Sunday, October 22, 2006

Episode One, Part 1: DeeLeeShoss American Cheese

The show starts with Padma in a classy but revealing, husband-hunting-in-the-Meatpacking-District black silk charmeuse dress, telling us that we will be privy to what really goes on in the kitchen: “Extreme pressure, intense passion, ruthless competition, and of course”—and here we get a close-up of Padma giving us her best windblown, fuck-you-fuck-me, low-calorie Tyra Banks stare—“beautiful food.” Brava! Oh Bravo, we love you when you’re this transparent. There’s definitely a reason these types of shots are known as “cheesecake.”

After the perfunctory montage of Padma actually eating (which, much as we love our Canadian headmistress, she does more attractively than Gail Simmons), we get the opening credits, which we have reviewed below.

The show proper begins with Josie, sharing a cab with her partner, Caitlin. Yay! Thank God our gaydar, which often gives us false positives on Canadians and Mormons (much as radar is sometimes fooled by flying ducks), did not fail us this time, which means that our Honorary Lesbian card will not be taken away. We especially relish the dreamy, playful way in which her partner assures us that, “Josie IS the next top chef,” thus sparing us from having to reach for the cheap joke so early in the program. We decide we love Josie. If we ever had a flat tire, she’s the sort of girlfriend we’d want, Triple A sometimes being so much better than Triple X.

And speaking of spare tires, we next meet Buxom Betty, jumping up and down, midriff bare. Our actual first glimpse of her is inside the SUV ferrying her to the downtown L.A. loft where this season was filmed. Being that she was in a car, we at first thought the airbags had deployed, but then we realized air bags don’t come in hot pink, and just like that, she earned her nickname, Spice Rack. Then there she is in the sports bra, doing the Jell-O jump. We can’t look away. God, she’s fearless to let her lonjas (good Spanish word for love handles) flop around like that. So we say, Girl, get down with your bad Venus of Willendorf self. But we change our minds when we see her cooking in a black miniskirt that makes her look like a refugee French maid, and, horror of horrors, sporting the Plague of L.A., the Ugg boot. My God, the woman is cooking in Ugg boots and cyber-wench gear! Clearly, she’s in the (818) area code.

Consequently, we lose our bearings and nearly miss our little gougère, Ilan Hall, with his Jonathan Franzen pseudo-hipster glasses and his desire to be famous.

And here, in all his meringue-headed glory, comes 26-year-old Marcel, whose entrance line is, “I got dibs, where do I wanna go? The top bunk, I think, is a good way to go.” The boy is a walking innuendo; it’s as if he took his dialogue wholesale from the collected works of ChiChi LaRue. “I came here to be the next top chef,” he smirks. Well, dream on, bottom boy.

We next meet Elia, who was born in Mexico, “where they think that cooking is for girls that want to get married and never work gain, but smart people decide to do what they like to do, not what the world thinks.” Well, mija, don’t tell that to our mothers, who managed to work and keep us in tamales, but we love, love, love that you wear sequins in the daytime.

Then we meet Sam “Is that an insulin pump or are you just happy to see me?” Talbot, known to us as Captain Nemo from the opening credits. The grungy bad boy observes, “I think I was supposed to be in the girls’ room, but they screwed me.” We think that may be because he won’t have access to their cosmetics, as he has no problem saying on his bio that he is “like a girl when it comes to shopping and grooming himself.” Notice also that his t-shirt reads “Mi Vida Loca.” And yet we see little evidence of grooming or shopping—the hat, the greasy hair, the sunglasses, the wrist bands, the sub-Neanderthal lilt, the wide-armed stance—it’s more Carson Kressly-goes-to-the-Mineshaft than Matt-Dillon-goes-to-Copia.

Trying to channel Mae West by way of Sal Mineo, Marcel purrs to Ilan, “Did you bring some nice knives? You wanna see mine?” To which Ilan replies, “Next we’ll be showing each other our cocks.” You know, sometimes there’s just nothing we can add. Message to Andy Cohen of Bravo: We know you have those outtakes; don’t be so selfish. The sight of Marcel polishing his knives rather reminds us of Burt Reynolds in “Deliverance.” Who’ll be the first to squeal like a stuck pig? Our money’s on the pothead from Stockton.

And there’s Frank, bringing his own silencers, by which we mean earplugs. Of course. As Frankie the Bull says to his room-mates, they’re “for you, not for me.”

At long last Marisa. We had such high hopes for her. Her signature dish, black currant tea crème brûlée with huckleberry compote (which Bravo helpfully misspells), made us all tingly with anticipation. But our soufflé falls flat when Marisa announces that she’s brought “goggles, swimsuit, bustier, whatever you need, I came prepared.” Muff-diving implements aside (and ignoring for a moment that hideous tanline), the bustier has us at a loss. Don’t you have to have a bust in order use a bustier?

She further endears herself to us with her statement, “Do I use my sexuality to my advantage? Damn right. I use everything to my advantage that I can use to my advantage.” We fail to see what advantage she could derive. The jeans she wears in her audition video have clearly been stuffed with brioche, as when she stands in profile, you can see it’s all flatbread. For God’s sake, she’s from San Francisco, and as Patsy Stone once said, in a world where men will turn to soft fruit, well, she just doesn’t stand a chance. Oh, Tart Titass, you’ve definitely been baked upside down.

And there’s Betty, softly stroking Suyai’s blond hair, and telling her, “We can be Sisters.” Not to be orally fixated or anything, but we would have gone with Bosom Buddies. Still, Sisters it is. Drumroll please. Herewith, a selection from Sisters, a lesbian bodice ripper by the Vice-President’s wife, Lynne Cheney: “Let us go away together, away from the anger and imperatives of men. There will be only the two of us, and we shall linger through long afternoons of sweet retirement. In the evenings I shall read to you while you work your cross-stitch in the firelight. And then we shall go to bed, our bed, my dearest girl.” Now that’s exactly what this season of “Top Chef” needs.

Suyai tells us, “I’ve been bulimic for many years, so I got into food as a way to heal my eating disorder.” Well, that’s a new one to us, hair of the dog that fattened you; the logic is impeccable. Girl with an eating disorder on a cooking show; you can see how this would make a programming exec get all wet. Still, we sort of dig her curves and Kathleen Turner accent.

And here’s Marcel’s Ned Beatty, none other than Mike, the sage of Stockton, whose ambition is to own a sports bar and grill. Mais non, ce n’est pas possible! And here we were envisioning a little bistro with seasonal products, Chez L’Ami John Madden. We’re flabbergasted. But, as Mike informs us, “I got balls, so I’m ready to rock and roll.” That’s very deep, or deep-fried.

Next up is Miss XaXa’s Carlos. She yells at the television, “Ricky, you’rrrrrrre hooooome” (or is it, “Ricky, you’re homo”?). He informs the other chefs that he’s just received his first four-star review (and it wasn’t the one from Miss XaXa). He reminds us a little of “Project Runway’s” Robert Best—tanned, dark-haired, t-shirted. Babalu, oh yeeeeaaah.

It’s time for the quickfire challenge. There’s Padma, in jeans and furry white boots, telling us about “the Kenmore Kitchen,” which must be kin to the Macy’s Accessory Wall. We love the boots. Betty, take note. If you’re going to wear furry white boots in the kitchen, this is how it’s done. We also love her accent; we have always had a weakness for women with muddled accents providing a veneer of class. Finally, we love the fact that she risked her life to be in the “Top Chef” kitchen. As she points out in her blog, her hair and makeup woman used so much hairspray to keep her locks looking fabulous that she might very well have gone up in a fireball during the show.

And there’s Tom Colicchio, beefy as ever, and sporting an open-necked shirt and a necklace with beads. He announces to the chefs, “I’m not your mentor.” Meeeow, Tom. You could just have said, “My name is Tom, not Tim.” Anyway, somebody get this man on

And there’s Harold Dieterle, winner of last season’s contest. As glad as we are to see him and his adorable double chin, we are again struck mute with horror when we see that he has been struck with the other Plague of L.A, the Flipflop. We’re sorry, Harold, but we could never date any man who wore flipflops, not even you. Thus are hearts broken and illusions shattered.

Padma announces, “Your first quickfire challenge involves both quickness AND fire.” Now discuss amongst yourselves, as Linda Richman would have said. The chefs are supposed to create a dish using the flambé technique, which involves setting alcohol on fire. They set to, while we observe the contestants working.

Pardon me, boys, is that the Chattanooga Choo-choo? Oh wait, it’s only Sam. We know from close-ups that he’s actually wearing a baseball cap, but from a distance it does look to us like one of those gray railway engineer things. Oh dear God, and what’s that thing with lanky pigtails and do-rag? Why, it’s Tart Titass. And thus dies our dream of her giving a make-over to Emily in the dorm after hours. No one who goes on tv in that get-up has any business making anyone over.

Our poor Elia chooses red wine to flambé. Elia, querida, we know you’re trying to flee the paternalism of Mexico, but, really, if you were desperate enough to turn to red wine, couldn’t you have turned instead to the drink of your forefathers? What will Herradura and Sauza say? You, señorita, are a Tequila Traitor.

During the tasting, Marcel is up to his porny ways again, purring to Judge Dieterle as he eats, “Get in there, Harold.” What did we tell you about bossy bottoms?

Sam wins the quickfire challenge. Harold points out that Carlos was undone by the jalapeño that was a garnish, stating that he doesn’t like "nonfunctional garnishes." To which we say, Harold, what about Tom’s necklace?

After the quickfire challenge, the contestants return to the loft and proceed to get drunk, with the winner being Mike, who more than earns his “Beer Bong” nickname.

It’s the morning after, and Beer Bong is at the kitchen table, holding forth like Socrates in an olive grove. “My mama only hit me once, just once,” says our Stockton Socrates-cum-Forrest Gump (oh wait, that’s Elia’s favorite film). Of course, just at that moment, Marcel flits by, unable to resist the easy pickings: “Maybe she should have hit you a couple more times.” Aw, snap, as the kids say.

We love Marcel, but what we hold against him is that he said this like a telenovela starlet, rather than a full-blown villana de telenovela. When he makes his catty comments during the interviews, he always does so while looking up at the camera, as if he were Veronica Lake holding forth from under nonexistent bangs, or Malcolm McDowell under that fedora in “A Clockwork Orange” (Lord knows Marcel certainly has the eyelashes for it).

It’s then that we first really take notice of Marcel’s soul patch, which rather strikes us as a nonfunctional garnish. We debate doing Marcel the favor of dubbing it his soulless patch, as we rather think that would feed his delusions of villainy.

But the bottom line is, we think he is cutting his villainy teeth, learning how to do it right, working up to the time, by the end of the season (we hope), when he will make these pronouncements while stroking a white Siamese cat. In fact, our newest theory is that he is keeping the Siamese cat in his pompadour for just that eventuality.

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