Thursday, September 17, 2015

Oh, No, Another One About Chopped!

Sometimes I love the Food Network’s Chopped so much that I worry, as Soupy Sales used to say, that my brains might fall out. Other times, though, I think my poor heart might have been humpty-dumptified, broken so badly as to never be repaired. Such was the case this evening  when Kent Rollins, the chuck wagon cook from Oklahoma, competed in a "redemption" edition (that is, one featuring four second-bests from earlier competitions) and lost again.

 You can’t help but like Kent. He’s the sort of sort-of-Southerner who addresses every fellow male as sir, and every female as ma’am, with palpable sincerity. His trademark hat looks as though it’s been trampled many times by herds of cattle, and then used in lieu of a commode by a succession of homeless persors. It may be the grungiest hat in the world, and Kent, whose catering business is very successful, may be wearing it for the same reason Bruce Springsteen gets out of stretch limousines and then into profusely dented Econolines two blocks from his gigs so his audience won’t imagine he’s ceased to be the salt of the earth, but I still love him. I have just seen him lose to a little New York multiethnic smartypants, Zoe Feigenbaum, even though she cooked what the judges called the worst dessert they’d ever been served on Chopped, because he cut his finger and bled into his own dessert, rendering it not so yummy-looking to the judges.

I found even more heartbreaking the recent (as in: watched recently by me) defeat of little Vito Facciabene, the dese-and-dosiest contestant the show has ever featured, and the most endearing. Having recently lost his restaurant in the Bronx (one assumes he looked everywhere, but to no avail), and with his wife pregnant and the couple’s first daughter presumably looking up soulfully at Veet a lot and whispering, “Daddy, I’m hungry,” he didn’t just want the $10,000 prize, but needed it — desperately. You could tell from the heartstring-tugging music that accompanied his little interview segments. So who wound up winning? Little Miss Stuckup from Somewhere, Alabama, with her blonde hair, excessive mascara, and penchant for telling the judges what a fantastic chef she is, even after one of them observed quite pointedly that a little humility from her might really hit the spot .

A few nights earlier, on an all-teens edition, it was a 13-year=old home-schooled boy who told the camera that he didn’t want to be thought of as a great teen chef, but a great chef, period, who won. He was smug, precocious, and adorable in the way that makes even the kindest onlooker wonder if bullying is always a bad thing, the kind of boy whose trousers you want to yank down around his ankles in full view of the prettiest girl in school after listening to him speak for four seconds. Ted Allen remains the least charismatic host in the history of television.

Like the judges — who commonly include two of the most prolifically tattooed men in America (restaurant kitchens are apparently a popular refuge for fuckups and misfits), and, in Marc Murphy, the homeliest man in the Western Hemisphere — I’m in no hurry to eat food onto which someone’s bled. It’s impossible to imagine that a lot of the non-self-harmers don’t sweat into their food, though, and am I alone in being a little bit dissettled by how much they handle everything? Is it not easy to imagine a chef absentmindedly picking his or her nose during a brief lull, and then neglecting to wash his or her hands afterward?

Maybe it’s best not to think about this sort of thing.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Goddess as Roommate

When Togo first found out that Lars was a musician, he immediately wanted him in his band, thinking that he’d skim off some of the girlies for whom Lars just couldn’t find time. Lars was absurdly good-looking in those days — good-looking enough, in fact, to obscure his having no clue about self-presentation, and an apparent aversion to stylishness. Women didn’t seem even to notice his appalling wardrobe choices, though. The two friends would go together to, for instance, a dance club in the Marina, and Lars would have the most striking blonde on the premises on his arm almost before he’d gotten his ID put away after showing it to the gatekeeper. Togo was reasonably cute himself in that era, and of course stylish to the limited expense his income permitted, and on a couple of occasions women amazed him by seeming to prefer him to Lars.

Years went by, and then decades. The two friends were separated by — stand back! — irreconcilable differences, the width of a continent, and the Atlantic Ocean.  Togo continued his pattern of serial monogamy for stretches lasting up to a decade, Lars his own of Not Committing. The friendship got revived. Decades before, when Togo’s second extended flirtation with monogamy had ended, Lars had kindly invited him to collect his thoughts in the house he was housesitting at the time. They’d gotten along well, and decided, nearly a decade and a half into the second century of their friendship, to share an apartment.

Lars had let himself go, had become rotund, had become a lumberer, a jovial fat uncle who went religiously to the gym every week whether he need to or not. His taste hadn’t improved. Indeed, it seemed to have gotten worse over the years. He seemed terribly out of tune. When he and Togo invited a pair of young sisters from the adjacent apartment over one evening for a glass of wine, he regaled them with quips about, rock musicians from decades past of whom they’d clearly never heard. As they smiled obligingly, Togo hoped no one noticed him wincing.

The friendship ran aground again, and Togo resolved to move far away. One evening, Lars invited over a prospective replacement roommate. She was breathtaking, with luminous long blond hair, a magazine cover face, a lovely figure, and style to burn. Togo was reminded of the Swedish movie star Britt Ekland.

Lars showed her around. If she was dismayed by the ugliness of the living room, in which Lars’s large collection of wooden tables was juxtaposed, jarringly, with black hi-tech elecronic equipment and graphics personally selected by Lars, whose visual taste has never extended beyond women, she didn’t let on. As Togo made himself scarce in the kitchen, the two prospective future roommates stood and chatted, and the most remarkable thing happened. Around 20 years fell off Lars. His blue eyes twinkled as in decades past. His hair looked somehow less gray. He was handsome again, and slender, at least in his former friend’s eyes, no lumberer, cordial, but not avuncularly so. But then Britt, as we’ll call her, was gone, and with her, Lars’s restored beauty.