The Thai That Binds

Hugh Acheson points out some missed opportunities for both the chefs and the producers.


We wake up in Italy, but soon we fly to Asia. Nicole is getting no love for being the immune one last time, a condition that really saved her skin. Her steak was not very good and Nick went home because of it. No one is very enthused about that. 

They are traveling to Thailand, and upon landing get their first challenge. 

Three teams of two match up, but despite the fact that they have been running non-stop in this whole series, there is no natural inclination to pair up with the person who would be fastest. I think John, Nicole, and Liz look the most light of foot. Nookie and Jenna look like they feel gravity’s pull more than the rest of the group. 

The loser will be “left out in the cold.” Winner gets some advantage. 

Nicole tells her driver that she is from America, something most of us keep to ourselves when traveling throughout Southeast Asia. I will sell you a Canadian flag for your backpack. Three for $10. 

Avery is really tired. 

They all find the coconuts and balance those nuts to the grinding area. Nookie loses his balance and becomes the “Goofy American” story for years in Thailand. Nookie’s cardio work is pale compared to the Midwestern fitness of John. 

Avery and Jenna find out that cheating by adding the coconut water to the mass wil quickly catch them up. This cheat does not help though, and somehow Jenna turns into a puritan for the rest of the show, railing against any form of cheating or unethical behavior, all of which are wrapped up in a heavy Red Sox uniform with Postal on the back.Onto the rice fields, where the chefs will have to plant rice in the muddy mass that rice thrives in. Jenna’s adrenaline is pumping like crazy. Nookie and John arrive first and take the shortcut, with Nookie falling into the rabbit hole and finding Wonderland. John has a nice chat with a scarecrow, and briefly considers swapping Nookie for the scarecrow, it being a much faster runner than the Nookie. 

Suddenly there is a lot of chatter about Jenna’s ankles. She and Nookie sound like an old couple running through an airport late for a flight: ”My ankles are killing me. I’m tired. Can we get a cheeseburger? Did you forget my foot cream?”

Jenna and Avery arrive last and they do look cranky. Avery is holding her tongue, but you can see that she is all boiling on the inside. Slayer’s "War Ensemble" is playing loudly in her head.  

Sport the war, war support 

The sport is war, total war 

When victory's a massacre 

The final swing is not a drill 

It's how many people I can kill

I am thinking happy thoughts about kittens and yarn and John.

Street cart food time and Nookie and John get double the budget and also get to sell two items. The losers, Avery and Jenna, get no heat to work with. 

In passing through the market, we see the strange fish tank that you dip your feet in. Elves, you missed a moment here to get Jenna’s ankles back on track. Avery has a tub of tiny poisonous eels all ready for Jenna. John is spending all his money on she-male Thai prostitutes because this Midwestern boy is going to experience this trip to its full extent. 

There is some eating. Some sampling and some diplomacy. We are introduced to the Thai guest chef judge who looks a little like Liberace and a little like an excited lawn gnome with highlights. His name is McDang, but I am sure that’s a stage name. 

Avery recounts the story of her last few years, and it’s a pretty sad tale. Addiction is no joke. but is very prevalent in our industry. Serious kudos to Avery for forging through for herself and her kids. If she can deal with that. then she can surely work with Jenna for a street cart challenge. 

Pork and juice from Nookie and John.

Green Papaya salad from Avery and Jenna.

Pork belly Chinese-style from Liz and Nicole. 

In the judging we see Curtis judge Nookie with a look of disdain. Really? You have set them up to be ruthless bastards; do not now expect them to be all about the food and the honesty of cookery. This is about strategy and being a weasel at this point. Someone tell Avery that her early episode hopes of this being about the food has officially expired. 

The taste winner is Avery and Nicole, but this is about sales, and Nookie’s plan has worked like a charm. So Avery and Nicole are back to the bottom. John wins again, and is really making some progress in these last few episodes. Jenna is voted off. She was a fine chef with lingual skills, but her social fluency left a bit to be desired. 

I will wind up with these fine words from my favorite Boston Red Sox player ever (I liked him even more when he was an Expo) Bill “Spaceman” Lee:

"I think about the cosmic snowball theory. A few million years from now the sun will burn out and lose its gravitational pull. The earth will turn into a giant snowball and be hurled through space. When that happens it won't matter if I get this guy out." 

- Bill Lee

Until then, we have reality television. Tune in next week.


Homeward Bound

Avery finally outplayed Nookie.


Well, everyone, we made it. And I for one am exhausted. I'm not saying I'm as tired as our chefs, but, y'know, I might be. We see the chefs heading to Uruguay (No, Uruguay!) on a ferry. I love a ferry ride, so this seemed fun to me. At some point, Avery says "Nookie could change his mind at any point." You know who can also change her mind at any point? Avery! But I will stop asking why no one has kicked Nookie off until this point, but it's moot. 

The chefs are issued their Course: they have two hours to shop and prepare a traditional Uruguayan dish, and they are only allowed to obtain their ingredients from three markets. Not only that, but their diners are Cat and Curtis! Liz doesn't seem to have too much trouble shopping, but she does forget to ask the butcher for salt. I was actualy surprised Nookie and Avery thought to ask for salt, knowing it wouldn't be provided. Avery bought her wine before she bought her protein, so she was surprised by the fact that she couldn't get fish. White wine? Chicken it is! Nookie has a seemingly nice idea behind his dish saying, "If I learned anything, it's to talk to the locals." Well, one local led him to a jar of onion jam. But she also said to make a traditional tart. That didn't happen. Nookie made -- and I mean "made" in the most generic way possible -- chorizo (my fave) with the onions. Cat and Curtis weren't too happy that Nookie didn't really cook anything. Even Avery said, "This is a cooking competition, not a reheating competition." Ouch. Also, the jam was too sweet. Liz made a successful steak salad, but it was missing salt. Curtis could tell the addition of sausage was made in an attempt to add some salt, but it wasn't enough. I really do wonder why LIz asked Nookie for salt and not Avery. Any thoughts?!

So, Avery won the Course. Some of the chefs seemed to be confused about whether this was the final challenge -- it wasn't. By winning the Course, Avery won the exceptional ingredient, and definitely the most exceptional of them all -- the ability to choose her finale competitor.And she did it. Finally. She voted Nookie off. Hallelujah. Since i finally met Nookie this past week at our amazing Sneak Peek Finale Party, I feel compelled to say here that I'm not writing "hallelujah" because I don't not like Nookie -- I've just never understood why everyone was OK with him holding all the cards. 

around-the-world-in-80-plates-blog.jpg Me with Nookie and Avery at the 80 Plates Sneak Peek Finale Party

So, Avery and Liz head to... Los Angeles -- their home turf. In L.A., the chefs are met with their Takeover: first they have to choose one chef from each store to act as their sous chef for the Takeover. The chefs are their fallen comrades from countries past. Avery ends up with Jenna (did you see her give Liz the side-eye after her team was done cooking?) and Nick, and Liz ends up with John and Chaz! And all the sous-chefs seem genuinely interested in helping their respective chefs win. Whileeveryone's in the kitchen, Avery and Liz get a very welcome surprise -- their family members! Avery's kids and aunt come to say hello and we meet Liz's boyfriend, Ryan. I always wonder if these little surprises are helpful or hurtful. While Avery obviously wants to see her children, I'd have to assume a little surprise like that would break anyone's focus. And how funny was Nookie with her kids? Ha. 

The other surprise was who the chefs were cooking for. Although they knew they'd be serving Wolfgang Puck since they were cooking in his kitchen at red seven, they had no idea the caliber of their diners -- James Beard winners, nominees, etc. And despite all these pressures and curveballs, they both kind of killed their menus… for the most part. Avery started her meal with her and Jenna's winning papaya salad; then moved on to an apparently perfectly-cooked beef dish with chimichurri. She finished it with tea and a pannacotta. I thought serving tea with dessert was ballsy because if that gets cold, it's ruined. Did anyone else notice that her kids seemed to eat all her food? I was very impressed.

LIz's starter was the majority's favorite dish of the night. She then served a dish that was criticized by someone (forgive me I can't remember who) for not seeming Italian. Mmm it was a simple dish served with dino kale -- seemed Italian to me! She then finished with a play on an empanadas, but her custard didn't set up.

From where I was sitting, it seemd to come down to the best dish vs. the best meal. And Avery was just more consistent, so… she won! Congratulations, Avery! And congratulations to Liz on doing such a fantastic job. 

I'll be recapping Masters which premieres next Wedneday, so hope to see you all over at that site then. If I may say so, I've peeped some of the episodes already, and I swear they're amazing. Until then, Have a Nosh!


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