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Top Chef episode 5

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This episode was hot and dry, sort of the Joanna Lumley of Top Chef episodes.

Disclaimer – I am the proud owner of a Walrus four person tent, a Sierra Designs one person tent,  a 26 year old Gregory internal frame state of the art backback (that set me back almost $200 way back when!), various backpacking stoves, fuel bottles, water bottles, tarps, flashlights and other assorted house-on-your-back stuff. None of which has been deployed for several years.

While it wasn’t exactly Survivor, it was funny to see these folks scrambling around in the desert because, not only is the desert hot in the day, it can get cold at night. I’ve experienced this when I was deployed to Ft. Irwin, California to take part in Army OPFOR exercises (Opposing forces exercises where the “home team” was outfitted as Russian troops). 40 degrees is damned cold when you’ve been working in 100 degree heat all day. We didn’t have cute teepees though.

But let’s go back to the beginning (ignoring the opening which was a bit flat and maudlin in turns), where we get one of the most taciturn, yet critical judges yet,  Tim Love. He’s pretty clipped and curt and looks like he just ate a rattlesnake one rattle at a time.  It’s appropriate that the viewers chose a prickly ingredient for a sometimes prickly guest judge. When Tim Love smiles, it’s through gritted teeth.

Mike Isabella is starting to come on strong after a bit of hubris hovering over his boastful statements about his abilities. Maybe there’s something behind it. And, isn’t just adorable how our little mime pronounces cactus “cactrus”?

We see ceviche becoming a dominate theme in this episode, something that is borne out later when our intrepid chefs are thrown into “the wilderness”.  Various chefs struggle with the sliminess of the cactus but Mike has the best solution and that is to let salt draw a lot of that sliminess out.

“Wet spot”! Best.Line.Ever.

Poor Ron. He just keeps getting outgunned, outclassed, and outdone by both the other chefs and the various challenges. He’s only hanging on by his accent. However, we’ve seen this before. All it takes is one challenge that’s actually in his wheelhouse and he could very well regain his equilibrium. But I doubt this will happen. He just doesn’t seem to respond well to this format.

When the chefs are told of their challenge, they seem to get the right idea. At least it seems that way. I suspect that there will be some serious failures to execute along the way. And I’m right. But here’s the thing, nobody said anything about ceviche during the Whole Foods segment. Serving ceviche to ranchers? That’s like Andrew from two seasons back serving vegetarian sushi rolls to firefighters. Not the smartest ploy if you ask me.

I know, hindsight is 20/20, but if it had been me, considering the guest judge, the prospective audience and the cooking conditions, I would have probably gone with pork “country-style ribs”. They aren’t really ribs, they are rib-shaped slices from the pork shoulder. Not having enough time to properly smoke and pull them (even though they are smaller, they still take a couple of hours to cook to the point of pulling or being tender enough to eat), I would have probably broken them down into bits and “smoked” them that way. I’d have tossed them in a quick rub and gone to town. Made some sort of BBQ “stew” using a little commercial beef stock and water. Maybe an onion, a carrot, a foiled wrapped potato cooked directly on the coals and then diced at the point of being firm but cooked. Grabbed a couple of cans of BBQ beans, a jalapeño and some canned pineapple and heated a slightly spicy/sweet pineapple BBQ beans dish over a smoky fire under a tin foil canopy. But it’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback.

What? Our Aryan princess/dominatrix doesn’t like losing control of the cooking environment.? What a shocker.

Frankly, I was disappointed at the challenge. A little over an hour doesn’t allow much use of flame and smoke, especially since it seemed that they were allowed no prior prep time as they usually are when cooking at a remote site. I also wonder if they weren’t allowed to even start the fires until the challenge began. If they weren’t, that seems a bit harsh. I’m also surprised that no one used the griller/smoker that was seen in some of the shots. Ashley seems concerned about even heating. Why not use one of those instead of the fire rings?

Bears and cougars. Saw that coming a mile away.

Even though I’m uncomfortable mentioning it, Ron’s Aunt Jemima moment was chuckle-producing. And who doesn’t love them a little voodoo?

Hey Eli, you’re asinine. No, Teleburst, you’re asinine. No, you are.

Gotta love a well-placed outhouse. I’m surprised it wasn’t labeled as a GE Monogram outhouse.

So Ash was an “animal psychologist” in a prior life. Probably tried to break the id of a cat and failed miserably. That’s why he’s a chef now.

Cooking, cooking, slipping, banging, spraying, buckboard raiding, sword-needing. More cooking, flaming, baking (in the sun).

Hey Mike, it’s not gyro as in gyroscope.

Dashi. Like a good Thai coconut based dish, always a good, smart choice. I love me some dashi.

Could shrimp/prawns be the undoing of yet another chef? Oh dear – “chlorine”. I suspect that he meant “ammonia”, but same difference really. If it was chlorine, could the cooler that she used might have been sanitized but not completely rinsed out? I suspect that this would be picked up by the ice and transferred to the shrimp, especially if the bag that they were stored in wasn’t sealed correctly.

What is Cesar Rosas from Los Lobos doing ranching? Did the last album tank?

Hey, bearded old fogey – wipe your mouth! Don’t you know that you’re on television? Where were you raised, in a barn? Oh, you were. Never mind.

Ron doing Haitian Tai Chi. Rippin’!

Tasting, tasting, tasting, evaluating, spitting out, pulling faces, praising, praising, praising…

Here’s a hint to the viewer, when a cheftestant is shown on camera saying that they thought that their food was great, plan on seeing an unpleasant Judges’ Table® experience.

JT was fairly brief on all counts. Not much to talk about really. Robin showed the wisdom of copping to mistakes. Mattin made the common mistake of continuing to defend his food. Ron was just sort of there.

And so, with a fond wave of the baguette, we bid a fond adieu to our mime. In this case (paraphrasing Billy Crystal in This is Spinal Tap), mime isn’t money. We pull a Marcel Marceau with a single painted tear on a whitewashed cheek and we expressively and silently wave goodbye while standing crookedly against an imaginary wind.

Mattin, please take your beret and go.


Top Chef Las Vegas – episode 4

I’ll be typing this in stages, as I watch it. So, it’s in chronological order, as it happens, so to speak (thanks to the pause capabilities of DVR).

The girl contingent is shrinking and the girls are worried. No worries, the law of averages is catching up although it might not happen this week  (Mike, I’m looking at you).

Collichio doesn’t feel that Daniel Boulud needs an introduction, so naturally he goes on to list his CV.

Our little Marcel Marceau gets a gleam in his eye when snails are mentioned. Perhaps he’s working out a new snail routine involving motor oil and a canteen taped to his back.

Daniel Boulud – “And I want to taste something that I’ve never tasted before”. I’m sure you will.

Boulud is a bit scary in a James Bond, mongoose sort of way. I wouldn’t want to be eyed by him before a Quickfire.

OK, pause for the cause – this looks like a 4 brandy in the middle of the day sort of show…be back shortly…

Oh dear – someone’s going home from the QF – knees buckle, heads bob, jaws drop, hearts race.  Sounds like love to me.

OK cocky Frenchman – remember what Boulud said – he wants to taste something different, not snails swimming in butter like you made when you were 15. At least, that’s what it looks like you’re plating. Maybe I’m wrong – we’ll see when I get back into the episode.

Poor little Nazi Girl. They didn’t serve snails to the concentration camp guards. What kind of 1000 year Reich are we running here?

I have to wonder – did anyone think of doing a snail tempura? That would have been my first thought. Within 5 minutes, you’d know whether snails would hold up under a tempura batter. I’d think they would. After all, they are roughly the same shape and size as button mushrooms, although they are more tender, of course. And who doesn’t love fried mushrooms?

OK, back to cheftestants scrambling around each other in panic…

OK, back to the computer…

The dominatrix pulls a yuzu out of her hat.

Frenchy actually did a little extra, but it wasn’t enough to clear Daniel’s Maginot Line.

Southern cooking rules! Jam, baby, jam!

Well, looks like at least one distaff chef is biting the dust. But WAIT! cook-off time! Oh, one distaff chef is still going home. Jesse is the obvious choice, but who knows? It won’t be the gay one that looks like Steve Forbert though, unless she implodes completely.

OK, brandy in hand I return…

And I was right. Jesse bites the dust.  I’m surprised that she has the constitution to work in a kitchen.There’s no crying in cooking (except when cutting onions, I suppose).

Nice perk for the winner of the QF – dining with a bunch of snotty French chefs with over a dozen Michelin stars amongst them. Dining with the chef of the century? How very 20th century.

Frenchy sees this as a slam dunk. Always dangerous on this show.

Trout with bearnaise? Maybe I’m wrong, but that doesn’t seem like a natural pairing. Delicate trout with a tarted-up hollandaise? I dunno. Yes, bearnaise with steaky fish like swordfish or salmon – that I can see. Bearnaise with darker fish like mahi-mahi, that I can see. Trout with bearnaise? Not so much.  I still wonder about the “natural pairing” thing.

I note that they’re doing “young chicken”. I guess there won’t be any nitpicking of the dish as they did in a previous season with Casey and her “coq au vin” – I’m looking at you Tom. Of course, if someone uses a cock, they’re screwed. But where you find a cock in Las Vegas? Oh wait…let me rephrase that…

OK…back to the show and the brandy…


Oh Mike, you’ve semi-redeemed your braggadocio by deconstructing the bearnaise. That’s just twisty enough to create a positive impression as long as you execute it.

Uh oh, the funny music with Robin’s team. Garbanzo bean flour. Personally, I say why not? This could be the classic case of editing fairies’ misdirection. Time will tell, I suppose. It doesn’t help that Caribbean dude is a bit over-confident in his ability to cook chicke…I mean frog’s legs.

More cooking, more cooking. More exposition fairies explaining sauces to ‘mericans. Robin, turns out, is a motor mouth while Ron suffers under the weight of words. Things aren’t really looking that great for Frenchy and tattoo’ed lady (apologies to Rory Gallagher). 

Chateaubriand au poive?  Hmmm, not sure if that’s going to impress anyone, especially if it’s rare as a baby’s bottom. But you still have time. In the words of Douglas Adams, “Don’t panic”! Hopefully, you can turn it into something special. But I have my doubts.

OK, I’m into my second brandy now (don’t worry, I’m off today). Time to return to the dinner portion of our entertainment.

Is that a yarmulke or a bald spot on our lucky cheftestant diner’s head? Oh, it’s a bald spot.

Uh oh, Gail got the end piece. I’m guessing that a chef is going to get the shaft.

The deconstructed bearnaise looks like a hit of windowpane with a couple of hits of orange sunshine dyed black on top. Turns out that it’s a mind-blower.

C’mon guys – no other season could have produced this food for these guests at this stage of the competition? I think not. But, what do I know? I’m not there season after season.

Awwww, Frenchy is disappointed. But I don’t think he has to worry about any of his team actually going home. But I’ve been wrong before…

OK, back to Judge’s Table®

You know, I’m waiting for the twist when they call the losers first. I’m surprised that they haven’t thought of that.

Praise praise praise. Nothing to see here folks. Please move along.

Oh SNAP! I wonder what the French expression for “throwing someone under the bus” is. I’m really surprised that Ashley showed the kind of class that she did (unless it was removed by editing). I really hope that our mime goes home for that, although it’s looking like we’re going to lose Puerto Rico at this point. A lying mime, while a contradiction in terms, is a good source of conflict in the future, so he’s probably going to end up staying. Now I know how Charles De Gaulle felt about General Pétain.

If Ashley goes home, then it’s “Katie bar the door’. But I don’t see that as very likely at this point. You send the guy who’s supposed to know about French cooking home when he doesn’t perform.

OK, time for the big finish. Better have another brandy.

Uh oh – the Ashley thing is being misinterpreted by our gang of 3. This is part of the game though – they’re not privy to “the facts”. It’s up to Ashley to defend herself. Still, I’m pretty sure that PR is on the way out. But, as I’ve said, I’ve been wrong before.

As I mentioned before, cooking Chateaubriand au poive isn’t the most challenging thing to do and to screw up that dish could be fatal and Tom confirmed that. Had they done something a little differently and thought outside the box, like doing a lightly seared piece of meat and doing a carpaccio au poirve, they might have fared better. It certainly would have been a lot easier. You only sear the meat quickly, you freeze it and then you slice it on site with a meat slicer like the type that they use at Arby’s (the type that took Rahm Emmmanuel’s finger. However, you don’t serve the finger if that happens to you as well.

OK, brandy break.

Time for the big reveal.

No great exposition, no big scolding. and yes, it’s Hector. A completely uncontroversial choice. I’m sure that some will make it so because of the Mattin thing, but his big sin was lying at Judge’s Table.

So big fella, you join Jesse in the recycle bin. Please take your “long knife” and go.

Just so you guys know, I rarely watch the teaser clips, either within an episode or for the upcoming episode. So I have no idea about what’s going to happen next week.

Are you ready for some football? A Thursday Night party?

Jesse Sandlin1


Top Chef – Episode 3


Questions, answers and comments…and the call of the Wild Blue Yonder.

Of all of the season’s opening montages, this crew comes off as the most comatose. No crazy dancing, no weird hand gestures, no Martin Sheenesque Jed Bartlet coat flipping – only barely perceptible things like slightly creepy beard stroking, knife gazing  (combined with navel gazing, this could be catastrophic and quite seppuku), and game faces (never thought I’d wish for Spike or Andrew).  I guess the elves want to signify that this is ONE SERIOUS GROUP OF CHEFS. Shame that the cameras and the stress turn even serious Cheftestants into quivering masses of idiocy sometimes.

Jesse – “I love potatoes”. Oh reaaaaalyyyy?

Speaking of Jesse, those mouse  ben wa balls she has in her lips are really driving me nuts. Sometimes they’re lined up right and sometimes it looks like they were stapled by someone in a turbulent aircraft.

Oh dear – the teaming up was painful. Shades of playground kids choosing teams with the last kids picked looking like someone had stolen their puppy.

Why is the French mime talking? Can’t we at least get a walking against the wind thing?

I’ve never understood the “12 minutes and 32 seconds” type call-out thing during quickfires. I almost expect them to go “31, 30, 29, 28…”

The Aryan ice queen wins the QF.  The “I win” self-satisfied comment makes me think of Poland and Czechoslovakia for some reason. Just a bit of warning – watch out for the second front.

And speaking of Jennifer, did anyone else think that she should have been running that kitchen in a black latex catsuit, nine-inch stiletto heels and a Bettie Page wig with a black mask and a cat-o-nine tails?

Tri-color farfalle pasta -gee. why not just do red, white and green chipped nachos?

Hey, an A-10 “Warthog” tank killer! Shame we couldn’t have braised warthog. I guess pork shoulder will suffice.

“Eli’s comin’ hide your heart girl” – where’s the late Laura Nyro when you need her? I guess we’ll have to settle for Three Dog Night. 

Hey, I never got to peel Peruvian purple potatoes when I had KP duty at Ft. Benning in basic training.

Once again, shrimp almost proves someone’s downfall.  I’m still waiting for the rice catastrophe.

Frenchy said “Franco-American”…heh-heh-heh

Bryan would make a great ventriloquist, since he’s always talking as if he’s had his jaws wired shut.

Thought balloon above Ash when Col. Fantastic strides in – “I just LOVE a man in a uniform”.

Preethi – you didn’t just say that you became a chef because of 9-11… oh…you did.

Ash- “I want these people to have a little taste of America before they go”. I’ll bet you do.

Two words – “jet garage”.

Preethi – please take your androgyny  and go.


Top chef returns…













Oh my.

This could be a mess.

I was going to post a blow-by-blow, but I had to stop the DVR when the showgirls came in for the first quickfire challenge. I’m definitely going to have to wait  until the light of day to finish watching this first episode because I’m afraid that, lacking any garlic and crosses, I might be in serious peril. After all, I’ve already invited it into my home.

I will say this – I didn’t like the opening sequence very much. They’ve done some retooling graphics-wise and, well, color me underwhelmed.

They keep upping the talent pool, now throwing in James Beard winners and Michelin star awardees. They have someone  who’s trained with Eric Ripert. Quite a few of them seem to own their own restaurants (this is a trend that’s been accelerating as the seasons go by). They’re not in a dumpy warehouse in a back alley of Miami, they’re in a hotel. And the house…the house…it’s a little McMansion, probably temporarily rescued from foreclosure from some formerly wealthy Vegas entrepreneur bordello owner. I only got a glimpse but I’m guessing that the Ikea budget is quite healthy.

Collichio has a wicked look in his eye as he welcomes them to the sixth Terrace of Purgatory (Gluttony, where only the finest, newest, shiniest GE stainless steel appliances are fitting for the preparation of excess), a place whose food court he has happily been a part of for a few years now. In Vegas, there are express escalators to the various other Terraces and one moves freely between Avarice, Envy and Lust and I’m sure that the show is going to exploit each of these sins with glee.

So, time will tell if I’ll be able to maintain the running commentary that I hoped to employ. This is the first season that has run in the life of this blog and I was sooooo looking forward to it. However, after seeing this lot (and this is the shallow, insensitive part of my character), I actually wanted to drive tattoo needles through my eyes. I hate myself for saying it, because I like the idea of real people, not eye candy, but there are some scary people on this season.

The elves that put on this show will probably find a way to hook me. We have a brother act, the requisite gays, bears, punctured and tattooed outsiders, players, token pretty girls and girls next door, foreigners, and amateurs. The Bravo demographic is certainly covered here. We have bitches and bastards, sensitive types and, in a reversal from previous seasons, only one New York City chef. Time will tell what sort of social experiments will brew this time. With brothers involved, will we see a threesome develop? Will we have a cheftestant have to quit because of a latent gambling problem? Will restaurant wars see someone deliberately sabotage the team in order to get rid of a strong cheftestant who volunteers to be Executive Chef?

At this point, I don’t even have the energy to look at the first five minutes to figure who’s going to get the first axe and have to pack their virtually unused knives. That’s Vegas for you. I’m already tired of the video collages of fake Eiffel Towers and faux Venice canals. I’ll bet Frenchy is going to have some juicy litle confessionals and sound bites.

Am I being overly pessimistic? Perhaps.

As I said, time will tell.