuss why as we go along with this recap.

Now that we have slightly fewer cheftestants, the editors decided that this would be a good episode to waste 5 minutes on a pre-challenge “getting to know you” segment. Here’s some stuff I learned about the contestants:

  • Eugene has no formal training and has worked his way up from a dishwasher. I really respect this, and I know Tony Bourdain would, too.
  • Stefan and Fabio are the most adorable European Dynamic Duo I’ve ever seen, and my family has had a lot of adorable exchange students over the years.
  • Sadly, Hosea’s father has cancer. It must be really tough to be away from your dad at the holidays . . . you know . . . those holidays in July . . . when you were filming this episode.
  • Someone at Bravo has a deal with T-Mobile. That shot of Hosea’s T-Mobile Sidekick LX was actually longer than the blatant Sidekick shot on 90210, but here its okay, because its reality TV, where shows have copious obvious sponsorship and product tie-ins from Calphalon and the Glad family of products. Still, it’s just a little sad to have your personal family tragedy exploited to sell a phone, no?

For the Quickfire Challenge, guest judge/scariest person on the face of the earth Martha Stewart asked the cheftestants to prepare a one-pot wonder meal for the holidays. Ariane was thrilled to see Martha because she just loves her and loves that she’s from Jersey. Uh, Ariane? Martha may be from Jersey, but she certainly doesn’t rep that like it’s a good thing. That robot lady reps it like she’s from Connecticut. Don’t be proud that she’s from Jersey. She’s certainly not. That is the difference between the two of you.

Padma, did she really say that Im from New Jersey? You must have her killed.

Padma, did she really say that I'm from New Jersey? You must have her killed.

Possibly missing out entirely on the word “holiday” that Martha and Padma for some reason included in this challenge, the chefs created the following close-to-one-pot wonders:

  • Jamie: sea scallops with a kale and potato stew
  • Hosea: paella with chorizo, shrimp and some other meat
  • Jeff: a potato risotto that I found extremely intriguing
  • Ariane: filet mignon with cauliflower puree, which she makes for her kids a lot to trick them into eating vegetables, thinking they’re eating mashed potatoes (Uh, Ariane? Potatoes are a vegetable.)
  • Fabio: mushroom polenta with duck breast
  • Eugene: Korean chili pepper pork stew
  • Stefan: a Celtic goulash with veal, potatoes and chanterelles
  • Melissa: pork tenderloin with oranges, apples and fennel
  • Carla: brined turkey with apple-cherry stuffing

I got a little distracted during this challenge, especially because I realized that the editors just decided NOT TO SHOW SERVICE FOR LEAH AND RADHIKA! What the hell did these women make? I have no idea. Did I blink and miss the presentation of their dishes? I don’t know. But, frankly, you’d think they’d be able to show two more dishes in a freaking super-sized episode. Also, Martha wouldn’t stop yammering about how she hates cornstarch as a thickening agent (personally, Eugene, I would have gone with a roux instead) and how every year she goes diving for sea scallops up in Maine. So I blame her for the time missing from this episode. I blame the chefs, however, for stretching the “one-pot” concept a little further than most home cooks would make in one pot.

Martha decided that her least favorite dishes of the challenge were Jeff’s potato risotto, Eugene’s pork stew and Fabio’s polenta. She found Jeff’s potato risotto to be too heavy, not light, like she thinks risotti are. Granted, a potato risotto, created using a technique that must be similar to making spaetzle, would be heavier than one made from rice, but I really don’t think Martha knows anything about Italian cooking. You can make a risotto as heavy or as light as you want it to be. It all depends on the ingredients you put in. In the summer, I make light risotti with tomatoes and eggplants. In the winter, when most people eat risotto, I make them with mushrooms, barley, squash – you know, heavy wintery things. I’m sure Jeff’s dish did end up being too heavy, but Martha is totally wrong in her assumption that risotti are inherently light in nature. As for Eugene’s dish, Martha hated the cornstarch thickener. And then for Fabio’s, she seemed to think that the polenta dish he presented didn’t look like polenta at all. She has displeased with the way in which he cooked the small diced mushrooms into the polenta, stating that she would have preferred to see large mushroom chunks. And here’s where I became decidedly certain that Martha knows nothing about Italian cooking. We do not make a risotto with chunks of anything. Risotto is supposed to be creamy and smooth, so if you put anything in it, it has to be pureed. If you want to see chunks, you serve the chunky items atop the polenta. Certainly, that would have made for a nicer-looking presentation of Fabio’s dish, to serve the mushrooms cooked up with the duck breast atop the polenta, but that’s, again, not what Martha was asking him to do. She essentially wanted him to make a polenta that wouldn’t actually exist. I really have to side with Fabio on this one:

“Martha, my grandmother would be so ashame of you.”

So would my grandmother, bro. And she’s not even a paisan.

As for Martha’s favorites, she liked Hosea’s paella, Jamie’s scallops and Ariane’s fucking meat and faux-tatoes. In an event that actually made me guffaw at my television, Jersey Girl Martha chose Jersey Girl Dr. Lisa Cuddy as the winner of the challenge, handing her immunity and a copy of her brand new book. And here’s where I go: WHAAAAAAAT? Why, why, why, why, why would you pick Ariane’s fucking meat and faux-tatoes over an excellently prepared paella or Jamie’s scallop stew? Is it because it’s as fucking banal as the stuff the home cooks who worship you make, Martha? Is that it? Because people really need to stop rewarding Dr. Lisa Cuddy for simply cooking meat correctly. That is not even remotely reward-worthy. Fucking anyone can cook meat correctly and throw it on some pureed vegetables that are pretending to be other vegetables. Fuck you, Martha Stewart. Seriously, fuck you. You have just absolutely cemented that I will never, ever watch your show or buy your products.

This, Martha? You chose THIS?

This, Martha? You chose THIS?

Over THIS?

Over THIS?



Just you wait, kids. That’s not even half of my rage about this episode.

For the Elimination Challenge, Padma asked the contestants to cater a “holiday” charity benefit dinner for AmFAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research, with its Chairwoman, actress Natasha “Sally Bowles” Richardson, acting as guest judge. In order to ensure that the cheftestants got the message about creating a dish based on one of the 12 days of Christmas, she called in the Harlem Gospel Choir to sing out the numbers assigned to the chefs by the almighty knife block. Then, for good measure, Bravo threw in one of those little “Don’t DVR Through Me!” segments in which all of the chefs sang their lines from the song. Note to chefs: please don’t sing anymore. Just cook.

I so did not sign on to watch Top Clash of the Choirs, Bravo. Stop with the singing.

I so did not sign on to watch Top Clash of the Choirs, Bravo. Stop with the singing.

And then the chefs headed off to Whole Foods, where I experienced some more rage watching them announce their dumb food choices.

Exhibit A: Jeff, assigned to 10 Lords A-Leaping, was dismayed that he couldn’t get any frog legs. Instead of thinking about other animals that leap (deer! bunnies! fish, even!), he went for cheese. Really, Jeff? I love cheese, I do. But there were so many other proteins you could have used! So many!

Exhibit B: Ariane, assigned to 6 Geese A-Laying, immediately thought, “Oooh, goody! I’ll continue to not be able to elevate my cuisine above the repertoire of a 1950s housewife! I can make deviled eggs! Lots of ’em!” Really, Ariane? Fuck you, okay? Just. Go. Fuck. Yourself. Couldn’t you have done a creative plating of roast goose bits, topped, perhaps, with a quail egg or something of the like? Something literal but not so . . . retarded.

Exhibit C: Radhika, assigned to A Partirdge in a Pear Tree, decided to go for duck as her protein, knowing she can’t get partridge. Know what you could have gotten, though? Squab. Quail. Cornish Game Hen. Any bird small enough to approximate the size of a partridge. I’m actually less angry with her than Ariane, of course. A larger bird was actually a smarter choice, knowing how much more meat you get for your money. It just seemed like she didn’t really think through all of her options.

But then, after a whole day of prep, the cheftestants returned to find that someone had left one of the refrigerators open, rendering all of the proteins inside it unusable, lest someone fall into a situation where Gordon Ramsay would have had to yell:

“It’s raw! You could have killed somebody!”

(By the way, it makes me really happy whenever I can yell that.)

Hosea lost all of the pork he had butchered, and Radhika lost her duck breast. In the spirit of the holidays and togetherness and, oh, functioning like an actual kitchen staff would, the unaffected cheftestants banded together to help Radhika use the parts of the duck she could use (legs, wings) and found of extra product for Hosea to use in his dish. This helpful holiday togetherness may have scarified some cooking time on their own dishes, but, rather than see a teammate fail completely, they’d rather all serve at 90% capacity than lose someone on the line. Props to you all, cheftestants, for not being like the assholes on Hell’s Kitchen, who totally would have just let Hosea and Radhika bite the dust. That, my friends, is how a real kitchen works.

At the AmFAR benefit, another guest judge, cookbook author Michelle Bernstein joined the crew in Gail’s stead. Natasha Richardson asked the attendees to place their AIDS ribbon on the signboard of the dish they liked most, and a winner would be chosen at Judges’ Table from among the highest ribbon collectors.

Hoseas fans started pinning ribbons on him. Thats how awesome he is.

Hosea's fans started pinning ribbons on him. That's how awesome he is.

The Elimination Challenge Dishes:

  • Stefan – 12 Drummers Drumming – a chicken pot pie, reflective of the first Christmas meal he had in America (how very Dickensian)
  • Hosea – 11 Pipers Piping – smoked pork with apple-brandy jus and potatoes
  • Jeff – 10 Lords A-Leaping – seared hallomi and kasseri cheese with a salad of nuts and beets (like island-hopping in Greece, which just reminded me on ProjRun Season 2’s Nick and his “Paris Hilton in Mykonos” dress that got him booted)
  • Fabio – 9 Ladies Dancing – a sweet corn crab cake, because crabs are the dancing ladies of the sea (and sometimes, ladies who dance professionally have crabs – hey-o!)
  • Melissa – 8 Maids A-Milking – gorgonzola and New York strip steak on a crostini
  • Jamie – 7 Swans A-Swimming – a crudo sea scallop in vichyscoisse
  • Ariane – 6 Geese A-Laying – deviled eggs, six ways (Urge. To Kill. Rising.)
  • Eugene – 5 Golden Rings – poisson cru with pineapple rings
  • Leah – 3 French Hens – braised guinea hen with butternut squash on a brioche
  • Carla – 2 Turtle Doves – braised chicken with mushrooms (almost as boring as Ariane’s)
  • Radhika – A Partridge in a Pear Tree – braised duck with pear chutney (You know something, Radhika? If you want us to stop thinking of you as “that chick who can only cook Indian,” lay off the fucking chutney.)

Based on the number of ribbons pinned to their boards by the end of the night, Radhika, Jeff, Hosea and Stefan were called to Judges’ Table the next day. The judges were especially impressed with the teamwork demonstrated by everyone in helping Radhika and Hosea get back on track. Michelle Bernstein and Natasha Richardson loved the salad in Jeff’s dish, but thought the cheeses were a little much. (To which I say, you ladies be nuts. Twice the cheese can never be a bad thing.) Based on ribbons alone, the Judges awarded the top prize to Hosea – a prize he had to share with everyone else when Michelle Bernstein decided to give a copy of her cookbook to everyone. You know, in the spirit of the holidays, which take place in July in Top Chef land.

Called in as the worst of the bunch were Melissa, Eugene and Jamie. Michelle Bernstein told Jamie that the scallops she got were lukewarm, thus making them gross, slimy and inedible. Equally gross, slimy and inedible was Eugene’s poisson cru, which was also far too sweet for everyone’s palates. And then there was Melissa, who suffered from too much cheese and too much dry crusty bread, rendering the strip steak virtually absent from her dish. Again, in the spirit of those holidays that occur in July, a thoroughly disappointed Tom Colicchio decided to spare everyone from elimination this week. Instead, he went into the stew room with these choice gems:

  • “The food was just universally disappointing.”
  • “Are you happy with anything you did tonight? I can’t imagine you are.”
  • “You don’t win with a deviled egg.”

Indeed, Tom. You don’t win with a deviled egg, and that’s why I’m mad that you didn’t send anyone home. Eugene or Melissa need to go. Soon. So does Dr. Lisa Cuddy. I appreciate Eugene’s spunk, but he clearly needs a few more years on the line before he’s ready for super top-notch fine dining. Melissa . . . her I just can’t stand to look at. And I think we all know how I feel about Ariane at this point. Enjoy your free pass, you guys. I expect more from you next time.

Fucking really? REALLY?

Fucking really? REALLY?