Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Thursday, June 10, 2010

TC Masters finale,The Next Food Network Star simmers up a new season and Work of Art is unveiled

The second season of Top Chef Masters came to an end last night,as our Final Three culinary contenders were given the same last challenge as their predecessors;make a three course meal that expresses your cooking journey in life.

In addition to the regular TC Master judges(except for Gael Greene,why I don't know. Gail Simmons took her spot again)and Judge Tom from regular Top Chef,the final three from season one were also at the dining table. Having Thomas Keller,Rick Bayless and Michael Chiarello eat your food can be pretty intimidating,even at the best of times so the tension level here was at an all time high.

The theme for the opening course was your first food memory and since Rick fondly recalled the days when he went hunting for clams with his dad,his plate had a glazed kishi oyster as the star of the show. The American sturgeon caviar with hamachi and sea scallop crudo placed at the center of the shell had everyone swooning over it,big time.

In fact,all of the first course dishes wowed the crowd,so the chefs had an even playing field as they went to the second round.

The food focus here was your defining moment as a chef(what made you want to do this for a living,in other words). Susur Lee chose the first time he had Japanese food with his first wife,who sadly died in a plane crash(he's since remarried and has a nice family,based on the photos shown).

His tuna with wasabi mousse and pickled cucumber went over well but a few of the diners found his plating less tightly constructed than usual for him.

The last course was meant to represent who you are now as a chef and Marcus Samuelsson did that by delivering up an African style plate of berberre flavored hamachi meatballs with sea urchin froth and mushroom couscous. His hope is that African food will be as mainstream as Asian or Spanish cuisine is in the world market.

Marcus' passion for style and exotic substance gave him enough of an edge that he won the competition and is our new Top Chef Master,giving his charity a hundred grand. Congratulations to him and to his fellow competitors,who also picked up some do-re-mi for their causes as well. A fresh new season of regular Top Chef starts new week in D.C. and I'm really looking forward to that.

Making it's debut right after the TC Masters finale was Work of Art:The Next Great Artist,hosted by a gal named China Chow,who along with a mentor type(Simon de Pury)and a trio of judges with art house credentials will whittle down the group of fourteen artists to select one to receive the grand prize of a showing at the Brooklyn Museum and a boatload of cash.

Art's rather subjective,something that my dad taught me since he was a painter in both oils and watercolors for many years and with my sister following in his footsteps as a cartoonist/graphic artist herself,my outlook on this show comes with a set of very picky standards. However,this is a Bravo series which means the players in this game will be a bag of mixed nuts and a few surprising diamonds in the rough destined to create plenty of in house drama for our entertainment,so there in lies the fun.

The first assignment for the artists was to team up in pairs and create portraits of each other. Untrained amateur Erik did this version of his new buddy Mark as a clown which quickly brought to mind the work of John Wayne Gacy(not just my opinion,one of the judges said so,too!).

Mark himself compared it to Pennywise from Stephen King's It and while he took it in stride,Erik was stumbling all over himself in the bottom three with the judges,who weren't buying his lack of formal education as an excuse. Nevertheless,he did put a face on the canvas,well palette,actually and made it through the first cut.

One portrait that I did really like was Abdi's of Ryan,whose vegetarian ways and smoking habit Adbi found to be interesting counterpoints to one another.

Granted,the overlook of the painting made me think of Iggy Pop but the strong use of such vivid color to reflect Ryan's energy was impressive. The judges liked it a lot and it was one of the top three entries in this round.

The winner of this challenge was Miles,for his death portrait depiction of Nao,the most annoying member of this bunch. He used a photo screening method,which nearly went off course when the light bulb he needed broke but Miles managed to made it work.

It was a good rendering of Nao,due to her self portrait(everyone was introduced to each other at the beginning by viewing their self portraits)which was of photos from a video performance piece where she had a plastic bag of water strapped to her head and broke it towards the end.

Her morbid goth nature suited the Victorian era style of death photography(yes,it was in fashion at one time to take pictures of dead folk,I kid you not)and it's too bad Nao couldn't return the compliment. Nao just did an abstract line drawing that was supposed to be Miles' journey but no actual facial features of his were part of the painting. She barely got away with that by pasting up a little photo of Miles next to her connect the dots creation.

The artist who was eliminated here was Amanda,for her take on partner Jamie Lynn that also didn't include any part of the subject's face. As one of the judges rightly pointed out,"it doesn't look like a portrait to anyone but you." Not good going there,honey.

Amanda's defense was that she doesn't do representational figures in her work but that is not a proper excuse. Picasso did abstract pieces and added human figures in,weirdly shaped ones but they did look human! Also,when someone asks you to do a portrait,having a person in the painting is a reasonable expectation. Amanda could have just added Jamie's eyes or a sideways view of her face or any number of things that could tell the viewer that this was intended to showcase a person. Instead,she made what China Chow called "pretty wallpaper."

Work of Art's regular time slot will be Wednesdays at ten and yes,I plan to stay tuned to this crazy little collective,folks. There are some lofty expectations being placed on this new reality competitive kid on the block and it should be fun to see the fireworks and possibly pick a gem or two out of the rubble:

The sixth season of The Next Food Network Star had a two hour premiere,with Wolfgang Puck showing up for the elimination challenge as he let two teams of chefs use his restaurant to make a six course meal that was supposed to feature California cuisine.

It's early yet but one of the big standouts so far is Aria,a very lively lady with a great personality who does well on camera. Right behind her is Aarti,with her sweet smile and sunny disposition and Herb,who's a little intense but has quite the drive there. I have hopes for Das,but he needs to take his too cool for school attitude down a notch there.

The person who I was most displeased with was Dzintra,who wasn't able to make the dessert course for her team due to an eye injury and was far from grateful to her fellow chefs that completed her dish and insisted on her presenting it to the judges and Wolfgang Puck. She actually disavowed the dish in front of the panel during the challenge,which was not cool at all.

Lucky for her that she was on the winning team and made it to the next round.Alexis wasn't so fortunate but serving undercooked beignets(which are French donuts,not very Cali food there)and lacking any flavor on camera sealed the deal for him. The next challenge has Ace of Cakes Duff Goldman as the special guest and he takes the whole crew to the Santa Monica Pier for a savory sweet feast. Should be tasty,indeed:


DESIGN STAR: Starting this Sunday,the show sets up shop in New York and with many of the challenges being tied into the sights and sounds of the city,we should see some really wild stuff,as Johnny Carson used to say:

TRUE BLOOD:Also returning that night is the third season opener of our favorite Southern Vampire saga. As much as I enjoy cooking shows,it's wonderful to have a series to watch that bites back in more ways than one:

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