When I was 19 years old, I participated in a year-long “performance” internship at the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre in Jupiter, Florida. I learned how to clean, build, tap dance (disaster) and fight at that Dinner Theatre. For Christmas and New Years, they pulled out the big guns and booked Robert Goulet. In the Dinner Theater world, that’s like landing Madonna. I fought tooth and nail to be assigned as his personal assistant for the week, and I beat out Nathaniel, who was a fellow intern and a major shit head. The year’s toilet scrubbing and tap dancing was all leading to this moment. Robert Goulet was gonna make me a star!
I only had to spend five minutes in his dressing room to see that dream die. He handed me a two page to do list and refused to speak as he walked around in his tightie whities (yikes) and hummed. I got the balls to hum along with him and he “playfully” (kiddin’, kid) threw a slipper at my head. One night, he stared at himself in the already clean mirror I was windexing and said “I’m hungry,” as if performing a mouth warm up. I silently brought him a can of Planter’s Mixed Nuts from his list. He slammed them down on the sink. “These are salted! Change ‘em!” Was this a test I had to pass for him to trust me and make me famous? I scrubbed those f***ers like they had cancer on them. By the time he got back from sound check, the unsalted nuts were waiting for him in a candy dish. They were still a little damp, but when he ate them he wasn’t upset. He smiled sadistically at me, and I realized Robert Goulet just schooled me on what a piece of shit I am. To this day, I have never felt as worthless as I did the Christmas I was forced to wash Robert Goulet’s nuts.
This week, Top Chef taught us that silence is deadly, more is more, and if you can’t stand the nuts, go down bitchin’.We start in silence. Without Frank, the loft is very, very quiet. Not a creature is stirring, not even a monkey. Wait…the monkey stirred. But Marcel woke up later than usual this morning, giving his loft mates, and us, an extra fifteen minutes of quiet time. For that, we should all thank Frank. You’d think that people would be happy to have some stillness for once, but the mood among the remaining Chefs is decidedly awkward.
It’s kind of sad that no one had anything nice to say about Frank’s absence. Most just chose mother’s suggested path and said nothing at all. Sam complained that Frank “grabbed him” when he was eliminated and broke his knife bag. That emotional gorilla! Way to be sensitive, Sam. Let’s not forget, Frank was a gentleman. Show him some respect.
Prosecution Exhibit A
I feel pity for the big lug when we find out today’s challenge involves a table stacked with liquor. This was his dream challenge. The Guest Judge is Kristin Woodward from Oysters Restaurant in Cornona del Mar. She’s a “mixologist” (re: bartender). Kristen smiles a big city-wide beauty pageant smile, but she looks like one of those girls who’ll scratch your face if you even look at her boyfriend’s hog. Kristin is a big girl with a tattoo on her shoulder and crazy hair, and because I am afraid of her, I love this Guest Judge. The challenge is to create a cocktail using Bailey’s and other dessert liqueurs to go along with a tasty holiday morsel for party season. Kristin looks like she’s sipped every trick in the book, and don’t let her open mouthed grin fool you: behind almost every beauty pageant smile lies a calculating sneer. All I want for Christmas is a nasty Guest Judge, and I have a feeling Santa might deliver this year.
Miss Corona Del Mar, 1991
None of the Chefs seem too intimidated by the art of “mixology”. Marcel figures he’ll do great, since he likes to drink, and Michael will be bummed if he can’t even win a bar challenge with a chunky white trash judge. Mia feels a mixed drink challenge is bogus and since she doesn’t drink, she has no idea what to do. Mia’s never been a mixologist or a bartender. Two jobs she hasn’t had? Mia is definitely off her game today. The fact that she’s been on the bottom tier for the past few challenges shaken with a jig of homesickness and a squirt of self-doubt has made one ornery Mia cocktail. Focus that anger into a drink, girl. Kristen looks like she would enjoy a shot of your misery. Instead, she threw some OJ, Crown, and mint Bailey’s into a casual rocks glass and slapped down a cracker with brie and a slice of mango. Good luck with that.
Ilan went down the Chanuka road and prepared a matza with horseradish and golden beets, served with a pint of Guiness, egg whites, and whisky. Elia’s caramel Bailey’s and ginger cappuccino with classic petit fours looked delicious, and Marcel’s “smoke and fire” took the prize for gayest dish. He served Bailey’s and coffee (how deep, brah) with one shot of whiskey and another of “vanilla vapor”. On top of the glass of vanilla, he placed a tiny potato pancake with pancetta and coffee grounds, claiming that the “bite” would “encapsulate the vapor”, just in case you’ve never had potato infused with burnt stick and vanilla before. Suddenly, my living room smelled like a scented candle after a Lay’s binge. Stop messing with my head, monkey!
Kristin’s beauty pageant smile disappeared the second judging began. I had to wonder if she was getting buzzed from tasting eight cocktails, because she was more hilarious and to the point with each sip. She starts off in happy buzz land, heaping praise on Ilan and taking in Sam’s flirty face. He gives her a true Days of Our Lives eyebrow arch and she falls for it hook, line and sinker. After eating Cliff’s sliced beef on a cracker, she said all she really wanted was a tiny burger with a Bailey’s shake. Cliff looks at her like “ooookay”. She tells Michael dessert was an obvious choice, but she stares at him in honest amusement as he bumbles excuses.
By the time she gets to Betty, her buzz is wearing off and she is a flat out bitch. She says she’s afraid to even try Betty’s heavy cream, rum, lime, and caramel Bailey’s drink because the lime and sugar curdled the surface and it looks disgusting. “Maybe it tastes good but…” (sip) “it doesn’t.” Ooh snap, Motorcycle Judge. As her new a-hole is being ripped apart, Betty smiles like she is getting the best news in the world, which confuses Kristin. She gave Betty and her drink a dirty look and turned away.
Betty, you have cancer, syphilis and AIDS.
She calls Mia’s “chocolate mama” out as the worst dish, saying it was too simple, which sends Mia into an almost catatonic state. She stares robotically into the camera and says the competition is really starting to take it’s toll on her. For the first time EVER, my cold heart melts a little bit for Mia. I was positive I would hate her again before the episode ended, but in that moment, I felt like a loving human being. I paused the Tivo, dug out a week old, left-over, half-eaten McDonald’s cheeseburger and put it next the dumpster in the alley. I dedicate that random act of kindness to you, Chocolate Mama!
Kristen likes Sam’s Bailey’s hot chocolate and eggnog French toast, and even though she dissed Michael’s obvious choice to come from the dessert angle, she couldn’t deny that his ice cream sandwiches tasted damned good. Out of all the Chefs, Cliff’s Bailey’s/vodka cocktail and sliced beef on a sesame wafer topped with creme fresh fondue was the closest thing to a burger and shake, and it won the love of Motorcycle Judge. She granted him immunity and passed out.
Padma has closeted last week’s bikini and fur freakshow and is back to the cute, bubbly Houston’s hostess personality. I find myself secretly wishing for Padma to turn back into a campy slut. It was just more….fun. This week, the Chefs will be split into two groups to cater Los Angeles Magazine’s Annual Holiday Party held at the New York set on the Warner Bros lot. There will be 200 guests, and the Chefs will be judged on their taste, originality, leadership, and “wow” factor. Mass producing multiple recipes in four hours is not easy, and Betty feels the pressure. She’s in her home city, where she does large events. This could directly affect her livelihood (note to Betty: so could losing your shit on national television, but please, do it again.) To compensate, she wears a weird breasty shirt and doesn’t craaaaaaack.
“I’m just a girl!”
She is on the Orange team with Sam, Ilan, and Marcel. They all decided that Sam should lead, either because he would be good at it or because he could get eliminated if he boned it. It’s a win/win. Sam takes the reigns comfortably and starts by instructing Betty and Marcel to put their “little thing” aside. What? Don’t make them do that! All I want for Christmas is a Christmas fight! PLEEEEEASSSSEEEE!!!
The Orange Team decides to make as many dishes as they can, and the Black team takes the opposite route and plans out three recipes. Cliff, Mia and Michael choose Elia as their team leader, and I smell trouble. Cliff has immunity, why the hell doesn’t he lead? Elia feels that three really well executed, high-end dishes would beat large quantities of various cheap goodies. Anyone who thinks that an all you can eat buffet during America’s Traditional Binge season only needs three choices is not from Mexico. They are from France! I’m onto you, Elia Aboumrad! I’m launching an investigation! A buffet challenge is a perfect challenge for Michael to lead. Every dish might be potato based, but it would be filling!
This competition is soooo rigged!
Mia is a professional caterer (and a barbeque-ologist, and a cowboy cook, and a brunch chef…) and has a lot of “valuable” information to offer up, but her team-mates aren’t liking her ideas. “Shhhhhhhhh…” She suggested gorgonzola and they looked at her like she said the n word. They almost uniformly say “no” and dismiss her. (slipper to the head.) Elia and Cliff decide they are going to go with seafood and Mia says three cold seafood dishes is ridiculous. I think we were all, for once, on Mia’s side here. More food = better party. Elia would rather starve her guests and leave them wanting more, but she doesn’t know LA. We arrive at parties wanting more because we’re already starving. Hold back on food in a room of constant dieters ready for “free day” and you’re lookin’ to get your arm eaten off.
Mia tells the team she feels her professional advice isn’t being “heard”. She says every idea she’s expressed has been shot down, and Cliff, who speaks many words with his face this week, looks at her like “well, come up with better ideas, then.” Since Mia is already down in the dumpster, she doesn’t have much will to fight. Even in the store, when Cliff calls her and tells her he and Elia decided the lobster and potato canape; (let me guess, Mike’s idea) is too “low end” and they are going to change it, Mia argues against deviating and bitches that Cliff and Elia are unfairly speaking for everyone. Still , she doesn’t put her foot down. Mike calls bullshit and grabs a case of frozen lobster anyway for a fourth dish. Otherwise, he and Mia both do what they’re told. They get busy preparing surf and turf canape, seared scallops, smoked salmon, and strawberries with marscapone and pancetta. Those are all extremely simple, and even when Daddy Tom questions their minimalistic approach to a BUFFET, Elia stands behind her decision. She isn’t going to change midstream, even though everyone around her is yelling “Noooooooooooo!!!!” All I want for Christmas is for someone to bone it harder than Elia in this challenge, because I am not ready to see her go just yet. I think she’s got some crazy left to squeeze out.
Marcel is the only one who thinks the Black Team might have been smart by going with only four dishes. He says simplicity is the sign of perfection. Listen to your own advice, kid and “shhhhhhhhhhhh”. Keep it simple, monkey. Simple.
Padma, Daddy Tom, and Guest Judge Lee Hefter, of Spago Beverly Hills, will be judging this challenge. Guest Motorcycle Judge didn’t make the cut after vomiting all over the contestants as she stumbled out of the Bailey’s Quickfire Challenge. They are joined by Ted Allen, from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and I can’t help but flash back to the QE episode where Ted shows the “straight” guy how to make fois gras. When the girlfriend tasted it, she spit it out. He just couldn’t understand how a housewife in Milwaukee wasn’t all ga-ga for duck liver. LOL, Ted. To me, Ted Allen will always be vulnerable and struggling, and for that, I love him. To make feelings even warmer, Daddy Tom is happy as pie today, as he has been reunited with his fatter brother, Guest Judge Lee. It’s a Christmas miracle!
The All You Can Eat Christmas Buffet: Bringing families together for generations!
The guests seem to agree that the Orange side had a lot of food, but the Black team’s dishes had a higher-end, superior quality. No one likes waiting for food at a buffet, but since Elia insisted on cooking everything during the party, the Black team had empty platters a lot of the time. Mia gave a speech to the guests about focusing on “quality rather than quantity” and one old dude looked like he was going to kick her. It’s all about feeding the people, Mia. Do you want to hear a speech every time you go to refill your soup can?
Ted Allen, martini in hand, offers Mia his assistance. “You can help me by enjoying yourself!” He doesn’t really know what to say to that, since they’re standing at a foodless table.
As expected, The Orange team trampled the Black team. Their food (crab cakes, shrimp skewers, pickled mussels, calamari, bread pudding, beef tenderloin with blue cheese, cauliflower a la plancha, croquetas, salmon mousse, confit of pork, mushroom tart, vegetable tarine, and chorizo) was mediocre, but abundant. And as an added bonus, with Betty’s crazy on vacation, she charmed the pants off everyone who approached their table. When the Judges asked her who came up with what, she said it was a team effort, but gave Sam full credit for leading. Betty is a good person today, and it’s making me irritable. All I want for Christmas is the re-birth of Baby Jane! When Ted asks her if there is any rhyme or reason to the order of the items, she innocently says “no”. The rhyme is quantity and the reason is a lot. Get on the bus, Ted.
As the party winds down, the Chefs are welcomed to a table of Smirnoff, and they all partake. Some in merriment, some in despair. Just like Christmas! The Orange Team clinked glasses and laughed and laughed. Over on the Black side, Elia wasn’t looking so confident. Cliff tried to give her a pep talk while Mia told us Elia was a great Chef and leader, but Elia isn’t stupid. She knows she blew it.
Less is not more. It’s…less.
The Judges agree. Ted can’t believe both teams had the same amount of money and resources. Guest Judge Long-Lost Lee thinks the Black Team’s scallop dish and their strawberry with marscapone and pancetta were the best dishes there, hands down, but if you can’t even keep four dishes flowing when the other team had fifteen, you automatically lose.
They broke the good news to the winning team, who didn’t bother feigning surprise. Everyone gives Sam credit for being the team leader, but Marcel feels the need to open his mouth and ruin Christmas for everyone. “But I’d like to say, like, I didn’t need, like, a whole lotta like leadership although he was the like designated leader.” Ted asks him in the way only a sensitive gay man can “is there something else you’re trying to say?”, but Daddy Tom tells him not everyone’s so deep. Marcel’s just a prick. Marcel grinned and had an orange in his mouth instead of teeth! Silly little guy. Long Lost Lee names Sam the winner. Sam totally thinks he deserved it, and is pissed Marcel couldn’t not be a dick for just one minute. He wins a crate of knives. Long Lost Lee says he could share them with his friends, but he wouldn’t. I have a feeling Sam wouldn’t either…but I’m negative that way.
The Black team wasn’t a total bust. Guest Long Lost chose Elia’s scallop as his favorite dish of the night, but there needed to be eight other items like it to pull off a Christmas party. Mike says he was working like a horse. Where was the food, then? He rolled his eyes and looked away. Cliff chimed in with “lack of communication” and Mia said she was frustrated not having food. She had promised a long time ago as God as her witness, to never go hungry again! Lack of communication wasn’t really the problem, and Evening Wear Padma called them out. The problem was that there wasn’t enough food. Period.
Mia starts in with the “I’m not being heard” thing again, saying she wanted at least six dishes and was immediately shot down, which Cliff silently denies. Mia reminds the Judges that she is a caterer, a shoe maker and a dentist, and no one gave her the time of day. Cliff stands up for Elia. He can’t let her be “thrown under the bus” (God I am so sick of this phrase. What ever happened to a good old-fashioned stab in the back?) when she was working with such difficulties. Daddy Tom doesn’t buy it. “Like what?” Some of her cooks were out of line. Specifically, Mia, with her bitching and moaning. Mia says she had opinions, and when they weren’t heard, she shut her mouth and went with the team.
Daddy Tom asks Cliff who he would send home. Cliff says Mia and Mia goes there. She starts yelling at Cliff, and Cliff says “see? This is what I’m talking about!” I’ve been on Mia’s side in couple’s therapy, where your “other” makes you insane and then says “see? He’s crazy!” Damn you Cary Capshaw! Mia did what I did, she schooled him Lifetime style, tears streaming down her face, indignant. “You can throw me under the bus (There it is again) I don’t give a F***! I don’t give a black ball! You can’t deny that you talked over me, so put your dick away, dude. You have immunity, and that’s the bottom line!”
Somehow I feel like it’s not. She snakes her head with beautiful black attitude and slurs “Naw!” and checks him. Ok, that’s the bottom line.
Rudy from The Cosby Show is all grown up and hungry for this role. Go Rudy!
Daddy Tom asks Elia if she has any final words. She gives her sweetest teary eyed plea to stay, but she takes responsibility for the team’s loss and shuffles off with her tail between her legs.
Back in the holding room, Elia is positive she will be going home, after that “show in there”. Mia says she doesn’t want Elia to go home, even though she just caused a huge scene showcasing Elia’s complete lack of leadership skills. No one buys it, but Mia doesn’t stop there. She says she has a successful business to go back to and maybe the country is where she belongs. To prove it, gets louder and louder with every word. “I’d go home any day so Elia can stay!” Elia cries “Don’t do it!”
“Like Cliff said, I deserve to go home, so send my black ass home, I don’t give a F***!!”Then she cries and the Lifetime music starts again. “I’m the only person in my family to ever make anything out of my life, the only one! Comin’ from where I came from I should be a statistic. I sold drugs when I was eleven years old! I know what it’s like to work MacArthur Boulevard and try to sell a f***in’ rock to try to feed your f***in’ family!”
I am trying to feel my heart melt again, but it just doesn’t. Cliff’s doesn’t either. He says “Are you done playing martyr?” She retorts “Kiss my ass!” Mia thinks it might be better to go back to Oakdale, and I think we can all agree.
Ted Allen stands up for Elia, saying she’s obviously more talented than the other two Chefs on the bottom, but Daddy Tom and Long Lost Lee aren’t so sure. Lee points out that Michael is no Top Chef (ya no shit, what the hell is Mike still doing here?!?) and Mia didn’t bring a whole lot to the table, either. They bring the Black Team back in and scold them each individually.
Right before Padma sends someone packing, Mia interjects, crying, saying that Elia is too talented to go home and she will take her place. Elia tries to speak up, but Mia’s inner monologue has started to leak out again, and there’s no stopping this woman. She goes on about being homeless and gives them almost the exact same speech verbatim she gave the other Chefs in the holding tank. “I’m the only person in my family to ever make something of myself!” I have to wonder how her family back home feels about hearing her say that over and over again. Daddy Tom says she doesn’t look like a quitter to him, and she said if she quit right now, her family would be proud. What the hell kind of family is this? I’m not sure if Mia expected it or not, but Tom accepted her resignation. Padma got teary, and Mia looked like she didn’t know where she was or how she got there.
Wait…what just happened?
As I left the dressing room, I ran into Nathaniel in the hallway. “Nathaniel, I’m so sorry about being so immature about Mr. Goulet.” He looked at me warily. “I just can’t enjoy the experience knowing it makes you unhappy, man. So Merry Christmas. You’re Robert Goulet’s new assistant.” He waited for the punch line, but it never came. “Really, Flipit?” I hugged him and he practically skipped to his post. As the door creaked closed, I could hear the humming, the chewing, and the familiar thud of a slipper hitting a head. That circus is all yours, sucka.
One lucky bastard
Epilogue: Was Mia’s departure a Christmas miracle, a selfless act, or a coward’s cop-out? They never announced who was getting chopped, and maybe Mia decided she would look better quitting rather than getting fired, which would also make sense of the “if I quit today, my family will be proud” nonsense. Whatever her motivations, Mia would not have been sent home. I looked at Daddy Tom’s blog on Bravotv.com and he said Elia would have been gone. So Mia is either truly selfless, or truly stupid. Either way, Oakdale better get some loose change ready, cuz Mia’s comin’ home for Christmas.
P.S. As we don’t get a new episode til’ next year (hence the long ass end of year recap), I would like to take a second and thank you, Dear Readers. I have only been here at TVgasm for a short while, but you have made me feel welcome and filled my days with evil giggles. Bless you and yours this Christmas! Heart, Flipit.