Question: Whatever happened to Glad? Where are you, freezer storage bags and snap-and-seal containers? This fine, fine family of food storage products appears to have migrated away from the culinary dust bowl, like the Joads.
Other than that, things are as they ever were in “Top Chef” world. Our latest installment begins with….
…I don’t know.
I’m sorry to admit this, but I missed the beginning. Yet I’ve watched enough “Top Chef” to be able to imagine the first few minutes.
A hazy orange sun rises behind the Capitol. Traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue goes zoom zoom. Cut to the Top Chef town home. We’re still early in the not-enough-beds part of the season, so we see our sleeping cheftestants spooning. Groggily they wake up and head to the kitchen. A caravan of black limousines pulls up to take them to the Hilton hotel.
“You know, this is where Reagan was shot,” one chef comments. An ominous chord of music swells. At that moment, Padma bursts through the door to “Top Chef” kitchen with a bald man who isn’t Tom. Cut to a closeup of excited recognition on a contestant’s face. It’s Sam Kass, the White House chef!
“Hello, chefs,” says Padma, starting her three lines of inane canned dialogue. The only way that anything gets accomplished in Washington is with a spirit of bipartisanship. So, you know, put on red and blue aprons and make sandwiches. Mmm’kay?
[UPDATE: A coworker who did not miss the beginning of the show informed me the aprons were tied together, so each pair could only use two of their four hands to cook. No word on the fate of the other two hands.]
QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE: The bipartisan sandwich, or: Nancy Pelosi’s midnight fantasy
Question: Does Padma actually call the result of this Quickfire Challenge the “bipartisandwich?”
Whatever. As I flick on the TV, I find the bipartisan sandwich commission of Angelo and Tracey kicking it.
“She’s like my twin sister,” Angelo, before whispering nasty things in her ear about Kenny the arch-nemesis. This promises evil machinations to come, which is a good thing. With any narrative luck, Tracey and Angelo will turn out to be the gay Boris and Natasha of this season. Ve vill get you, squirrel!
And look! Tracey and Angelo win big with their flounder sandwich! Sam Kass loves the herbs and Sriracha sauce on it, and so they both enter the elimination challenge with immunity.
If Sam Kass is behind the fork, you know what’s coming next. A big plug for First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! program to eradicate childhood obesity with better nutrition and exercise.
Did you know, you deconstructors of duck, that the average school lunch program has only $2.60 to spend per child? So let’s see if you can make something nutritious that kids will want to eat in the…
ELIMINATION CHALLENGE: Prepare a balanced meal for 50 middle schoolers with a budget of $130, or: The Lunch Lady’s Revenge.
The chefs break into four teams of four, with gay Boris and Natasha given the right to choose their teammates. Sneaky. They know that if their team goes down in the challenge, one of their teammates will take the fall. (I cchave fiendish plan to get squirrel!) So, of course they choose Kenny and some other anodyne dude who I’m not concentrating on enough to get his name.
They draw up their menus.
What do kids like?
Melon! Peanut butter! Tacos! Gnocchi! Gnocchi?
Are you serious? “If you bleep gnocchi in front of them, they’ll bleep!” Amanda (the olive-complected brunette of no discernible cooking style) warns Tamesha, and truer words have never been spoken.
Before long, the chefs find themselves at Whole Foods sobbing on the floor by $12 bunches of organic fennel. Kidding! They go to a place called Restaurant Depot, a store so vast and warehousey that it makes Costco look like Star Provisions. This store is so big you have to cross the Maryland state line if you want to buy that pallet of creamed corn in aisle 624.
Corners are cut and ingredients returned as the chefs come to grips with their $130 budgets. Jacqueline, the whiny caterer of low-fat chicken liver goop fame, must return her expensive chocolate. Yet Amanda gets to keep her bottle of sherry. If she can get the kids liquored up, she’s got them in the bag.
Much frantic chopping ensues. Kelly, a determined and hard working Coloradan, braises pork for carnitas and makes her own tortillas out of…oats, is it?
Jacqueline, still mourning her chocolate, finds herself in the midst of another food disaster. Her starchy bananas will not break down into pudding, so she keeps adding more and more sugar, thinking of the effect of sand on sea glass. Jacqueline thinks: Kids like sugar, right? They’ll go ape for this stuff, and those damn fool judges will think it’s healthy because bananas are fresh fruit. Heh, heh…
Somewhere in here, an interstitial snippet of film shows Tracey talking about helping to raise her girlfriend’s child, and admitting that they eat fast food at least once a week.
And now the chefs must decamp to Alice Deal Middle School and prepare their 16 courses of food that is inexpensive yet nutritious and still foofy enough for the judges. Somewhere, Jamie Oliver is laughing.
The children and judges descend. Tom and Padma bring Sam Kass and the Simpsons lunch lady as special judges.
So, yummy! Kelly’s tacos, Arnold’s corn salad, Lynne’s black bean cake and Tiffany’s sweet potato and sorbet dessert.
Boo, yucky! Angelo’s peanut butter and celery, a sorry excuse for a vegetable. Jacqueline’s banana stucco. Stephen’s mushy rice.
The judges pull a fast one and ask the losers to come first. “Childhood nutrition has become a huge health crisis in this country,” Padma says, and the chefs stare at their feet.
Sam Kass gets preachy. Why did Jacqueline try and rescue those sorry bananas? “That’s what happens when we don’t use good ingredients,” he sniffs. “We add more sugar.”
And Amanda. Sherry? Are you nuts? “I love vodka, but I’m not cooking with it,” Gail Simmons exclaims.
A decision is reached. Not only must Jacqueline pack her knives, but she can no longer go within 500 feet of a school, and she has to take the rest of the banana pudding with her. Harsh. Goodbye hapless caterer.