Dale's Bad, He's Bad, Come On!

Ted Allen repudiates Dale Talde for one of his less-than-desirable actions.

Michael Jackson did it. Italian men have done it for centuries, believing it wards off bad luck -- and, sometimes, hideous pain. And as of last week's Top Chef, replayed in tonight's recap, Dale adds himself to the long line of practitioners of the ultimate crude, macho statement, the true, gangsta-mobster move of vulgar defiance.

I speak, of course, of that crotch grab!

Seriously, Dale really committed; he held on long and tight -- he owned that crotch. (And hopefully still does.) But Dale is neither a gangsta nor a mobster, to my knowledge. So where does it come from -- the impulse to full-on grab his junk with one hand and keep it there, while he throws what look like gang signs with the other -- when he's angry? Does he do that often? Does he do it at Buddakan, the sophisticated NYC restaurant where he cooks? It's kinda funny, seeing as how he's not very intimidating, physically. It's also kinda disturbing.

In a way, with this display of testicular aggression, Dale has out-Marceled Marcel. For, while Marcel committed a deeply embarrassing crime against the art of rap in Season 2, he did not, to my knowledge, invoke the level of street-corner machismo represented by a self-grope.

Then again, no -- Marcel's rapping was worse. And I like Dale's work, and I don't mean to single him out for abuse. Also, I was perhaps remiss to trash him last week for complaining about losing the Italy trip to Lisa without pointing out that she -- another chef I like a lot -- was extremely annoying with her negativity. At least this week, he went home with a $5,000 grill. I just hope he has someplace to fire it up; I mean, he lives in New York City. Now, let's talk about Da Bears. And Da Food!

First, notes from the Quickfire. Spike has demonstrated significant cluelessness lately, continuing tonight with his remark that beer all tastes the same to him. Sure, mass-produced American lagers do. But smaller American and Euro brewers are making more delicious and diverse beers today than ever, and appreciation of this great craft is only growing among chefs. It's an honest, natural, centuries-old bevy, and I love the stuff -- a little too much. Then, Spike just assembled a plate of charcuterie. Not a lot of effort, there.

Mark also made a weird choice: lamb with beer sauce? How about something salty/crispy; the kinds of food that beer contrasts so perfectly with? Like, say, pretzels. Good idea, Dale. Needed a little more testing, but a good direction.

It was storybook to see Jennifer win for a great balance of flavors, great heat, and great acidity, the day after her partner, Zoi, was kicked out. There also was some great acidity among the chefs: Jenn's mad at Spike, Lisa's trash-talking Dale ("Good, bitch -- have fun on the bottom.") Nice!

It was Richard's remark about his strategy early in the show that set the stage for Ryan's eventual downfall in the elimination. Richard is thinking smartly and carefully about the themes of the challenges. He appears to be trying to really understand the mission, and comply with it. So many chefs here seem to be fighting the challenges (Spike comes to mind). Bad plan. (Another bad plan, Andrew: trying to remove a football helmet without unfastening the chin strap.)When Top Chef asks you to cook for a tailgating party, or a block party, or a kid's birthday at Chuck E. Cheese (oh, God, Shauna, please don't get any ideas), what you do is to cook something appropriate for the event, but with a smart, surprising culinary twist. You don't cook the same thing people always get when tailgating (Nikki). You don't cook complex, hard-to-handle haute cuisine because you dislike sports and picnicking (Ryan). You don't whine that tacos, or the spirit behind tacos, or the great ingredients that comprise tacos, cannot be reinterpreted (Spike).

You do what Richard did: make a beautiful little sammy that looks like a simple burger, but actually is a fancy pate. That's witty. You do chicken, but you marinate it in fiery, North African chili sauce, harissa, as Jen did. You take chances, and go balls-to-the-wall for flavor, as Mark tried to do by using real charcoal (only you do it, well, better).

Or you do what Dale did; a BBQ classic, but with unusual, original flavors. What a nice moment, when Dale was telling Refrigerator Perry what a hardcore Bears fan he was, only to have the Fridge reply, "Oh, yeah? Lemme get the ribs, come on!" You can bet, Dale, that the next batch of baby backs I do in my tandoori-ish Viking charcoal capsule will have a marinade inspired by you: yogurt, cardamom, lemon, coriander, cumin; an excellent idea, chef. Great job.

But, although I will be smoking these ribs here on the mean streets of Brooklyn, I'll leave the crotch-grabbing to you, Vinnie, and Jay-Z.Ryan, for a moment, there, you showed shades of last season's Brian: Selling your work with humor and charisma. But the idea just wasn't there. The moment I heard you talking about poaching pears for my Chicago peeps at a Bears game, I knew your prospects weren't good. (Poached pears? Sure, for the Ladies Who Lunch in Chanel suits and helmet hair.) Good luck to you, Chef.

Meanwhile, back at my other blog, on www.tedallen.net, it is no longer strictly a one-way conduit of information! The haikus are flying, reader questions are hot and spicy, and I have all the answers. Well, some of them. Check it out!

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