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July, 2007 Archive

 

Top Chef: Leah Leaves After a Lacking Latin Luncheon

Leah
I think Leah showed some talent (hell, she won last week, that must have been one hell of a roller coaster for her) and just needed to come out of her shell. This seemed to be taking awhile, too long apparently. When they focused on her and Casey’s ‘lifelong friendship’ I knew one of them was getting the ax.

Maybe it was residual angst over Camille’s exit last week, but I had a hard time getting into tonight’s episode. I found myself faltering for a new contestant to endorse. I think I’ve found him, but first lets talk about the people I take issue with since that’s more fun.

Hung
I found myself thinking today that it’s odd Hung is so thin, considering he seems to cook food only for himself. Speaking Spanish wasn’t enough to cover up a mediocre Arroz con Pollo (chicken with rice). I guess he gets some credit for being an arrogant, defensive prick directly to the face of Chef Collichio, a master of the diminutive glare. It was when he started jumping to defend his choices before Padme and guest judge Maria Frumkin even finished their sentences that my eyes glazed over. You can believe that the judges won’t forget. One thing I’ll say for Top Chef, the judges put as much stock into how the chefs present themselves as they do their food. Anthony Bourdain said it best about Hung in his guest blog at Bravotv.com last week:

For a guy with technique as good as his — as fast on his feet, as versatile and creative as he is — he’s not winning these challenges as often as he should. A little humility; a willingness to accommodate what people are likely to enjoy and appreciate, instead of pursuing that which honors only his own perceived genius, would be a good adjustment.

That same sentiment proved true this week. I don’t care if he’s from my home town, I think Hung’s in trouble.

Joey
Joey. Joey, Joey, Joey, Joey, Joey. What are we to think of him? One minute he’s selling out Howie’s pork that he never tasted, the next he’s ditching a dessert course one week and revealing he has pastry experience the next (enough to give him a victory in the quick fire challenge). Either way, at least he’s stopped referencing New York in every sentence. I was ready to write Joey off after what I felt was an underhanded quick fire win today. By the end of the episode I realized that “underhanded” probably meant “smart”, especially after watching Hung self-destruct with arrogance. Joey’s dedication of his dish to the Spanish cooks that work in his kitchen back home was a nice touch, the first sincerity we’ve seen come from him this season (besides some authentic tears at Camille’s departure last week).

Howie
As I said, I’ve found a new contestant to support and his name is Howie. He doesn’t have a personality that shines on television, but with food that good, he doesn’t need to. He comes off as authentic, sincere, and humble, traits many of the others could benefit from. He also wins Best in Show for the grace with which he took the win tonight. After having received a bottle of wine as prize for winning, he immediately handed it over to Joey because, to him, Joey’s was the superior dish. I guess he already had the week at The Gotham to look forward to so the wine was easier to depart with. I may be wrong, but he’s quietly become the leader as the only chef to have won two elimination challenges. If he can get over his timing hang ups, we’ve got a contender.

P.S. I want to know what’s happened to Tre. An early favorite, he demonstrated a good amount of swagger and talent but has now been reduced to bedazzling a fruit tart. What’s up with that?

Padma
Collichio
P.P.S. Padma was looking good tonight. I dug the double tank top with the racer back and the tight braids, very complementary for her lithe figure. She wasn’t sexy enough to win the viewer poll for the “sexiest judge” however. When the results were tallied, Tom Collichio won with a decisive 48% lead over Gail and Padma, the Bravo version of Marianne and Ginger.

Photos via Bravotv.com

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Old Glory Robot Insurance

This is old-school SNL, a really classic fake commercial.

Robots are everywhere and they eat old people’s medicine for food.
And when they grab you with those metal claws you can’t break free, because they’re made out of metal and robots are strong.
It’s a friendly robot…this time.
Don’t cower under your afghan any longer. Make a choice: Old Glory Insurance for when the metal ones come for you. And they will.

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And then there were two, then one, then two. An insincere Jag loses.

The Next Food Network Star has become a bit of a guilty pleasure for me this season. Last year, I watched it as a marathon of repeats one Sunday while I was visiting home. This year, I’ve tuned in every week. Rory Schepisi’s “aw shucks” approachability made her an early favorite for me, which proved to be a clairvoyant choice. It’s like Ghandi said, vote for the girl with the biggest…smile. She’s got some humility too. Her interview in Bon Appetit revealed that she is not only a restaurant owner, but a culinary school graduate. Yet, you never heard her brag about her experience.

One thing I was sure about from the beginning of the series was that I didn’t like Joseph Adam Garcia (JAG). From the minute he introduced himself as an acronym and started bragging about his culinary school background and military service, I was sour on him. He seemed insincere, unstable, inconsistent, and kind of fake. My co-workers thought otherwise. Many picked him as a winner, or at least as a final-two favorite. Turns out we were all right. My gloating didn’t come immediately however. In a devious twist, Amy was eliminated from the final three, leaving only Jag and Rory. Then, the following words lit up the screen:

Several months after this episode was taped, Food Network learned that Jag had misrepresented facts about his military service and his culinary training. He said he had served in Afghanistan and that he had graduated from cooking school, neither of which is true. When given the opportunity during a press interview, Jag did not set the record straight. Food Network asked Jag to come to New York to discuss the situation.

Tonight, also, was the first time I could articulate why I had had it out for this guy since day one. It was more than just vague annoyance at his arrogant ways or his constant attempts to Caribbean-ify his food (a lot of cultures use Cilantro buddy), this was a tangible dislike. As I was watching him sit with judges Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson and admit that he’d fabricated the two biggest tenants he’d used to sell himself I summoned up all my Malcolm Gladwell-Blink-trust-my-first-instinct-fu and then it hit me. He was a Carl.

“Carl” does not, in anyway, refer to any real-life Carl I know now or have ever known but is merely a moniker I’ve assigned to a select number of people I’ve crossed paths with over the years. Carls are the black sheep of us millenials and all share a few common traits.

Emotionally stunted
I’ve never known a Carl to keep an even keel. Drastic and almost toddler-like emotional outbursts fire up at the drop of a hat. While usually presenting as a scathing temper, these spikes are not limited to tantrums. Other random bursts can be seen in the form of sudden jealousy, personal isolation, lucid self reflextion, or huge displays of affection. Whatever the outburst, the same pattern is followed. A single wave cannot escape a violent storm and eventually collapses back into the tumult.

Ego precedes talent
Carls are usually proficient at what they do, handsome, affable. And they know it. The same “you can do whatever you dream” advice we’ve all grown up with becomes gospel to a Carl. Whatever skill they have is natural talent because their egos don’t allow them the humility to ever really pursue an education in their field (after all, what could anyone teach them?) This is the bad kind of arrogant. The kind that makes a Carl refer to himself in the third person. The kind that comes off as kind, but can only be superficial since, if you’re that in love with yourself, it’s easy to look down off your pedestal. It’s a measured condescension however, otherwise it might violate their next tenant.

The emperor has no clothes
For some reason I’ve never figured out, Carls are not ostracized. They are, rather, inexplicably able to build a large and supportive social network, one that they need to survive. Maybe it’s empathy, maybe the Carl’s tendency to speak only in extremes and cliches makes them accesible, maybe it’s the idea that you can help a person change, whatever it is, Carls are never in short supply of enablers.

A house of cards
Cutting corners, failing to accomplish what’s required, an alarming comfort with lying, and just barely skidding by is not a sustainable way to live-you can only talk your way out of so many fuck-ups. The persona a Carl builds up and all the plates that have been set spinning will eventually crash down. This is a step that we all go through, to some extent, but usually when we’re teenagers, and we usually don’t have so much pride and can see where we went wrong and rebuild as a more humble, down to earth adult. A Carl is his or her own worst enemy which gives a measurable curve to their life. Each failure is punctuated by a (drastic of course) career change or geographic relocation, and then they’re off on a new path where they’ll excel and build up a network before the clock starts ticking down to another eminent self destruction.

The boy who cried wolf
Being a Carl is a vicious circle. Early on, they become pros at slinging heart-on-their-sleeve platitudes as a mask for sincerity. Once a few tall tales have been spun and a few heart strings have been tugged, it gets harder and harder to maintain authenticity, especially if the sincerity is being fabricated. This makes it impossible for a Carl to ever start to change or become forthright. They reach a point where the emotions they’ve created are bigger than anything real so the cry for help goes unheard.

I know how I’m sounding here and it’s isn’t very sympathetic. Let me elaborate. I’m not insensitive to the walls we build up as a coping mechanism for some adversity we’ve overcome. What I am saying is that plenty of people who’ve had bad experiences still manage to mature into an adult that can function on his or her own, take criticism and be aware of their own shortcomings so they don’t end up in the situation Jag was in tonight. He’d gotten in too deep, too far, and had no choice but to withdraw from competition. That was a very un-Carl move. In that moment he took responsibility for his actions, on national television, and walked away with his head up. I was glad to see this. Maybe a Carl can change his spots.

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And the Kitchen Loses its Flavor. Goodbye Camille.

Not since Sam’s dismissal last year have I been so sad as I was this week when Camille Becerra was eliminated from Top Chef. For those who haven’t seen it, the chefs were split into groups of three and each were responsible for an individual course in a four-course tasting menu. Camille’s team went last, and Dale decided they needed to do a dessert. Good idea, if any of them had pastry experience, but they didn’t. The entire course was seen as a failure and Camille was chosen as the worst of the worst for her pineapple upside down cake.

If memory serves, the dessert course is always problematic for contestants on Top Chef. They may think they’re venturing out and taking chances, but it’s best to play it safe this early in the game. As soon as I heard Camille timidly mention she could do dessert I knew it was all over for her team. I suspected she’d be the one to go since the cut-aways in the episode were almost all her. I blame Huong for being a douche about switching teams. If Camille had staid on her original team and prepared a savory course, she’d still be here.

This has left me very vexed. I liked Camille. Not only was she beautiful (pictures provided below), but based on what little we saw of her, she had a wonderful personality. We never saw her flustered. Watch at the beginning of the quick fire challenge while Huong and company run around like cockroaches with the lights turned on and Camille calmly walks to her station, sipping her drink. Her respect for her fellow chefs and lack of arrogance prove what a class act she is - she was eliminated after taking one for the team when no one else wanted to try making dessert.

She’s also adorably positive. In a previous episode the chefs had to pick an American classic to re-invent. Most approached the cart of food like it was toxic waste but Camille exclaimed “I love tacos” with a smile as she picked up her dish. Later in the episode, as the other chefs squabbled and fought around her, she was almost bouncy with smiles as she presented her dish to the judges. This week, we see her kneeling up on a counter top while she whisks over a double boiler. When she told the others she would be going home she did it with grace, tears, laughter, and well wishes for all. It would seem she’d made quite the impression on the chefs due to the hugs and sobs we didn’t see the other eliminated contestants receive.

Her Bravo bio and exit videos mention her five year old daughter whose birthday Camille missed because of the show. We never saw her cry or falter in her cooking because of that. Yeah, I’m talking to you Micah.

In the end, I think Camille’s departure is a big loss for the Top Chef kitchen. I’m not going to stop watching, but I will have to find a new favorite contestant. The next time I’m in New York you can bet I’ll be eating at her restaurant, Paloma, where I don’t have a doubt I’ll enjoy her food as much as I enjoyed her personality on the show.






P.S. What’s up with the uneven screentime anyway Bravo? Give some more time in the beginning to the contestants you know don’t make it past half-way. I can tell you a half dozen different hats that Brian owns but Camille is only worth bikini shots at the hot tub? For shame. Don’t insult the audience by thinking that only the braggadocios are interesting.

P.P.S. There’s an interview with Camille at Grub Street. Still classy, as always. I wonder when her new restaurant will open up.

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Happy Birthday AMLAW!

I almost missed this! A year ago I posted Salud, Site launches to mark the birth of this little blog. Truthfully, some posts had been floating around in some way shape or form for longer than that. That day just marked the official ‘launch’ of a unified look and feel with everything in one place, etc.

Since then, the blog has gone through good times and bad times. There was a long span where I didn’t post at all, and even a time I thought about *gasp* pulling the blog down while I focused on other things. Then it got better. I realized that a personal blog is the easiest thing in the world to keep current and I’ve managed to, at least lately, post three to five times a week. Not bad.

I’ve gone through a lot in the past year too. When I started this blog, I’d just started working at Martino Flynn. I’m still there a year later and have learned more than I could have imagined. I’ve watched almost all my friends graduate and move away from this area, each time giving me less and less to do and more and more time to spend blogging. This year is sure to be just as eventful, with a few big milestones occuring sooner rather than later (fingers crossed).

As I write more and more, I’m getting better at it (or so I like to think). I really enjoy writing and hope to take the next year to expand upon my skills even more. At first, I felt totally incapable of expressing an idea in any sort of coherent, let alone eloquent way, a problem I’ve since gotten over. Also on the list for the next year: I want to try my hand at some fiction. I’m not sure what that will mean in the end, but I’ve got a few ideas that could be great.

I’ve learned a lot about blogging in the past year and have started becoming a “regular” commenter on a few blogs and generating some name recognition. I hope to spend the next year getting my name out there even more and building up readership. First item on that list is convincing my friends to comment on the blog rather than email me their feedback.

I’m living by my motto of “a web site is never finished” and constantly adding new bells and whistles to the site. Having learned a lot more CSS and Javascript tricklets since I’ve been working full time, I’ll be strategically embedding some cool stuff throughout the site. Since this isn’t a personal portfolio, it’ll be good to demonstrate at least some proficiency in the technologies I work with for a living.

To celebrate this birthday, I decided to give the blog a visual update. It’s still the same idea as the original design, but a little more dynamic and sophisticated. I’m working on a post detailing all that went into the redesign so stay tuned, there’s some cool stuff there.

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