Anthony Bourdain: Lost In The Supermarket
Anthony Bourdain sheds some light on the frozen food challenge.
Well, what can I say about last night's episode? I sat down, like everybody else, baited breath, waiting to see who'd do well--and who would have to "pack their knives." I was also waiting to see which Rocco DiSpirito showed up. The breathtakingly-gifted, French-trained chef of three star Union Pacific fame? Or the "thatsa speecy, spicy meatball!" shill-for-hire and ex-reality show personality? I think we all now know the answer to that question. (Though for the first few moments, I thought David Gest had taken his place.)
It was Joey who paid the terrible price for this unholy exercise in brand expansion/product placement. Little could this chef--of the very fine Cafe des Artistes in New York City--have guessed that he'd ever find himself standing in the aisle of a supermarket, trying to thaw a block of frozen pasta over a hot plate! Or that this--THIS--would be the challenge to knock him out of the competition. Joey? I feel your pain. Console yourself in the knowledge that better, smarter people than you or I have found themselves run over in Rocco's blind rush towards the bright lights. There was no glory to be had last night. There were no winners. Not when everybody, contestants and judges alike, were left wiping Rocco's Frozen Love Juice off their faces at the end.
OK--CJ and Tre got a nice trip to Italy--where the pasta, presumably, will not be frozen. But no one looked good. Not Howie--who bullheadedly allowed Sara's hectoring and general uselessness to distract from the fact that she was probably right about a few things.
Not Hung. Hung was right about procedure, but has so alienated himself from his colleagues that no one listens to him in principle. For once, I actually shared and sympathized with Hung's look of contempt when he was presented with the challenge. But he did learn something valuable: Being able to cook well--or even being smarter than everybody else--doesn't matter in the kitchen if you can't get the people around you to listen (and hopefully, someday, execute your ideas). Hung also learned how to throw somebody else under the bus last night. A valuable skill and an operation he managed to perform clumsily--but effectively. I still think Hung is the guy to beat, the cook most likely to have a really good showing in the late stretch. If he doesn't trip himself up by over-thinking, overreaching, or by just tweaking out.
Casey and Dale had a good night, though it has been forcefully pointed out to me of late that actually putting meatballs in with your pasta (as opposed to serving them on the side) is about as Italian as guacamole. No matter. Both are strong contenders. Judging from the Quickfire "bee", Casey has an impressive palate. I'm guessing she's not a smoker. Sadly, The Howie and Joey Show is at an end. The dynamic between those two was video gold. They brought out the best and worst in each other.
I was truly sorry to see Joey go. His tears at the end spoke of a good heart. He went out looking good--after losing a contest which, frankly, I'd be proud to lose. Joey's the chef of a damn famous restaurant in New York freakin' City.The place every ambitious cook and chef hopes to work--in the big leagues. So he's already a "Top Chef"--and already a winner in my book. This wasn't so much a contest as it was a cautionary tale. For surely, in culinary schools of the future, students, in Media Training 101, shall be shown faded videos of the tragic, Icarus-like trajectory of chef Rocco DiSpirito. And-- as if watching a highway safety film--they shall watch last night's episode of Top Chef where they will learn of the hidden dangers of "this thing of ours", the inevitable collisions between ego and ambition...between business alliances beyond our control...and our own desire to just cook and cook well.