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The Art of Culinary War

Hugh Acheson examines Nookie's worldly skills.

By Hugh Acheson

The chefs are off to Morocco.

This whole episode could play out stranger than a Paul Bowles novel but has no possibility of being weirder than the film version of Naked Lunch, unless you get them all really stoned on “Majoun,” a powerful version of hashish. That’s a whole other show concept, though. 

Coming out of the gate Chaz is all anti-Avery. He thinks she is taking credit for the success of others. Chaz is jealous because he didn’t think of this strategy. I think the thought is misinformed though… Avery is just better than Chaz and he’s feeling a bit chuffed.

Didn’t see this coming but I am perplexed that the person with the most worldly travel experience is a man named Nookie. Soon we realize though that while Nookie has some Moroccan experience, he is not very thrilled to be back. Morocco freaks Nookie out. I think there is a warrant out for him in Marrakech for some mercenary work he did with the French secret service back in the mid '80s. 

I think Nookie has written a book called The Art of Culinary War: Lessons in Screwing with People’s Minds While Peppering the World with Humor. This guy has a better strategic mind than anyone I have ever seen on a competitive cooking show. He is the guy no one wants to play Risk with, but he’s good to have on your team.

The Exceptional Ingredient race is a mindless meandering to the medina. Funky and cold it is not, but sexist and weird it is. To the Central Park South horse drawn carriages! Three teams are formed and they are: Black Team is Nookie, Avery, and John. Red Team is Liz, Jenna, and Nicole. White Team is Chaz, Gary, and Nick. Nick and John haven’t really stood out so far. Until they do I will call them Slice of White Bread A (John) and Slice of White Bread B (Nick). Doesn’t taste like much, but it’s always there. Getting around without the language is a little sketchy. Gary is lulling people into submission with his perfect French. The Red Team is getting hissed at. Oh the modern men of Morocco. Wake up, fellas. You let Bowles and Burroughs run free and wild -- now it's time to let the ladies enjoy themselves without full headdress. Call it progress. 

They all have to find the Ben Boubker spice shop and then pick out the makings of Ras El Hanout, a common spice blend used in many North African foods. 

The last team arriving is the White Team and they actually pull out the win, even with Nookie, literally, throwing his weight around. Chaz wears shades inside which now has me humming that Corey Hart song. He was Canadian you know. No apologies for our exports. 

They are now off to the top floor of some restaurant that specializes in mint tea. A bunch of old guys show them the secrets of the pour and then prod and beat them with sticks. Gary has been pouring shots into the gullets of sorority girls for years as their social coordinator and chef, so he may have an advantage. Alas, the Black Team wins and gets the special power amulet: a demure man named Ahmed, their guide through the world of tagines and their personal shopper through the medina. Looks like this will be a special assist and really give them an advantage. Oh, they also get to split $15,000 in cash, which makes Nookie very nervous. Slice of White Bread A once won $20 in a scratch off ticket from a truck stop in Illinois. Wow. 

Curtis is looking beautiful in this African sun. He knows it too. 

The tagine is a Berber dish. It’s slow braise cooked in a special vessel that has a shallow bottom with about two-inch high sides and then a conical top. The top allows the moisture from the cooking ingredients to circulate and steam back into the food. Hiss. It’s less brothy than a stew and usually has lamb or chicken and  vegetables in it with a full complement of spices. They each have to make a tagine and two sides. The foremost American expert on Moroccan food is Paula Wolfert who back in the early '70s wrote Couscous and other Good Food from Morocco. My Paula story is this: I am a big fan, but we crossed paths in the strangest way. I moved to San Francisco in 1998 and was busy staying at my sister’s house faxing resumes to various restaurants. I was having a lot of issues getting one resume faxed correctly. The number was off and it just wasn’t working. After about 20 attempts I get a call on the fax machine from a very annoyed woman, announcing, “This is Paula Wolfert and why are you trying to fax my home phone?” Oops. I apologized and found the correct number. She hung up. So we’re close… real close. 

Nookie to Avery: “Do you want to go pet the monkey?”

You have to be careful in some countries. Things can be morally misconstrued. This would be misconstrued everywhere. 

They all suck at making tagines. They just make stews with spices. Couscous should not be cold unless you’re at a salad bar in Silicon Valley on Worldly Eats days. 

John attempts to communicate with the waiters by bringing them flowers, but these guys are not having it. In North Carolina and Morocco you cannot, as a man, bring another man flowers. 

Beet Gate. Avery’s beets get cleared by mistake. She accuses Chaz. They get into it. Gary solves it all and Chaz gets mad at Gary. Chaz is also mad at an imaginary gnome named McGillicutty. Everything and everyone angers Chaz. Chill Chaz, chill. 

Chaz is convinced there is “something personal” between him and Avery. No Chaz, you’re just being a weiner. Put your head down and cook. 

Slice of White A has undercooked the beans. Crunchy beans are no good in any language. He is apologetic and has no good reason why this has happened. But he runs that Fez room like it’s a TGI Friday’s. Finesse, aplomb, and pin-on buttons of positive affirmation are what make this room roll. Sun Tzu, I mean Nookie, is schooling Avery in the art of war. Nookie is feeling good and may be integral in the overthrow of many North African governments by the end of the show. Chaz is still very pissy about the beets. Let it go, Chaz. Slice of White B is solid with the White Team plan to vote Avery off, but his reasoning is that its because Avery is actually really good and therefore a long term threat. 

Liz is really good in the front-of-house role, but Red Team’s food is also just better, though I liked Avery’s trio of salads too in Black Team land. Looked good. Chaz is convinced Avery’s salad was made by someone else and that there was a second shooter in the JFK assassination. 

White Team

Chaz Brown - Couscous with Roasted Vegetables

Gary Walker - Chickpea, Carrot and Tomato Salad

Nick Lacasse - Chicken Tagine with Green Olives and Preserved Lemons

Black Team

Avery Pursell and John Vermiglio - Trio of Moroccan Salads

Steve "Nookie" Postal - Beef and Vegetable Tagine

John Vermiglio - Saffron Stewed White Beans

Red Team

Liz Garrett - Saffron Couscous with Onions, Vegetables and Harissa

Jenna Johansen - Lamb Tagine with Garden Vegetables

Nicole Lou - Rice Pudding with Orange Flower Water

Red Team wins. Liz wins the episode with her front-of-house fortitude and her Couscous. 

Chaz goes home to fax his resume to Paula Wolfert. Call me, Chaz -- I think I have her number. 

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