Top Chef: Just Can't Stand the Heat

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Well, it's official. Top Chef and I are in a fight. I'm loudly washing dishes and grumbling to myself while Top Chef sits hangdog in the living room, staring at the floor. Top Chef is quietly driving while I stare out the window and keep angrily turning up the radio. Our friends at the dinner party all laugh nervously as I bitterly snap at Top Chef for doing another stupid thing. We'll get over it, it's not a deal-breaking fight. But right now I am sour and surly and slightly sad. What was the cause of all this pointy domestic strife? Well, the spoily answer is:

They eliminated Mattin. Mattin! Our little Basque Frenchman with glimmering shimmer-pools for eyes and a spritely, sing-song, tiny woodchuck voice. He was too kind and dainty for this cruel, knife-edged world. All the woodland nymphs and feathery fairy creatures that make up Mattin's circle of friends simply adore his delicate foodstuffs--things like tiny ringing bells made of caramel, wee bright green soups concocted from moss and various magick dusts. But out here in the hot, horrid reality TV real world? Well, the cynical taste buds of folks like grizzly man Tom Colicchio, zombified priestess Padma Lakshmi, and some sorta mumbling asshole of a cowboy chef... They just can't appreciate the delicate fantasy flavors of Mattin's enchanted cuisine. Harumpf!

Um, so, OK. Sure. In the real real world? It just didn't seem that Mattin was that good of a chef. Or, I'm sure he's a good chef, but just not really suited for the harem-scarem world of fast-paced, camera-lit television cooking. Which is fine! That is just how some people are. But with a season that so far is suffering from a dearth of genuinely interesting Characters, Mattin represented something ridiculous and fun. A tiny French chef who claims, ahem, not-so-believable things about who he likes to make out with at the end of the day. A curious, almost-alien creature of little red scout boy scarves and spaghetti-limbed silliness. Now his bright, sugar-caked essence has been blighted by the cruelty of rejection. Did the forest of FernGully suddenly turn dark and sad last night? Did fairies gasp and clutch at their chests, suddenly learning all the pains and awfuls of the outside world? For shame, Top Chef! To eliminate someone based on raw ceviche when they're doing such good for cartoon-faced dreamers everywhere. A loss. Heads hang low. A loss.

Anyway. The show! The actual meat 'n smoke-pits of the episode. The "celebrity" chef this time was, as mentioned above, a complete dickhead named Who the Hell Cares. He was mumbly and gruff and seemed to think that he actually means something when in actuality he's just some schmo with a restaurant in Texas. Anyone can have a restaurant in Texas! Actually, I already have a restaurant in Texas! It's called Madam Mattin's Mimsy Maison. It opened just last night. And, erm, it closed this morning. But for one night! Oh it was wonderful. The Sweet Dreams Sorbet--an entree made of happy lion tears and Gleeberry jam--was the hit of the food world! What I'm sayin' is that the dude was being a jerk and it was uncalled for.

The Quick Fire challenge was all about things that are hard to cook with. Things like kangaroo and cactus and, at Padma's wild-eyed request, human brains. It was up to VIEWERS LIKE YOU to send a sext into Bravo HQ to decide which strange product that poor, sweaty cheferoos would be forced to use. Though Padma plead all night to her zombie gods for viewers like you to self-destructively choose your own brains, y'all bastids picked cactus. Cactus! Because it is prickly and scary and, I guess, no poor cute little kangaroos (or people) had to be murdered. Just dry-ass, prickly-ass plants. So fair enough! Cactus away, everyone. Except no one really knew what the H E double L to do with ooey gooey cactus. Yeah, cacti aren't actually dry at all because they need to store water for long periods of time because the desert is dry. So basically cacti are the camels of the plant world. As we all know, if you cut open a camel, green goo comes out. Food Facts!

Some people, like the Zattarain's pitchman, really couldn't figure anything out, so they just threw the cactus in a pot and yelled "Sauce!" And it was sauce. But some folks--our usual Cool Kids, the Brothers Grim and Ari Gold--boy howdy, they knew what they was doin'. Also! Other lesser people knew what they were doing too! Surpriiiiiising people. People like Nondescript Brown-Haired Woman and, ZOMG, lil' Mattin. When Mattin found out he was in the top, for some sort of breaded cactus thing, he made a little squeal and did a wee "Yay!" with his hands that was either adorable or disgusting. Maybe both. In some ways it wasn't at all surprising that those two were among the best of the QuiF because the producers had profiled them laboriously in the opening bits of the episode. And that means that they'll either do well or they will fail spectacularly (or, as in poor Mattin's case, both). So a little shake-up was nice to see, even though, blarrrghhh, Ari Gold won in the end. Sigh. Give the man his little pouch of $15,000. Glurg.

Next it was time for the real challenge. Our mean old guest judge--who had resorted to just curtly nodding during the QuiF instead of actually saying anything, because he is a big fat jerk--told them they were going to be driven out to the middle of the desert and left for dead. Eventually a roving band of ranchers would come sauntering out of the dusty oblivion and would either shoot them, rope and brand them, or try some of their delicious range-cooked lunchtime delicacies. The producers, being brilliant and cruel, cut right to Mattin's deviled-egg grin when Professor Texas said the word "cowboys." Make of that what you will. Oh, and there was one other component to the challenge. The ranch was far away, so the kids would be spending the night there. What did that mean???

Well as it turned out, that meant sleeping in tents in the middle of the goddamned desert. Just little canvas things. I don't know about you, but if I was stuck in the desert with Ari Gold, the Zattarain's rice guy, and that Lady Who Will Kill You, I'd run weeping into the night. Not even the presence of a beguiling French twinkle-elf (who loves ze camping! ohhh all his life he is loving ze camping!) could make me stay. But these drunken buffoons all have their careers on the line, so they were forced to stay. "Eww smelly sweaty stinky tents!!" is all I could think. Shrieeeeek! Someone had to share a tent with Eli! Blerrrrghhh. Actually I think Old Mister Zattarain's had that distinct honor. Am I remembering wrong? Whoever Zatts stayed with, they were protected from voodoo snakes. 'Cause Zatts just literally tore down huge tree limbs with his bare hands like some sort of jovial monster and set up a little pile of sticks in his tent's front yard to ward off bad animals. Terrific.

So those were their rustic digs, tiny stinktents in the middle of the desert. I wonder what the camera crew and producers did. Was there a hotel nearby? Did they too have to sleep in fart-tepees? Somehow I'm guessing not. There was probably a Winnebago or something. Ah well, it was only one night anyway. When everyone awoke the next day (Zattarain's and his tent-mate riddled with horrible snakebites, because voodoo rarely works!) it was onto the cooking. They'd prepped some food before, and alas some of it didn't travel well. Namely, seafood. Lemme just put this question out there: If you were cooking at a ranch in the desert in Nevada, why would you think that fish is the way to go? "Oh I know! What goes better with sand and grit and no ocean for hundreds of miles than fish?" It was the height of stupid. Though, actually, some people made good fish things. But those were mostly made by the Cool Kids, so y'know how that goes.

Since there were only fire pits and a few tall skinny counter tops, ey'body was running around like crazy. Zattarain's tried to procure a sword to pierce open his coconuts. He couldn't find one. So he used voodoo. Edie Falco, red hair shining like a phoenix in the sandy sun, decided to grill some lettuce and put gross-looking shrimp on top of it. Yes, that actually happened. Grilled Lettuce Gimp Shrimp was the name of her dish and it looked like a pile of bugs on top of greasy lettuce. Which, actually, is exactly what it was. Other people made other things, none of which looked particularly remarkable. Except Older Brother Grim, who made a delicious thing with polenta and meats and stuff that I would eat a lot of.

Then! Tumbleweed! Jackrabbits! The cast of Hey Dude! It was time for the ranchers to make their entrance. We (or at least I) excepted a menagerie of grizzled and fingerless folks. Real hardtack biscuit boys (and gals). But I guess maybe ranching is sorta trendy for moneyed Sou'Westers? 'Cause most of them were like dressed well and spoke fairly eloquently about the various dishes that the sun-baked chefs set before them. The judges were, of course, the most discerning, as they sat there under a canopy and said nasty little things about these sad wannabes.

The surprise was: They really liked Ashley's. Yes, perpetual bottom-dweller Ashley made a sort of deconstructed club sangawich sorta thing except with fish (fish!) instead of turkey. Everyone said it tasted like a club sandwich. So, good for her. The non-surprises were: Everyone loved the Brothers Grim and hated Mattin's disastrous ceviche, Zattarain's slightly-less-disastrous ceviche but truly horrid coconut cocktail, and Edie Falco's Rot Pot. Tom Colicchio actually got up and spat out a piece of Mattin's uncooked cod. Somewhere, a be-winged ladybug wearing a hat said "Don't throw it away, I will eat it!" But she went unheard. When discussing one of the Brothers' dishes, crinkled wine-addict Gail Simmons said "I'd pretty much trust him with anything," or something like that that made me laugh and say "Ooooooo, someone's got a crush!" Oh, Gail. You're married now! That is not allowed.

The heat bearing down on everyone, pancake makeup melting and Padma prodding hungrily at people's soft almost-cooked flesh, the judging moved to the safely air-conditioned judge's table, where heads both swelled and rolled. The top kids were the Brothers, natch, but also Ashley and, I think, that nondescript lady with brown hair who caters things. Good for those two ladies! Though of course in the end they didn't win. Because winning is only for the Cool Kids. Older Brother won for his polenta thing. Food OnDemand, I ask again: Why do you not exist yet? So, bored with yet another Cool victory, the lauded chefs tromped back to the food cellar and told the three fishy disasters that they were in the bottom. Edie didn't look terribly surprised, Zattarain's is sorta impossible to read (all I know about him is that he really likes swords, and rice), and Mattin was shocked.

Shocked! Because he had tasted his ceviche and liked it (unlike Edie who tasted her scrimps too late and almost died from Bad Flavor), and he just didn't understand what had gone wrong. Tom Colicchio laid into him pretty hard (but not in the way Mattin, late at night, wished for) and it was obvious, as it sorta had been since the episode started and we got a suspiciously high dosage of Mattin coverage, that he would go home. When Padma issued her sympathetic guttural moan, his little face crumbled and a thousand spirits died. Oh poor Mattin. Our most interesting Cheftestant, sent back to the glitter mines of his adopted hollow, San Francisco. A tear, a tear!

But don't worry. There's still plenty of Mattin to be had. Yes! He's done some pretend-modeling. Sometimes with a dog! Ohhh Mattin. You silly goose. (Who is friends, probably, with a family of silly geese.) What strange presence you were on this gruff and mean show. Gruffer and meaner I think than a lot of other reality shows. There's something acrid and angular about cheffery. There's something so boastful and ego-driven and angry about it! Those are not words I would ever use to describe the son of Pan and a dandelion tuft. No, no, no. He should have been on a show where you cook food for tiny cats wearing bonnets. A show where you just say the word "marzipan" as many times as you can in a minute and then everyone gets a trophy in the end anyway. That would be a good show for him. Not cruel Top Chef! Not a place where you look silly for wearing a red French sailor scarf. Not a place where those mean brothers keep winning everything while the Lady Who Will Hurl Acid In Your Face and Yell "Eat It, Sucka!" nips at their tattooed heels.

Mattin, I hope you've not been gobbled and crunched-up by your experience on this show. I hope you still feel baubled and light and airy and wispy. Who cares if you can't cook under TV pressure? That's not a real life skill. Not really. But being able to talk to flowers? Worth its weight in gold.

Tiny specs of shimmering gold.

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