Everyone has heroes. Sometimes heroes are plumbers. Sometimes they are the older boys who play at the other end of the soccer field. Sometimes they are wizards. Sometimes they might be cats. Heroes come in all different shapes and sizes. A hero to one person might not be a hero to another. For Mario Batali, a hero is literally a hero sandwich. But for other chefs! For other chefs their heroes are... other chefs.. And that is what we explored on Top Chef last night. What happens when we confront our heroes? Is there any way to win?
OK, let's start at the very beginning. Do you guys know who Daniel Balou is? Daniel Balou is the formal name of Balou the Bear from The Jungle Book. After Balou had a relapse of beardom and devoured young Mowgli in one zesty bite, he needed to get outta the jungle and go lay low somewhere until the heat died down. As he's always loved food, and not necessarily just that of a 12-year-old jungle orphan, Balou decided he would maybe start a cooking career. So he moved to France and narrowly avoided eating Julia Child (thank God for that brave Stanley Tucci) and learned how to cook. He learned bouillabaisse and Bearnaise and other classy-talk food names and he eventually became so good, this kindly Balou the Bear, that he opened his own restaurants and they became popular (everyone loved the Mowgli Mulligatawny) and sure enough one day he became a hero to many chefs across this great swirling blueberry of a world of ours. And so eventually the time came for Balou to pass on his chefly knowledge to the simpering and huddled masses that lay groveling at his feet. And he decided to do this by appearing on Top Chef.
Yes, Balou was the guest judge on this French-inspired episode. The whole thing was about how French people are better than you. It's true. They cook better and can taste things better and their language is prettier and they invented delicious foodstuffs like frozen French Bread Pizzas (in France they just call them frozen Bread Pizzas). They have basically mastered the art of living while us dumb, bulbous Americans just sorta scrape and grunt along, hoping no one notices us as we stuff our maws full of potato chips and weep tears made of light beer and corn syrup. And the people who know this best are the Top Cheftestants. Because the Chefstestants have all, well almost all, studied the wonders of French cuisine and French living and French bear-chefs (as opposed to American bear-chefs, like Tom Colicchio) to the point where they lie awake at night, cradling their favorite whisks, big floppy chef's hats still scrunched tightly on their heads, and they close their eyes and wish on a Jimminy Cricket that they were French. "Oh please let me wake up Frnech, oh please let me wake up French..." But it never happens. They're still just plumply American as ever when they wake up in the morning. So it's back to the sel mines for our lonely friends, maybe one day, after enough toiling and cooking and sweating into Hollandaises, their wishes will come true. (Of course there are non-Americans on the show this season, like Hector from Puerto Rico, the Zattarain's guy from Haiti, and darling pickled turnip Mattin from Pumpernickel Peak, but... feh.)
Anyway! The kids were all drunk and bundled in their dress whites when they were taken over to the uber-fancy Wynn resort and hunting lodge or whatever for their Quick Fire challenge. They were met by piles of snails crawling and oozing all over each other in some desperate attempt to get somewhere, anywhere. Once they walked past the gamblers, they arrived at a table and Balou and Tom Calou. On the table were jars of escargot, which is classy-talk for shell-slugs. Nothing is more French than a slimy thing that hides in its shell the minute
Nazis come rolling into town some chefs come to cook them. So yeah, obvs migovs the challenge was to cook snails in such a way that Tom Colicchio and Balou don't put the dish delicately to their lips then yell and spit the food out everywhere and shout "Blaahhggghhh! Snails! Ackkkthhhhpttt!" Because that is what normal people should do when presented with the idea of eating frigging snails. Considering that, this is a pretty tricky challenge. Balou knows his snails, from the days he used to dig them out of the muck and mud of the jungle with his great furry paw. So you'd better impress him.
Some contestants were excited about snails. Pretty pixie Mattin figures that since he's a Frenchman himself, he will do just fine. He's used to handling wriggling, sometimes-slimy things anyway. Ahem. The blond Lady Who Will Kill You was frickin' petrified 'cause she don't cook with no fruity snails like nevuh, so what's she gonna do? Piercings Carmichael just wanted to prove to everyone that she is in fact a good chef, though we kind of know at this point that she is not, in fact, a good chef because she keeps being on the bottom and not doing anything right like ever. Ah well.
The funny thing about this Quick Fire? Someone, when the dust was settled, would be quickly fired. As in, it was an elimination Quick Fire. Damn, Gina! That's crazytowne. So this set everyone's chefpants in a bunch because to go home on a Quick Fire would be mortifying. Even worse, they had been assigned snails, which are really hard, because as Your Uncle put it, they don't really taste like anything. And I thought to myself, vodka dribbling down my chin, THEN WHY DOES ANYONE EAT THEM. Seriously, if they don't taste like anything, what is the big attraction to eating freaking slime bugs? It just seems so bizarre to me. But, the French are weird. They eat frogs' legs when those things really do taste just like chicken. I guess they like slimy things. I guess the French just have a penchant (that's classy-talk for boner) for stuff that is gooey and slimy and gross. Good work, Frenchies!
Hiss went pots and pufffffttt went fire as everyone ran around in cheffy circles trying to make their goo turtles taste good. Edie Falco decided that what would go better with snails than breakfast? Sure. Snails for breakfast, kids. Jimmy don't you have a math test today? C'mon, eat your snails. Worst day of a kid's life right there. Worst day ever. Let's see... Your Uncle made something Southern and bacony, because he himself is Southern and bacony. He is really bacony, especially. His name should be Applewood. So Applewood made that thing and Ari Gold the toothy bastid made something else and the brothers grim made their snails look and taste pretty. Everyone else, Edie Falco included, royally slimed the bed. I felt bad that Balou and Tom Colicchio had to sit there eating snail after snail after snail. It was like watching an episode of Fear Factor if everyone on Fear Factor was wearing a suit and spoke French. It was pretty gross. When it came time to announce the winner, the Lady Who Will Drown You in Your Own Bathtub came up just short. Still pretty good considering how worried she was. She will be Top 3. Fearless forecast. Anyway, lil' Applewood won in the end, and he did a sensual, beardy belly dance in a very bacony manner and Balou looked on hungry and curious. He missed the taste of people. Mowgli had taught him that.
There on the bottom three were a host of usuals: Edie Falco. Piercings Bergdorf. And the lady who got mad about the bachelor challenge. Basically Balou really hated them and so did Tom, but because escargot are such a difficult puss bug to cook, the three ladies had another chance. Alls they had to do is back their cute little behinds back into the kitchen, slough off their shoes, and rustle up some amuse bouches for Tommy and the boys. Sounded fair. So after firing a pistol in the air the women squawked off to the kitchen to make some teeny tiny foods. They only had 20 minutes to save their lives. It was intense. But they got their little dishes in and Tom and Balou wandered in, Balou now off his chain for the first time, licking his lips expectantly. The girls suddenly knew then what would await the lady who was sent home. She would be Balou's first human meal in a long, long while.
After tasting little trinkets made by everyone, Balou and Tom conferred and it was time to drop the axe. After all the excuses and failures and face holes, it was time for Piercings Finnegan to have her wake. Goodbye, sterling princess! Goodbye to lengthy explanations of how and why you screwed up! Goodbye to someone who caves under pressure so why come on this show in the first place! Goodbye to all that. Piercings Platt 2009-2009. All is dust of her now, churning in a Disney bear's belly.
So OK, that sad business done with, here was the d-dizzle for the major c-chizzle. Applewood? Bearded f_cker won the Quick Fire so he got a special prize. His special prize was that he got to have the meal with the judges rather than cook it. Though, this was sort of a curse in disguise in a way, because the challenge for ey'body else was to cook a meal for all of their Heroes. See how this comes around? They get to cook for their heroes, share their craft, and all Applewood gets to do is sit there and smile, baconly. Everyone was especially excited to cook for/meet/fall into the thrall of a guy who was named "chef of the century" by French people. This man's name is Joel Robuchon, but most of us know him by his assumed name, Emperor Palpatine. This man is so old and so wretched and so powerful, that his voice module system won't even let him speak English. He only speaks French. And the Force. He speaks the Force pretty well too. You know how Joel Robuchon cooks chicken? With the lightning bolts that shoot out of his hands. You know how Joel Robuchon stirs a bechamel into existence? With his mind.
Whatever! All the kids got paired up with other kids. One kid had a protein, the other had a classic French sauce, and they had to figure out what went best together and create a six course meal for the Emperor and his most trusted advisers. Everyone was kind of pooping bricks about this. It was a really, really big deal to be cooking for their hero. It was a really, really big deal to be making French food for their French hero. Ari Gold was upset because he doesn't make French food. He makes Greek food. Mattin, deer-eyes sparkling like two cartoon diamonds, was excited because, once again, he is French. And just as I am American and can therefore make a No Health Care casserole beautifully and succinctly and quickly, Mattin can make little French foods that wear darling hats in his sleep. (Mattin sleeps on a bed of clovers and navel fuzz, he snores like this: "Ohhh mewmewmew... Ohh mewmewmew...") So there were mixed feelings, shall we say, about the Frenchtown Get-down. But everyone had to do it, no matter what.
Ari teamed up with Older Brother, the Lady Who Will Use Gardening Shears to Delicately Prune Your Face paired up with Younger Brother. These are the kids, these are the cool, talented kids here, guys. Everyone else is just imitation butter compared to these glistening yellow hunks of promise. And they know it. They threw their flirty high school weight all over the Whole Foods. "Look at us! We're casual and relaxed because we're good and popular!" No one ever grows up. Kids, if there are any kids reading (and I hope there aren't), never listen to your parents when they say "Oh they'll grow out of it." Because no one ever grows out of anything, really. Doing their part as the weird foreign guy and the old lesbian actress who's randomly at school with everyone, Zattarain's and Edie Falco were paired up and it was... not an ideal match. See she just yammers and yammers and yammers and all he wants to do is clap his hands, bellow "Zattarain's!!" once, and get cooking. So they kinda fought and were at odds. Oh well.
Everyone struggled and fought and temperatured meats and bubbled pots and Mattin sprinkled fairy dust into his dish, hoping it would go over well. Too bad his partner was the squid ink pasta-haired lady who hates marriage and all she did was say "Yes, I mean oui! Haha, oui!" the whole time. She didn't do anything, is what I'm saying. She just lamely followed Mattin's lead. That, friends, is not how you win on Top Chef. That's how you narrowly avoid elimination for a little while and then finally get shot right in the face. That's how you make yourself filler, cannon fodder. It's boring and lazy. Is what it is. So, she should go home. Why stay if you're not even going to try? Bah. We've no room for her.
Dinner bell! Did you hear it, ringing over the little hills of this tiny French village? Little Jean-Jacques put down his hoop and stick and ran inside for coq au vin. Wee (oui!) Sandrine grabbed her milk pail and headed towards home, thinking about a delicious souffle. And in Las Vegas a bunch white dudes and Padma (and Gail Simmons, too) sat down to be served fake French food by a bunch of boorish Americans. Oh and Applewood? He just sat there and chuckled and later on everyone made him stand up and do his sad little belly dance. They clapped and threw nickles at his feet and he wept greasy tears. The actual meal? It went well! For the most part, it went well. Emperor Palpatine turned out to be a genial old fellow in a weird outfit who said nice things and basically offered everyone a job. So good for him!
Of course, though, there were bests and there were worsts. As we all knew was going to happen, because this is how life works, always, the Cool Kids reigned supreme. The Brothers Grim and their partners, Ari and the Lady Who Will Rig An Elaborate Death Trap and Then Walk Away Assuming You Are Dead and Actually This Time You Will Die, Unlike In James Bond Films made delicious things out of fish and rabbit. No gross slimy things! Out of everyone, though, they named Older Brother the winner for his delicious fish dish, and everyone else grumbled and made faces. The Cool Kids have secret wars between each other. It will get ugly.
Down on the bottom end? Well, Hector and the little Cubby Bear guy did not impress with their mangled, sauceless steak thing. And, sacre bleu!, Mattin and Cannon Fodder failed to do anything interesting with their asparagus and somethin' else plate. (There was a raviolo involved, if memory serves me.) So that was really embarrassing for Mattin. Really embarrassing that our little sparkle-prince from the littlest village in the littlest province in the littlest corner of France couldn't do justice to the dishes of his homeland. His spritely elf face dipped into a sad half moon parabola and we all wished we could run up and hug him and pet his spiky head and say "Sshhh sshhh" until we began to hear "Ohhh mewmewmew... Ohhh mewmewmew" and we knew he was asleep, safely in the land of wistful dreams. But don't worry! He will get a chance to redeem himself. Yes, in the end it was proud warrior Hector who was sent packing for his hacked steak, which Gail Simmons really, really didn't like. Meat must be cut (and cooked!) evenly on this show, folks. It ain't a Cracker Barrel. So Hector seemed dejected and he trundled off and that's the last we'll see of his dark Viking features. Adios, friendo.
That was pretty much it. Except, oh! It was Mattin's birthday. Little Mattin turned 29 years old and there was a pool party for him. He wore a little pointy hat and had cake all over his face and he dangled around, drunk as a monk, and went swimming in the hottub and everyone marveled at his darlingness. He's basically a porcelain figurine of a melancholy clown flying a kite or looking a flutterby. At one point someone tried to put him to bed after he declared that he was so drunk, but Mattin said "Non! I'm not going to bed," and I laughed and laughed because I've been there. I mean, not actually there (sigh), but like in that situation. The I'm-never-gonna-sleep-ever-again-cause-this-is-so-much-fun! moment of the evening when, really, you should go to bed. Maybe that was his problem during the challenge! Maybe he was just hungover. Let's hope so. For his sake. Because you don't want to think that he just can't cook all that well. Not when he's representing San Francisco by way of France for all le monde to see. No. That would be sad. And we don't want Mattin to be sad. We want him to feel like a hero. Like Jeanne d'Arc. Only with less burning.
That's it! No more. Adieu, adieu. Remember Piercings.