Possums, when last we left you, our beloved if interchangeable cheftestants were still reeling from having to catch and cook the catch of the day and from Alfred Portale’s unshaven prissiness. (Just what is it with the soul patch? we cried, resisting the temptation to rend our garments in two. Portale’s got one and Colicchio’s got one, so is a soul patch a requirement for, or a result of, working for Alfred Portale, like slender fingers and small hands? “Brian ‘Asshat’ Malarkey has one, too,” Miss XaXa reminded us, which rather made our point for us.)
(As a side note, it was clear that Padma’s jeans-and-vest outfit was from her own wardrobe, a throwback to last season’s questionable aesthetic, but, disappointingly, it wasn’t egregious enough to make a fuss about.)
It’s time for Padma to announce the Elimination Challenge, or, as she puts it, to go “from very, very fresh to something stale,” which makes us wonder if it was prophetic. Padma and Portale wheel out trolleys of food, which, quite bizarrely, cause the cheftestants to gasp and gape, and roll their eyes, and utter, scandalized and despairing, “Oh my God,” as if someone had had the effrontery to fart during Princess Diana’s funeral.
However, labels show the dishes to be someone’s nostalgia- and condescension-addled projection of what homely and homespun American cookery is, Sloppy Joes and meatloaf and macaroni-and-cheese.
The challenge, Padma tells us, is to take these dishes, which are “old-fashioned” and “not healthy,” and create “modern,” “low-cholesterol” versions.
Judging from the cheftestants’ reactions (if they were, indeed, the reactions to the food rather than to the challenge), one would think that, instead of fried chicken, Padma had wheeled out American hegemony on a plate in all its morbidly obese, Sansabelt-wearing glory. We’re second to none in our snobbery, but something about this didn’t quite smell right.
“Family classic for me is steamed fish, rice, and a lot of vegetables,” sneers Hung, “not fried chicken and creamy and buttery things. All these dishes look disgusting to me.”
Look, Hung, possum, we get it. You’re Asian, and you eat virtuously, and the Western diet is evil and artery-clogging, and you’ll outlive us all. D’accord. But, if you’re no fan of creamy and buttery things, what on earth are you doing working for Guy Savoy, master of the artichoke soup with black truffles, shaved Parmesan cheese, and warm mushroom brioche with truffle butter? Just askin’. Still, nice try at sneering Gay Villainy, o Great Eyebrow Plucker.
The cheftestants then get to pick which dish they will be reinterpreting. But! There’s a twist! They will pick in reverse order! And so the Gospels come to Top Chef, where he who was last shall be first. In this case, it was Casey, who chose the Sloppy Joe. “It must be nice to be sloppy firsts,” theorized Miss XaXa. CJ picks tuna casserole, and Lia opts for franks ‘n’ beans.
Howie picks pork chops and applesauce, and—wait, what’s that clanging of chains we hear? Is it Hamlet’s father? No, but it is the season’s second dead father, summoned by Howie to explain that the challenge resonates with him because heart disease runs in his family and his father passed away from a heart attack when Howie was young.
“Um,” Miss XaXa mused aloud, “if there’s heart disease in his family, and his dad died of a heart attack, shouldn’t he be a little less zaftig and a little more Zen? The guy’s a walking…”
“…sebaceous gland?” we suggested.
“No, a walking heart attack.” Or, as Hamlet might have put it, get thee to a gym and a shrink.
And speaking of Ophelia, here’s Micah “Fauxmicah” Edelstein, native-born U.S. citizen and product of the Bridgewater, Massachusetts, public school system: “I’m from South Africa. I’ve never eaten fried chicken. It’s just not something that interests me in the slightest. My reaction to American comfort food? Ugh!” Micah, possum, you’re perfectly entitled to your opinion, since you’re an American, and goodness knows we appreciate an internationalist point of view, but one of the things that being a world traveler is supposed to teach you is graciousness, and respect for other cultures, including your own.
Miss XaXa looked worried. “Are you alright? You’re starting to sound like a Republican: America, love it or eat it!”
Oh the dangers of falling asleep while watching Fox News!
But we digress.
Jamaica’s own Sara Mair picks chicken à la king, and then Hung, as the last to pick, opts for fried chicken and mac’ ‘n’ cheese. Now, this is important possums, because it means that the fried chicken and macaroni were available to Sara when she picked, and yet she didn’t choose them. The importance of this will be revealed later.
Then Padma reveals that the Elimination Challenge meal will be served at Miami Elks Club Lodge. Micah is brought in to disparage meat loaf, “I’m thinking that this can’t be too hard to improve upon.”
Dale is thrilled with a challenge, since updating classics is his whole shtick, and the more we see of him, the more we like him. As Miss XaXa puts it, he seems like a “dirty, dirty boy.” There’s something of a gurgling Gerber baby with a new tooth about him, but he also has an allure like a twinkling, depraved, very buff garden gnome from Amélie. In other words, Grrrrrrr. And he’s single. And he says later that he’s half Russian Lithuanian. Our math skills are as good as Sara Nguyen’s, so we’re confused; doesn’t that mean he’s a quarter Russian and a quarter Lithuanian? (Well, the manpris are unfortunate, but, as Miss XaXa is quick to point out, that’s easily remedied with a quick trip to Nordstrom.)
Talking head CJ is playing town crier tattletale again: People are incorporating cheese! That’s fat! He hopes the judges see it!
Miss XaXa notes that he looks oddly jowly during these interview segments. He’s freakishly tall and a volleyball player; whence the second chin?
When they go shopping for ingredients, our hot little Russo-Lithuanian baby Troll Doll imp buys a rotisserie chicken and instant mashed potatoes, and CJ is town crying and tattling again.