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It defies credulity that we are but one week from having declared for us, through some process as opaque as mother-of-pearl but significantly less opalescent, a winner of this season's Top Chef. This man, for now we know he'll be man, will join the hallowed ranks of previous Top Chef winners, a pantheon including that guy from the last season, whathisname, and the woman from that season a while ago. There will be tears shed then, running like poorly aimed pee on a toilet bowl down the convex cheek of Kevin's mug, the sheer cliff of Angelo's crazyface and the fleshy parabola of Ed's head. There will be sweat perspired by the gallon, seeping through skin as if the contestants were merely a sheet of one-ply Bounty covering a puddle of piss. It's not too far from the truth.
Still, I wouldn't be honest if I didn't say the sight of our lovely Kelly, sitting like a middle-aged ma in the middle of a Singaporean food market, didn't buoy my heart just a little. It was like that scene in When a Man Loves a Woman. Then Ed showed up, a crimson dash of slow moving pudgy flesh not too dissimilar to Andy Garcia and equally slurring, and the cycle was complete. Angelo strolled up, the Emmett Kelly of the show, and bringing up the rear, Kevin, who chose to wear a slouch hat if only because he couldn't find a pith helmet and Singapore, as he and I and everyone from NewJersadelphia knows, is in Africa. They all momentarily feigned friendship.
"Kevin how's your kid? Boy you've sure got a lot of them. Hey, ever see Idiocracy? It's my favorite movie."
"Angelo, you must be excited to see your fiancée. You've seen her what, like two times now? That's so romantic."
"Eddie, congrats on opening Plein Sud! I read the review in the Times! I guess everybody did."
Tom Colicchio shows up trailed by, perhaps although I'll have to check on this, the most likeable guy to ever grace a Bravo set: K.F. Seetoh, an expert in Singaporean street food. Seetoh wore a shirt with a penis on it. Either he chose to do this without premeditation—"What? It's the only clean shirt I have!"—or it was a canny premeditated calculation—"Hey, you know what? It's my big TV debut, I should probably wear a shirt with a dick on it." Either way I'm sure there was a lot of discussion around it and it was finally decided by Bravo's Queen Andy Cohen: "The shirt says in the picture!" The group heads to the market where 16,000 vendors make food in stalls the size, as Seetoh notes, of solitary confinement cells. One old man is serving a 40-year stretch, sentenced to making the same noodle dish over and over again. No one bothers to read the tiny etching on every noodle, "Save me. Save me. Save me." Seetoh speaks in Hokkien dialect to the vendors and Kevin asks, "What language are you speaking?" to which Seetoh, vastly overestimating Kevin, explains that it's a Singaporean dialect. Kevin's confused, of course, because they all should be speaking African.
Then the group sees Padma standing alone in the middle of cleared out food court, the saddest sort of food court, the graveyard of forgotten fries and empty cups. Padma makes them—and this comes completely out of left field and really just surprises the hell out of everybody—cook in a competitive manner. They must wok. Kevin doesn't know how to "wok" and certainly can't wok and talk at the same time. Padma enquires, "What is wrong with you? You knew you were coming to Singapore to compete for $125,000 and you didn't do research?" To which Kevin replied, "No, I played video games and listened to Toto!" Ed wins the Quickfire. Angelo is sad. Ed is immune. Angelo is mad. Ed is smiling. Angelo is doing something with his face I've never seen a face do before, a color wheel of emotion in a fraction of a second. Kelly and Kevin stare at the ornate breastplate Padma is wearing and then, beneath that, her ornate breasts, too large to ignore and too difficult to process. I'm with you guys, guys.
After sundry and uninteresting developments, we find ourselves at a country club. (That one line holds the complete memoirs of most wealthy white men.) The chefs are cooking two dishes a piece a la minuit for 80 guests including Dana Cowin from Food & Wine. Everyone is being a cock, except Kelly actually. She's not being anything. Ed is taking advantage of Angelo's instability and his own immunity to be hilarious. "I'm on your back. I'm in your neighborhood. Down town Julie Brown! Watch out, Sloop John B! Zombie zombie zombie ee-ee-ee-aa-aa-aa-aa." Angelo asks to use a spoon. Ed says yes but to be careful because it is his grandmother's spoon. Later Ed says to camera, in a stunning moment of exactly half self-awareness, "I'm really sarcastic so people think I'm being a douchebag. Well, half the time I am being a douchebag." That's true, Ed but also, the other half of the time too.
Kevin really goes out on a limb to make a 63 degree egg. "It has to be perfectly cooked," he says in his inimitable Kevin way. His brain, not recognizing the words that come out of his mouth having never thought of them before, is taken by surprise. His eyebrows do their best at damage control by waving wild as he rocks through space like a dumb pendulum. Back to eggs, thankfully, the kitchen has an immersion circulator so all Kevin has to do is set the temperature and walk away. Sometimes walking away is the most courageous thing you can do. Kelly makes prawns and…something else. Prawns and….oh cucumber soup. As you can tell, her food, like her, is generally likeable but pretty forgettable. Not for nothing her last name is Liken, not Lovin. My favorite part of the entire episode was watching the passionately apathetic waitstaff, weathering the storm of abuse from the chefs. I especially enjoyed their subtle revenge of writing their tickets in hanzi, Chinese characters. Beneath their unmoving faces, the slightest hint of an inward smile shown darkly with misanthropic glee. One could chalk up their truly horrendous performance to cultural misunderstandings or, more likely, the fact that they're beach club wait staff.
After petty and numerous arguments, we find ourselves being adjudged. (In that one line, our entire lives are written.) If only God had as nice a rack as Padma. (Who knows, maybe She does!) Padma's rack is just tremendous and, in some ways, upsetting. What is SOP for being a mensch when discussing a show wherein a beautiful woman's breasts are so prominently featured (in a show not explicitly about those breasts)? Is one meant to ignore them? Surely, Padma's chosen decolletage and the ample coverage, in terms of camera angle and time and certainly not cloth, make that impossible. Does one just note them? "Those are beautiful breasts." Does one describe what one would do to them if we could? "I'd take them out to brunch and then to a matinee." Does one shake their hands? I'll ask Padma these questions next time I see her. Or not. I wonder if she reads these things and if I'll ever see her. Man, that'll be awkward. Padma, when I see you, please don't make me ask this question. Just tell me the answer. "Hello Joshua, you whisper sweet nothings to them." "[Sotto voce] Hello, nice to finally meet you. You are beautiful. Want a canapé?"
Anyway, Ed wins in a move designed to crush Angelo's fragile sanity. Kevin is fucking idiot. Kelly looks on blandly. And I can not help but think every time Ed triumphs of New York Times critic Sam Sifton's complete evisceration of him and his restaurant in the paper of public record. So though he made two great dishes on the show, evidently in real life his cooking, "reveals itself to be lacking in flavor, texture, temperature or interest." Who went home? Fuck it, Kelly did. Her dismissal left me with no feelings whatsoever, apathetic like a Singaporean waiter, and wondering, how do you write in Chinese, "I don't give a damn."