Possums, as we pointed out last season, from an audience standpoint, Anthony Bourdain is a great Top Chef judge, since he is entertaining and can out-quip and out-bitch just about anyone. From a blogger’s standpoint, however, episodes featuring Anthony Bourdain are difficult, since he is entertaining and can out-quip and out-bitch just about anyone.
Nonetheless, we’ll do our Amuse-Biatch best with the leavings as we turn to the premiere episode of Season 3.
To the sounds of what the closed captioning helpfully identifies as “Latin music,” we get the Miami signifiers of turquoise waters and bronzed bodies on the beach, and we’re off to meet the cheftestants at the Miami airport.
First up is Sara Mair, who informs us that she is a “chef/fromagier.” Actually, possum, you would be a “fromagère,” but never mind. We so love cheese, and the chic of the puffy sleeves on your jacket, that we’re willing to overlook anything at this point. Blessed are the cheese-makers indeed.
Next up is tremulous, toothsome Clay Bowen, son of the Mississippi clay. There’s something very 19th century about him, a touch of The Red Badge of Courage underneath the incongruous guayabera he is sporting. He thinks he can win the competition, ole Clay does. “I feel the South hasn’t really been represented on Top Chef much.” Oh, Clay, possum, wasn’t that what General Lee said right before the Battle of Antietam, er, Sharpsburg? Score another point for Bravo Foreshadowing™.
And then there’s Frank Terzoli. Oops, it’s actually Joey Paulino, decked out in a blue “Italia” soccer jersey. “You think he’s Italian?” we ask Miss XaXa, who is herself of Italian extraction. The question becomes even more rhetorical the minute he opens his mouth: “If I win the money, my mother gets it.” (To which Miss XaXa said, “But if you don’t win the money, whose mother's gonna get it?”) This is followed by the curiously related, “I’m the biggest, baddest motherfucker here.” Miss XaXa groaned, “Didn’t The Sopranos end last Sunday?”
Joey drives home the point by giving us a syllogism that would have made Descartes proud, “I’m from New York; I come to kick ass.” No, Joey, you come to perpetuate stereotypes about Italian-Americans on television. Judge Ted Allen told an interviewer that Joey earned the nickname, “Joey Pickles,” which is as good in its way as Paulie Walnuts (and not as pungent as Miss XaXa’s suggestion, “Joey No-Neck”), so Joey Pickles it is.
And here comes Dale Levitski, the beefy, fauxhawked, po-mo homo from Chicago. We’re quite certain about the “homo” part, but we have sketchier evidence for the “po-mo” part, mostly those mirrored aviator sunglasses, the epitome of 1970s gay clone culture. We’d have to confirm it with Edmund White (He Who Was There), but we think Dale is wearing them ironically, which is enough for “post-modern” status (though we have doubts about the Dickensian urchin outfit he wears in the kitchen later). Mostly, we’re just happy there’s a Gay on here.
And riding along we find Tre Wilcox of Dallas, who loses no time in telling us that he has “a tattoo on [his] body” (where else?) that says, “You gotta have passion.” (However, when see the inside of his forearm, the actual text of the tattoo is the broader, “Gotta have passion,” which is significant because that makes it more of a personal reminder, more a metaphysical Post-It to oneself than a broader injunction to the world at large.)
Now, we like Tre and, as the episode shows, he’s a talented chef, but we call “merde” on his tattoo, which looks like it was done with a ballpoint pen by a fifth grader. Not that we’re suggesting he should have gotten a rose on his ankle, but something better than an item on a grocery list of platitudes. Did the tribes of the South Pacific invent tattooing so that it could end up as the equivalent of those one-word motivational office posters, the ones that say “Teamwork” or “Perseverance” and illustrate the concept with dolphins or canoes? If you’re going to risk not being buried in a Jewish cemetery, shouldn’t it be for something really good?
There’s a rendez-vous at Casa Casuarina, the former home of Gianni Versace, also known as the Gays’ own School Book Depository. The cheftestants blithely, even callously, step across the spot where the man who put Elizabeth Hurley in safety pins (sob) was assassinated (sob) by gay serial killer Andrew Cunanan (sob). The least Raggaydy Andy and Bravo could do would be to spring for a commemorative plaque.
Most blithe is potential Great Gay Hope and Potentially Gay Asian Villain-in-the-Making Hung Huynh, who starts subverting stereotypes right away, declaring, “I am not Zen in the kitchen.” It’s like a PSA with the recommended daily amount of liberal guilt; it makes you think, Hmmm, did I automatically assume he would be Zen in the kitchen because he’s Asian?
Our consciousness felt immediately raised, especially when Hung announced that for about a year he has been labeled a “CPA,” or Certified Professional Asshole. “It’s only been a year?” asked Miss XaXa. “No wonder it seems so fake.”
We reminded Miss XaXa that he was, once again, subverting stereotypes about Asians being good at math, and that she ought to give him the benefit of the doubt, as perhaps he used to be an amateur asshole before, but is now being paid and has had his assholery certified, and if that isn’t the American dream, to get paid for what you do well, then what is?
Even our favorite new lesbian, Sandee Birdsong, who hails from Miss XaXa’s former stomping grounds on Saint Simons Island and who should know better, gaily traverses across Gianni-hallowed ground and into a reception area, where, as the closed captioning tells us, “soft jazz music” is playing and the other cheftestants await.