Hello to all 6 of you still following this show. Top Chef Duels is back and so is my rambling recap thereof. Once again, I'm recapping from memory which guarantees I'll fuck things up, and then edit it over the next couple days until it more or less makes sense.
We're on to the fourth episode in the season now, and Top Chef Duels is hitting its stride. Not that it's any better or more interesting, but basically we all know what to expect now, so we viewers really have no one to blame but ourselves.
Stefan is taking on CJ. A hypnotic (I use 'hypnotic' in the medical sense, here) Australian accent is telling me about how these two are long time rivals, and this will be a bitter grudge match, and some more shit that I can't bring myself to pay attention to. The 'rivalry' is some bullshit, as far as I know. But there are a few compelling reasons to stack these two up against each other:
- Stefan is Scandinavian. CJ was a mediocre contestant until he traveled to a Scandinavian restaurant (Noma) and learned a few tricks. Then he was still mediocre. Then he stopped pretending he knew how to cook sous vide, ripped off Noma even more blatantly, and reportedly did well in Last Chance Kitchen.
- CJ is tall like redwood. Stefan short like Christmas tree.
- Stefan seems like a huge asshole when he's onscreen, but slowly over time becomes more likable. CJ seems likable at first and slowly becomes more of an asshole. They kind of meet in the middle. I'll insert a funny metaphor here eventually if I can think of one.
- Stefan is bald. CJ might be sporting hair plugs, but he's too damn tall for anyone to see the top of his head.
The first challenge is Stefan's. The contestants are to use smoke. This seems to be interpreted as 'be Scandinavian.' They go and cook things in rapid cut shots and occasionally in slow-motion. We don't know what's happening, but it would be super exciting if they were doing kung fu to fight the Matrix rather than dicing bell peppers.
* A over-long knife interlude, you might just want to skip *
In one of these slow mo shots, someone is using a Shun Edo knife. Now I'm intrigued, because a Shun Edo is the kind of knife you buy if you reaaaallly want to spend $200 on a knife and heard that Asian knives are nice but don't bother checking out any other knives. There's nothing wrong with it, except that it occupies that tricky space where it's more than most people need, and also less than you can get for the money. Basically, it's the knife equivalent of buying a Humvee - if I like you and you own one, it's a respectable purchase of a well-made product; if I dislike you and you own one, I take it as further evidence that you're a fucknut. And either CJ or Stefan could easily apply for fucknut status.
So I'm curious who's using it. I watch intently, skipping over such trivialities as who made what. CJ seems to be using some large octagonal-handled gyuto. Stefan has a few knives. He uses a scimitar a lot. And also a Western boning knife (could be a filet knife, hard to say). And a quick shot of him using a German chefs knife.
And slowly I realize. Neither one uses a Shun Edo. The producers are not merely taking useless slo-mo shots of the contestants cooking in lieu of actually explaining what's going on. Those motherfuckers are actually filming some production assistant chopping up vegetables and inserting those shots into the edit. And they're using a Shun Edo, those fucknuts. They probably drive Hummers around LA too.
* Back to the competition *
We go to the judges table, where Gail Simmons, Shinyteeth McAustralia, and the guy who installed Bravo's wifi system await. Stefan has made some smoked salmon dish, made it well, and inserted a few pinbones into the dish to hopefully choke Curtis Stone. CJ has made perch smoked three ways, at least two of which he ripped off Noma. It is good, but undercooked, so CJ talks some shameless shit about how Stefan ripped off his own mother. The judges buy it, and CJ wins. Stefan vows revenge, and also vows to return to Finland with a suitcase full of money and never cook again.
CJ issues his challenge: butts. The Bravo team captures the ensuing hilarity by making sure the edit includes no less than 984,834 uses of the words 'butt' and 'ass.' It's a very cheeky challenge, no?
Butt, butt, butt, ass, butt, ass, butt, slow mo, butt, ass, butt. Judge's table.
Stefan has produced some kind of Thai soup made with pig butt' which mind you is probably different than pork butt. It's too thick but people like Stefan's inclusion of kaffir lime, which is kind of like complimenting a Southern dish on using butter. CJ makes some kind of poultry butt sauce under some kind of pig butt. Meanwhile the 'puns' if you want to call them that continue, until I'm so inured to hearing about butts and asses that I'm kind of begging for someone to push the envelope and tell the judges that they're also eating a crackling of the pig's vagina.
CJ wins again, on the virtue of his sauce. And gloats that he can now pay for better hair plugs.
Main challenge. There are strict requirements: the contestants are to make three dishes, using food.
They will also go foraging. This might favor Rene Redzepi... er, I mean, CJ, since that's what he does. They also introduce some 20 year old actress whose name doesn't really matter. She's wearing an arresting ensemble of purple Magic Eye pattern cut into a stunning knee-length, midriff-baring WhatInTheHolyFuckIsThatAnyway.
So they go foraging, and learn about which plants can make you puke. Foraging is interesting, and brings up a number of ethical questions and culinary considerations, none of which are explored in the least here.
Then they're back in the kitchen, talking a little shit. The shit talk isn't very interesting, but they're doing a decent job of selling the honesty of it. They might genuinely dislike each other a little. It's believable, and helped along by the fact that I dislike them both a little bit myself. They cook, and no one gives a fuck, least of all the producers. Of note however, the 20 year old actress at one point asks CJ about his favorite thing to forage. He names manzanita berries and she replies, "ooooooh, manzanita berries" in that in that knowing and enthusiastic tone talented actresses use when they don't know what the fuck you're talking about but want to convince you they have interests outside of acting and street drugs.
At the judges table are Gail Simmons, that boring-ass Cuckholding Australian chef from TV, a pair of hobbits, and a woman who seems to have a pulse but who might also be wearing Lisa Loeb glasses attached to a Farrah Fawcett wig, kindof the female equivalent of Groucho glasses.
For the first course, Stefan makes a lobster bisque with fennel. It's good. CJ makes a rock with some grass on it. Everyone seems to think Stefan won that course, except for Stefan himself, who was probably assuming that anything as bizarre-looking as CJ's course had to be a work of profound genius.
Also, Stefan is asked which parts of his dish he foraged. He responds, and I'd like to say this:
Fuck you, Stefan, you fucking liar, there's no way you foraged those morels. Oh, someone foraged them. Sure. But not you, you bald-headed lying motherfucker. See, I've been looking for morels. Many times. You can't find the fuckers. It's impossible. It's like telling me you were strolling along a creek in Pittsburgh and found gold nuggets. Every single place on Earth where they grow has been mapped out by an army of people far more dedicated than you or I. And they're not sharing with you or me, stefan, oh fucking no they're not. Those were foraged from the back of a pickup truck at $15 per ounce.
For the second course, CJ steps it up and makes duck with nettles and some more random grass. It is praised as being very, very, ducky, and I'm starting to listen intently to the judges for embedded codes that they are being held hostage by the producers, occasionally waterboarded, and forbidden to say anything substantive about anything they're eating. Stefan, meanwhile, makes a galantine of pheasant and duck. It's technical and impressive and is immediately compared to turducken, and thus labelled 'phucken.' As there is no chicken that I know of in the dish, it technically should've just been called 'phuck' but no one worries about that. Gail Simmons says the word 'phucken' and later mentions something about being in the shower, and from 500 feet away per the specifics of his restraining order, Wolfgang Puck punches a wall. Both dishes are well received.
For the final course, Stefan makes goat with an acorn mash. The goat is over-braised. CJ makes braised rabbit with rabbit tobacco, which for some reason I giggle about for like 15 minutes. And some more random grass. By most accounts CJ wins this course.
So who wins the night? It's very close, as it apparently always is. CJ steps up and points out that Stefan played it very safe, whereas CJ himself showed off great creativity by ripping off Noma, which is in another fucking country so it doesn't count.
And CJ wins. I think he might have actually talked himself into the victory, overcoming the technical disadvantage by accusing Stefan of being less original and safer often enough that the judges bought it. CJ moves on, Stefan goes on to compete in Last Chance Kitchen, where Wolfgang's presence is still allowed by law, and where Mike Isabella lies shamelessly about what 'medium rare' is.
Photo, below, left to right:
Bland but likable
Clothes inspired by the very last level in Space Invaders
Bland and unlikable