Category Archives: Cooking

Top Chef: Texas/Vancouver – Ep15 – Top Chef Laff-a-Lympics

Seriously, what’s going on with Top Chef? This week’s challenge made the Pee Wee bike race seem like a normal day in the kitchen. In fact, the Pee Wee challenge actually had a kitchen. This week, the chefs barely even saw a kitchen – two of them never did. If the challenges were taking on an Amazing Race feel before, it is full on physical challenge now. In addition, is it me or has the Texas season lasted for about six years now? I mean this is Episode 15! And they implied that we have two more to come…plus a reunion, I am sure.

So, the Final Four leave the 110 degree heat of Texas for the frozen tundra of British Columbia. Of course, there were many weeks in between their appearance in both locations – but not that the show addressed that at all. In fact, I am sure that the late episode niceties between the ladies was directly related to the episodes they saw before the finale. If we can assume that this was no different than any other season, the finale tapes after several episodes have already aired. Sarah and Lindsey of the Corn had to have witnessed some of the bad behavior shown towards Beverly – even if it was only the early battles with Heather. Because I am certain that in the real world, the women all got together quite well – and have implied as much on Twitter. They must have known how badly they were coming across. The last scenes between the women were very nice, and I would like to take that as the lasting memory of the Everybody Hates Beverly vibe that was way to prevelant this season.

One thing that we have guaranteed now – a woman will be cooking for the championship this season. Amazingly, that hasn’t happened since Carla took some poor advice (from another female finalist) and lost the Season 5 crown to Hosea. That said, this is still Qui-Gon’s season to lose, and if the first leg of this week’s challenge was any indication, the man can be thrown off of his game.

I have said it before – I am torn on these bizarre challenges. While it is fun to throw some of these crazy tasks at them, and it makes for some really good TV, it is also difficult to gauge who the is the best chef. Just take the second leg as the perfect example – Qui-Gon’s strength was clearly an advantage as he was able to smash the ice blocks and chip away at them at a faster pace than the two women. It is not going out too far on a limb to say that he had a leg up based solely on the concept. These challenges are straight out of The Amazing Race, or even Survivor. I mean, can you imagine a similar challenge on Project Runway? These fabrics have been frozen in ice…

But the funny thing is, as I sit to write this column, it is really hard to say much about it. Other than the niceties that developed between the women – except for Sarah’s rudely placed tree observation in the car – nothing really happened other than, well, the actual challenges. So, here we go…

It’s the Laff-a-Lympics – or at least the Top Chef Olympics. You see, the finale is in Vancouver, or in this case, Whistler, Canada. If you recall, there was a Winter Olympics there in 2010. The four finalists show up in some nice Bravo-approved winterwear. Sarah sporting a new hairdo, and claiming to have learned much about herself and that she needed to be calm and nice. Yep. Oh, and Qui-Gon had a fun, cool hat. They drive up the mountain to meet Padma and Tom – and I half expect to see James Bond ski by as part of a giant chase scene as he tries to protect some European princess and recover lost microfilm.

These are the culinary games – three legs, the winner of each leg earns a berth in the Final Three and thus not required to cook in subsequent legs, and $10,000 cash money. The first challenge was the goofiest, and in my opinion, the best one of the three, as it actually contained aspects of it that related to being a good chef.

Worst Cooks in America, Feb. 12 – “It’s Like The Exxon Valdez in My Mouth”

How does the Food Network improve on one of the most entertaining food challenge shows on television? The answer is easy, add Bobby Flay to the mix!  As someone who really enjoys cooking shows, this one is always fun to watch.  They aren’t learning how to cook some weird dish with ingredients you will never find in the store.  Instead, they are learning some of the basics and you can always pick up a tip or two.

This season I don’t have to listen to Robert Irvine’s weird voice, instead I get to look at Bobby!  Anne and Bobby are two of my favorite celebrity chefs who really seem to cook down-to-earth fare my family can enjoy.  No one in my clan wants to eat slug slime over raw oysters.  Thank you for taking the time to enjoy this season of Worst Cooks in America with me; I hope I can make you smile.

If you have never watched, the rules are simple.  The producers cast sixteen really bad home cooks to compete; eight will be on Anne Burrell’s team, eight on Bobby Flay’s.  The worst dish on each team will go home weekly; it’s that simple. In the end, the two remaining contestants will cook a meal for a panel of distinguished chefs.

The beginning of the season starts off similar to American Idol.  Anne and Bobby travel across the country stopping in various cities to meet potential contestants who have been nominated by family and friends.  People bring in dishes that they have prepared to showcase their lack of culinary prowess.

One man brings in hot dogs with ramen noodles served over raisin bread.  I don’t know if a dish like that shows that you don’t know how to cook, or you simply have a very weird sense of taste.  A woman is nominated by her daughters for making banana bread with paper towel in it.  Again, bad cooking skills or pure laziness?  You get the picture though.  Whether it’s always hurting yourself or an addiction to meat tenderizer, the contestants have been chosen and brought to Los Angeles.

Right off the bat, Bobby and Anne need to choose their teams.  The contestants are told to cook anything they want using the fully stocked pantry.  They need to express themselves through their dish so that Anne and Bobby can decide who they want on their teams. The contestants are given forty-five minutes to complete the challenge.

Usually when I recap a cooking show I wait until they are presenting their dishes to be judged to comment on the dish.  This season some of the people who have made it onto this show are making it impossible for me to hold off commenting.

There is Libby; she is 46.  She sells kitchenware on a tv shopping channel, but is not sure what a can opener looks like or how to use it.  If that is not weird enough, there is David; he is 26.  He is going to prepare for Iron Chef Master Bobby Flay a salmon dish.  That sounds great, right?  He is wrapping it in mayonnaise lined foil and he wants to stick it in the dishwasher for 45 minutes.  Poor David, there is no dishwasher in the studio kitchen, so he will have to cook it in an oven.  I hope he has enough sense not to cook it for 45 minutes.

Now comes the fun part, Anne and Bobby need to taste everything to decide between them who they want on their team.

First up is Erica, 53.  She has made an Everything Omelet.  Bobby thinks that it is good hangover food.  When asked why she is here she says she just thinks she cooks differently than anyone else.

Bob, who looks like a 1980’s head-banging rocker, prepared Chicken and Smashed Cauliflower.  Bobby tells him the cauliflower is raw. Yuck. Anne thinks he looks sad, and his sadness went into the cooking.  My guess is that he impresses them because he believes he will be as good as he can be.

Libby, 46, cooks Libby’s Sparkalicious Salmon.  When prompted, she says that the Sparkalicious element in the dish is the décor.  Bobby thinks it is the most undercooked underwhelming dish you could see.  You would think as a TV Shopping host she would be able to better sell her dish, but she is as bland as the food.

Dorothy, 38, makes Vanilla Fried Chicken.  She likes the idea of mixing dinner with dessert.  Her dish makes Anne gag; she tells Dorothy she clearly don’t understand flavor.  Anne questions whether she even wants to learn.  Dorothy admits she has no clue what she is doing and thinks anything she can learn will help her.

Bennett whips up something he is calling Cheesy Party.  Bobby doesn’t want to go to this party; it has no flavor, and it’s weird.  It is some kind of dip, but I can’t tell if it is potato skins they are dipping in or toast.

Top Chef: Texas – Ep. 14 – So Much For Pork Casings

In the last episode of Top Chef: Texas before the finale, the show delivered a fun Quickfire, a stellar Elimination challenge, and a really unfortunate side effect to the RILCK twist. Next week, the Final Four take to the snowy streets of Vancouver. In the immortal words of Canadian comedy gods (yeah, i said it) The Frantics – Vancouver? Beeeeauuutifull! I’ve never been there. But I’ve seen it, on the “Beachcombers” with Bruno Gerussi, and it’s beautiful. One think you gotta remember about Vancouver…it’s on the West Coast! If you can remember that, you won’t end up wandering the Eastern Seaboard for three days looking for Vancouver. Worst three days I ever spent.”

If you don’t know that routine – find it. And if you do, send it to me, because I cannot find it anywhere on the interwebs.

Anyway, after a short scene where Edward predicts that Bev is going to win the last RILCK challenge, and Sarah (not surprisingly) goes wtith Grayson…or should I say, Not Bev, we head right to the reveal. Sadly for us Grayson fans, Beverly comes through the doors and into the Quickfire. Edward wins Sarah’s banana. And that’s a very strange sentence.

Based on the season’s editing, you had to assume that Beverly was not only rejoining the show, but was heading to the Finale. And in fact, good for her. She lost on a technicality and thanks to the twist got another chance. She beat Nyesha who was rolling, and then beat Chris and Grayson. Three do or die wins before getting back in. Anyone who thinks Beverly can’t win hasn’t been paying attention to the amount of screen time her little print out declaring her the winner has gotten this season.

Personally, I say that Qui-Gon has this in the bag, but you never know. I just think back to Season 4 Richard Blais. He too supposedly had it in the bag, but faltered at the last challenge. Or DC’s Angelo – who fell apart in Singapore. You just don’t know. All of these chefs are capable of putting together a great meal and just need a Qui-Gon misstep.

The side effect of RILCK existing is that one of the four chefs was likely going to go from elation one moment – assuming to be Final Four – to deflation the next day upon losing that slot to someone who already lost. The second side effect is that ending it now means that the loser this week – the last loser before the Finale – is the only chef this season NOT to get a second chance. It’s a tough, bitter pill to swallow.

And poor Edward had to swallow the pill. Interesting that the last two to make the cut from 29 to 16 (Grayson and Ed) go out in back to back episodes at the end. And like Bev’s defeat three weeks ago, Edward was so close to having immunity. He also went out during what was obviously a very personal challenge. It was tough to be Edward this week. And through it all – he went out with an immense amount of class. I wasn’t sure about him to start the season, but boy, did he grow on me over time.

Quickfire Challenge – Tom and Padma greet the chefs, and bring Beverly back into the fray. The challenge they present is to blindfold the chefs and have them fumble their way in the kitchen to gather ingredients. They had to use everything they blindly find. The winner gets to choose between winning a Prius or taking a rare late-season immunity. Good challenge.

Here’s the dilemma – do you want to get to the Finals based on your food, or based on your food from a previous challenge? Do you feel confident that you can win, or at least not lose, the Elimination Challenge and thus take the free car, or do you play it safe and go to the Finals. Remember, that going to the Finals does not guarantee anything – the winner could just be delaying elimination for a week and passing up a free car. Let’s not even bring up the Survivor Car Curse.

Personally, I think I would’ve taken the car. And funny thing, if it was Survivor, I would take immunity. Part of it is that we are talking about a difference of $875,000 in prize money between the two shows. The car is worth 20-30 grand on its own. Plus, Survivor losers often amount to nothing other than potential All-Stars contestants. Top Chef losers can often parlay the attention into a successful restaurant. I just went to Spike’s burger joint in DC again last week – and visited Mike Isabella’s amazing Italian restaurant. Neither of them won anything.

But that’s just my opinion, and I can’t cook.

The show threw a second twist at them in this challenge – all of the meat were packed in sealed bags – no using your nose this time. The chefs stumbled and bumbled their way around the kitchen. Beverly got lost and Padma – wearing her costume from Gladiator – had to help her into the pantry. I loved when Ed told Lindsay of the Corn (I think) after getting pawed and asked who he was, “Does it matter, it’s another person!” Bev spilled some liquid on the floor after almost taking Qui-Gon down.

Sarah’s plan to make soup is a wise one – you can mask surprise ingredients better that way if you need to. Bev winds up with an unexpected avocado, but Edward was worse off as he got pork casings rather than pancetta. He tried to boil them, but there was no use. However, the broth that resulted was helpful. The difficulty of this almost led him to victory.

Beverly – Striped Bass with Avocado, Lime and Jalapeno – Padma says the fish was undercooked – stunning since Bev gave it a whole five minutes to clean and cook the fish.

Edward – “Udon” with Ribbons of Zucchini and Mushrooms – He is happy to see Padma take more than one bite.

Lindsay of the Corn – Fish with Bulgur Wheat, Mascarpone and Broccoli Rabe – Her highlight was walking into a wall.

Qui-Gon – Sauteed Prawn with Thai Tomato Soup – He says the prawn is cooked the way he wants, Tom looks skeptical.

Sarah – Corn Soup with Onion, Red Chili and Peaches – She put mushrooms and peaches together. Yuck.

Tom does not agree with my yuck. He puts Ed’s diffucult and flavorful dish and Sarah’s forced ingredient to the top of the list. Lindsay’s perfect fish and nice greens, Bev’s undercooked fish, and Qui-Gon’s undercooked prawn at the bottom. Sarah earns the win, and gives a half-assed hug to Beverly. She takes the spot in the Finals. The choice means, no Elimination Challenge for her.

Top Chef: Texas – Ep 13 – The Best Pancake I Ever Had

Between the Super Bowl, some busy work moments, and a nice visit from an old friend, I am a bit behind this week with the column. Also, I did not care for this episode. Not remotely.

Reason #1 for not liking it – Pee Wee Herman. Perhaps it is my age, but I never grew up watching the Playhouse, and for my generation Pee Wee was fodder for screwy stoner material. I don’t consider him to be nostalgia, and I really don’t find him very funny (he had a couple of decent lines this week, but not much else). And worst of all…the man is 60 years old! And he’s playing this character that’s an arrested development kid. I mean, the amount of makeup applied to his face to drown out the age could win an Emmy. It was just creepy. Super creepy. Super Duper creepy.

Reason #2 for not liking it – the challenge. I understand the attempt at thinking outside the box with this one. And of course, they had to incorporate Pee Wee into it, so having them have to bike to the Alamo made sense. But the challenge felt way too Amazing Racey. Now, I love me some Race, but I am not watching the Race. Top Chef is about the food and I don’t think this challenge lent itself to these elite chefs cooking elite food. Especially not this late in the game. Maybe early on I can live with it, but with so much riding on it to have all of these weird steps involved just made no real sense.

Reason #3 for not liking it – the editing. I know it is hard to have it both ways, but the editing has bothered me for a few weeks now. While I will criticize the show for making the eventual elimination too obvious, it should also not be deceptive. All signs pointed to Edward getting the boot this week. He undercooked chicken. It had a weird texture. Who wants to eat undercooked, weird chicken? However, despite leading us in that direction, the show gave us yet another week with a surprise elimination.

Reason #4 for not liking it – the surprise elimination. Damn you, show! You took out my favorite chef this season! And, in my opinion, for BS reasons. Let’s remember for a moment that Edward made a Salmonella Surprise. What did Grayson do? She made another huge portion size. Fancy chefs need to get over the tiny portion size as being anything to brag about. Grayson cooks big – that’s ok. Also, she got hit for combining butternut squash with tomatoes. Tom could not get past that. She also said she tried to be healthy by taking off the skin, but then loaded it up with gorgonzola cheese. All valid points – but worse than undercooked poultry? I think not.

So, Grayson goes home for crappy reasons. Or does she? This episode also marked the last episode of RILCK. Except, after watching the webcast, we learn nothing. The show is leaving us hanging. Next week, or thanks to my inability to meet a deadline, tomorrow – we will learn at the same time as the Final Four who has emerged from the RILCK experiment – Grayson or Beverly.

Quickfire – Make Pancakes in 20 Minutes. The chefs enter to, as Sarah said, 80,000 pancakes. Grayson assumes they have to cook for a kid – maybe Miley Cyrus. Although, at this point, Miley may want a special kind of brownie – if you know what I mean. No, Grayson, not a kid, just a 60-year-old scary man on a bicycle. Pee Wee likes pancakes. And bikes. And thus our episode.

Sarah wants to win some cash to make her fiancée happy. Grayson thinks that Minnie Mouse pancakes are whimsical for Pee Wee. His best friend was a talking chair, Grayson. Gotta up the ante a bit. Paul Qui is going with champagne and Dippin’ Dots. How did he know what I get at the movies?

Wait, what in the name of George Lucas is wrong with me! All this time, I have failed to grant Paul the built in nickname of Qui-Gon. I may have to turn in my lightsaber and await punishment. Also – first time for Qui-Gon to make pancakes. How is that even possible? Even I have made pancakes!

Grayson- Ricotta Buttermilk Pancake, Peach Compote, Blackberry and Basil
Edward – Pancake Bits, Blueberries, Raspberries, Strawberries, Bacon and Bruleed Marshmallow
Lindsay of the Corn – Ricotta Pancake, Whipped Crème Fraiche, Marcona Almond and Anise Cookies
Qui-Gon – Rolled Pancake with Berries, Black Pepper and Champagne Dippin’ Dots
Sarah – Confetti Pancakes, Blackberry Sauce, Cocoa Nibs and Vanilla Whipped Cream

No real notes on the food – because, really, why have that in a cooking competition. Edward wins the challenge for making crispy bits of pancake and surprising Pee Wee.

Top Chef: Texas – Ep 12 – You Mean, Like A Meatball?!?

It was bound to happen this season – a season filled with really good challenges – that they would have a stinker at some point. Perhaps it was just coming off back-to-back episodes of Restaurant Wars and the Charlize Theron evil challenge, but I was underwhelmed with the cook-off this week. Conceptually, I get it. And it was a nice, traditional Top Chef twist to have the teammates from the Quickfire turn into competitors in the Elimination. However, it was not a lot of fun to watch them cook meatballs, Korean BBQ and a chicken salad sandwich. That’s real exciting.

I think the chefs went too safe because they were spooked by the terribly restrictive time limits attached the challenge. Two hours, two hundred people. But they could have still done something interesting. I wonder why no one went Tex Mex – I mean, how hard would quesadillas have been? Granted, the Healthy Choice angle could have messed with things – but remember, they chose their dish before Padma dropped that healthy twist on them. And while the guys went with ribs for their Korean BBQ, no one went with some Texas-style meat dish.

As a result, we have Sarah, the Italian food expert, doing a meatball. No spaghetti. The Asian guys doing Asian food. And a chicken salad sandwich. Yawn. Although, the chicken salad sandwich led us to the awesome battle between Tom and Grayson at Judges Table. Tom asked her if she really thought she could win with a chicken salad sandwich. She immediately realized that her attempts at “elevating” the deli staple had failed. I think she misinterpreted Tom’s criticism a bit. She took offense that it wasn’t as if her sandwich was up against fine cuisine – you know, like a meatball?!?! Tom smirked a bit, obviously amused and impressed with her feistiness. However, what he was talking about was that they had no idea that they were up against meatballs. For all they knew at the time they were going to be facing lobster and prime rib. That was Tom’s point – they thought chicken salad was a good choice in a vacuum.

I mean, honestly, what did we have here. The Quickfire Challenge was good – but with only three dishes – it was kind of short. We had Paul winning some more money. We had Sarah complaining that someone else won a challenge instead of her. We had…well, we really had nothing else. Usually, my notes are several pages long during a Top Chef episode – more than the others shows I write about. This episode provided just half the usual amount of interesting moments.

What we are down to now are the final five chefs, and one waiting at RILCK. And if anyone who has watched this season thinks that Paul is not the absolute clear-cut front-runner, then they have been watching a different program. Paul has won so many challenges; he has almost already earned what the eventual winner of the show will earn. I think Grayson, Sarah, Lindsay of the Corn and Edward are all equally likely to go deep into the competition, and all equally likely to be the next one out. If Paul gets knifed next week, I will be shocked. None of the others would shock me. And Beverly, should she get back in, goes right into the mix with that group. Good, talented, and capable of knocking out a killer meal, but not as dominant as Paul has been.

Quickfire Challenge – Judging the team challenge are Padma, Emeril and Iron Chef Cat Cora. The teams of Lindsay of the Corn/Sarah, Edward/Paul and Glasses/Grayson had to peel, de-vein, and butterfly two pounds of shrimp, shuck and cut a crate of corn and prepare one pound of fettuccine. After they do these three things, they had to cook a meal. They had 40 minutes to accomplish all of this. Of course, Sarah made the pasta, as did Edward and Grayson. Only Grayson seemed to struggle, Cat pointing out that she was overworking it. Sarah/Lindsay were done first and appear to have the upper hand as they had more time to cook. Paul failed to plate the shrimp, so they were out. Glasses and Grayson finished the prep work last and had only eight minutes and change to cook. However, they seemed to have done the best with the time provided as they earn the win, ten grand, and unfortunately for Glasses, no immunity.

Grayson/Glasses – Fettuccine, Toasted Corn, Poached Shrimp, Chili, Bacon, and Rosemary – Glasses’ deep frying of the bacon (for time purposes) gets nicked.

Lindsay of the Corn (cooking corn!!)/Sarah – Fettuccine with Corn Milk, Shrimp, Tarragon, and Parsley – Cat really notices the tarragon.

Paul/Edward – Fettuccine with Corn, Zucchini Flowers, Chanterelle Mushrooms, and Parmesan – Oops. No shrimp.

Cat liked the girls’ use of milk, but not the tarragon. Meanwhile, despite the bacon prep and the beginning issues with the pasta, Glasses/Grayson got their chili done well and earn five thousand each. Glasses’ first cash win, and just in the nick of time.

Top Chef: Texas – Ep 11 – Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall, Who’s The Most Talented Of Them All?

This was a great episode of Top Chef. I always like the episodes where the chefs all do very well, and where both the chefs and judges seem to be enjoying themselves. There were two excellent challenges, a very game guest star, some unbelievable creativity, and the image of Eric Ripert trying to hand a chicken foot from the chandelier.

However, a digression first before we go into the episode. What’s with the Snow White resurgence? I mean, by the time 2012 is over, we will have THREE versions of Snow White out there on the big and small screen. Ginnifer Goodwin, Lily Collins and Kristen Stewart will all be playing the iconic character. Goodwin is currently doing the job on the TV show “Once Upon A Time,” a surprisingly fun show to watch. She’s doing a decent job, but that show is early in unspooling its mystery, so we’ll see how that goes. Collins, the daughter of Phil Collins (really!), will be in the lighter “Mirror, Mirror” opposite Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen. That movie looks a lot more Disney, kid-friendly than the third one starring the Twilight lady who refuses to smile.

I must say that having watched the “Snow White and the Huntsman” preview during this episode of Top Chef – not sure if you realized the Jack Donaghy-like synergy of cross-promotion going on with this film (same company owns the studio and Bravo), I am not really sure about it. It is clearly dark, and Charlize Theron is having fun chewing some scenery, but not sure if I am really interested in an epic, Lord of the Ringsish telling of the Snow White story. We’ll see, but there you go.

So, yes, Oscar-winner Theron was the guest star this week, and really, really, REALLY brought the pretty and brought the charm. I mean, perhaps it was the 70s jumpsuit Padma wore to the Quickfire, or just Theron’s natural beauty, but for once Padma was not the best looking woman in the room. Oh man, I feel badly just for saying that. I still love you Padma, don’t be mad! I mean, it is Charlize Theron after all – that’s the level we have to go to (along with something from the Kate Jackson rejected outfit pile) in order to usurp your power.

You all know my opinion about the product placement in the show, and how I don’t like talking about it, but I have made a slight change to the policy because the challenge was so good. Because Theron plays the Evil Queen, the chefs had to embody evil with their dishes. And they not only accepted the challenge, but boy, did they run with it. All seven of them put out some very, very create dishes, and made them all delicious. As the judges went from dish to dish you could see them enjoying each one of them. No negative feedback given for anyone. Theron loved every minute of it, and the judges took her lead and seemed to be having a grand ole time.

However, when all of the chefs do well it means that someone goes home for a nitpick. That is probably pretty difficult for them to swallow. I mean, losing this competition without screwing up? Hard to deal with. But that meant that someone was going home despite being part of what Tom called one of his favorite meals he’s gotten on the show. Watching the episode the first time, I could not figure out anyone worthy of elimination. Upon watching it the second time, I found a flaw with the one who wound up getting the axe, even if it wasn’t the reason we saw.

Yep, after winning last week, Beverly gets knifed this week. Tom said it was a somewhat sticky sauce, which Theron called a “weird texture” that did her in. Meanwhile, Tom said something in passing which I think played into it a bit more. They were told to make a dish as part of a “gothic feast” that was “wickedly beautiful” and Theron said they should “think like an Evil Queen.” Six of the seven of them factored in evil. They played to the queen. Beverly made a dish that focused on Snow White. In a challenge where all of the food was good, I wonder if the approach to the challenge played a bigger role than we expected.

What made things doubly terrible for Beverly is that she was mere seconds away from being immune. The Quickfire Challenge was another good one. Create a sophisticated dish using three ingredients from a conveyor belt. That’s right, Top Chef returns to San Antonio – where the season started – and while the chefs were away, the production staff played. They took some time to install a small conveyor belt. It was a circular one where food items would come out to the kitchen and if unclaimed, would go back to behind the wall where the production staff waited. The trick is that the crappy items would come out first, but if you waited, you could get some good stuff but not with much time to cook it.

Andrew Zimmern Wants to Know Your Bizarre Food

Okay, I’ll just come out upfront and admit it. I have bizarre food issues. I eat like a 4-year-old child. I eat beef, pork, chicken, and turkey, and refuse to go beyond that into eating any other animals. It’s just … icky. Also, I can’t eat an animal I once saw alive, even if it would fall into beef, pork, chicken, or turkey. Once the association is there with an animal, I just can’t get past it. Additionally, I don’t eat many vegetables, because … many of them taste like dirt. Other than broccoli. That just tastes like it smells – like stinky feet.

I wouldn’t last five minutes into an adventure with Andrew Zimmern. His advice is always the same, “If it looks good, eat it!” Well, none of it looks good to me, quite frankly. Zimmern, the host of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods America, wants to know what his fans think is bizarre. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want to hear about my weird food issues, but he wants to know what you think is bizarre … but would be willing to try along with him.

Zimmern and Travel Channel has opened up a contest for fans to submit a two-minute or less video of them talking about a food they think is bizarre, but would be willing to try right along with him. He’ll then pick two of the contest entrants to join him in Las Vegas to try that food along with him. Submissions are being accepted from now until January 25.

The videos can be submitted to the Bizarre Foods Facebook page, and must be in by 11:59 AM ET on January 25. The contest is open to people 21 years old and up.

If you can’t stomach anything bizarre at all, but like to watch people who do, catch Zimmern’s season premiere of Bizarre Foods America on the Travel Channel at 10 PM ET/PT.


Top Chef: Texas – Ep 10 – Destroyed By Restaurant Wars

It is that time of the season, folks. The restaurant peace process has failed once again. The Wars have broken out, this time pitting the men against the women. This twist on the Top Chef traditional challenge proves one thing especially – on Top Chef, not all of the challenges are pre-planned. What I mean is, while they planned to do the Wars with eight chefs left, clearly they added the twist once they realized they had four men and four women left. Otherwise, that twist was impossible. I choose not to go back and check, but I wonder if this has been in their back pocket for years and they just never had an even number of each gender at that stage.

Regardless, it was a gender war with the restaurants and the ladies appeared to be the early underdogs. Personally, I have ranked Lindsay of the Corn and Beverly in the bottom of remaining chefs, so I didn’t think they could pull it off. And they almost didn’t thanks to some inane infighting and some truly awful service. But the cooking was there. My gal Grayson really delivered in this challenge putting out two outstanding dishes and providing much needed levity and leadership in a kitchen where tensions were simmering to a boil. I thought she deserved the win just for the perfect reactions to the crazy.

The crazy came in the form of the favorite game played by several of this season’s chefs – Bashing Beverly. If you thought the tiny chef would be free from abuse after the departure of Heather two weeks ago, then you’d be wrong. As the ladies planned, Beverly rattled off several options for her dish, only to have the others, especially Sarah, shoot her down. Time and again. Finally, in what seemed like exasperation, Beverly suggested she do another short rib dish. Again, Sarah scoffed. It seemed as if Beverly could have suggested a dish called “The Greatest Dish In The World,” made from essence of unicorn and fairy dust (and bacon, of course), and Sarah and Lindsay would have shot it down.

Look, Beverly is a bit of a klutz, and she certainly has some social skills issues. But she’s a grown damn woman, and a successful chef (they all are) and should be treated accordingly. She is constantly condescended to by the others. Is she tough to deal with/work with? Possibly. In fact, I’ll say probably rather frustrating because she works in a completely different manner than other chefs. Which leads us to a new segment called – I MAKE AN OFF THE WALL SPORTS ANALOGY AND PANDER TO THE TIM TEBOW PHENOMENON.

Beverly is like Tim Tebow. Stop. Just come with me on this. Tebow is a quarterback who plays with a style and skill set that is unlike anything seen by quarterbacks in the NFL. He plays a college style and is built like a linebacker. He is erratic with passes, but hits on big plays. But he wins and wins regardless of those shortcomings. Beverly is a talented chef who makes really good food. She also cooks in a style that is not common to professional kitchens. She is laid back. Often times, laid back can be confused with lazy or slow. That can be infuriating to people who are used to the bang bang style of cooking found in most kitchens. In fact, some maybe even get a high from the rush. But it works for Beverly. Clearly, she is still employed so it works for her professionally. She wins. Like Tebow. And that’s how you make a bizarre sports-cooking metaphor ripped from the headlines.

Do I think Heather was a word that rhymed with switch? No. She appeared to be one on television. Do I think the same of Sarah? No, but again, she is shown to be one on television. It is hard to avoid it when you are shown being aggressively condescending to a woman much smaller than you, who has admitted to a life of being repressed throughout the season. I like Sarah, and have said so before in these pages, but I didn’t like her much this week. The icing on the cake for that feeling was after Beverly’s win, the scene in the Stew Room where Sarah told Lindsay that she earned the win just as much.

No she didn’t.

Top Chef: Texas – Ep 9 – “It’s Like Sex In The Mouth”

Hands down, my favorite part of this week’s episode was the moment where Top Chef turned into a slapstick comedy. In fact, I am spinning off a brand new sitcom with this season’s chefs involved. Here is my pitch – and remember – there is a show about dudes dressing up as women to get jobs currently on the air right now (meanwhile Community and Cougar Town amazingly are NOT on the air. Discuss.), so there is a good chance that this pitch could get made.

Living together in an Upper East Side apartment are three up and coming chefs who get into mischief together. Clumsy Beverly has confidence issues and they translate into some sloppy moments and crazy slapstick moments. Her roommate Grayson will say anything that pops into her mind, especially when overtired, including such gems as “it’s like sex in your mouth.” The two ladies share living space with Edward, a grumpy fellow who likes to sit in his favorite chair with arms folded and make snarky remarks about the exploits of his two wacky roommates. The three chefs work for Hugh, a monobrowed Master Chef who teaches them cooking lessons, and life lessons from week to week.

Would you watch?

This idea, of course, came from two moments. The first, and best, was when Beverly was serving her Quickfire meal to Padma and Modernist Cuisine cookbook author Nathan Myhrvold. She was using a device to squeeze out her whipped cream and, well, she failed. As she forced it out, she sent curry cream flying all over Padma’s crotch. After I blacked out from a moment processing that image, I rewound the episode and noticed it got on the other guy two. In her flustered reaction, Beverly managed to knock over several loud clattering pans, turning into an Asian Lucille Ball. It was so perfect, natural and crazily hysterical.

The second moment came from the all-nighter the chefs had to pull for the Elimination Challenge. This was a Texas BBQ challenge – which meant slow, slow, slow cooking of meats. The chefs were cooking overnight. Grayson was over-over-tired. It seems that whatever small filter she possesses normally for what she says disappears completely when she is overtired. It was awesome to see Tom come by for the prep inspection only to have Grayson tell him their meat would be like sex in the mouth. After blacking out for a second time due to this image, I rewound and found Tom’s reaction to be rather funny. Was the Big Kahuna blushing a bit?

The challenges were good, yet again. That is one thing Top Chef keeps delivering in all three incarnations – almost consistently good challenges. There should be an Emmy for this. I mean there are so many specialized Emmy awards already – Best Makeup in a Three-Camera Law and Order Series – why can’t there be one for a Reality Show’s challenge team? Hell, turn the award into a challenge during the broadcast!

Having the chefs do a BBQ was essentially a necessity during the Texas season. And what stunned me was that the team that took the most chances with the challenge wound up winning it.
Grayson/Paul/Lindsay of the Corn chose to make their Texas BBQ an Asian BBQ. This is a Texas BBQ! Of all regional challenges, one would think that Texans would be the most inflexible when it comes to their signature cuisine – dead animals slathered in sauce and slow cooked for a gazillion hours. But this worked. Good for them for taking a big chance.

Meanwhile, one of the traditional BBQ menus came from the other Texan in the competition. Except Sarah had another issue about to happen. Sarah, meet Michael Skupin. Survivor fans know Michael – the Season 2 leader who, riddled with Survivor-induced exhaustion and malnutrition, breathed in smoke from the campfire and passed out into the fire. His scalded hands were shown on camera peeling away and he had to leave the game. Sarah stayed up all night cooking their meal, and while doing so breathed in smoke and couple with her exhaustion led her to have to be wheeled out on a stretcher for medical attention.

This meant she was not there for the tail end of the prep, and Edward and The Destroyer were forced to finish up by themselves. The guys had to abandon the preferred plan of cutting the meat to serve, and they hastily chopped away hurting their plating display. This was especially dangerous for Edward, since The Destroyer earned immunity at the Quickfire. No wonder he was pissed. With only two guys serving, they were really at risk for losing. Interestingly, Sarah returned just long enough to serve the judges. I am guessing this was producer decision to have her on camera for the display of her dish. Because otherwise, not cool. Not cool at all.

Top Chef: Texas – Ep 8 – You’ll Have To Deal With Pressure…Cookers

OK, well, that may have been the shortest lived villain of all-time. Heck, if that happened in a comic book movie it would be a short film subject. Darth Heather lasted about as long as a bad guy in a Star Wars: Clone Wars cartoon. My entire brilliant and witty take upon episode seven is now null and void. To paraphrase Howard Cosell – Down Goes Heather!

Instead of setting up Darth Heather as a villain, as it appeared last week, the early episodes were doing something completely different. They were setting her up to be a case of schadenfreude. They were setting up a moment where the audience at home would shout out, “HA! That’s what you get.”

And yes, Heather’s downfall was dripping with irony. When she and Beverly would up in the bottom last week and Heather unleashed upon Beverly, it was because of a poorly made duck. Which, according to Heather, was totally Beverly’s fault. That evil duck (Duck Dastardly?) was born from the bowels of the pressure cooker and unleashed upon the Top Chef kitchen to destroy Dallas. Just like a poultry Godzilla. (Someone out there has my permission to start a band called Poultry Godzilla). It was Beverly and the pressure cooker who committed the crime, in the study with the candlestick.

So, given another challenge that provided a need to use the pressure cooker, it was interesting to see Beverly embrace the device and Heather run from it. Beverly used it to have a successful Quickfire and then to make the top three in the Elimination challenge. Heather avoided it, and failed. Tom even asked her about her choice to avoid the pressure cooker and she brought up Poultry Godzilla. Tom then dug the knife right in there and twisted it – “Beverly used the pressure cooker…and she’s not here.” With apologies to Emeril…BAM! Again, Tom has been the MVP of this season – more and more each week.

Meanwhile, it was a great week and a scary week for two of my favorites. Sarah has done pretty well this season so far, but last week she had the pressure get to her. She struggled a bit and had the tears flow. She was in great need of a win. And what a win. This was a big challenge to win because it was so personal. The chefs were required to whip up a dish in honor of the person who inspired them to become a chef. For the vast majority of them, that was mom or grandma. I would think that other than the final challenge, these personal ones are the challenges the chefs most want to win. Sarah’s dish combined sausage and cabbage and may not have looked the best, but it sounded delicious, and wowed the judges.

And her cheers and leaps of joy at Judges Table was even better. Good for her, have a shot of tequila for me to celebrate, Sarah.

Now, my other favorite had a different kind of week. Grayson flirted quite a bit this week – just not in the cool way. She flirted with elimination and disaster. She was inspired by her dad and by her home state of Wisconsin. She made a big ol’ steak and potatoes meal which was about 100x the size of the other dishes made by the chefs. And I see nothing wrong with that. She got some criticism from the judges for not reinventing or modernizing the dish. I call foul on that – nowhere in the instructions did it say to do that. The challenge was to make a dish to honor your cooking inspiration. Her inspiration was daddy’s giant Wisconsin steaks. And that’s what she made. I find it strange that a show set in Texas gave criticism for portion size. I’ve been to Texas. That’s not a problem there – Grayson’s dish was an appetizer for Texans.

I was worried. With the three in the bottom, we had my Top Chef girlfriend Grayson, Pretty Boy Chris who is at least interesting to watch, and Darth Heather, whose elimination would have been rich. So, it was either going to be great fun, somewhat disappointing, or really depressing. At least, alls well that ended well.

I liked the Quickfire challenge, and wonder how I possibly missed it when it took place. Tom and Padma took suggestions on Twitter for the challenge. In three stages, different parts of the dish were dictated to the chefs. I follow Tom, Padma, Gail, Bravo, and tons of other chefs on the show and I don’t recall seeing solicitations for Quickfire ideas. Which is good, because I doubt they would have wanted constant requests for ice cream and peanut butter.

First chefs had to make bacon. Not on the beach – (Simpsons joke!). After a while, they had to add hash. The potato kind – the other one would have been more interesting. Lastly, they had to give another chef a random ingredient. That’s pretty good – and it led to some big challenges, many seemingly involving sriracha.

The other big part of the episode was the move to yet another location in Texas. The chefs now sit in the state capital of Austin. It is good they didn’t do this when they went to New York or DC – I’ve lived in both places and there would be some difficulty finding appropriate second and third locations. I can’t imagine Top Chef: Albany or Top Chef: Falls Church. I wonder if the finale will go to Houston, because that’s the obvious location omitted so far.