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Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having interest in Top Chef Season 7 D.C., are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the season is now screening. God save the Gulag, goulash, and zeks.
Last night an iron curtain descended upon Washington, D.C. Behind that line lie all the contestants of Top Chef season seven. Tiffany, Tamesha, Steven, Kevin, Kenny, Kelly, Ed, Amanda, Andrea and Alex, all the remaining contestants lie in what I must call the Sosa sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Sosian influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Angelo Sosa. But before the curtain closes completely, we can glimpse slivers of what has led us to this point and surely what will follow once the curtain has drawn shut.
Moments of great humiliation, big wrecking ball moments, can come swinging from the periphery at any time, catching one midstride and unbraced for the impact. A cruel second of unbearable incontrovertible truth can destroy a lifetime of self-mythologizing. I fear Andrea Curto-Randazzo, curly haired lioness chef of Miami and thus far only a middling competitor, was confronted with one such moment last night when she walked in to her dystopic lalaland TV kitchen and there saw, standing next to Padma, Michelle Bernstein, smiling cuntily and prettily. Michy—as I like to call her—and Ray-Ray are both ladychefs/restaurateusses in the Miami area. Both ran with the "Mango Gang," the group of young chefs who brought Miami into the culinary spotlight in the '80s. In Curto-Randazzo's mind they are competitors; in Bernstein's mind, clearly, they are not. Bernstein went to the tony Johnson and Wales cooking school and has actually won a James Beard award. Curto went to the Culinary Institute and was nominated for Beard award but never once won one. Google "Michelle Bernstein" and a glossy website comes up, a nice headshot and a list of accomplishments. Google "Andrea Curto-Randazzo" and a Top Chef bio appears.
Whether or not Michy is a fellow player in the larger game, last night Curto-Randazzo had to accept the facts on the uneven Bravo ground, such as they crushingly were: Bernstein sat tight while Randazzo performed bizarre culinary contortions like a betoqued lap dog who, having eaten too much chocolate, is hyper and sickened at the same time. Her bitter pills were two fold: Firstly, all Ray Ray ‘s humiliation was on national television. (But what humiliation isn't these days? The only humiliation that counts might be on national television, such have we set ever higher the threshold for shame!) Secondly, though she can blame it on children—three of them, the little bastards who came unbidden into her womb!—there's no escaping the undeniable. In life, Bernstein win; Curto-Randazzo fail.
Ray Ray, along with the other chefs, pick from a table of wacky kooky quirky—all the adjectives one could use to describe Cathy—proteins. Duck balls! Emu Eggs! Rattlesnake! Llama! Yak! Wild Boar! Foie Gras! Wait, foie gras? Wild boar? In whole regions of Italy from the mountainous sliver of Liguria to the broad swathe of Tuscany, wild boar or cinghiale is a cucina rustica. And foie gras here is considered a delicacy, or an act of cruelty and usually a delectable act of cruelty. Let the fun begin: Open-Mouth Talker Scared Rabbit Pill Popping Leah Cohen 2.0 Amanda grabs a large green Emu egg, inadvertently dropping the accompanying hammer. Then she runs about scared and screaming, "I don't know how to open these things!" She dons a ridiculously large glove and a hacksaw. Angelo grabs duck testicles—and for once does not describe them as "sexy"—to make a marshmallow. Padma gave the word emu four extra syllables. I went to open the door for the delivery guy and when I came back she was still saying it and the yak meat had turned inexplicably into llama. The chefs play musical chairs, a stupid unnecessary twist, and serve their dishes to the judges. Bernstein sucks a duck ball; Padma pokes the yak. (Make that into a T-shirt!) Bernstein, if she were smart, would have left Curto-Randazzo's chewy boar undifferentiated in the middle of the pack. Instead she calls it, I believe, insipid and you can see the murderous narrative already taking shape in Ray Ray's furious destroyed bunker of a brain.
Now to the Cold War. Sometimes Top Chef's contrived puns actually work well. Such was the case last night. The contestants, grouped into two teams, each serve one cold—or, I suppose, room temperature—dish. Chefs from the opposing team select one winning dish and one losing dish. The actual judges then make the final decision. To commence their inept bungling stabs at strategy and adorable attempts at internecine warfare, the teams board the U.S.S. Sequioa, the Presidential Yacht (not actually the Presidential Yacht any longer). Top Chef gleefully boasts Nixon was once aboard—he sought refuge on the Yacht during the Watergate scandal—as was JFK. You know who else was on the boat? 28 Marines busted for smoking weed, Donald Rumsfield, Dick Cheney and, much earlier, Churchill and FDR (Fucking Dumb Roosevelt) who probably assured Winston that Stalin is good people and "Don't worry, Uncle Joe will spare Poland!" and "Oh yeah, all those Americans in Russia, well we can't help them because they surrendered their passports. Oh what's that? They were confiscated. Oh well! Better not rock the boat, Winnie." Anyway, Angelo Sosa controls everything anyway. He's probably controlling these thoughts. Why does he look so skinny and olive skinned? Isn't he just ever-so handsome? I want to mentor Tamesha all over her face. GET OUT OF MY BRAIN, SOSA, VOLDEMORT OF THE KITCHEN!
Things go along much as they have for the last episodes. Amanda runs screaming and bewildered around the kitchen, beset by technical difficulties—or more accurately, plagued by her misuse of common kitchen machinery and blaming it on the machines. (No wonder someday they will rebel.) Kenny reiterates his beastliness. The eyebrows of Ed Cotton and the eyebrows of Kevin of New Jersey/Philly/New York get into a wriggling fight until they collapse into a furrowed brow of exhaustion. The only difference—and it is not really all that different—is Angelo Sosa's increased assistance to competitors like Bobby from King of the Hill he deems weak. Sosa is the David Mamet of Top Chef, a constantly scheming con man fueled by ambition and blind rage that he was made a cuckold by the unbearably smug Queens native Eddie Cotton. "I banged the same girl," Ed confides, "while they were dating." Gross and also not something to brag about.
Sosa will not be distracted though hurt he may be. He arrived with a strategy and armed with the tactics and the experience to execute it. What is his strategy? It seems after winning the first few challenges, thereby establishing himself as both a scary competitor and competent chef, Sosa seems to have turned his attention to nursing his weaker competitors along. Sosa seems content to let Kenny Gilbert loudly proclaim his alpha maleness and paint on himself a larger and larger bull's eye. Sosa, meanwhile, muddles along, doing well but not excelling, and earning capital and sway that he can expend as he sees fit.
Soon enough we're at an expanded judge's table, another example of Roosevelt's long shadow. Another humiliating moment for Andrea Curto-Randazzo. I'd make a bet the producer's hand picked her red dress, to just really drive the dagger deep into her breast that the breasts of Bernstein, also wearing a red dress with a deeper neckline, are bigger, her bank account larger, and her success more bountiful. They start with Angelo. He—OMG, a surprise—doesn't like Kenny's dish. No one does, nor does anyone do a good job pretending that they're not in the slicked-to-the-side Machiavellian sway of Sosa nor do they pretend that they are actually judging the food and not simply saving their own hides. Tom Colicchio looks shocked and saddened, as if he genuinely expected fair and balanced nuanced criticism of the dishes in front of them.
Now it's Kenny's turn to judge. He doesn't like Angelo's dish but no one likes Kenny, for he is seen as too much a threat. He's the Alpha Male, he's worked hard at becoming it. Amanda thinks all Asian food is the same but this is because she truly is an idiot. Kenny isn't but he's playing the short game while Angelo is playing the long con. He has not yet built a bloc around him. And so—over Kenny's objections—they pollice verso Tamesha. As she leaves, Angelo apes sadness but there's a dark glee in his effortlessly handsome face—get out of my brain!—and deep watery brown eyes. For the curtain is closing and he's pulling the strings.