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 baseball and mail order brides.
In the annals of Top Chef, a marbled musty book bound in baby hide kept on Andy Cohen's bedside table between the Pjur Bodyglide and self-tanner, there's a special section reserved for Amanda Baumgarten. The chapter reads "A Note on the Sure of Self and Feeble of Mind" and—baruch hashem—last night that chapter, painful as a paper cut and dark as the barren night, closed. At approximately 10:58 pm last night Amanda Baumgarten, 27, passed from our television screens in a flurry of tears, manic laughter and uncomprehending error. In her perplexingly long run on the television competition show, Baumgarten distinguished herself with her vigor in the kitchen, often sprinting from station to station like a fast-forward Jesus in search of bread and fishes. "Does anyone have a pepper mill?" "Does anyone have any chervil?" "How did I get here?" "This is not my beautiful house!" "This is not my beautiful life!" Indeed, for Ms. Baumgarten, life was unbeautiful and thoroughly incomprehensible. All things are random if one is not sharp enough to perceive the pattern. Though not without substantial physical charm, Ms. Baumgarten caromed through life like a two dimensional squiggle in a three dimensional world, unable to comprehend the design or understand even the most simple principles like, don't serve tuna tartare on a hot day in DC at a ballpark, you idiot.
Rick Moonen—Sustainable Seafood King of the West Coast—presided over last night's confusing and confused Quickfire challenge. Contestants were asked to use a food-related idiom as inspiration for a dish which would then be turned into a frozen T.V. dinner. Idioms included: Sour grapes, bring home the bacon, big cheese, bigger fish to fry, and—awesomely—hide the salami. It confused for a few reasons. What's the difference between an idiom and a cliché? Why was there an apple wearing glasses? Is Tiffany on drugs? Most of the challenge was lost on me as I debated that first question with increasing frustration. These phrases, I angrily asserted, are clichés. No, the others said, "They are idioms. It is only upon their expression that they become clichés." "Yes," seeing red I said, "but if an idiom—like any language—is like wind and exists only in its transmission, either verbal or visual, it is always a cliché. So the distinction doesn't exist." "Josh, shut up and watch the show." With clenched fists and jaw set, I did but I still think I'm right. Also confusing: Why didn't anyone pick "hide the salami?" What a bunch of pussies to pass up a chance to say, "Padma, what we have here is some uncased boudin noir fucking a half-dozen Kusshi oysters from British Columbia. It's a play on dicks and pussies and I topped it off with a salty kimchi consommé and a bit of cum. Please enjoy." Kevin, fat baby, almost won with a poached egg dish with bacon foam, neither of which could be turned into a frozen meal. Instead it was Ed and his Hot Potato gnocchi which won the battle of the eyebrows and received a book and, offhandedly, a trip to Australia. "Awesome," Ed said.
The elimination challenge was to make ballpark food and to serve it at the Washington Nationals stadium, a refreshingly un-farfetched task. The group immediately convened. "I was going to make crab cake," said Amanda. "Can you make fish instead?" said Kelly. "Yes," said Amanda and is heard in a voice-over, complaining that Kelly took charge. Yes, my feeble friend, in power vacuums somebody usually takes charge and it could have been you if you understood anything at all. It is not a fait accompli but a fait unfolding. Amanda then ran around, as usual, eyes glistening with the thin feverish veil of stupidity, stealing pepper mills like a Hobbitses and chopping the shit outta shit. "Angelo, Angelo," she sidled up to him like a wayward runt needing a nipple, any nipple, "should I run my tuna through a grinder?" The obvious answer was, "No, you should chop it. It's only ten pounds and do it tomorrow. Also, Amanda, I'm only going to say this once, this is a competition. It's dangerous for you to assume I have your best interest in mind." Obviously Angelo's answer was "Yes, it'll be sexy." Angelo has a Russian mail order bride who he has met only twice. He is not a man from which one should take tips, on sex or tuna. It must be said though, that with his increasingly strange hair, Howard Hughes eccentricity, and cross-cultural transatlantic cupcaking—"Do you miss me?" "What, what question is this?"—Angelo's developing a certain mono no aware charm. He might be the late-unfolding Anvil: The Story of Anvil of this season.
After an afternoon of prep, the team met in the kitchen of 2121 Jump Street late night to discuss. "Someone is going to have to take orders," someone said. Nobody would volunteer. Kelly said she kouldn't. Kevin said he kouldn't. Tiffany brayed. Ed wiggled his brows and pursed his lips. Amanda wondered how and why windows were clear. "But they're sand!" Finally, because clearly no one else was going to and then the group would have to spend all night like flies in the kitchen stuck in the amber of selfishness, trying to disguise their self-interest, Angelo said "I'll do it." This didn't strike me as conniving or calculating as much as menschkeit. He would, of course, regret the decision.
At the stadium now, it is clear Angelo wouldn't be able to prepare his dish and handle all service orders for the entire at the same team. Kevin, ill-tempered fat piece of shit, expressed an exceedingly annoying sense of entitlement. "Angelo," he said with his guttural New Jersey tough guy voice, "you shunta sed yude do it if ya cunta." "Chill out," said Angelo. "Nah, I don't gotta chill." Frustrated and in a moment of weakness, Angelo handed out tabs to each of the chefs, perhaps as a legitimate solution but just as likely as a statement that without his selflessness, they'd all be deeply fucked. It's a play on dicks and pussies. In the end, Ed steps up to agree to help Angelo prepare his food. Kevin's chicken was an abomination, long on the skewer, short on the flavor. Amanda's tuna tartare, as she mushed it in the heat and exposed more and more of the surface area to oxygen, turned dark grey. A fishy storm cloud brewed in a bowl on a hot summer day and death was in the air. "But why?" she turned to Heaven to complain, "it doesn't make any sense!" An apathetic heaven, sounding a lot like Tom Colicchio, replied because tuna oxidizes, dummy.
Eduardo won, making last night—real last night, 8/25—a bittersweet evening. His new restaurant, Plein Sud, was bitchily savaged by the New York Times but he also watched himself win something on television a long time ago in a place he couldn't quite remember and felt the stirrings of a pride by now a foreign and suspect visitor. At Judge's Table, Tiffany fucking threw Angelo under the bus like a real asshole. We all have moments of weakness on the way to becoming something better. Yes, Angelo faltered in the execution of his mitzvah but he was also goaded on by the infuriating entitlement of Kevin and the others. Why should he fall on his sword when the others are using theirs to stab him in the back? But that was all soon forgiven when it began to dawn on Amanda and all of us at home that soon she would be going home. For no deliverance was as sweet or as warranted as last night's exodus.
If Amanda didn't "do" grass-fed beef, but had known the "etiquette" of Ethiopian spice, Dayeinu! If she didn't know the etiquette of Ethiopian spice, but had not run around the kitchen blindly and dangerously, Dayeinu! If she ran around the kitchen blindly and dangerously but had not done so blithely, Dayeinu! If she ran around blithely but had not disguised her soup as soup, Dayeinu! If she disguised her soup as soup but had not ground her tartare twenty four hours before serving, Dayeinu! If she ground her tartare twenty four hours before serving, but had not actively sucked Skeski-like the intelligence from all those who beheld her (so great was her lack), Dayeinu! If she had sucked Skeksi-like the intelligence from all those who beheld her (so great was her lack) but had not demonstrated an ignorance as deep and terrifying as her arrogance, Dayeinu! If she had demonstrated an ignorance as deep and terrifying as her arrogance but had not made terrible food, Dayeinu!Dayeinu!<Dayeinu!
[Video by Matt Toder]