A rainbow parabolas over the fertile Napa valley. A dream is asphyxiated amongst the vines. Top Chef is nearing its end. I'm Joshua David Stein. I'll take you there. Ain't nobody cryin'. Except the loser.
Jennifer, who speaks only in lipograms—D, the banish't ledder—is the first lamb to arrive at the little train station, innocuous in its pacific rusticity and gabling, emerging like a Böcklin isle from the Napa Valley fog. Her hair is large, a cloud of Philadelphia; her mien, defiant; her face, flushed, rubicund. The Rubicon in front and Germantown behind her. Here comes Michael Voltaggio, imperious, Roman nosed villain. Ave Michael, morituri te salutant! Friar Kevin, a frieze of humility, a walking parable, balding, the only thing missing a cassock, arrives and then the better brother, Bryan, with a suitcase in his hand. It's hard to tell. It's hard to tell but all our love's in vain.
When the train come in the station, they looked Padma in the baby bump (x2) Well she looked so pregs and bangy, that they could not help but comment. "She had a little baby bump," says Kevin, correctly. She had some serious bangs and looked like Hiawatha or Pocahantas. Wrong Indian, Stein. Beside Padma was her paleface brother, the cosmic cloaca but nevertheless talented chef Chief Michael Chiarello, best remembered for being a dick. His eyes, malignant hematite, stared out from his face, a pale anagram for power. "Make me a grape," he murmurs. "Obey me," he means. The hegemony, latent in the resonance of his voice, is the architecture of an assfuck. Kevin worries about motion sickness. They are meant to cook on the train. They all obey. They board a train, plunging into the fog like a needle into flesh to course the cenotes of the human soul, the tidal pools of bitter black phlegm that remain when the quicksilver tide of kindness, that thin skein that separate man from beast (and not in the way you think), ebbs.
A commercial break: Erica, the grand pooba of pasta (Handy!), chancellor of cheese (Fresh!), connoisseur of cold (Chilly!) stuck in eternal repetition of infernal domesticity, the unwanted and illegitimate daughter of Julia Child and Sisyphus since September 2007. The choreography of her misery augmented by the words and sounds that float and freeze across her sound and vision. One voice, a man's; the chorus belonging to women who one imagines wear black velvet dresses; the guitar a twobit Shaft riff from a complacent studio musician named Walter. "Am I insane?" she thinks, panicked behind a Westport smile. "No," she relaxes. "For at least the words the women are saying are the same words that appear on the screen. At least I can hold on to that." Her capillaries relax. But as she holds up her hot dog made from the undifferentiated corpses of a small shtetl of holsteins, (Viceroy of Value!), she sees the word "Tasty" next to her Piggly Wiggly face but hears the word "Yummy!"
The eggshell cracks but perhaps it was just a momentary blip in the world largely seemlessl. She seals her weiner in a Glad bag, still clinging like a rat to rubbish to her happiness. "Thrifty!" the steel gray of the word threatens to bang into her temple. "Alright," she says, "if I hear Wilson Phillips say 'Thrifty' I'm sane and it's all okay. I'm not a sad clown. I'm a woman, a mother. My husband isn't cheating on me. He'll find a job soon." But then the voices come. "Economical!" it says with malign glee. Erica, the grand pooba of pasta, chancellor of cheese, connoisseur of cold, collapses like a soufflé onto her linoleum floor. Her apron bunches, her legs splayed. She's crying and her tears pool on the clear plastic coffins of food unwanted. Happily, her hot dog stays dry. A moment's reprieve is all Erica's misery earns her and then the music starts again. She rises up, compelled by a tourbillon of the wretched, and reties her apron. "Erica!" the voices say and Glad is misery.
Mike Voltaggio wins the Quickfire challenge and thus a Prius, proving also dickheads drive Priuses. Jennifer gets shaft't out of a win, a car, and, as Chiarello says he'll steal her dish, a dish. A crow flies the wrong way against the grey sky, Tiresias weeps and one worries Jennifer is unwittingly on her deathbed. Happily the elimination challenge is completely free of gimmickry: the four chefs are meant to cater a party of 150 using ingredients found only in the Napa Valley. They must make two dishes, one vegetarian and one from a locally available protein. Good for Kevin, bad for Michael, neutral for Bryan and Jennifer. Best of all, good to watch. All the preprocessed product placed gimmicks of earlier episodes—make a dish that embodies the spirit of Kindle DX using only Pantene Pro-V, Vanguard and the John D. and Catherine T. MacCarthur Foundation—seems sluffed off in these final rounds, leaving pure culinary talent as the fault line.
The four swooped onto the fields and glades of the valley, plucking from their bucolic idyll beasts. Kevin stalks a herd of brisket, felling a blubbering brisket calf. Bryan spies a ganglia of short ribs, oozing across the lee. Michael Voltaggio catches a parliament of foie gras, sunning on a rock looking like sponges. Jennifer corners a duck between a barn door and Mike's Prius and uses a bottle of booze to do it in. The brothers Voltaggio maintain a deadly focus. Friar Kevin amiably chats. Jennifer, red and redder, scurries as if a taffeta cloud in the Santa Ana winds. After not grilling her duck on dying embers, though trying valiantly to do so, Carroll confits it. She'll miss the smokiness. Dammit, Jennifer, you are an incomplete coloring book, so much talent in lines predrawn. Color them in, apply yourself, focus.
Hello Tom. Hello Michael. Hello Gail. Hello Princess Mononoke. Wait, holy sounding! Is that you Padma, wearing the castoffs of some unmade Tom Tywker sci-fi flick or is that maternity wear from Total Recall 2: Three Tits and A Little Baby? You look giggling funny, awkward weird, wondrous strange. Mike Voltaggio serves you an egg too runny, bad for the baby, rage flares your nostrils, unhappy Padma, rearing like a Mama Moose to protect her own. Too much soup for Gail in his foie gras. Cocky motherfucker. Next up: Bryan Voltaggio, a Stoic, heroic serving short ribs in the sunset, sun-bathed and lithe like a Nazi propaganda poster. "Could use some salt," says Chiarello. "Could use some pepper," says Padma. Father Kevin, he of brisket, cooked it ropey, may have risked it. Too tinny for Tom, too tough for Gail, is Kevin headed to an epic fail? Finally, Jennifer, the Elizabeth Barrett Browning of the quartet, the George Harrison, the Mickey Dolenz. She pairs radishes and cheese and basil and mushrooms. Too salty, scowls Gail. Marvelous sighs Chiarello. Mindblowing dribbles Tom. Her duck too is duck incarnate, the essence of duck, she's unlocked the duck from the duck like Michelangelo freed David from a block of marble. It's ducky and Tom likes ducky. But love's a bitch, Duck, love's a bitch.
Judge's Table. The opinion at the Stein-Heeren residence is that Michael Voltaggio is a cocky motherfucker and should go home. Feelings are ardently pro-Kevin. One of us feels protective of Jennifer and one of us (the same one) wishes only the best for Bryan, one of the last good men standing. The Death Panel increase their magnification, the contestants sizzle under the inspection like ants caught under the magnifying glass of a masochistic recessed third grader. Mike gets it for his sloppy egg giving, Bryan gets it for his lack of seasoning and his fig-baiting. "It was a figment of your imagination," Toby Young would have said if he wasn't too busy scouring Bartlett's Quotations for his next bon mot. Kevin gets smacked around for his tough brisket. "It's toothsome," he retorts, grossly misusing the word. Happily, no one else knows that though toothsome sounds like it has to do with teeth and thus toughness it doesn't. Jennifer, who has thus far earned accolades for the taste of her duck, fucks it all up. "I wanted to grill the duck to get the smokiness but I didn't pay enough attention to the coals and they went out," she says, unwittingly grasping from the gravedigger a shovel and digging deep into the fertile soil a grave of her exact proportion.
The verdict is read in Padma's overly emotive drawl, a slow motion execution marinated in false empathy. Nothing is worse than this. Jennifer, truly a wonderful person if the producers are to be believed, has done herself in, not with the quality of her cooking but by the intemperance of her disclosure. Though Bryan triumphs, his brother, the villain lives. When Jennifer, wounded but proud and not mortally, pushes those glass doors leading to obscurity, the show has lost a good woman for a bad man. She was truly the grand pooba of pasta (Handy!), the chancellor of cheese (Fresh!), the connoisseur of cold (Chilly!) and she will be missed in the sausage-fest finale. Yet, who can await next week? Two of the three contestants aren't assholes, 66% of them are good people. The odds are a mensch shall be victorious.
So thrift, thrift, Collichio! The funeral baked meats might coldly furnish forth the marriage tables yet.