Now it’s time for the Elimination Challenge (we can tell, because they always say it in audible capital letters). Padma announces, rather fatuously, that “L.A. is one of the most multicultural cities in the world.” As Angelenos of a particular stripe, we snort and drink to the platitude, surprised that it has taken until Episode Two to trot it out.
The Elimination Challenge will be a team effort, with the teams focusing on two of multiculti L.A.’s cuisines, Vietnamese and Korean (to go along with the Japanese of the Quickfire Challenge). The teams will each be responsible for creating one hot dish and one cold dish, and will be judged on their team work.
The teams are created by having the chefs draw knives. The knife handles bear either a Vietnamese or (South) Korean flag (we hate to be nitpicky—oh, hell, whom are we kidding?—but it’s not the “Korean” flag, since you have both a North and a South Korea). The whole time the chefs were drawing knives, we kept looking for a “cheat sheet” posted on one side of the knife. Call us skeptical, suspicious bitches, but given the geographical literacy of the American public as a whole, the idea that some of these contestants (we’re talking to you, Beer Bong) would know what the Vietnamese or South Korean flag looks like is just preposterous.
Instantly we are struck by the geopolitical implications of the decision. These are the cuisines of two Asian nations that were or are divided by Communism on a north-south basis, and in which the United States fought a war. We hadn’t realized that the Bravo producers were so devilishly deep in their formulation of challenges. And how great is it that Marcel and Otto, the two contestants vying with Kim Jong Il for Dictatorial Coif of the Year, should both have been on Team Korea?
The teams will be presenting their food at a charity event for Project by Project, an organization established to help the Asian community. Cut to Otto the NeckerChef telling us how glad he is, since he is “hugely involved in hunger issues.” That’s all well and good, and certainly admirable, but as Season One contestant Lee Anne Wong wryly points out on her blog, Otto just “assumes that the Project by Project event will be feeding the needy and hungry Asian community of Los Angeles,” when Project by Project, according to their press materials, is actually “a national volunteer organization of social entrepreneurs that serves Asian Pacific American non-profit organizations by raising public awareness, encouraging volunteerism and building capital.”
Team Vietnam consists of Josie, Betty, Mia, Emily, Carlos, Beer Bong, and Sam. Team Korea is Frank, Otto, Ilan, Cliff, Marcel, Elia and Marisa. This means that we’re not just replaying the Cold War with cold noodles; we’re also revving up for another skirmish in the Battle of the Sexes.
Team Vietnam’s organizational meeting is a model of efficiency, cooperation and organization, with Spice Rack (unwisely baring her midriff yet again), Josette Eber, and Empress Josiefine (sporting a rather rakish newsboy cap that would do “The L Word” proud) taking charge but soliciting input from the other members.
Team Korea’s organizational meeting, as befits a divided nation, is extremely disorganized. As Cliff tells us, he, Frank and Ilan decide to make a huge batch of sangria before the meeting. (We hasten to point out that Cliff has immunity after the Quickfire Challenge; could our little Valrhona Bear be so devious?). This means we are treated to the nauseating sight of Tarte Titass flashing her tanline and shaking her nonexistent maracas in a hideous pink and white striped top. They sit around, with Elia bravely trying to get them to discuss the menu while the boys get drunker, tell incomprehensible jokes, and lasciviously stroke the rim of a glass before sucking their fingers (we’re talking to you, Ilan).
We admire Elia’s focus and spunk, as well as her very cute Marc-Jacobs-goes-to-the-souk ballet flats, but get hives looking at Marcel’s flipflops and Otto’s Roman centurion Mary Janes. Elia’s plea—“Let’s just finish the menu and then we cheell”—goes unheeded. This is also where we first hear the word lychee—pronounced “LEE-chee,” and this is very important—in the form of Marisa’s plan to make a dessert involving lychee pearls.
It’s the next morning, and we get the requisite “Good morning, Vietnaaaam!” voiceover from that Robin Williams lookalike, Spice Rack Betty. We do not, however, get a snippet of the theme from “M*A*S*H” for Team Korea. The teams are each given $500 dollars and one hour to do their shopping.
As Team Vietnam marches off to the specialty store to the strains of “Asian-inspired dance music,” courtesy of the closed captioning service, we see Josie expertly handling melons and cooing, “Yeah, baby.” Even Austin Powers couldn’t have done better. The rest of Team Vietnam’s shopping expedition proceeds just as smoothly.
Team Korea’s shopping expedition in a supermarket in Koreatown is as much of a muck-up as a “M*A*S*H” episode. We are first subjected to a Marcel interview featuring not only full-on pompadour but also a pompadour of a double-Windsor tie knot. In pink. Paisley! Did Jimmy Neutron spend the entirety of last season studying Stephen Asprinio’s mannerisms and sartorial choices? We are very disturbed, and secretly hope Stephen Asprinio has seen “Single White Female.” We can just see the remake: “Single White Sexually Ambiguous, Arrogant, Prissy, Overcompensatorily Large Tie-Knot-Wearing Chef.”
“EE-lia, did you get the LIE-chee?” asks Otto, setting our teeth on edge. For your information, NeckerChef, her name is pronounced “EH-lia” and the fruit is pronounced “LEE-chee.” Not that we’re obsessive or anything, but we actually counted the number of times the word “lychee” was uttered on this episode: 22 times. 11 times it was pronounced “LEE-chee” and 11 times “LIE-chee.” Of those, Otto was responsible for 9, and Ilan and Marisa for the other 2, and she was just quoting Otto (we don’t know what Ilan’s excuse is).
At the checkout, Team Korea is over budget and they have to return some items. As they take their cart to the minivan, the closed captioning informs us that we are hearing “dramatic music,” and then an unidentified voice says, “I think we got a case of LEE-chees for free.”
Marisa tells us that Otto said this to her, but our Perry Mason instincts were roused at once. That was clearly not Otto’s voice, and Otto would never have said “LEE-chee.” “Otto wuz framed! This is the type of thing that brought Dan Rather down,” whispers Miss XaXa.
Marisa, who only last episode crowed, “I use everything to my advantage that I can use to my advantage,” professes to be shocked at this unfair advantage that Otto wants to take, and makes her outrage clear to anyone who will listen during the food-preparation montage. Our favorite bit in the montage is Marcel, stealing another of Beer Bong’s lines as he exclaims, “Oh fuck, where’d that pot go?”
Betty is shown making a “refresher” with ginger, cucumber, and aloe. She proclaims herself “the bar wench” to Chef Colicchio, and then tells the camera, all the while flaunting her fun bags, that they’re going to have “so many reasons to entice these guests over to our table.” Well, I guess two reasons counts as “so many,” n’est-ce pas?
When Chef Colicchio reaches Marisa and Elia and innocently asks how things are, Lycheegate breaks and all hell breaks loose. Tom calls Team Korea together and questions Otto, forcing him to admit that he did say, “We got a case of lychees for free.” We are impressed by Tom Colicchio’s prosecutorial skills--this is how the international nuclear agency is supposed to behave with Kim Jong Il--but not so impressed by Otto’s defense. All our Perry Masoning was for nought. Otto is forced to return the nukes, er, lychees to the store, and Team Korea’s confidence is shaken.
The next day, the teams set up at the charity event, and then comes the tasting and judging. We are momentarily distracted by how fabulous Gail Simmon’s shoes are. Padma’s hair person has redeemed herself, but oy, the wardrobe--an unflattering peacock skirt and a black corset top. Padma introduces us to the guest judge, Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger Restaurant in Wellesley, Massachusetts and PBS fame. Someone has obviously briefed Ming on chef jewelry, since he sports a Colicchioesque necklace on a strap.
We’re no experts, but it looks to us like Ming Tsai has had work done. He’s certainly ballooned since we last saw him on PBS, and is starting to look like one of those Wellesley matrons we remember from college. Miss XaXa says he actually looks more like Siegfried or Roy, she can’t remember which, the one that got mauled, and is he wearing lip gloss? We're also shocked when he tastes Team Vietnam's refresher and points out that it's spicy and has chili in it. "Ginger," corrects the Spice Rack herself. The owner of Blue Ginger can't tell when something has ginger in it? Is this what things have come to?
At the Judges’ Table (we are so pleased they got the apostrophe right), we are nearly blinded by the rock on Padma’s finger, just about as large as one of the illicit lychees. They discuss the virtues of the teams’ dishes, and Padma even breaks through the Valium haze to get a little feisty about just how good the Korean-style pork was. But the others win out, and Team Vietnam is called in as the winners. Betty is declared the individual winner and given a prize, a limited-edition Kyocera ceramic sashimi knife, one of only 100 in the world. “Huh?” says Miss XaXa, “I thought Kyocera made copiers.”
Having heard the shouts of joy from Team Vietnam, Team Korea figures out that they’ve lost. Cliff declares that he’s pissed they couldn’t work together as a team. This strikes us as rather rich, considering that he was responsible for getting the team drunk in the first place.
Team Korea is called in to be worked over. After questioning by Ming Tsai, Frankie the Bull crumbles and admits that he made the rice and that it looked like “hell on a plate.” If he’s that good, let’s send Ming Tsai to do some interrogation work at Guantanamo.
For all that has subsequently been said and written, it’s interesting to note that when the issue of Otto and the lychees comes up, Marcel is actually the first to throw Otto under the bus, and then Marisa and Elia pile on.
Frankie the Bull is irate and aghast. The ethic of the team, la squadra nostra, this team of ours, has been violated. He doesn’t understand how team members can flip their loyalties on a whim: “It’s a team, and if you don’t back your team mates, you might as well take your head and shove it up your ass.” Are we imagining things, or is Frank’s restaurant called Omertà?
As the maker of the “hockey puck” that purported to be panna cotta, Marisa’s head is on the chopping block, but Otto finally fesses up and falls on his sword. See, Rummy? This is how it’s done. Marisa’s skinny, padded ass is safe for one more week. Otto waxes philosophical in a hideous chalk-stripe suit, purple shirt and yellow tie that he must have stolen from the Cleveland dinner theater production of “Guys and Dolls.”
Then come the previews from next week, featuring a fire house, and scenes of self-immolation by Beer Bong where he is raring for a fistfight with Tom Colicchio. We definitely can’t wait.