A mustache grew in Las Vegas last night, on the upper lip of Charlie Palmer. Something was raised last night in Las Vegas, the voices of the brothers Voltaggio. A whine from the mouth of Eli issued under the Nevada firmament. Something eclipsed the hot sun, momentarily, the large hat of Padma Lakshmi moving sedately, pausing, pregnantly. Someone survived cancer last night. Someone braised pork belly, and as the harpsichord of the heavens plucked dawn's strings, one pig met his posthumous fame, dancing a little jig on the Etch-a-Sketch of the public consciousness before being shaken again to oblivion. Garçon, fill me up!
The scene opens with Charlie Palmer, Matt Dillon plus age plus hair plus talent, in the kitchen, along with Padma Lakshmi wearing Nancy Sinatra boots and—frankly, I couldn't tell you what else because her face is so pretty I only look at that but my wife says it wasn't pretty what she was wearing which makes her 0/2 (with the jumpsuit). Charlie Palmer is to American cuisine what Evander Holyfield was to heavyweight boxing: the real deal. New Yorkers probably know him best for the recently re-opened Aureole but he also has some sort of Boschian enterprise in Las Vegas wherein wine-angels flit around transforming grape juice into pure profit. Another measure of his caliber is that two of the top contestants, the Brothers Voltaggio, worked with him in his kitchen, Bryan for ten years, Mike as Executive Chef for one. Palmer had the honor of announcing the Quickfire Challenge: pairing food with some shitty new prepackaged chip snacks called Adventis, Adrongia or something. Dementia? Advertia? Advertia, yeah, that sounds about right. Anyway, having a chef as high caliber as Mr. Palmer judge a challenge based on a chip is like having John Currin judge a painting contest based on painting with diarrhea. And you couldn't use a brush either. Anyway, Eli won the quickfire. That was fine by all involved.
Everybody who is reading this—I assume—was present for Hippity's liveblog so there isn't any need for me to rehash the particulars of the Elimination Challenge. Suffice to say, contestants were asked to pair their pork dish to a particular wine for Charlie Palmer's big charity event Pigs & Pinot which benefits Share Our Strength. They drew knives indicating which part of the pig they would use and then Padma led in a Mangalitsa hog .The contestants quickly clustered around the terrified animal, no one wanting to plunge their dagger first. Finally, Jennifer Carroll who said, "I did this shit all the time in North Philly," gouged out the animals voicebox—which she made a lovely souffle from—so at least one couldn't hear the beast's cries as the other contestants solemnly but fanatically set about carving up the still thrashing animal. Kevin hacked off the beast legs and as it wriggled like a beached porpoise to the studio's door in a desperate escape attempt, Mike Isabella attempted to tackle it. Wet with blood, however, it shot pigskin-like, across the room and into a boiling vat of Charlie Palmer.
Contestants went home to wash away their sins in the purifying ritual of being annoyed all by the same person and we viewers at home too were abluted by our communal hatred for Robin Leventhal. Robin Leventhal, \self-righteous cancer-surviving yogi. Well known is my disgust—although a disgust tempered by commenter defenses which struck me as reasonable—of Robin's cashing in on her unfortunate medical history for a cheap Quickfire victory. But how her cancer had metastasized to pervade every shred of her being with a holier-than-thou survivor mentality wasn't fully revealed until the talkative tan tank was left to scribble in the lines of her own insanity with a never-ending monologue. Sure, Eli is a whiny kid but the rest of the contestants—even Angel Kevin—can't stand her. What's a poor wretch to do in her midst? Continually kowtow to her story; spend the rest of ones life with one hand cupping her drybreast to feel her heartbeat and the other patting her on the back? Her life-affirmation is deadening. Her cancer may yet prove fatal for it has rendered Robin chronically insufferable.
But lest one imagine all victims are craggy cheesefaced loonies, one need only look at the episode's guest, Food+Wine Editor Dana Cowin who, in 2008, was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer which required "chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes, radiation, and breast reconstruction"
Amazingly, in all of her 45 seconds on screen, Dana Cowin didn't mention her cancer once! Not once! Instead she talked about the food and the flavors. She liked Jennifer's, she loved Michael Voltaggio's, she lerved Bryan Voltaggio's, she coo'd for Kevins. But did she say, "Oh, this pork rillette is like the cat food I had to eat when I was getting chemotherapy but I survived. Oh Padma, you should be very grateful you got pregnant for life is precious. I know because I had cancer."? No, she did not. She's left cancer behind her. And Robin, who will be eliminated next week during restaurant wars or else this world makes no sense and there's no sense in saving it from global warming because we're all just a bunch of fools, would be a much more likeable and sane person if she let it go too.
Video: Mihkail Byhoffski