The Sith Apprentices were summoned to their New & Improved And Not At All Like Before Star Challenge without much fiddling about after the mandatory recap of what was supposed to have been interesting about the previous two hour programme and wasn’t. And it was probably a good thing so little time was wasted, as this very special 90- minute episode really needed the extra room to sprawl out lazily like the original Director’s Cut or ‘work print’ of Heaven’s Gate and really make you acutely aware of just how impossibly long one and a half hours can feel.
It seems a group of 20 ‘tourists’ (wink-wink) likely culled from a cryptic advert on Craig’s List were going to be arriving shortly for, as Darth Giada explained with all due exuberance, a ‘City-wide food tour through the most iconic food neighbourhoods in all of Manhattan.’
The Sith Apprentices stared at her.
‘And guess who’s leading that tour?’ she asked rhetorically.
The Sith Apprentices stared at her.
‘That’s right,’ she smiled as though someone had responded. ‘You guys!’
Again the Sit Apprentices stared at her.
They would get to visit these various neighbourhoods first to learn what they could ‘on the ground,’ as Sith Master Alton insisted, and to collect whatever information they could in order to conduct these ‘tours.’ The amazing New & Improved spin, of course, is that they would then be charged with returning to the Food Star Kitchens sometime later to create a dish inspired by the pre-determined places within those neighbourhoods and those dishes would be served to The Tourists.
‘And,’ Dark Lord of The Sith, Bobby Flay explained carefully, ‘you’ll also have to be a tour guide’ in case the explanation Darth Giada offered just 23 seconds before had been somehow unclear. And Martita, shown in one of those New & Improved Never Before Used ‘commentary’ segments from the Clinically Stark Cookware Showroom, immediately proffered ‘we have to present to a bus-load of tourists while conducting a tour’ in order to clarify Dark Lord Flay’s rather wordy and circuitous description.
Darth Giada then reminded them that they would need to make an impact with their food and with their personalities, because nobody will watch your programme if you suck.
Of course Team Giada were given ‘Arthur Avenue,’ the original Little Italy, and Rock n’ Roll Josh (who has a band) explained that this is because Giada is known for her Italian cooking. Lord Flay’s Team took Harlem, a place the Dark Lord knows very well, as any geeky, pale-skinned, freckled ginger would, and Team Alton would head to ‘the Lower East Side’ to visit a ‘traditionally Jewish neighbourhood that has a rich history with their food.’
There was a moment where Judson appeared to mouth ‘Oh brother’ because he had no prior knowledge of the Jewish culture or food whilst Emily nodded knowingly. She would be told later to ‘Tap into your inner Kosher self and just go mashugana on this thing.’ Judson’s lack of knowledge lead him to sit in silence whilst assignments and locations were discussed and chosen by his colleagues, thus leaving him to take The Pickle Guys. He was unhappy with the decision and felt uninspired by the thought of pickles.
‘Embrace the pickle,’ Sith Master Alton commanded him. ‘You’re gonna love you some pickle.’
‘Oh I love pickle,’ Judson said without excitement and glanced away.
Eventually they visited Kossar’s Bialys, Katz’s Delicatessen, Streit’s Matzo Market, and The Pickle Guys wherein Judson learnt the rich and valuable pickle lessons he would soon be expected to embrace and would later impart loudly at The Tourists and ‘The Network’ on The Bus in what Justin (not a fishmonger) described as being ‘in the front pew at The Church of The Pickle.’ Sadly, however, Judson did not connect with the pickle in any meaningful way and the remainder of the bus tour, taken after the New & Improved ‘cooking segment’ was finished, only served to show that poor Emily got motion sickness as the bus lurched and lumbered through busy Manhattan traffic.
Team Flay went to Sylivia’s, a butcher shop called Casablanca, the Savoy Bakery, the Dinosaur Barbeque and Melba’s, where Kara, rather like Judson, would be stuck with last choice – the unfamiliar soul food dish of chicken and waffles – and targeted for potential elimination. Team Giada visited Mike’s Deli, wherein was learnt the proper and needlessly long pronunciation of the word ‘mozzarella,’ David Greco’s Trattoria, Cosenza’s Fish Market where (as Martita would volunteer from the Clinically Stark Cookware Showroom) there was ‘seafood everywhere,’ Peter’s Meat Market where (we would see clearly without assistance) there was meat everywhere, and Palombo Caffé.
The other thing we learnt from all this was seen in the newest game called
in which the Sith Apprentices would be seen prudently holding their Discover cards at appropriate heights and angles so that they could be plainly visible at great distances and have the cameras catch them just right.
How many product endorsements did you see? Good!
And as the following hour dragged on, Eric said he would craft everything by hand and take enormous amounts of time to accomplish basic tasks, Malcolm appeared to make Bob T want to burst into Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life, Michele’s catfish was ‘dry and flavourless’ as her presentation, Nikki was smooth and ‘impersonal,’ Susie liked the smell of Eric’s cheese, Yvan’s dish was too simple, Rock n’ Roll Josh (who has a band) matched Martie With The Partie for longest and most uninteresting tale of the day and had a very basic dish, and Kara went off the rails with her story of chicken and waffles and the careful editing made it look like everyone squirmed and winced and felt completely uncomfortable with her awkwardness. Also, some fat bloke on the bus (sitting next to someone who looked like Mark Wahlberg) didn’t like the chicken and waffles, so Kara would obviously be contending with Judson The Pickle Hater for elimination because evidently fat people love chicken and waffles.
It is also of interest to note that professional and semi-professional chefs do not know or do not appear to know how to pronounce the word ‘caramel,’ preferring instead to rather gratingly call it ‘carmel,’ and that ‘Hey guys, howya doin today?’ has managed to supplant the more traditional ‘Hello, everyone, my name is…’
I am also curious as to just how large the tour bus was. The utter volume of shots and the number of different angles used – not to mention the amazing clarity heard in the private conversations and ‘whispered’ commentary of The Tourists and ‘The Network’ – seems to indicate a fairly large number of cameras and scene set-ups which could have proved to be a hindrance in a smaller vehicle. I am reminded of the classic film Broadcast News in which a defiant Albert Brooks insists that Holly Hunter, and I am paraphrasing, ask herself precisely how a specific action was captured on film if there was only just the one camera…
It felt as though the last hour had flown past in a mere 60 minutes and suddenly we were transported to a room adjacent to the Council Chambers where each group of Sith Apprentices was given a pep talk by their assigned mentors. After, they gathered before the pointless theatricality of the big cartoon doors as Bob T and Susie entered dramatically to tell them that Team Giada were safe and that, as was clear from the onset, Judson and Kara would face each other in the Producer Challenge – which is something like a sudden-death cook-off.
Because of the complexity of the given ingredient – a potato, with which they were charged to create ‘the most memorable dish we’ve ever had’ – they would have an astonishing 45-minutes to cook. This stands in stunning contrast to the tired and overused 30-minutes of last week’s programme and could possibly signal another new direction for Not Necessarily The Next Food Network Star.
Once a ‘memorable dish’ had been achieved, the Sith Apprentices would then have to step before the camera and, as we saw last week, give a one-minute presentation on the memorable nature of their respective dishes and sit in judgement before the ‘The Network’ in the Inner Sanctum over The Eye of Sauron table.
Kara made a twice-baked mashed potato with cream, butter, garlic, a dash of olive oil, topped with cheese, bacon and chopped scallions, and presented the dish in a tasteful ‘home-style’ format using individual serving-sized cast-iron pots because she – and Lord Flay – felt the challenge was primarily ‘about the potato.’ As the awkward editing rather clumsily inserted nice glamour shots of carefully arranged cast iron cookware, however, one must presume that these cast-iron pots were thoughtfully provided by Lodge Cast Iron – America’s Original Cookware since 1896. Kara connected her dish with her nostalgic take on cooking which was deeply inspired by her love of family.
Judson The Pickle Hater put slices of potato round a large salmon filet stuffed with a mascarpone – which he called ‘marscaponay’ – and goat cheese filling and fried it. He said it’s how they do it in New Orleans. He also made a sauce to go with it.
In the Inner Sanctum, Bob T explained to Kara that her offering was ‘an incredibly rich, comforting dish. I would question, though,’ he said, ‘whether it’s a memorable dish.’ She smiled, nodding her understanding of what he was saying, but her eyes cut through him like glass. His transparent pandering felt utterly disingenuous and Kara could clearly sense it. Her eyes narrowed ever-so-slightly and you could see she disagreed with him. ‘I feel like I’ve tasted this kind of dish a lot before,’ he said in conclusion.
Susie thought Kara had a ‘great package,’ but not a ‘total package’ like Judson had shown last week and now did not.
Judson’s presentation, conversely, was slick, smarmy, and pointedly insincere. He babbled on about slicing the potato thin, dipping it into fat to get it soft, and then ‘encrusting it with this salmon’ which, of course, is not at all what he did. He wrapped the salmon with slices of potato, not the other way round. Regardless, he continued on, repeating again that he wanted to ‘wrap the potato with that salmon just to form a beautiful crust,’ because the idea of crusty salmon must be a New Orleans favourite, and finished by saying, ‘Remember, it’s all about the technique.’
‘I used the potato as a centre for not only technique but flavour as well,’ Judson gave a sycophantic explanation he wasn’t asked for.
‘The challenge was to make a memorable potato dish, though,’ Bob T said to him. ‘You didn’t quite satisfy the challenge because you used potato in a really interesting way, but it still feels like salmon is the star of this dish.’
Susie felt that Judson offered a certain sense of sophistication and good ‘layers’ in his cooking and said he was ‘a great corporate spokesperson’ but concluded that being a corporate shill ‘doesn’t work here.’
Judson, in turn, knowing all the best strategies employed in the Halls of Power in the corporate world as he does, played a cunning hand.
And just how do you best a competitor with more talent and a solid skill-set? You play a vicious and superficial round of
and burst into tears like a little bitch to make them feel sorry for you and eliminate the smart, savvy, and determined woman who should have won until you turned on the water works like a fucking sissy. Remember it’s all about technique.
The duplicitous nature of ‘The Network’ made it clear that although Kara had followed the rules of the challenge, created a superior dish, and had a concise personal story to tell about it (which even Lord Flay admitted was better than his own first ‘to camera’ presentation many years before), they frowned quite heavily on her lack of fawning parasitism.
Bob T paid no attention to Judson’s clear confusion over how he had prepared his own salmon (and not potato) dish and yet stupidly complained that Kara confused him with how nostalgia fitted in with her point of view. Susie was, if nothing else, icy towards Kara, and said her use of the words ‘fantastic’ and ‘great’ felt to her ‘a little hollow’ (even though Susie herself had just used ‘great’ to describe Kara’s overall ‘package’ not two minutes earlier) and yet she said nothing about Judson’s constant use of the word ‘beautiful’ in describing his dishes. ‘The Network’ were obviously disinterested in anything Kara had to say and you could see that disinterest in their eyes and in their body language, especially once they got down to ‘deliberating.’ Discussing Kara they seemed tense and irritated; completely negative. And yet once they dispensed discussing her it was as though they’d shrugged off a funeral pall and they talked about Judson in a cheery, light-hearted sort of way.
And, obviously, Kara hadn’t been reduced to a blubbering, jelly mess who had to be saved by her mentor.
It’s all about technique.
Next week another needlessly sprawling 90-minute episode will surely flit by as if it were just an astonishing 5400 seconds…