I’d really hoped to avoid doing this, mostly because I was so completely annoyed by the very thought of it. It sat on my DVR, taunting me, provoking me, until I finally let the inevitable happen. So let me just begin by saying that in one of my favourite Neil Simon comedies, Murder By Death, an incensed Lionel Twain demands that ‘I’m the greatest! I’m number one!”
‘To me, you look like number two,’ replies Sam Diamond. ‘Know what I mean?’
Also looking very much like number two was the second series of Chopped All-Stars, which just aired its final episode last Sunday, 6 May. The entire series wasn’t shit. Not as such. Mostly it was just the third episode which was so intolerable because it was devoted to the now seemingly mandatory group of non-winners of The Next Food Network Star – politely referred to as ‘fan favourites’ – in an episode aptly called ‘All Stars: Food Network Star Contestants.’
Precisely like its predecessor (and exactly like the other version of it called Chopped Champions) the second series pitted 16 contenders against each other in groups of four throughout four episodes. The finale, the fifth episode, had the winners of each of the four earlier episodes facing off for a $50,000 grand prize to be given to a charity of their choice.
As I noted in the post below, Iron Chef Michael Symon and the irritatingly loquacious and gesticulative Jeffrey Saad were the winners of the first two episodes. Round three, this time, was a Not-So-Fantastic-Four (as I also noted previously) of Padawans from the wretched and abortive seventh season, and a thoughtless bitch-slap to viewers of Chopped. The ridiculous and standards-lowering collective was comprised of our old friends Justin the Second, Fishmonger, Big Chris,Vic Moea – who has, for whatever reason, resurrected the absurd‘Vegas’ moniker even though he’d presumably laid it to rest on The Next Food Network Star when he discovered who he really was in a major heart-tugging breakthrough moment of self-realisation that clearly didn’t last – and the grating, noxious Paul Stanley.
The Sammich Thing, obviously, was far too busy to participate and the remaining ten Padawans surely recognised the futility and stupidity of accepting an invitation to be paraded out for the sake of ratings.
Each of the contestants had their obligatory introduction, of course, and it felt very much like sitting through some bad parody of Iron Chef as they each stalked towards the camera beneath dramatic lighting and posed and postured in threatening sorts of ways to prove how serious the were:
‘I’m here to show people who I really am,’ Big Chris proclaimed, looking precious in his tight pink trousers and cheap brown shoes.
‘His big personality and extreme ambition kept fans cheering him on,’ Ted said rather enthusiastically of Big Chris, a statement making it clear he’d never actually watched any of The Next Food Network Star last year and was probably just reading provided promotional material off a card.
Big Chris explained that we at home saw the ‘crazy funness’ of him on The Next Food Network Star and that he was likely seen as a bit ‘goofy’ in very much the same way as Hitler was likely seen as just a bit cross. But with a year behind him, he had grown up and things were now ‘very serious,’ clearly evident in his composed and thoughtful clothing style.
‘Vic Vegas is going to make this happen,’ Vic assured us, nodding like a bobble head doll the entire time, smiling in an uncomfortable sort of way which suggested he’d just scanned John Conner’s face at a remote desert fuelling station, and standing in a rigid attack stance as if he would take out the camera operator at any second.
The repugnant Paul Stanley wisely ditched the notion of the ‘Mediterranean Mama’ she’d pushed all through The Next Food Network Star in favour of calling herself a ‘Persian Princess,’ because it falls as easily off the tongue as do the contents of my stomach.
‘She likes to look – and cook – like a million bucks!’ Ted read happily off a card. In the insert shot, Paul Stanley was seen puffy-eyed and haggard from a rough night of sleep as she toyed and teased her curler-laden hair into submission and the words of Sam Diamond echoed once more in my head.
‘I’m super talented and super feisty…’ she demanded. ‘Stand back,’ she awkwardly pointed at the camera and tossed her head back in what was supposed to an alluring fashion, ‘and watch me win.’
And finally Justin the Second, Fishmonger, knowing that his woodenness before the camera had eclipsed his culinary skills on The Next Food Network Star vowed in a wooden sort of way that, ‘When I get into the Chopped kitchen, I’m gonna kill it!’
In the starters round, with ingredients of razor clams, breakfast radishes, green grape tomatoes and shrimp paste, Vic claimed that because he had been the most successful of the four failures from the last series of The Next Food Network Star he would be ‘the guy to beat.’ He made a ‘nice’ pub-style clam with a ‘nice’ briny broth out of wine, garlic and shallots or, more simply put, clams in broth. Big Chris, thinking inside the box, made a white wine-poached herbed razor clam and roasted green tomatoes which also was essentially a dish of clams in broth. Based solely on his culinary skills, Justin the Second, Fishmonger, made razor clams in a spicy Thai broth. What made his dish stand out, however, was the inclusion of a chilled radish ‘salad’ – what you and I would call ‘garnish’ – placed carefully on top of the clams in broth.
Paul Stanley, insisting that Food Network need her ‘feistiness,’ claimed to have been ‘traumatised’ by not having won series seven and wholly disregards the fact that she lost primarily because she’s an arrogant, egomaniacal, backstabbing hostile nag who, in the words of Peter Griffin ‘looks like a foot.’ Her choice for a starter was to forgo clams in broth and add some Mediterranean flair with a clam-stuffed green grape tomato in a shrimp sauce, and the careful editing and shrill music made it seem as if she would never finish such a complicated dish on time.
Judge Aarón Sanchez mentioned to his fellow judges, Amanda Freitag and Scott Conant, that no-one had properly cleaned or even pretended to clean the clams, except for Paul Stanley who, by virtue of the style of preparation she’d chosen, was rather forced into doing so. Scott Conant pointed out that for the first three episodes of The Next Food Network Star Vic hadn’t got anything on the plates for the Jedi Council to taste (for which he ought to have been eliminated) and he believed the same would happen here.
Despite how often throughout the lengthy run of Chopped someone has endlessly harped about a chef not taking the time to ‘transform’ or to ‘elevate’ an ingredient, and often chopping them for it, no-one said diddly squat about Paul Stanley merely gutting a tiny grape tomato and cramming it with razor clam. They did, however, roundly criticise Big Chris for the heavy-handed use of costly and pungent truffle oil splashed on at the last minute as it overpowered his dish. He was chopped, but felt that he ‘exemplified maturity’ for the judges. Later he probably ran crying from the building, twisting angry fists into his tear-streaked eyes.
And on it went for another gruelling and banal 36 minutes…
In the mains round, featuring ingredients of culottes steak, Okinawa sweet potatoes, turnips, and ‘strawberry leather’ which, when you aren’t paying for sponsorship, are best known as Fruit Rollups, Vic made a blackened culottes steak over sweet potato hash and his own ‘custom-made steak sauce.’ He also continued with his somewhat disingenuous-feeling Momma’s Boy act and his carefully practised facial expressions as he went on about how his mother was influencing him from ‘up there’ and how she would tell him, if she could, that he was ‘takin mountains and movin the hell out of em.’
Justin the Second, Fishmonger, opted for a grilled culottes steak over sweet potato purée whilst Paul Stanley chose to go a completely different route and bring a more Mediterranean flair to her dish by making a Moroccan-style culottes steak and a sweet potato mash, promising that it would be as gorgeous as she isn’t.
Unfortunately, not having a proper meat tenderiser, Paul Stanley jabbed viciously at the steak with her clenched fingers, smiling a dark Sweeney Todd smile and adding yet another item to the growing list of reasons why she is single. Scott Conant seemed to enjoy this exhibition, however, especially when Amanda Freitag pointed out that she was ‘beating the meat.’
To the culinarily-skilled eye of Justin the Second, Fishmonger, she was ‘pounding the ever-living shit out of the steak’ and he knew it would be over cooked, predicting that, in the end, there would be ‘a dead grey steak on a plate.’
And there was indeed a dead grey steak on Paul Stanley’s final plate, much to the displeasure of the judges, but it was still Justin the Second, Fishmonger, who was chopped for having flaccid bacon and a slightly underdone steak. This, then, left Paul Stanley and Vic in the final round, competing with mango chutney, white apricots, blue cornmeal and bacon bits.
Judge Sanchez felt the blue cornmeal ought to have been the star of whatever dishes were about to be made and he told his fellow judges that he expected the contestants to use it as a flour for making pancakes or perhaps some crêpes.
Of course neither of them did so.
Vic chose to create a bread pudding, using the cornmeal as a thickening agent, and Paul Stanley, feeling that some sort of a Mediterranean flair was in order, opted for stuffing large phyllo dough cups with white apricots coated in cornmeal and adding a mascarpone and heavy cream sauce to it. She also threw down a challenge to the producers of Iron Chef America to include her in that programme. Because, gosh, wouldn’t that be entertaining: two of the most noxious things ever on the planet put together for your viewing displeasure?
Perhaps the most welcome bit of the entire programme was Scott Conant telling Paul Stanley that her phyllo dough cup tasted ‘like nothing.’ As she attempted to defend her untenable position by arguing that she didn’t want to add ‘another layer of fat, another layer of sugar’ and that it was all ‘a matter of taste,’ Scott bristled.
‘It’s not necessarily a matter of taste,’ he rolled his eyes and adjusted himself in his chair. ‘Alright, let’s be clear, okay? Because you’re going to try to talk your way around it and this is not to be talked your way around.’ He crumbled the bone dry phyllo dough into a rain of flakes. ‘This,’ he said, ‘is what I get on my palate. It’s not fun.’
‘Understood,’ she nodded her obvious disagreement and he offered a tense stare in response.
Eventually, though, after the judges deliberated on the relative merits of each dish, the two Padawans were called back and, as something very like Carl Orff’s O Fortuna blasted away shrilly, everyone glared at each other. The camera hove dramatically about until Ted at last lifted the cloche to reveal that Paul Stanley had, unfortunately, beaten Vic and would move on to the finale where she continued to be her unpleasant and egocentric self.
The overly theatrical introductions to each of the final chefs and Paul Stanley were an embarrassment to watch and really drove the ordinarily far classier Chopped down to the sad level of Iron Chef America-style lunacy.
‘I am gonna win,’ Paul Stanley announced whilst clawing laughably at the camera, and added that ‘Victory’s gonna be ooey-gooey, lick your fingers sweet!’
And victory was ooey-gooey, lick your fingers sweet. For Chef Marcus Samuelsson.
Paul Stanley, feeling that by taking a different approach and utilising a Mediterranean flair in her dish, managed to survive the starters round, shockingly, only by virtue of the fact that Iron Chef Michael Symon failed to get his fried Chinese okra on his plate – an often unforgivable act on Chopped and an omission all the more heinous in an All Star battle.
However, in the mains round, with ingredients of rainbow chard, bonito, hard cider, and couscous, she decided to challenge herself by pushing the culinary envelope and develop a more Mediterranean flair in her food, which apparently meant leaving the thick, inedible skin on the bonito and by using so much saffron in her couscous that it was, to Judge Amanda Freitag’s way of thinking, ‘incredibly overwhelming.’ She also used the typically very pricey saffron with sheer impunity as a garnish on her plate, an act Judge Amanda felt was ‘excessive.’
Despite her argument to the contrary – that she only used ‘a pinch’ of saffron – she was, thankfully, chopped, leaving Chef Marcus to roundly trounce the oft-blabbering Jeffrey Saad.
What made her appearance on the programmes so offensive, apart from the fact that she’s just so unbelievably smarmy and smug, was her incessant trash talking of the other competitors. It’s perfectly fine to be confident in your own abilities and to be proud of your achievements, but having a sense of humility goes a long way to being more likeable and accepted.
Each of the 15 others in the competition were generally gracious of their wins as well as their defeats, and on the infrequent occasions when they took personal shots at their opponents they did so in fairly good-natured and professional fashion.
Paul Stanley was, in sharp contrast, harsh, abusive, and thoughtless, and her insolent gloating (for example about the ‘bragging rights’ over ‘beating’ an Iron Chef) was some of the most obnoxious self-congratulatory behaviour I’ve ever seen on television. She is not a celebrity chef for many of the same reasons Commander Lisa isn’t: she hasn’t the personality or the admirable – or even welcoming – qualities anyone would want in a host.
And she looks like a horse. So there’s that.
With the New & Improved Next Food Network Star now begun, one can only imagine what the next permutation of Chopped All Stars has in store…