Saturday, November 04, 2006

Episode Three, Part 2: She Stoops to Conquer, Conks to Stupor

It's time (drumroll, please!) for the Elimination Challenge. At the Kenmore Kitchen, the People's Princess goes West. Yes, indeed. Padma, thoroughly at ease with the slumming theme, looks boot-scoot-ready in the latest from the DenimDumbDown Collection by Reba for Wal-Mart. We're talking tight jeans, midriff, cleavage, bare arms, big belt buckle, big hair, big smile -- like a backup dancer in a Billy Ray Cyrus video, or as if she were starring in a Sergio Leone version of Brokeback Mons Veneris.

She introduces the guest judge, a pudgy man with unfortunate facial hair who struts in as if expecting recognition. We waver for a moment. Are we supposed to know him? Come to think of it, we don't know what Thomas Keller, a friend of Colicchio's, looks like....But, to the guest judge's chagrin, the contestants look equally blank. And with good reason. Padma introduces him as Stephen Bugarelli, some sort of executive chef for TGIFriday's. Oh, him. We prefer to call him Boog.

The challenge, then, is to create a dish that will be craved by the craven at TGIFriday's. Boog asks the cheftestants to take a childhood favorite of theirs and give it an adult twist, which for a moment makes us think of Alice in Wonderland in a garter belt. The winning entrée will appear on the menu at something like 500 TGIFriday's locations, which puzzles us. Surely there are more than 500 of these abysmal places across this great land of ours?

We notice that Padma is completely loose and flirty during all of this. She is really getting into the whole slumming thing. They'll have the afternoon to shop, and a budget of $100, then a few hours' prep time, but the dishes will be finished at a firehouse in South Pasadena. My God, she's grinning! Well, firemen would put a smile on our faces, too.
And they're off to the races! Well, to shop...at Wild Oats! That's right, mes enfants, products from Wild Oats are being used to create dishes for TGIFriday's. Our minds boggle just a little, too. But as we said, the theme is slumming, so what could be more perfect?
At Wild Oats, Emily is fretting because she is not a "turn and burner" (though given what happens in the episode, she qualifies for "crash and burner"). Used to working with the best chefs in four-star establishments, comfort food isn't what she does. At a loss, she opts for surf and turf, which we think wise under the circumstances; our Butch Cassidy has undoubtedly surfed the turf before. Meanwhile, Beer Bong once again lives down to his nickname by taking a little from the till to buy beer for himself, "a little something for the kids," as he says. But this puts him over the $100 budget. Wait, do we have another scandalet on our hands? Alas, no. Beer Bong returns some cheese that he was planning to use for his steak sandwich (can you have a steak sandwich without cheese?) so he can pay for his $8 beer.
During the Food Montage sequence, when Chef Colicchio walks around in his dark blue chef's coat (no doubt picked because the dark blue is slimming and complements his eyes, and we have no problem with this), Spice Rack greets him with one of the best pick-up lines we've heard in a while: "Is it against the rules for you to taste my soup?" Ever the gentleman, he accepts, provided he doesn't have to comment on it. She says she will read it in his eyes, but he's one of those men who close their eyes, you know the type, and so she gets nothing.
Spice Rack is working next to Madame de Pompadour, who continually talks to himself and the camera, as if he were already on his own cooking show, telling us that the key to a proper breading technique is to keep one hand dry at all times. Wink, wink, Marcel. It's as convincing as Ellen DeGeneres' performance as a straight woman in "Mr. Wrong," and does nothing for Spice Rack: "That man is rubbing me the wrong way, and I really think it comes down to the fact that he's just pontificating to make himself sound as though he's more experienced than he is." Madame de Pompadour's sin is that he doesn't believe comfort food is on the same level as fine dining. In Spice Rack's opinion, "the most important thing about being a top chef is versatility." We are reminded that Spice Rack is from Hollywood, which places a premium on versatile tops.
To the strains of "tense music," courtesy once again of the closed captioning, we travel to the firehouse in South Pasadena. Judging by the looks she gets, Padma's cowgirl outfit goes over well with the firemen. Annie certainly got their guns. Making small talk with the commoners, Princess Padma asks the firemen, "Do you guys cook?" And later, as a mustachioed fireman tries not to look at her cleavage, she throws him a lifeline, "Are you ready to eat?" Not to be outdone in slumming or cleavage, stellar Canadian Gail comes out in jeans and a clinging, low-cut chocolate-brown tank top that does full justice to her Royal Mounties.
First up is Beer Bong's steak sandwich with onion rings. He quickly gets burned by the firemen: "It's greasy, it's chewy, it's like its presentation...it's very sloppy." Next up is Madame de Pompadour, who is also making onion rings to go with his pork chops and mashed potatoes. Unfortunately for Madame de Pompadour, in frying up his onion rings, Beer Bong brought down the temperature of the oil in the deep fryer. Madame de Pompadour's attempts at onomatopoeia to describe his little, lonely test onion ring sinking to the bottom of the fryer are precious: "Doo doo doo doo." Indeed.
Good old Elia jumps in to help him, and all she gets for her troubles is Marcel mocking her accent in the interview describing her efforts. Worst of all, he can't even manage a Mexican accent; the best he can do is a French accent that wouldn't fool Anna Nicole Smith. In fact, his French accent is so bad in general that when he finally serves his dish to Padma, he calls her "Mademoiselle" and pronounces it just like the name of the magazine. How can a man whose name is Marcel Vigneron and who works for Joël Robuchon talk like this? He should just change his name to Mark Vines and get the farce over with.
He is so upset at having had to serve his dish without the onion rings that he says, "I need a punching bag." Well, Mark, Spice Rack's got two of 'em. But she actually throws the first punch, telling him, "Anything that'll fuck you up is fair." Pulling out her Roget's, she tells him, "You're a selfish, self-centered, egotistical bastard."
He pulls out his own copy of Roget's from his pompadour: "I'm just astonished and appalled, utterly appalled, that she's trying to call me out like this." We let out a mad cackle at his version of "shocked, sir, shocked," especially at the awesomely unconvincing way he rolls his eyes heavenward and flutters his eyelashes and smiles when he says the word "utterly," the rapture of a preacher's daughter getting to second base.
Emily's up next, and her dish, Super Slammin' Surf and Turf, is slammed as thrice "salty" and inedible. Frankie the Bull's dish follows, and in perhaps the night's best pot-calling-the-kettle-black moment, Beer Bong (the pot in more ways than one) says of Frankie's dish: "It's a train wreck."
When Cliff's dish of fish sticks and macaroni comes out, Padma even stoops to slang and familiarity, telling the firemen, "Don't bogart the plate, my friends." Padma, using the word "bogart," which Miss XaXa says is particular to the Northeast?!?! Now, it's not exactly Princess Diana touching the AIDS patient in front of the cameras, but it's certainly a prime example of people's-princess behavior. And look what familiary breeds. When Padma finishes her portion of Sam's dish, one of the firemen says to her, "Do you want us to get you a straw for that?" Poor Padma just seems to invite fellatio-related innuendo when she eats with men on the show. Will Salman Rushdie ever let her out of the house again?
It's Spice Rack's turn to serve her grilled cheese sandwiches and roasted pepper soup. Unfortunately for her, the griddle is not cooperating. Marcel swoops in just as the real Madame de Pompadour did when Marie-Louise O'Murphy tried to displace her as Louis XV's mistress. He sits and gives her what he calls the "blazing eyes." He also asks her taunting, bitchy questions in what, given his strain of Valleygirlitis, is surprisingly complex and correct grammar: "The griddle is not as hot as you would have liked for it to have been?" Spice Rack responds like a properly trained Versailles courtesan: "Did anyone hear a gnat? Something annoying?" Meeeow!
We want to see hair-pulling, but it is not to be. Spice Rack manages to grill her sandwiches and present her dishes just in time. She introduces herself to the firemen as "Badabing Betty" and mentions that her dish includes "sassy bacon." We shudder to think what Frankie the Bull will do when he finds out that she's calling herself "Badabing"; she's not part of la famiglia and what does she know from "Badabing"?
At the Judges' Table, Boog tells the others that he is disappointed. He expected more "adventurism," "innovative" and "creative" dishes. Huh? Has he forgotten that he works for TGIFriday's? Still, there were some bright spots, and Cliff, Sam, and Betty emerge as the top three. When Spice Rack wins, she lets out such a scream that you can literally see the judges being blown back in their chairs, like in the old Memorex ads.
The bottom three in this challenge to create updated childhood favorites are Frankie the Bull, Butch Cassidy and Beer Bong. When he first saw Frankie the Bull's Alice in Wonderland mushroom fantasy, Chef Colicchio's two-snaps-worthy reaction was, "Is the childhood memory a drug experience?" After Frankie tries to defend the dish as "conceptual," Gail fillets him with, "Food is for eating."
Butch Cassidy is once again turned and burned over the coals for having produced an inedible and salty dish. Padma then rubs salt in her wounds, asking in her most imperious tone, "The corn, was that fresh corn?" A battered Butch Cassidy admits it wasn't. "We felt that," says Padma, in her most damning tone. Ouch. Beer Bong and his sloppy steak sandwich fare no better, and it's even more humiliating because Beer Bong actually once toiled at TGIFriday's (shocker of the night). The three cheftestants are dismissed while the judges weigh their decision.
While waiting for the verdict, Butch Cassidy bawls her eyes out. People's Princess or not, Padma has broken our Emily, and it's not looking good for her. And how awful that it should happen just as we were beginning to worship her and her wicked, salty, misanthropic tongue. Beer Bong seems suddenly to be very drunk, so we suspect some long while must have elapsed while the judges deliberated and Beer Bong pounded the 8-dollar brewskis. Beer Bong starts flailing, yelling out, "I'll beat the fuck out of all those motherfuckers." He then announces, "I need more booze." Ah, that's our Beer Bong. And a spine-tingling prediction: "That Tom and I are going to have to duke it out before this is over."
This promise of drama is what may have saved Beer Bong to fight another day and sealed Emily's fate. Unable to abandon her fine dining standards, and salty to boot, she is told to pack her knives. As another Emily once wrote, because she could not stoop for TGIF's, it kindly stooped for her.

7 comments:

eric3000 said...

Hilarious recap! Thanks!

eric3000 said...

Wow, two Bouchers in as many weeks!

poptarticus said...

I've come to the conclusion that Midgley must be really stoned a lot of the time. Sloppy steak sandwiches always look and taste better when you are really stoned. Can't figure out what up with Frankie, though.

I thought it was weird when Padma said "We felt that." Huh? They "felt" it? Not tasted it? Not observed it? She's weird. Or maybe her command of the English language is not quite there yet.

Thanks for the great post. It was better than that episode was, IMO.

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