Thursday, September 27, 2007


Leaving Las Vegas

It's the Design Star finale, where we learn who was elected winner by the voting public. But not before we watch a lot of filler. The highlights:

And the results are in: Kim wins! Whew!



Flight of Fancy

Previously on Top Chef: Catering challenge. On a boat. Howie toned it down. The guest judge harshed on Howie's cigars. Casey was totally under budget. She won. Howie confronted the judges and mercifully got the boot before he could address any more juding panels.

Morning in Miami. The chefs are all tucked up, all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plums dance in their heads. But all the beddy-bye shots have a point, for once, as Padma tiptoes in and friskily rouses the chefs from bed. Well, until she reaches the room with three guys in it, and she skips the cover yanking and the tickling. Casey recaps. CJ jokes, "My dream's come true!" It's all very cute. Padma's clearly a morning person. And we don't see anyone throw anything at her, so I guess the chefs are mostly morning people, too. Dale predicts a breakfast challenge. What are the odds?

QuickFire challenge: Out in the living area are tables with stations. Each chef gets a blender, a butane burner and some basic kitchen gear. Padma demands breakfast in 20 minutes. The legal ingredients have been set up in their kitchen. Sara laughs about how everyone had to cook in their jammies. Does anything throw her? "So there we were, dangling by our feet from knotted shoelaces above a tank of starving sharks -- it was hilarious!" And go!

The chefs rush the counter to grab ingredients. Hung tips over a bottle of oil and it smashes on the floor, but he's halfway across the room before it goes crash. Casey describes the chaos, and we know she's not good at chaos. She points out that none of them were wearing sturdy footgear -- some of them didn't have footgear at all -- so the broken glass was a problem. Hung doesn't think he broke the bottle, but he's sorry if he did. Not sorry enough to throw a towel over it, though. He doesn't care about what anyone else thinks; he's just there to push himself harder. He closes the refrigerator and a couple of peppers(?) are left lying on the ground. Perhaps the poor little crawfish that fell awry can crawl over and keep them company. I'm pretty sure Hung doesn't run around like this at his real job, but it's interesting how he leaves a trail of detritus across the kitchen.

Dale has a good history with breakfast, having won Best Brunch in Chicago, but his brunch repetoire takes a lot of prep. Hung doesn't eat breakfast that often since he's always rushing off to work. But it's the most important meal of the day! His ingredients include "a little alcohol, for pep." Breakfast of champions. If that's his idea of breakfast, perhaps he is better off skipping it. Sara laughs that they know their judge likes alcohol. Also mascarpone cheese and healthy stuff like whole grains. She's going "rustic." Casey was trained by her French grandmother, so she's making a quick salsa. No, really, it fits with the flavor combinations Grandmere taught her. CJ is going with crÍpes, because chicks dig crÍpes. His is not to wonder why, he's just rolling with it. Brian thinks it's time to bring it, unlike all those other challenges. Time's up!

Padma congratulates the chefs and asks if they had fun. Of course, they have to say yes. And they haven't gotten any breakfast yet, while Padma has gotten six breakfasts. I'd be cranky. That's why I'm not on TV. CJ thinks Hung breaking the oil was probably not a fun part, though. Hung doesn't react. Padma picks her favorites: Hung for a light version of steak & eggs, plus a yummy smoothie, and Sara for "heavenly" eggs in a hole. The winner exploited the blender and incorporated a broad flavor profile -- and it's Hung! He's happy to have fun and win, both in the same challenge for once. Dale decides it wasn't so much the booze as it was winning Padma over to steak & eggs. Padma awards Hung with a copy of her new cookbook. He's polite about it.

The Elimination challenge will have to wait. They'll be traveling until they reach Aspen. Padma turns plane tickets over Hung to distribute to the chefs. Casey refuses to guess what's up. Hung hands out the tickets, but apparently they've all agreed (prompted or not) to look at the destination at the same time. On the count of three, they open up the tickets. Then they jump around and cheer. They're going to New York! Sara recaps, in case you failed to her "New York" amidst all the squealing. CJ's ready for his first authentic slice of pizza. Now that Dale has made it to the top six, he's aiming for the top four. One step at a time. Well, two steps, actually, but he's not getting too far ahead of himself. The chefs pack.Casey is proud of herself; they should all be proud of themselves. Brian eulogizes Miami. CJ just wants to cook his best.

Plane trip. Landing. Newark Airport. And there's Padma, waiting at the gate. The chefs do not take this as a good omen. And they're right. Somebody won't make it to Manhattan. The next challenge will be right at the airport. They at least get to spend the night at a local hotel before diving into things. CJ and Dale mope.

Morning. The chefs file into a giant building at the airport, which turns out to be full of food service carts. Somewhere along the way, the chefs have been issued shower caps, purporting to be hairnets. Padma's wearing one, too, but she left her bangs sticking out. But she's not cooking, so no health code violations there. She introduces the product-placed food services chef, Gerry McLoughlin, who will teach them the ins and outs of airline cooking. They'll each put together a yummy meal for hungry travelers. At least the ones that can afford first class. Brian has never gotten real airplane food. As QuickFire winner, Hung gets to pick his protein first, which is then off-limits to everyone else.

The tour begins. The airline chef shows off some meals as they would be presented to the passengers, and then as they are packaged up for loading. The package is only 2 inches tall. They have to cook their food for at least 10 minutes in the galley oven. Sara recaps that they have 2 hours to work. Hung chooses sea bass, which is too oily to dry out. Dale is going populist. CJ, healthy. Brian, rich. The chefs try to figure out where everything is. CJ tries to hack open a can with his knife. Everyone jostles for burner space.

With 45 minutes to go, Chef Tom walks through. Brian mentions the burner contention. Hung also brings it up, interrupting his chat to rescue his sautÈ pans. CJ deadpans that he's "excited" about the challenge -- "First of all, I get to wear this hat." He thinks the timing is the hardest part of the challenge. Casey agrees; since everything is being cooked in the same container, you want to make sure all the parts come out okay. Sara is trying to keep everything moist. Dale and Chef Tom agree that good food can be had in an airplane. If you pay enough for your seat. Or bring your own.

Chef Tom recaps that the kitchen contention is causing stress. He thinks meat is a better choice than fish, which is easier to overcook. But overall, "If good food goes into that box, good food should come out of that box." And then go into the oven, which is the tricky part. Time ticks. CJ's off in another corner of the kitchen. Brian wonders if he's packing his cart. Meanwhile, Hung is cleaning up. "No matter what, you don't let the person next to you go down," Dale lectures. He thinks Hung isn't a team player, which reflects badly on his character. Casey asks CJ if he needs help and heads over. Hung points out that CJ never asked for help. So presumably he would have helped if asked. It's not a team challenge, so Hung has no obligation to help someone else -- but as Dale said, the competition is more satisfying (to the viewers, at least) if everyone has a complete entry. Time's up!

The chefs enter a giant hangar to find a Boeing 777 and the judges. The guest judge is Jimmy Canora, one of the product-placed airlines chefs. Sitting in for Gail is Anthony Bourdain. Where was Ted? And of course, Chef Tom, who's channeling Samuel L. Jackson with a backwards Kangol cap to go with his leather bomber jacket. Granted, Chef Tom is something of a bad ass, but he isn't in Samuel L. Jackson bad ass territory. I want him as a judge some day. Also taking part are a whole flock of "elite" flight attendants, meaning they serve the high-paying customers up front instead of the slobs in coach. Dale is remined of "the ants from the Tom & Jerry cartoon" as they file aboard. The plane has two galleys, so two chefs will serve at the same time. Padma sits with Chef Jimmy, while Chef Tom sits with Tony Bourdain. If I were a teacher, I'd split those two up so fast.

First up are Dale and Brian. They struggle with the equipment. Brian fetches CJ to help plate while Dale works with Casey.

Padma thanks all the flight attendants, then heads back to threaten the chefs with judging. Casey doesn't want to get left behind. Dale worries, but everyone had problems. CJ thinks the competition has shaken him out ohf his sleepy comfort zone. Sara thinks they're all at risk.

Judges' Table. Padma starts with Dale. Everyone approves, except for the missing plate. Brian next. Chef Tom complains about the overcooked steaks, but the hash was worse. Bourdain agrees, "The lobster was rubbery." Everyone was pleased with Hung's sea bass. Bourdain observes that he did a variation on a "Basque classic." Casey also gets universal approval. Bourdain points out that she showed chef-like qualities, rather than just cook-like qualities. Sara's turn. Bourdain complains about his dried-out salmon and everyone piles onto the badly-conceived couscous. CJ's fish escaped being overcooked, but not by much. Chef Tom can't believe he served the broccolini. (In an interview, CJ says he didn't want to but somebody in production said he had to.) Back in the makeshift waiting area, Brian says that no matter how things turn out, "It was a pleasure meeting you guys." CJ and Sara agree.

Padma fetches Hung, Casey and Dale. Yep, they're the top three. She tells Dale his steak was "delicious." Bourdain says it was well-executed and, while not original, "a proven crowd-pleaser." Dale confesses to just getting stuck on seventeen instead of eighteen. Anybody think he's gonna win? Me neither. Padma brings up Hung's choice of protein, which he points out is impossible to overcook. The airline chef agrees it was a good choice. Padma tells Casey that her meal was well-composed. Bourdain liked all the flavors. The guest judge gives the win to Casey. She wins two round-trip business/first tickets on the product-placed airline. Casey realizes that she was middling in the early stage of the competition, but now she's picking up momentum.

So Brian, CJ and Sara know they're destined for a chewing out. CJ wonders what Bourdain will be like. "Oh God, evil," Sara predicts. The top three return and Casey gets congratulations. The top three wish the bottom three luck before sending out to be shot. Or something. Sara confesses to having some fish cooked more than others; she should have been more even with her portions. But she was pleased with her leek fondue. Bourdain lives up to expectations, describing his salmon as "beyond overcooked" and comparing it to cat food. I hope he means kibble, because I look inside a can of cat food every day, and it's pretty moist in there. Padma is puzzled by the flavorless couscous. CJ admits right off, "I don't think mine went very well." The judges won't argue. CJ thinks he had a good idea, but he needed more execution. Bourdain goes after the whole broccolini thought process, calling the result "horrifying." Chef Tom wonders if this should get CJ sent home, which of course CJ refutes -- it was a good idea, just not well executed. But yes, he's worried, being before the judges "with these three people." And yeah, Brian might count as two, but I think CJ just got tangled up thinking "bottom three." Brian suspects he's being dinged for his large portions, so he has no idea what was wrong. Chef Tom tells him, "You're here because that hash was disgusting." Well, just lay it right out there, dude. Bourdain confirms, "The lobster had the texture of doll head." Wonder what exotic tribe serves those up? Brian's like, "Okay, you always pick on my lobster, so I'll stop with the lobster." It's not the lobster, you doofus, it's the overcooked lobster. Brian doesn't think this should be the end of him, either.

The chefs go away, the judges review. First up, they're surprised by Brian's surprise. Bourdain wonders why he didn't realize the lobster was a failure. Chef Tom doesn't care if it's airplane food or restaurant food, terrible food is terrible. Sara's salmon was too dry; Chef Tom seems about to launch into a diatribe on the couscous when Padma's like, "Yeah, we get it." CJ thinks the critcism was fair because it was about the food; he's guessing he and Sara are the least favorites. Sara admits that the criticism of her couscous being an "afterthought" is entirey correct. Bourdain can't understand why CJ served his overcooked broccolini. Chef Tom proclaims it the Worst Dish Ever in all three seasons. Which sounds like hyperbole, but I didn't have to eat it.

The bottom three return. Chef Tom spanks Sara for overcooked salmon and ill-conceived couscous, CJ for overcooked halibut and truly wretched broccolini, and Brian for his "terrible" hash. Padma looks like she's going to cry when she gives CJ the boot. He seems to have been expecting it. He thanks the judges for all the feedback and for the opportunity; it's been educational. He gets hugs from his fellow chefs and they do their usual applause for the departing chef. CJ is looking ahead to his future opportunities, like maybe opening a restaurant and hopefully drinking with Bourdain and badmouthing the broccolini some more.

Right winner? The post-show commentary indicates that Casey won for her daring, since veal was riskier than sea bass. I think it's better to be smart than lucky, which is why I'd go for Hung's sea bass. But they both did well, so good for them. And Dale needs to get his head together.

Right loser? The judges really had it out for CJ's broccolini, so it's no surprise. I'll miss his dry sense of humor, but I didn't have him pegged for the finals, so I'll live.


Thursday, September 20, 2007


Blue Hawaii

Previously on Design Star: Las Vegas. 11 designers. Challenges. Winners. Losers. Todd, Kim and Will spread across the nation to design for real people. Sadly, Will got the boot. And now -- Hawaii!

Kim marvels that she and Todd are the last two standing. She figures she has "a fifty-percent shot" at winning her own show. Only if it's a random draw. Todd tells Kim that he has a lot of competition experience. He interviews that he don't know what will happen. Clive arrives and has them open paint cans to see where they're headed next. Yep, it's Hawaii. Kim and Todd are thrilled. They don't learn anything about the challenge yet, but they have $10,000 in cash to keep track of. Again? It's the final challenge; they should get more money so they can really strut their stuff. Before they go, Clive is going to give them "one last special treat." We see their loved ones waiting behind the garage door, because why bother letting us feel any suspense whatsoever? Clive opens the door and there's much squealing. Todd's friends pile on him. Kim greets her visitors like a grown-up. She has her husband, sister and best friend. Todd is surrounded by his brother, his best friend and his "hot wife." Kim spends a little time with her hubby, who is sweetly supportive. Todd's group gathers around the table with wine; Kim hangs around the pool. Todd's people tease him that he's not a winner unless he wins. Nice. Todd has his most human moment yet as he says he really needed to see them, after so long pretending to be the "cool guy" who didn't need anyone. He says goodbye at the door. Kim gives everyone big hugs before they leave. Both designers are recharged now.

Morning. Packing. Airport. First class. Hawaii. Hotel. They immediately -- after changing clothes -- climb into an outrigger and are delivered to the challenge site. Clive stands before Kim and Todd on a patio at the hotel and dangles the promise of information. They obligingly "woo!" a lot. The hotel is being renovated, and two suites have been set aside for the challenge. Kim calls hotels the "holy grail" of design because "millions of people" can experience it. Well, thousands, at most. They'll have 32 hours and the $10,000 they have schlepped across the ocean. But first, it's time to bring out the previous winner. And here's David! Kim is delighted; she voted for him. He does the "your life will change" speech and encourages them to go for it.

Clive starts the clock and the designers run into their suites. They're identically dated and drab. Both designers decide to get rid of everything. Todd's big idea -- because he always has a big idea -- is to swap the living room and the bedroom, so you can enjoy the views when you wake up in the morning. As opposed to enjoying the views when you get up in the morning. Perhaps he spends a lot of time lying around in bed when he's on vacation.

Shopping. Todd is going to use a "deep, ocean blue" to bring the outside in. He decides not to buy an armoire because then he'd wind up designing the room around it. Kim is going for a sectional; the chaise portion will help divide the space. She picks a color for each area of her three major areas. Todd relocates the bed. Clive calls time. They've used 6 of their 32 hours; they'll use up the remaining 26 hours over three days. Put your arms down, Todd. They head back to their own penthouse, which has already been updated, and talk over the day.

Morning. Paint cans. What can this mean? Clive brings out Robb and Will. Everybody screams. Well, except for Clive. The person with the star gets to pick which day they get each person's help. Todd gets the star; he decides to work with Will today so Kim will get stuck with Robb. "Was there some tension between you and Robb or something?" Clive wonders, oh-so innocently. Kim's like, yeah, it sucks, but what ya gonna do? The designers all get 11 hours in the day. Robb says he has "no animosity" toward Kim and he's just happy to help. The designers fill in their assistants on the plans. Kim checks with Robb if there's anything in particular he wants; he asks for Liquid Nails and a caulk gun. "Write it down," he nags, but Kim just says, "I have it." The bosses head out to grab stuff for the assistants. Robb tells the camera that he's doing prep for the next Design Star. But in a more candid shot, he says he might be saying the same thing tomorrow, when he's working for Todd. In addition to paint, Todd scores some decorative stuff at the sponsoring store. After dropping off paint, the designers go shopping again.

Todd finds a store that has exactly his style, so he gets pretty much all his furniture. Put your arms down, Todd. Will thinks Todd's theme thing will set him apart, but he's looking forward to working with Kim because she has good taste. Kim also shops her heart out. The designers return to find their assistants have done major painting. Work continues for another hour and then Clive calls time. He announces a treat: downstairs is a Hawaiian luau. Put your arms down, Todd. It's a little luau, as these things go, but they get some hula dancers. They all have a nice time.

Another morning. The assistants swap sides. Clive gives them 11 more hours to work. The designers go over things with their new helpers and get to work. The judges drop in on Todd. Robb also claims their attention. Todd goes over the big plan with the switcheroo. The judges suggest getting rid of the blue carpet, which doesn't work with the blue walls, but Todd has a big rug. Vern recommends revisiting the switcheroo; Cynthia thinks the vanity area looks ugly in the living space. Todd points out that they're still seeing a work in progress. He interviews that the judges' input has always been "dead on" throughout the competition, but he's charging ahead with his original idea.

Kim's turn with the judges. She explains the "tropical punch" idea. All the judges hate the carpet. Kim starts fretting. Will suggests just sealing the concrete underneath. Vern and Cynthia pull up the carpet, and Will assures Kim that he knows what to do. Kim thinks it's important to listen to the judges. Will teases the judges for adding to his workload. Kim has to go get tools for the carpet job and she's fretting some more.

Todd makes a giant jellyfish. Kim comes back, still worried but committed. Robb spots the work and reports to Todd; he thinks it's a risky move. Work continues. Time ticks away. Work. Tick. Clive calls time. The assistants are done. The designers have four hours to finish on the last day. They both anticipate a lot of rushing around.

The last morning. Put your arms down, Todd. Kim is too nervous to eat much breakfast. Clive starts the clock again. Todd gets busy. Kim gets busy. With 2 hours left, Kim discovers that she bought queen-sized bedding. She has to run to the store to get more. Her cashier is on the phone. Eventually she gets back and gets to work. Rush, rush, rush. Time's up! Todd starts screaming and screaming and screaming, even as he hugs Kim. Clive declares the challenge officially ended. Put your arms down, Todd. The judges are on hand to watch the presentations.

Todd goes first. He climbs on the coffee table. Then he shows off his really blue bedroom/living room. The judges think his presentation skills have improved. He painted bubbles on the wall that look like they're floating up from the bedside lamp. Better hope the lamp doesn't get moved. In the interior room, he shows off a sleek table and some 3D-effect artwork. Todd is happy with his presentation.

The judges inspect his suite. Vern finds the kitchen in the bedroom "weird." The judges like the sofa. Cynthia points out that he is taking advantage of the view. Vern thinks it's "totally Todd." Please don't let that be the name of his new show. Todd is confident he "totally crushed it." That's just what I want a designer to say about his work. Martha is happy the folding doors in the pass-through are gone. The judges like the view into the interior room. Martha approves of the high table. Cynthia thinks the furniture and accessories work together well. That would be an advantage to getting everything at the same store. Todd is worried because he didn't do some things they recommended, because they went against his big idea. Vern says that he's confident in who he is, and "it has to be his space." Which it is.

I'm a blue fan, but the living room walls are too intense for my taste. I do like the way the lighten as they rise, though, and I love the lighter blue in his interior room. I don't think the layout makes sense given the fixed elements of the kitchenette, vanity and bathroom -- none of which he seemed to address. The sea creature art is too theme-y and the bubbles on the wall are too cutesy. His walls are really more suitable for an aquarium than a suite. As for the furniture arrangement, I think it would be better with the original room configuration. At it is, the living area is too small and the dining area is too big. Then there's the problem of having all your clothes in the dining room. Yes, it's nice to wake up to the view -- but that's one moment out of all the time you spend in the suite. Designing everything about that one moment just isn't worth the effort.

Kim's turn to do the hosting thing. She shows off the colors, the room divider, the furniture placement and the headboard. The judges think she's informative and confident. The judges inspect. They're wowed. They love the floor. Cynthia loves the colors. Vern compliments her "sophisticated eye." Martha likes about her use of color. Vern likes the organization of the space, especially the divider. Kim is hoping the judges like it. Cynthia finds the bedroom relaxing. Martha thinks the suite looks upscale.

I think the juxtaposition of the warm walls in the living space with the light turquoise in the bedroom is jarring; the bedroom needs more separation. Otherwise, it's a very strong room. The bedroom is very pretty and the headboard has the right tropical feel. The warm colors in the living space feel cozy and welcoming. I think the couch is too soft a brown compared to the deeper shades in the room; perhaps a sandy color would be better. The separation of the kitchen area is very nice. Her finishing touches are definitely more upscale than Todd's.

The judges compliment both designers on a job well done. Clive does the voting thing once again. Wrapping up, we see some of Todd's big moments. Many of them shirtless. Ah, tipping over the head table in the Vegas reception room -- that just doesn't get old. Now a recap of Kim's "journey." Lots of smiling. There's a moment we didn't see before with cute little Paige Deane. Clive compliments them one last time and turns things over to the voters.

Well, Todd's still Todd. He has a lot of creativity, but I just don't think he's suited to residential interior design. He'd be great for theme parks, though. Kim stepped it up this time. Her design skills are weaker than her hosting skills, but she put together a strong room. I would have liked to see what she could do with more money; for a final challenge, the budget was pretty skimpy. I would still take Alice over Kim, but I'll definitely take Kim over Todd. Let's hope they can find more inspiring choices next time.



Fabulous People

Previously on Top Chef: Restaurant Wars, part deux. For real, this time. Sara was in charge. Team Leftovers started over. Tre produced a gagalicious salmon dish. CJ got beat up for not preventing Tre's bread pudding. Tre got the boot.

Aw, Tre's bed is empty. Perhaps CJ can annex it; he needs the extra square footage. He interviews that it "sucks" that Tre got the boot, but appointing him executive chef was the best thing for the team even though it put Tre at risk. Hung actually regrets Tre's dismissal; if he were going to lose, he would be okay losing to Tre. Not that he's going to lose. Brian is missing his wife and dog and everything at home. Casey has noticed the dearth of wimminfolk left; she'd like to make it to the final four to represent.

Padma introduces guest judge Michael Schwartz. Dale handles the eulogy interview succinctly. Padma talks about "making the most of what you have." Chef Michael says you have to make it "fabulous" in Miami. The chefs draw knives for the "Aisle Trial." Each knife has the number of an aisle in the grocery store. They have $10 and 10 minutes to shop the aisle. Casey recaps, and points out that this will be hard. Just in case you hadn't worked that out yet. They'll have 20 minutes to cook, using a limited selection of pantry items.

Shopping. Hey, this is not the usual upscale grocery store.

Presumably Sara was also there. The chefs head back into the kitchen. Howie is still grumpy about the challenge; he's sure he "won't be happy" with his dish. Hung starts having fun, "like a little child." Dale wonders, "Dude, are you building a Smurf village over there?" Brian is envious: "I have no idea what this guy was on, but I want some." Hung interviews that he loves being able to express himself with food. He loves eating -- in fact, he "grew up eating." Unlike the rest of us plebians. His whole family is in the restaurant business, so he grew up around food. CJ makes the tragic "salt for sugar" mistake and stares accusingly at his pan. Howie cooks up some Mandarin orange slices but they fall apart. He just tips over his glass and gives up.

Howie is obviously in the bottom, but he still thinks he made the right choice; you can't serve something if you don't like it. And of course CJ's salty risotto, which is a "bummer" for CJ. The win goes to Brian for a restaurant-worthy dish. Chef Michael is now a "Spam believer." Brian's happy to win again.

Elimination challenge: Padma wants them to "put on a good show" for the annual catering challenge. The party will be for some hot-shot designer. Sara describes the expected clientele, holding up one finger (no, not that one) to show how "skinny" they are. Hung claims to love fashion. I bet he grew up wearing clothes. Howie, on the other hand: "Do I look like I care about fashion? This is from Target." Actually, Target is a pretty happening store, design-wise. They'll have 60 "beautiful people" guests but a budget of $350. "Total?" gapes Brian. CJ recaps his catering experience so we know to trust him when he says this isn't a lot of money. As the QuickFire winner, Brian gets to choose the "team leader." Brian goes for it; he's in the restaurant business to "be a leader."

Back at their palatial digs, the designers brainstorm. Brian likes Dale's inexpensive idea; if everyone can be as cheap, they could "really blow it up." CJ argues that everyone should concentrate on one thing. He interviews that Brian's getting good ideas because they're all contributing. Brian outlines the division: Dale and Hung have paired up, as have Casey and Sara; both teams will produce three things. Howie wants to make up for his QuickFire omission, so he'll do two. Howie interviews that the QuickFire loss is no biggie, but the Elimination challenge counts. Loud discussion around the table. Hung's solution? Just tell everyone what they're going to do. But he's not team leader. The meeting breaks up and Brian asks if everyone is "okay."

Morning. Brian lies in bed, wrapped in green sheets. It looks like he wore a grade-school celery costume to bed. This is one of those situations where you have to ask yourself, do I really want to know? Casey and Dale recap the challenge. Brian is worried that they won't be able to supply their planned menu on their allotted budget. That would be something to consider during the planning phase, no? In particular, Brian is going to watch Howie, who's a bit of a shopaholic. Hung explains that they each had $50, which he feels is "definitely" enough. Shopping happens. Sara interviews that they wanted to have a variety of things. She and Casey confer in front of some freezer cases. Casey reveals that they teamed up for a dessert. Their pastry experience is limited but "risk taking is what will win this competition," Casey opines. That didn't work out so well for Sara the last time she tried it, as I recall. Perhaps she'll stay away from the pineapple this time.

Howie tells Brian that he has everything, so he's going to run it through the checkout to see how it prices out. Sure enough, he's way over. Brian comes to check and finds Howie at $55 with only half of his ingredients. Brian reviews his selections. Howie figures Brian has the least catering experience of all the remaining chefs, which is why he has a lot of respect for Brian's assumption of leadership. Yeah, that doesn't entirely make sense, but whatever. Brian was worried because he and Howie have a "patchy" history -- wish we could have seen some of it -- but he's pleased to discover that Howie is being a real team player this time out. Dale sacrifices his goat cheese and goes for a lighter yogurt. Brian is pleased that everyone is coming together as a team. Howie doesn't want people thinking he can't "work as a group." Too late!

CJ thinks they're destined for a boat trip. Howie mentions a bad experience catering on a boat. Well, he gets to do it again, because sure enough, it's a boat. Padma welcomes them aboard. CJ is relieved to find he can stand up in the galley. Brian hopes everyone will manage to "keep their lunch down" with the rocking of the boat. The chefs get to work in their cramped quarters. Although there is room for all of them to work, so it's not eensy-weensy. Dale is making a variation on cream puffs, but without the goat cheese, his filling isn't as thick as it should be. Brian claimed the "money dish" as the leader's privilege, so he's making an ahi poke. At least it's not a ceviche. He thinks the ahi will be a luxury for the guests. Sara has a vegetarian dish. Casey freezes her beef so it's easier to slice. CJ's head is right up against the ceiling. His dish is time-consuming. Hung has a "classic dish that people with an average palate would appreciate." Take that, beautiful people! He and Dale team up for another "very common" choice.

Chef Tom drops in and checks with Howie. He's working on one dish; he hasn't started the other, but he says it will be easy to put together. Chef Tom asks Brian why he volunteered to lead, and Brian's like, "Well, duh." Actually, he says that chefs are leaders, so of course you take the chance to lead. It's kind of a beauty pageant moment. Chef Tom wants to know why Sara is teaming with Casey in addition to doing her own thing; Sara thinks the menu needed something sweet. Not exactly what he was asking, but he seems satisfied. They have about an hour to go when he heads out. Chef Tom reviews: the challenge was about wowing people and the menu has a lot of "safe" choices. He thinks they should have concentrated on fewer choices, making them impressive.

Brian wants to know who's feeling good about being ready. Howie explains that he's working extra hard to overcome his "not a team player" rap. Perhaps he could have tried that a little sooner, if he was so concerned about his reputation. He goes on to say that he's "obviously a pretty good chef" and not just some <unintelligible with bleeping>. Unfortunately, CJ reports that Howie's duxelles came out mousse-like and grey. Hung goes further, comparing the visual to "dog diarrhea." Howie has Brian taste, and it passes muster. CJ thinks Brian should be stricter. Brian sees his role as "facilitating," giving everyone "the opportunity to succeed or fail here." So even though the visual appeal isn't what he expects, he's letting it pass. Oh, dear. I don't think that's going to fly with the judges. They don't want to hear about giving everyone a chance to fail; they want to hear about how you're going to make sure the food is as good as it can be. CJ thinks Brian should be in everybody's business as much as possible. Brian reviews what people are doing and warns they have 25 minutes to service.

Padma summons the chefs upstairs to review the judging panel. Instead of Gail or Ted, we have Dana Cowin, the editor-in-chief of Food & Wine. Dale calls her "one of the most influential and powerful women in food writing today." As expected, Chef Tom and Chef Michael will also be juding. Beautiful people arrive as Brian counts down. The chefs start bringing up food. Brian has "the bright idea" to announce to the guests that the hors d'oeuvres are ready. "This was probably a mistake," he admits, as the guest come a-runnin'. Sara serves at the table while other chefs pass trays. The first wave is quickly demolished and people start looking for more. Sara assures Padma that more is coming while Brian runs down to rustle it up. Casey complains that she couldn't make her way through the crowd without having all her food picked off. She reveals that she's not good with chaos.

Up top, a couple of guests have heard rumors of chocolate mousse and they want some now. In the galley, Casey blends something chocolate while Sara says reassuring things. Casey explains that they bought packaged chocolate mousse, which they tried to stretch with whipped cream, but the mousse deflated. They try to re-aerate the mousse, but it's still pudding-like. Everyone tastes and concurs that the dish is just not happening, so they dump it. Casey hopes her carpaccio will shield her from any failed mousse fallout. The chefs emerge for applause and champagne and it's back to shore.

Judges' Table. In the pantry, Howie insists that everyone made good-tasting food. Yes, but what about good-looking? Brian agrees, he got compliments on everything. Meanwhile, Chef Michael found the food mostly uninspired. Dana observes that everything was served on some form of bread. (Not everything, but close.) Chef Tom asks for the good parts, and Chef Michael mentions Casey. Dana nominates CJ's seafood sausage -- tasty and "pretty." Padma pans Dale's yogurt texture and Dana thinks it lacked flavor. Chef Tom doesn't think "cigars" is an appetizing word. Dana thinks his mushroom tarts "tasted like mud." Chef Tom is not happy with Brian for letting bad food get served. See?

The chefs report for interrogation. Padma asks Brian for his assessment. He thinks they had a nice variety. Chef Tom asks about the ditched dessert. Brian reports that the group decided "it didn't meet our expectations." Next, Chef Tom wants to know if they talked about the wisdom of doing two dishes instead of one. Brian says it was discussed, and the people who chose two dishes "thought they could handle it." Well, of course they did. Padma points out that Brian, as executive chef, would have to approve of what was served. Brian argues that he was "executive chef" since the team members are his peers; he was the "leader." Chef Tom thinks he's "splitting hairs." I know how to split hairs, and Brian's not making that fine of a distinction. But yes, he is doding responsibility. If he's just there to coordinate, he can't be blamed for failure, but neither can he claim credit for leading the team to victory. I don't think Brian worked that out. Chef Tom thinks leadership requires "hard decisions." Since Brian "obviously" thought two dishes was a bad idea, why didn't he insist on everyone doing one? Brian has no answer. Perhaps he doesn't want to argue that he was okay with the two-dish thing.

Chef Tom asks Sara why she limited herself to one dish, and Sara corrects him that she did two, one being a dish that wasn't served. Chef Tom verifies that it was the dish she made with Casey, and asks the whole two-versus-one thing again. Sara again goes to the "variety" argument. Except seven different appetizers is a decent variety for 60 people, I think. Dana doesn't find the variety argument compelling when "80 percent were served on bread." Brian brings up the short shopping time. Yes, but what about the long planning time? Chef Michael was missing the color and presentation.

Chef Tom turns to Hung and asks how long he's been cooking, his point being that Hung's dish was as old as his culinary career. Hung readily agrees -- it's a "classic" that's 300 years old. Dana wonders if he considered an update. Hung blusters that everything has been done and everything they served is old. So, there's nothing left for today's diners but ordinary food? I don't think so. Chef Tom asks if he has a better appetizer recipe and Hung scoffs, "Of course I do, Chef." Chef Tom thanks him for making his point. Why aren't they serving their best dishes at this point in the competition? Well, I suspect budget has something to do with it. But I agree, ordinary is not going to cut it at this level.

Padma asks Howie what he thought of his dishes, and he thinks they both "went over well" so he was "pretty happy." Chef Tom points out the "fabulous" criterion; did Howie think his mushroom tart was fabulous? Howie is forced to admit that it was not. Chef Michael brings up his whole "I'm not going to serve anything I'm not proud of" stance in the QuickFire challenge, and here he is serving "crap." Chef Tom questions his decision to spread his money over two dishes, and Howie explains he wanted to make up for the QuickFire. Chef Tom wants to talk about the asparagus dish and Howie challenges him, "What was wrong with the cigar? I got compliments on both those dishes from the guests." Yes, but I suspect at some level, they were just happy to have food. Dana thinks that a dish like that would usually use "plump" asparagus. Howie says he just got what he saw at the store.

Padma asks Dale about his yogurt dish, and Dale explains that he saw yogurt as a "healthier" approach. Padma complains about the texture. Dale relates the whole "I was going to use goat cheese but I sacrificed it" story; instead, he got the chicken that he and Hung prepared. Chef Tom obviously doesn't think this was a good trade. Dale says they made a couple of mistakes and it mutated from the plan. Chef Tom cynically observes how everyone was all "Oh, yeah, everything was great" and then when you question things, everyone confesses to mistakes. Howie points to the budget. Chef Tom says Sara made a good dish on the same budget. He asks Casey and she good-do-bee's that she had enough for her dish and extra for her dessert with Sara. Chef Tom rewards her by complimenting her carpaccio dish. But then he puts the screws to everyone -- did they really think the duxelles and the chicken and the asparagus dishes were good? Everyone looks uncomfortable. "The silence is deafening," Chef Tom concludes.

Howie raises his hand, "Can I address the panel please?" No! The other chefs agree with me, making "Oh, God, no" faces. But Padma lets him speak. Howie observes that competition and teamwork don't go together when only one person can win, something he has always understood. But, he says, "I'm trying to see past that now for the first time in the past few weeks." I'm confused. How do you "see past" something you consider a fact? "Well, this teamwork thing is just nuts, but I'm going to ignore reality for a while" -- how does anyone think like that? Basically, Howie is admitting that he thought wrong. Anyway, he'd rather leave than see Brian get the boot, so he wants to withdraw. Various squizzly faces in reaction. Finally Padma declares, "It's a judges' decision, Howie." No falling on your sword for you! So Howie tells them to decide. Chef Tom sends them away so they can do that.

Back in the pantry, Sara wonders about Howie's decision; he had said not long ago that he "still had a lot of fight" left. Howie agrees that he does, but he also has pride: "I will be in control of my own destiny." Well, then, you made a mistake signing up to be judged. Padma asks about favorites. Chef Tom nominates Casey's carpaccio. She seemed to get more bang per buck. Dana thinks she also got a lot of bang per minute. Padma mentions CJ's sausage, and the judges agree that it was colorful with good flavors. Padma also brings up Sara's bread pudding and Dana endorses it. At the other end of the spectrum, Chef Michael thinks both of Howie's entries were boring. Chef Tom is stunned that Dale sacrificed his goat cheese for the chicken. Dana agrees; the chicken was unnecessary. Also on Dana's naughty list is Hung's salmon on cucumber, which was "so bad!" Hung swears a lot as he gripes about having to defend his dish to the judges, and CJ interjects, "Hung, you did it because it was easy. You said that." Chef Tom rolls his eyes at Brian's poke, which is just another tartare, and his lack of leadership. Meanwhile, Brian is angry about the criticism of his role. Casey assures him, "You did a good job." He emphatically agrees.

All the chefs return. Chef Tom announces that three dishes met the challenge of being fabulous: Casey's carpaccio, CJ's sausage and Sara's bread pudding. And the winner is: Casey! She is happy with her first big win. She gets a 17" MacBook Pro. Say what? Where did that come from? Casey thinks maybe this is time to pull out all the stops to go for the win. Ya think?

The top three get to skedaddle. Casey wishes the rest luck and Sara gives Brian a kiss before leaving. Dale gets spanked for bad budget allocation, Hung for underachieving, Howie for being boring and Brian for ducking the responsibility. Howie gets the boot. Big surprise. Howie kind of admits that he made a mistake coming into the competition regarding everyone as an enemy, but cooking is "a team sport." Today was the first time he felt like they were a team. He insists again that he's a good cook. His fellow chefs all hug him farewell.

Right winner? Sara's bread pudding might have been a bit homey for a fabulous party; CJ and Casey probably had the most attractive dishes. So Casey is a reasonable choice. But I wish they could come up with something to replace the Chinese soup spoons, because I now hate the sight of them. And I have no idea why she's walking off with a computer. That's just odd.

Right loser? It was a race between Howie and Brian. It looks like Howie just gave up during the QuickFire challenge and, despite his talk of redeeming himself with two dishes, never really got back into the competition. I don't know why he wasn't allowed to withdraw. Cynthia left during Season 1 because her father was dying faster than expected; there's no way the producers could have insisted she stay. In Season 2, Otto resigned over the Great Lychee Fruit Incident, which involved a rules violation. Then Mia resigned to spare Elia, which is the same thing Howie tried to do. It seems quite possible that the producers decided not to allow that any more.

I do think Brian could have done a better job running the team, though. The big disconnect is that the chefs dealt with the challenge as a competition, while the judges considered it a catering job. All they cared about was the quality of the food. If you want to succeed with the judges, you have to concentrate your efforts on making the food as good as possible. Brian needed to exercise tighter control of the menu. Instead of letting everyone do what they wanted, he should have picked the best ideas and divvied them up. A lot of the appetizers were surprisingly ordinary. I think they panicked at difficulty of doing the job at all, and generally couldn't wrap their brains around doing it well. Given the budget, the requirement for "fabulous" food and the clientele, I think they should have loaded up on the fruits and vegetables -- colorful and low-calorie.

It's interesting that we finally saw not one but two decisions not to serve something. I think the "if the dish is bad, don't serve it" admonition is just another version of Tim Gunn's famous "Make it work." In both cases, what they're saying is, "Don't send out crap." Fix it before it goes down the runway, or fix it before it goes out on a plate. If you can't fix it, find something you can send out. Dead simple is better than bad. In the real world, Howie's decision to give up in the QuickFire would mean someone goes hungry. If the dish isn't working, cut up some bananas and find something to sprinkle on top. That's better than serving nothing, and much better than serving something distasteful. In the case of the deflated mousse, they were able to dump it because both chefs had already contributed dishes. Perhaps in the planning stage, they should have alloted a couple of backup dishes in case something went south; mistakes are a fact of life. Since Brian had the leadership thing going for him, he could have given up serious cooking in order to exercise some serious quality control -- kinda like an executive chef.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007



Previously on Design Star: The designers teamed up to redo Wayne Newton's guest house. Todd created a giant Lazy Susan in the living room. Robb stuffed appliances into the peninsula. Hosting segments. Robb's jerkish behavior was deemed worse than Will's stiffness on camera. Robb got the boot. A grateful nation rejoiced.

Will likes the final three even better than the final four. Kim has made breakfast, so the others join her. Todd is shirtless and wearing his giant furry hat, which is two acts of tastelessness too many for that hour of the morning. Later, when everyone is actually dressed, Clive arrives and has everyone pick a paint can. It's the real people challenge. They'll get 26 hours, $10,000 and a carpenter. We meet the clients:

The designers open their paint cans to see which state they'll be visiting, although the identity of the family there remains to be seen. Will is going to California, Todd is going to Indiana and Kim is going to West Virginia. Which kind of gives away her family, but we'll pretend we don't know anything about coal mining.

The designers pack. Todd observes that this is the time to go for it. Unlike all those other challenges, where it didn't matter how you did, I suppose. The designers wish each other luck and depart. Todd observes that they have to be prepared for all three clients, since it's a mystery which ones they have. Will knows that there's a limit to what they can prepare without talking to the clients. Kim is working out designs for all three families.

Kim drives out into the West Virginia boonies. Todd thinks this is a very real-world challenge. Yes, designing for real people is pretty real. Will is happy to have the chance to "change someone's life." Kim really wants to win. The designers all knock on doors.

In Indiana, Todd meets up with the firefighting Kelleys. In California, Will and Bridget are both excited to meet each other. That leaves Kim with the Dean family in West Virginia. Surprise! She tells them she was hoping she would get them. She tells us that she can relate to their situation. Todd meets the rest of the Kelleys. He feels honored to be able to do something for everyday heroes.

Bridget shows off her big room. The Kelleys explain their complicated schedule; they just want an inviting room that everyone will want to spend time in. Will asks Bridget to tell him about her illness so he understands what she needs. Her mom chips in that it shouldn't look hospital-like, but Bridget has certain requirements. She needs the space to get around with her wheelchair or walker, and the floor needs to stay wood for the wheelchair. Will is impressed with people who don't let themselves be defeated by obstacles, especially at such a young age.

The Deans want to keep their big room nice and open, and they have to keep the woodstove because that's their heat source. Kim reports out that she has a lot to supply, since the floor is particleboard and the trim is missing in places. But as long as it's not a kitchen, she's good. Kim points out a ceiling beam, and determines that it's staying. The Deans want a rustic, log cabin look. They don't like bright colors, so Kim quickly settles on some nice earth tones. She interviews that although the dining room wasn't part of the challenge, it's visible from the living room, so she's going to redo that room, too.

Bridget's mom explains that she stays in bed while recovering from a bad fracture, so the room should be like a studio apartment. Bridget likes that idea. She also likes neutral rooms with splashes of color, and picks out a light cream color that's not as "harsh" as true white. Will enthuses that this is just the kind of clean, modern design he does. He's relieved that she has some definite ideas about what she likes.

Todd asks about how the Kelleys use the room and basically, it's your typical family room. He figures they want to have lots of toys out but make it easy to put things away. The corner wet bar and stucco finish could go. The Kelleys like color. Todd wants to ditch the ceiling beam if it isn't structural because it divides the room.

The families all skedaddle so the designers can get to work. Kim thinks it will be tough, but at this point, the challenge should be tough. She gets to incorporate a shingled outcropping over the opening to the kitchen, but that will just be part of her overall rustic room. The woodsy theme does not include the diagonal wood paneling, however. Clive choppers off to West Virginia to "drop in" on Kim. She shows him around a bit and then he officially starts the time clock ticking.

Todd thinks his room practically designs itself, since it's all about the functionality. He meets his carpenter, Mark. Kim is working with Jimmy and Will has John on his team. Will is planning "hotel-like amenities" for Bridget's room. He goes over the paint plan with John. Todd goes over things with Mark. He wants to get rid of the beam so he can put in a digital projector that displays onto the "heerth." I get the feeling he's not too accustomed to fireplaces. Mark advises a careful approach to the beam examination. Kim reviews everything with Jimmy. Mark pulls some sheathing off the beam and it turns out to be structural, as in it's holding up the house. Todd's bummed to be "limited" right off the bat.

Kim heads out to shop, but not before flattering Jimmy into clearing out the room. Mark goes over his projects. Will gives John a list of stuff to do while he's out shopping. For him, the room is about the space plan and the function. Todd picks up a lot of lumber, because that's what he does. He's going to have a kid's area for toys, and a game console for the big kids. Kim asks the saleswomen for help; she needs carpet installed the next day. She goes for a darker option to hide mud, although it still looks pretty pale to me -- sort of putty-colored. With an hour remaining, she returns to find out Jimmy has been busy. He keeps working on his woodbox project while Kim paints. Will returns with 30 minutes left to find his carpenter gone, but the work all done. Guess someone wasn't all that eager to be on camera. Todd finds a lot of work in progress. The fake-Tudor wall beams are down, but sanding down the stucco finish is going slowly. Everyone winds up their first day. Todd pouts about all the plans he won't be able to implement because the house isn't cooperating.

Day 2. It's pouring rain in West Virginia and Indiana, but California is dry. Will and John determine their first tasks of the day. Kim gets Jimmy started on some painting. Todd has had to revise some plans. They'll mud the walls instead of sanding. Kim gets started painting her own wall. Once the carpet people arrive and get started, she'll go shopping. John wonders if Will wants two coats of paint. Ideally, yes, but the time constraints don't allow for it. Todd gets extra drywall mud, just to be safe.

Kim's carpet arrives during a lull in the rain. Todd is all done with shopping. Kim is just starting. She observes that shopping in a rural area is different than shopping in a city -- everything is spread out. Will paints the walls, but not all the way up to the ceiling. He explains that he wants to shorten the room for Bridget, since she's sitting down in a wheelchair. Todd builds shelving units to go next to the fireplace; he shows how the different elements line up. It must be cold, because he still has his shirt on. Clive choppers in to tell him he's halfway through the project clock. Todd reviews the big plan. "You're building a Toddplex," Clive summarizes.

Kim buys furniture. She's very nice with the sales staff. Will creates some artwork for the walls. He explains that he does this if he can't find what he wants or the price is wrong. The rain is back in Indiana, so it's taking longer for the drywall mud to dry. It's also raining again in West Virginia. The yard is all mud, so now the new carpet has mud tracked on it. Kim hopes the others are muddy, too. No such luck in California, at least. Will is feeling good about his progress. With 30 minutes left in the day Mark starts painting. Todd thinks the red paint is actually pretty orange and he wonders how it can dry dark enough. That's why red takes multiple coats. I'm not sure how you can know enough about design to get on TV and not know that about red paint. Painting and staining happens in Kim's room. Time winds down and designers send carpenters home for the night. Todd gripes that he wasn't able to finish painting, so he still has that to do on the last day, and the whole project has been "brutal."

Day 3. Will lists his remaining projects, which are mostly staging. Meanwhile, Todd has to paint, hang the flat screen TV and the curtains, and load in all the furniture. Kim also has a lot to do. Todd got some darker red paint. Kim has to assemble furniture; she puts the wrong legs on the coffee table. "I'm having some second thoughts about whether this is really fun," she grumps. But with a twinkle. Time ticks. Todd brings in furniture. Kim discovers that West Virginia mud has "magical" properties -- when it dries, it turns into flakes and can be swept away. Designers install their final touches. Clive sneaks into Will's room and blows an air horn, nearly scaring him out of his shoes. He laughs and greets Clive with delight anyway. Todd and Mark congratulate themselves. Kim warmly thanks Jimmy. Clive sends Will off to the judges.

Everybody wants to win. Good to know.

The Studio. The final judging panel. Yay, no more purple walls! Monitors. Judges. Challenge recap. Will goes first. He explains that Bridget wanted something that wasn't little girl. Time for the reveal. Bridget is already squealing with excitement as she takes her hands from her eyes. Will talks about the repeated elements. Bridget is thrilled to discover a refrigerator. She's also excited to see her original bed, but updated. Will created a headboard against the side wall so she can lean against it to watch TV when she's confined to bed. There's a comfy sofa with a flannel covering that Bridget tries out. Will shows off the vanity and entertainment areas. Bridget's mom thinks it's a "very California" room; she's ready to hire Will for the rest of the house.

Cynthia calls the room "the coolest little bachelorette pad." Martha loves the colors but she wanted more personality. With a teen, I think it's more important to leave them space to inject their own personality, instead of doing it for them. Vern loves the room but thinks Will was nervous on camera. Martha thought he was forcing more energy into his performance. Will confesses that hosting is hard.

I love cool colors and wood floors, so this room is right up my alley. But I'm picky about color, so I think some of the fabrics are a bit off from the wall colors -- more earthy than bright. I don't have a terrific sense of the layout, but it does have that hotel-amenity thing that Will was going for. Overall, it's fresh and modern, and even though the room has a lot of low elements, it doesn't feel flat. And Bridget is obviously thrilled with it. So well done. Unfortunately, his hosting hasn't improved, but he's clearly very knowledgeable and competent.

Kim's next. She describes the situation with the double-wide up in the hills, and the request for a log cabin look. Now the reveal. The elder Deans are thrilled. (The little Dean is too little to have much of an opinion.) The living room is now a finished room with carpet over the particle board. The big living space is painted in shades of green while the dining room is tan. They have a big bench/wood storage unit by the front door and real curtains instead of droopy blinds. Lots of wood, including a new bar at the opening to the kitchen. Kim talks about drawing the colors from nature. There's lots of hugging.

Cynthia is feeling very sentimental. Vern likes her attention to her clients' wishes. Martha understands the issues of working in a remote area. Martha and Vern are concerned about some of the furniture angles, but Kim explained that a more squared approach felt "static." Vern is also not thrilled with the furniture arrangement overall. Cynthia likes the "rough-hewn" accessories. Vern brings up the dining room; Kim explains that she included it even though it wasn't part of the original room. Martha and Vern praise her hosting performance.

I like the colors and the wood, but the furniture feels sparse and oddly arranged. The TV only faces a single chair; the sofa is perpendicular to it. The whole center of the room is wide open. The seating area in front of the stove would feel more substantial with two chairs. The room looks only partly done. Her hosting skills, though, are pretty fully developed. I appreciate how she's able to show the same warmth to the people she works with; she really formed a great rapport with Jimmy.

Todd's turn. He mentions the large family and the movie watching. Reveal time. The family members all react to the room. Todd shows off a kid's corner with a wrap-around chalkboard and a hammock hung diagonally across the corner. There's also a corner-shaped bench/toy box. The walls are all red and orange. Joanie likes the kid corner. Todd shows off the gaming console and television, the mantel and bookshelves. He describes the loungers as the "most comfortable chairs I've ever found in my life." The Kelleys thank him for injecting some character into a dull room.

Cynthia likes the toy box for containing clutter. Vern likes his "sense of fun" but he's not thrilled with the furniture arrangement. Cynthia doesn't care for having all the furniture pointed toward the TV, so she doesn't mind. Yeah, but this is a room for watching TV, so I think it matters. Vern commends Todd for successfully seating all those people, though. Martha thinks his designs reflect his personality, or his on-camera personality reflects his playful design. Vern likes his energy.

I agree with Vern, the furniture placement is off. The largest portion of the sectional is perpendicular to the TV. The kids corner is a nice touch, but I'm not sure toddlers are really in need of a hammock. If you're too young to make your own breakfast, you're probably too young for unsupervised hammocking. The toy box doesn't look like it was constructed with child safety in mind, and I wonder if the shelving units are attached to the walls. I don't much care for the orange wall color; it's too similar to the red. While I like the idea of red, I'm not loving that color on the walls either. It's better on the TV wall, where it's broken up by all the shelving. And why paint the beam red when the ceiling is white? It just divides the space up more emphatically. The loungers are interesting, but they're big for a room that needs a lot of seating. As for his hosting, I still see self-congratulation. I don't get playfulness. He has energy, but not a sense of fun.

The designers go away while the judges confer. They start the agonizing. Martha thinks Will's(?) design is thoughtful, but perhaps "repetitive." Or "formulaic," if you're Cynthia. Vern prefers to think of it as a signature. Martha is concerned about the hosting. Will is confused by the feedback from the judges about his presentation skills. Vern doesn't see Kim improving design-wise, but she's very polished on the air. Vern is sure that the next winner doesn't need to have formal training. Kim and Todd would both be bummed to get cut after coming so close. Martha likes to watch Todd. Vern thinks the winner needs to have a perspective; he's concerned that Todd treats projects as art rather than design. The judges agonize some more.

The designers return. Vern addresses the contestants: he thinks they have all grown and have made the judges proud. Clive delivers measured praise and criticism. Will knows design and he really meets the client's needs, but his hosting needs work. Kim has good design and great presence, but her space planning needs improvement. Todd has a "dramatic" approach and good energy, but design also needs to be functional. Will gets the boot. No, not Will! He hugs the final two and thanks the judges for the opportunity. He doesn't seem too bummed about it. He wants to be a designer, and he doesn't have to be on TV for that. Plus meeting Bridget has made him a better designer and a better person, so he thanks her for that. See? Will can be great on camera. You just have to find someone who can draw it out of him.

Clive congratulates the final two. Kim is stunned. Todd isn't sure what he's feeling, except that "This is cool."

Well, hmph. They're looking for a design star, and they cut the guy with the strongest design skills. Todd has a point of view, but it's somewhat limited and tends to be impractical. Kim is doing better than I initially expected, but while she has kept up, she hasn't been outstanding. I'm sure I'm not the only person to notice that Kim's weaknesses are Will's strengths, and vice-versa. Put the two of them together, and you could have something. But unless Kim really biffs the final challenge, I'm voting for her. Todd is just too in love with his own greatness and he just doesn't connect with people the way Kim does. I think it would be easier to build a show around Kim than deal with Todd's limitations. Plus, I'm tired of Todd. If Kim does biff the final challenge, I'm starting a write-in campaign for Alice.



Thank You, Thank You Very Much

Previously on Design Star: 11 contestants. Las Vegas. Happy judges. Sad judges. Presentations. Christina wasn't fun, so she got the boot. Everybody else had to implement Robb's tacky design for a wedding reception. Josh got the boot because -- well, just because.

Kim is flabbergasted to be in the final four. She's representing the females. Hmm, airtime. Does that mean she's going home? Clive arrives and has everyone stand behind a paint can. They'll pair up to do either a living room or a kitchen, with 24 hours, $10,000 and a carpenter. Because kitchens and living rooms take the same amount of time, money and effort to redo. Their client? "Mr. Las Vegas himself," Clive announces, "Wayne Newton." The designers all woo-hoo about working for a real celebrity. Todd is "intimidated" because a guy like Wayne Newton is sure to have "some solid design already in his house." The designers open their paint cans. Will and Todd are teamed for the living room; Kim and Robb are teamed for the kitchen. Kim manages not to scream in terror or resentment. But wait, there's more -- their hosting skills will be tested, too. Each one will present the finished room individually.

Newton estate. Horses, peacocks, nekkid statuary, fountains. Clive welcomes them and lets them into the house, which is -- um, ornate. Huge gilded fireplace mantle, statues, floral arrangements, that sort of thing. Will reveals he didn't want to mess with anything in case it breaks, so he was wondering what they actually have to do. The Newtons arrive and greet the designers. Clive asks them to talk about their style. Kathleen likes modern, Wayne is into antiques, preferably removed from European castles. Maybe they have garage sales. Wayne explains that they have agreed to divide the spacious living room and make part of it a kitchen. The designers are stunned. But then Wayne laughs. No, really, they're doing the guest house. Wayne claims they're "such fans of the show" that they didn't want to put any restraints on the designers. Which is certainly much nicer than explaining they're not letting a bunch of reality show hamsters muck around with their antiques.

Kim is still having trouble processing it all. The designers arrive at a house which appears to be built from cinderblocks (really not a bad choice in the desert). From the glass panel by the front door, it was probably built in the 1970s. The kitchen has a huge peninsula framed in lava rock and there's a big block of rock at one end of the wall of cabinets, sort of a 70s interpretation of a colonial hearth. The cabinets are pink. So is the oven stuffed into the rock wall. The mosaic tile counters are pink and brown. Kim understates that there was a lot to do. The living room is one long, empty room with a narrow end devoted to a stone fireplace matching the stone in the kitchen. The floors are all concrete, because desert houses have concrete slab foundations. (And during a heat wave, you have to water your house to keep it from cracking.) Todd loves the stone. Will suggests they get to measuring.

The Newtons arrive again and once again refuse to constrain the design. Except that they're already getting hardwood floors from one of the sponsors. Todd thinks some people have trouble handling a lack of input, but he's not one of those people. Kim lays out the good side/bad side of the ugly kitchen -- lots of work, but it's going to look so much better. Kim manages to get some input from the Newtons: they love the lava rock and they want something "warm." Robb promises they can get it done in time and then hams up dread for the camera. Play to the Newtons, pal -- real people come before cameras. Robb is feeling the pressure because "Master Todd" has the living room, so the room has to score big. Wayne kicks off the countdown and work begins. They have 8 hours left to the day.

Will suggests taking their colors from the lava rock. Todd has everyone get together on the palette so the house stays cohesive. Will wants to use a raised area as a dining room. Kim thinks they need a round table, and wonders if the others are doing a dining room. Robb relays that Will said they would. Robb plans stools at the counter. Todd is inspired to put furniture on a platform that pivots. Robb wants to swap the sink and the stove. Todd pitches Will that the pivoting furniture could face all four focal points in the room. Well, they have the fireplace on a narrow wall and sliding glass doors on a long wall. The dining room is opposite the fireplace, but I don't know that I'd call it a "focal point," and the long wall opposite the doors is blank. So it sounds like they're going to create four focal points in order to justify the platform. Todd claims his design will be "dynamic" and "fun." Will is looking like he needs more persuasion. Todd says he'll build it, but Will reminds him that they have a carpenter.

Speaking of carpenters, Jamie introduces himself to Kim and Robb, while Ramon meets Will and Todd. Robb and Todd start describing the projects to the carpenters. Kim wants to know where Robb will put the oven. Todd and Will realize that Ramon will just have to sit around until they get some shopping done. Yes, an empty room really doesn't leave much scope for demolition. Kim reveals that Robb assigned her the role of "note-taker" -- Robb starts measuring stuff while Kim writes down numbers -- rather than full-fledged partner. If they weren't "equal talents," she reasons, they wouldn't both still be in the race. She argues that the sink won't fit over the dishwasher, and Jamie backs her up. Robb interviews that Kim has no kitchen experience except for the one she didn't finish tiling. Although that had more to do with a lack of tile than a lack of talent. Nonetheless, Robb has done "many" kitchens. He tells Jamie that he's open to any ideas about the peninsula. Kim steps in, objecting that Jamie isn't "allowed" to give them ideas, and Robb should start talking to his partner instead.

Todd and Will head out. Will describes their plan to buy everything on the first day, so they don't have to go out again. He likes working with Todd because they can come to an agreement without fighting. Kim and Robb also shop. Kim explains that she "championed" their color scheme. She picks out some curtains while Robb looks disgusted. Robb interviews that Kim had "no idea what she was doing" and was stuck tagging along behind him at the home improvement store. Kim interviews that Robb has experience with kitchens, "God bless him" -- a handy Southern euphemism for "may he drop dead any second now" -- but he's not likewise appreciating what she can contribute. Robb figures if Kim had "half of a brain," she would just follow his orders. Unfortunately for him, Kim has more than half of a brain, and she's not afraid to use it. Will and Todd find a coffee table. It looks like the sofa and the dining table will have to wait for the next day. Kim says, "Every exchange with Robb is a combat situation." Robb asks her which pendant lights she likes, and she votes for the white ones. Robb gripes that the white ones are tired and overused; he installed some back in 2001. Kim doesn't care about all that, the white ones have the right look. Robb complains that he had to compromise with her in order to save time.

With 30 minutes left, the designers return to find the floors going in. Looking good. Robb wants to do something with the lighting now that the peninsula is all opened up, but Kim thinks other things are higher priority. Robb is disgusted some more. Kim describes how he was disgusted, and they discuss their communication styles. Robb tells her not to be "so sensitive" and Kim tells him not to "condescend." Fortunately, Clive calls time and makes them all go home.

Robb interviews that he got the "silent treatment" in the car. He makes faces like he's suffering while Kim looks out the window. So finally he asks if they're going to a funeral and Kim explains that his "communication style" "sucks." Robb thinks she's just saying that because his style is different. Yes, different and sucky. They start arguing. Meanwhile, Will and Todd discuss their project. Robb thinks Kim is too thin-skinned, but she thinks the way he talks to people is inappropriate. Robb then demonstrates his wonderful communication style by telling her that she would be lost without him because she has no clue. Kim isn't interested in all his much-vaunted experience, but Robb thinks that she should, and she's "lame" if she doesn't. "Do you think this is a popularity contest?" he sputters. Well, yeah. But it's also about not being a jerk.

Day 2. Kim is going to keep it "civil." Robb isn't going to carry a grudge; he's there to work. The designers have 14 hours in this workday. Will lists all the projects they need to complete. Clive drops in on the kitchen team to see what's up. Robb describes Jamie's framing and Kim talks about the countertops. Clive urges them not to disappoint "Mr. Las Vegas." Todd describes the spinning platform idea; they have a rug to show the platform size. Robb urgently describes everything that's going on, and it's "paramount" to him to get it all done for Mr. Las Vegas.

The carpenters arrive and get their assignments. Robb and Kim have to pick out backsplash tile. Todd is shirtless and building, as usual. He drills a hole into the concrete subfloor for the pivot point of the rotating platform. Robb and Kim return to find framing done in the lava rock block; they're happy. Kim heads back out for more shopping. She likes the division of labor that puts her far away from Robb. Will is also shopping. The sofa he found is "okay" but he doesn't want to spend more time searching. With 4 hours to the day, Kim is back; they now have everything. Todd and Ramon lower the platform onto its pivot. Looks heavy. Todd stands on the platform and does his usual "I am a golden god!" pose. Will returns. Robb starts tiling the backsplash. Todd is not thrilled with the sofa, but Will brings up the time issue.

Time ticks. Kim: "Robb characterizes himself as this incredible builder with years of experience, and -- the measurements are wrong, the countertop is too low, the appliances didn't fit." Why, hello, Karma, how've you been? Jamie the carpenter saves the day by raising the whole countertop. Standard counter height in kitchens is 36 inches; it would be nice to know where they wound up. End-of-day rushing about. Clive calls time. They have only 2 hours to finish up on the last day.

Day 3. The designers start loading in all the furniture. Todd likes how the wall color repeats in the chair upholstery. Robb hurriedly grouts the tile backsplash, explaining that time is a "luxury." Will calls the halfway point. Kim thinks they're going to have to skip a buch of details. Will and Todd argue about the placement of a chair. Robb gripes that his paintbrush is dry; Kim says it was "under plastic." Robb gripes that she's giving him "attitude." Todd wants to know if a frame is level, but Will can't see around his shoulders. Robb gripes about his paintbrush some more. Will and Todd load up a planter box. Kim calls the five minute mark as she climbs up to hang blinds. Robb thinks they'll only have time to hang one blind, so she climbs down again. Cleaning happens. Kim wonders if they can get the refrigerator in, but Robb thinks they're out of time. Perhaps he'll use a minute to paint of that unfinished spot on the wall behind him. Clive calls time and we're done. Oh, wait, we're not. They have to do their hosting bits.

The Studio. Monitors. Judges. Challenge recap. Todd and Will get to go first. The living room is really long and narrow, but it seems that the only furniture has been clumped onto the rotating platform. No, wait, Will won the chair argument, so there's one in the corner by the dining area. Martha likes the "turntable" but Vern calls it a "giant Lazy Susan." Cynthia goes for "inventive" but asks about the platform height. Todd explains that it's because of the height of the casters. Vern appreciates Todd's willingness to do more than decorate. Martha asks about Will's contributions and he has a whole list. Martha thinks the transformation is "amazing."

Now time to see their hosting segments. Will goes first. He goes all through the room, pointing out elements. He has a lot of information but he doesn't talk too fast or feel rushed. Vern loved all the information but wants more "intonation" from his voice. Martha agrees. Todd's turn. He spends most of his time dealing with the rotating platform; it's got a lot of awkward "acting out" and he doesn't look into the camera a lot of the time. Martha likes it. Cynthia was hoping for a "full-throttle." Vern wanted more information.

And finally, the client reaction. They're wowed. Kathleen likes the "peaceful" quality but she's "not sure" about the platform. Wayne is sure about the platform -- he loves it. But, as he points out, he's used to them. He calls it phenomenal. Clive has them sit down and he rotates the platform for them. Wayne tells Kathleen if she can't find him, he's hanging out on the rotating platform. So it looks like the client is hapy.

Now for the kitchen. Big transformation from the raw space, of course. Happily, the pink is gone. The peninsula has been reconfigured. The cooktop used to be next to the wall, with a double sink at the free end. Now there's a bar-sized sink next to the wall and the cooktop in the free end. The oven is under the sink with the dishwasher next to it. The green glass tile on the backsplash looks uneven and has black grout. The refrigerator is still out on the lawn. Vern points out that the kitchen was "a much harder space" than the living room. He likes some of the elements, but wants more accessories. Martha thinks the black-and-white dining set stands out against all the warm colors; Kim explains that the table has a metal base with a "tempered" top (presumably tempered glass). Martha asks about teamwork. Kim pauses to consider her approach. Robb interjects that they had "moments." Kim finally says Robb's style of communication was "combative." Robb points out that just last week, she was praising his management style. Kim says she still does, but this time out, they were a team so Robb wasn't her manager. Robb argues that his "knowledge and expertise" are responsible for the project reaching the "level" it did. Yeah, we'll get back to that. Kim claims he called her a decorator while pronouncing himself the real designer. Robb tells the judges she doesn't have any design experience. Cynthia is icked out by all the unpleasantness. Vern thinks Robb is a good designer, but you can't treat people badly and then expect them to help you put together a great show. Cynthia says a host has to be "authentic." Martha chimes in with "likeable." Robb is slightly shaking his head like he can't believe what he's hearing.

Hosting segments. Robb first. He hams it up. Martha grants he has a "big personality." Cynthia found it "entertaining" but can't get the recent unpleasantess out of her head. Kim's turn. She is energetic, but not so hammy, and more informative. Martha approves of her hosting ability. Vern thought she provided a lot of information without "lecturing."

The Newtons see the new kitchen and are amazed. Wayne likes the wine chillers in the lava rock block. Kathleen likes the colors, especially as they flow with the living room. Wayne also gives the team props for dealing with a more difficult room.

The designers go wait in the green room. Vern thinks Robb has "a lot of passion" but he needs to get along. Kim thinks something was "embarrassing" while Robb says she made them "both look bad." Cynthia approves of how Kim handled herself. Vern likes her on TV. As for Todd, Vern likes how he thinks. Cynthia uses "novelty" to describe both the man and his work, but not in a dismissive way. Martha wanted to see more "energy" from Will. Vern likes his content and his "genuine personality." The judges agonize.

The designers return. Kim and Todd are called forth. Kim was the best host. Todd had a "fresh and unique" perspective. They both get to wait in the green room. Will and Robb are left. Robb had "a great presentation" but bad teamwork. Will had good design but was missing "presence and energy" in his presentation. Robb gets the boot. Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah! His parting words? "I have fought my way all the way through this competition." Yes, that would be the problem. He's quite sure the judges made "the wrong decision," those "fools." Will lives to see another day. The final three celebrate their survival.

Right decision? This decision falls into the category of right decisions known as "high time." I have been waiting for this since week one, when Robb bullied Organic Josh into the harem pillows. I'm so happy not to have him on my screen. (Although it's quite possible he'll get dragged back to "help" the final two. But I'll worry about that when the time comes.) But the decision was not only welcome, but well-deserved. Robb claimed kitchen expertise, but he screwed up the functionality, and kitchens are all about function. There was nothing wrong with the original placement of the sink, but Robb moved it smack up against the wall, plus he replaced a double sink with a shallow, single-bowl bar sink. Good luck washing your pots in that. I haven't done any hands-on remodeling, but I read magazines and books for years before getting the kitchen redone, and I am quite sure the National Kitchen and Bath Association would not approve. Then he smushed the dishwasher and the oven right next to each other under the peninsula counter. Not pretty. A stainless steel wall oven would have blended into the lava rock surround and spared the peninsula from overcrowding. Plus his tiling on the backsplash looked uneven, and the black grout was grim. And then there's his personality. I'm not a psychiatrist, nor do I play one on TV, but I would guess that Robb is a narcissist. It's not just that it's all about Robb. The problem is that he doesn't see other people as full-fledged human being with lives and interests of their own. Everyone else exists in order to provide him with what he wants, and he gets nasty when they don't perform their appointed function. Narcissists can be quite charming, at least initially, as long as they get what they want. Since Robb was getting what he wanted during the audition process, I can see how his less attractive qualities were missed.

Clearly, though, Will was the weakest in terms of presentation style. I think Robb had too much energy and was putting on an act, but that's a matter of taste. Will hasn't yet gotten the knack of projecting his personality. But I don't think it's a boot-worthy flaw, because it's a lot easier to coach someone on presentation than to train someone not to be a jerk. Todd also needs to work on his presentation; the parts where he imitated someone else's reaction were stiff and unnatural. I think he simply lacks Kim's natural warmth and empathy. I'm glad he toned down his overgrown adolescent side, but that really seems to be his most authentic self. He doesn't seem to have much of the teacher in him, and a host has to be able to convey information. Perhaps he should pretend it's show-and-tell time.


Monday, September 10, 2007


Try, Try Again

Previously on Top Chef: Restaurant Wars! CJ appointed Tre executive chef; Sara nominated herself over Howie, who recognized (or said he did) the need to get along. Tre ran around. Dale snapped at servers. The judges lacked silverware. Brian melted down. Dale fretted. Tre got too smoky. Ted didn't want a big, heavy meal but Howie was into the heavy. Sara took ownership. The judges punted. Do-over!

Miami. Dale, Casey and Brian get some sun on the balcony. Brian's reading a red paperback, so the chefs are not completely bookless during their stay in the palatial penthouse. Brian recaps the second chance twist while chefs do morning things. Tre reports that they're almost five weeks into the competition, and it's starting to drag on some people. A win would give him the energy to sail through to the end. CJ reports that he's competitive. You'd think that would be kind of a requirement for a professional athlete. Also, he discovered he had cancer at 29 and never thought it would get him, so presumably he's an optimist, too.

Hung finds a couple of letters under the door, one for each team. They open them to discover comments from "that blog lady," as Dale calls her. Brian recaps some of the comments for Team April. Howie is stumped by the complaint that the oysters were a "disaster." He just can't compute how that could be. Sara and Hung are on the side of learning from the criticism.

QuickFire challenge. Padma and Chef Tom await the chefs. Padma lays out the rules for the Elimination challenge -- they open the restaurants again, but they have to provide at least two options for each course (although it seems they only have to prepare three courses instead of four). Chef Tom announces that one team will be assisted by "a sommelier that I know" who is opening a restaurant in Florida. Okay, three guesses who that is. Casey does her know-it-all thing, defining what a sommelier is for those who missed Season 1. The sommelier team also gets more money in the wine budget. So now they have a wine budget. To see who wins all the extras, it's the mis-en-place relay race. Padma steps on Casey's know-it-all toes and defines "mis-en-place" as the prep work that takes place before service begins. (I've also seen it spelled "mise en place" but the European sites leave off the extra "e" so I'm going with that.) Sara and Hung exchange a quiet low five. Howie interviews that Hung will be an asset to Team Leftovers. So does Hung.

The challenge: person one shucks 15 oysters, person two finely dices 5 onions, person three breaks down 4 chickens, person four separates 3 eggs and beats the whites stiff enough to hang upside-down. The teams get two minutes to divvy up the tasks. Casey reviews Team April's thinking: Brian competes in shucking competitions; Tre is good at dismembering chickens; she volunteered for the onion chopping, since it's not "brain science." Dale frets because his oyster shucking and his knife skills are both sub-par. Howie is worried that he's not very fast, but Dale pats him on the back. Howie interviews that he's most worried about his own performance.

  1. Oysters: Chef Tom blows a whistle and they're off. Howie is sure "Mr. Malarkey" can handle some oysters. Howie starts getting his oysters open and setting them out. Brian, however, is batching. He pops open all the oysters, then slashes all the "abductor" muscles in sequence, exploiting the power of repetitive motion. Howie knows he's losing, but he just has to stay close enough to give the rest of the team a shot. Brian calls for a check and Chef Tom blows the whistle.
  2. Onions: Casey starts to work. She's using a serrated slicing knife instead of the usual curved chef's knife. (Apparently she hadn't sharpened her knives yet, and serrated blades cut better when dull. But if your knives haven't been sharpened, why would you volunteer for a chopping task?) Brian recaps that he beat Howie by about 5 oysters (or 1/3 the total). Howie finishes and Chef Tom pipes in Sara. Hung helpfully cleans off the cutting board for her. Sara is using the standard chef's knife on her onions. She's going for speed over refinement. Dale provides color commentary: Casey is "organized" and "methodical" with "great cuts" but Sara just "goes to town." Casey's not moving that slowly, but she's having to saw through the onions instead of using the rocking motion that exploits the curved blade of the chef's knife. Brian desperately wants a "tap-out rule." Hung is practically in physical pain, watching Casey slog away. Sara remembers cooking her first meal at the age of three or four -- I hope it was toast or something like that -- so she has "good knife skills." Once Sara has a bowlful of onions, she gets a check from Chef Tom, and he pipes in Hung.
  3. Chickens: Hung tears into his chickens. Meanwhile, Casey keeps chopping. Sara gleefully recounts Hung's chicken expertise. Even Chef Tom is blown away. But he has breath enough to pipe in Dale.
  4. Eggs: Casey continues to dice onions. Tre looks longingly at the chickens. Dale starts separating. Chef Tom has had enough of the onion drama and pipes in Tre, who dives in. Sara interviews that they smelled victory, so Dale put the beat down on the egg whites. He flips the bowl over, the whites stay in the bowl for five seconds, and the contest is over.

Team Leftovers celebrates. Casey apologizes to Tre. Dale is thrilled that the "Bad News Bear" whupped the "Dream Team." CJ is bummed. Chef Tom reveals they're all getting more help. "Renowned restaurant and interior designer" Christopher Ciccone will assist with the restaurant designs.

Night falls. The chefs head back to their restaurant spaces to meet the designer. Team Leftovers is discussing changes to the menu when Christopher Ciccone arrives. Or, as Dale says, "the ass<bleep> from the night before." He doesn't think being Madonna's brother is sufficienct compensation for the attitude. Christopher lays out his issues with The Garage: the name didn't fit the room and the presentation wasn't appetizing. Sara wants to hear solutions. Christopher recommends white table linens and big artwork for a graphic look. Dale allows that he appreciates Christopher's help with a "modern modern" look. Howie's like, yeah, help is good.

Over at Restaurant April, Brian also recognizes "the guy last night that really kind of gave us a headache," even though we didn't get to see that. But then, it would have given away the critic twist. Brian thinks his recommendations are "simple, clean, elegant." Which is what they were going for, so that works out. Christopher wants to stencil a quote about food around the walls.

Back at the palatial penthouse, Tre is working out on the balcony when Team Leftovers comes out to revise the menu, so he stretches things out a little longer to eavesdrop. Of course, he's pretty hard to miss, so if they didn't mind him hearing, they would have moved. Dale proposes a rabbit dish with cold gnocchi. Tre interviews that he thought they were making the menu heavy again. Like beef tenderloin is so light and airy.

Inside, Team April rallies around the breakfast bar. Tre debriefs them on his spy session. CJ is feeling good because the other team needs to revamp their heavy menu while they just need to "tweak" things. Casey describes Tre as the kind of chef who "envisions everything from start to finish." So now they just have to settle on a dessert. Since they have three coursese with two choices, they only need one dessert. Tre opts for an apple bread pudding. "I can do bread pudding in my sleep," he claims. No, not the infallible recipe! That never works! Casey offers to help him with it. She interviews that they rely on each other "like brother and sister." They're both from Dallas and both have the same work-your-way-up cooking background. Tre informs us that he spent 14 years climbing the chef ladder.

It's a bright, sunshiny day. The cooks head out to spend $800 in 45 minutes at the usual grocery store. It occurs to me that they really haven't ventured out to other food venues. Season 2 shopped around a lot more. In a product-placed phone call, Dale and Sara agree that they should have a different wine for each dish. Howie outlines the division of labor -- Hung and Dale are wine shopping while he and Sara hit the grocery store. At the meat counter, Howie discovers they're running low on rabbit, so he switches to poussin, which is a young game bird. Team April is keeping their beef tenderloin dish since Tre thinks "all the errors could be easily corrected." He runs through some of their new dishes.

Team Leftovers hits the wine store with $500 to spend. And here's the sommelier to help them spend it -- yes, it's Stephen! And he's off! Dale and Hung learn more than they probably ever wanted to know about Stephen's wine choices. Hung doesn't mind Stephen's manner because "he knows his stuff." Which he's more than happy to demonstrate. Brian and Casey are stuck spending their $300 all by their lonesomes. Casey explains that they each had wines they liked, so they just relied on each other. They execute some precision shopping, coming in at $299.

Back to the restaurants. Brian and Dale start setting up tables. Brian's Buddha statue is now out front and center at Restaurant April. Dale approves of the new decor at The Garage even though it looks "like Valentine's Day threw up all over it." Brian really likes the new wicker chairs. So yes, it does help to consult a professional.

Work also begins in the kitchen. But before they really get down to it, Padma brings in the judges for introductions. The guest judge is Geoffrey Zakarian of New York. Tre points out that the guest judge is both knowledgeable about food and "anal about it being done a certain way." So we can expect a lot of picky comments? How delightful. Also judging are Ted (hi, Ted!) and Chef Tom.

The chefs get to work. Casey outlines the division of labor on Team April: Brian is out front getting the servers straightened out, Tre is executive chef with 4(!) dishes, CJ has a salad. No mention of what Casey is doing. She figures they just need to do again what they did before. Only, I daresay, better. Because if they were so good last time out, why didn't they win? Tre figures he needs to get his hands into everything. Casey has lots of line experience and CJ doesn't, but a chef has to trust his sous chefs.

While working on something smooth and very green, Dale makes a one-handed phone call to Christopher. He forgot to mention -- the team decided to change the restaurant's name to "Quatre." Dale relays Christopher's objections: "No one can read French and no one will understand and it's not a pretty word." But Dale doesn't care, "when he opens his own restaurant, he can name it what he wants." So Quatre it is. Dale instructs Howie on dealing with the boiling poussin. He explains that he's having more input into the menu this time around, and goes over some of the dishes. Hung bring Sara over to look at something that's "tender" but Sara relays that Dale wants them "crispy." Hung asks who wants them crispy, Dale or Sara? Sara starts to say Dale, but then tells Hung to do them over because she wants them crispy. Howie bangs the "we need to get along" drum some more.

Chef Tom summons the chefs. He's not here for a walk-through. Instead, he'll be watching what happens in the kitchen all evening. Well, finally! If they're going to judge the chefs on their teamwork, they should observe the teamwork. Hung figures this will keep them all on their toes.

Customers arrive. Brian and Dale get busy. Dale interviews that his team has put a lot of trust in him to run things well out front, "and if it means I have to be a big ass<bleep> in doing so, I will have so much fun doing that." It's good to enjoy your work. Sara tells her team that all meals should be judges' meals, so they should all be perfect. She interviews that Chef Tom's presence made them all step up their game. CJ is feeling good because the team is well-organized. Dale observes that Tre, Casey and CJ all have similar styles and mesh well together. Sara gets an order for vegetarian food. Hung starts rattling away but Sara just shushes him. Dale figures Team Leftovers is taking a bigger risk, since they are essentially starting over.

The three roving judges arrive at the newly-christened Quatre, where they are greeted by Stephen and Dale. Stephen is wearing a dark suit, pink shirt and plaid tie. Dale is wearing jeans and a polo shirt. Ted thinks Dale looks like a Denny's server. No, they wear company logos and polyester pants, I believe. Surprise guests! Sara N. and Joey drop in on Quatre while Lia and Camille visit Restaurant April. Dale and Brian greet their erstwhile competitors enthusiastically. Brian informs his cooks, who whoop it up in welcome. Dale warns his team that one table has VIPs. Sara corrects him that all tables are VIP, but then he explains that Joey and Sara N. are visiting. She smiles in delight. Dale goes on to inform Hung, who has to be reminded who Sara and Joey are. Don't distract the man while he's cooking.

Quatre serves the judges:

The judges head over to Restaurant April. Tre explains that he decided to be mellow and competent, rather than yelling and being bossy.

Dale thinks Team Leftovers made a "miraculous" improvement over their first opening. Given the customer comments, they certainly did better. In the pantry, Dale confides that this should be a tough decision. Brian doesn't expect much criticism since "everything was on" as Tre and Casey exchange a high five. Howie figures they just didn't have "the right game plan" last time but Dale figures getting "bitch-slapped" by the judges did the trick. Sara praises Hung for his eagerness to contribute. It's a happy bunch.

Judges' Table. Chef Geoffrey approves of the food at Quatre. Ted and Chef Tom both liked the new poussin dish, and Chef Tom thinks the halibut topped the other team's monkfish. Ted loved the lamb, but Chef Tom cavils about the "chunky" purÈe. Ted gripes about Dale's casual clothes again. Chef Geoffrey felt Restaurant April had "a real honesty." I have no idea what that means. Everyone likes the repeated scallop dish. Ted mentions that Tre changed the menu wording, but I can't tell you what was different this time around. The salmon is roundly panned by Ted, who has gotten mighty cranky of late. Chef Tom thinks it had "one too many ingredients." Chef Geoffrey agrees with the guests that the lobster was pretty but salty; Chef Tom says CJ couldn't make the ingredients "sing." The bread pudding is also panned. Chef Tom reveals that he noticed Tre not peeling the apples and wondered what was up with that. Ted coos over his tableside service, and Chef Geoffrey thinks Tre was "good on the floor," which is good in a chef.

Padma summons Team Leftovers. They celebrate when Padma finally breaks the good news. Sara volunteers that she had "a really good time working with them." Chef Tom compliments them for listening to criticism and bouncing back from a bad opening. And the win goes to Sara, who promptly gives credit to her team for their support. Chef Tom appreciates her decisiveness, but he also gives kudos to the whole team.

Team April applauds Sara's win and then they file in to get the bad news. Padma starts with Brian, whom we never really saw working. Chef Tom thinks he wasn't diligent enough. Tre steps up for the first course dishes and Padma asks about the salmon. He thinks the pesto was a little strong. Chef Geoffrey wouldn't have served it; it was "dreadful." Chef Tom wonders why he piled on all those ingredients -- "Sometimes less is more." Tre brings up the scallop, which does get praised. CJ explains how he composed the lobster salad. Chef Tom thinks it didn't quite come together, plus it was salty. Chef Tom didn't care for the monkfish and Casey admits it was overcooked. Chef Geoffrey belabors the point. Tre tries to disclaim any bread pudding expertise. He should have tried modesty during the menu planning. Ted thinks bread pudding is an easy dish. Chef Tom wonders if anyone else could have done better. CJ confesses he knows how to make bread pudding, but he didn't step on Tre because it was his dish. Left unsaid is that Tre was executive chef because CJ appointed him; it's hard to turn around and criticize him after making that decision. Chef Geoffrey wonders why CJ wasn't supporting his executive chef. Did he taste the bread pudding? This is, of course, a trick question. If you didn't taste it, you're not contributing to the team. If you did taste it, then you're at fault for not speaking up. CJ tries to take the middle course, offering the mild criticism that it was "a little boring." Chef Geoffrey wants to know why CJ didn't look out for his executive chef. Short version? The team dynamic pretty much ruled out questioning Tre. Chef Tom wonders how CJ's handpicked team could fail. CJ stutters that he thought they did well. Chef Tom argues that the other team learned from the criticism and improved, but this team didn't.

The chefs go away while the judges debate. "Was it rough?" Sara asks when they get back to the pantry. Casey summarizes the critique: Team April's original opening was better, while Team Leftovers really learned from the criticism. Chef Tom thinks "overconfidence" was Team April's fatal flaw. They didn't have the "focus" he expects. Chef Geoffrey and Ted blame the leadership. Ted didn't see Brian or Tre really taking a lead, while CJ and Casey both "abdicated" leadership. Padma starts with Tre. Ted likes him, but hates the salmon dish. Chef Tom feels it was his role to "set the tone." CJ wasn't busy; maybe Tre did too much. Chef Geoffrey thinks chefs need a team, and Tre didn't get the support he needed. Ted speculates that CJ appointed Tre head chef because he didn't want the responsibility. I think it's clear he didn't -- because he didn't have much experience in the role, while Tre did. It was a perfectly logical choice. Ted also thinks Brian suffers in comparison to the very busy and effective Dale. As for Casey, she was responsible for the unfortunate monkfish.

The chefs return. Chef Tom spanks them for not improving. Casey missed on the monkfish, Brian wasn't attentive enough, CJ didn't carry much of a load, and Tre messed up the salmon and the dessert. Tre gets the boot. He figured he was on the chopping block. Brian eulogizes him as "one of the best chefs." CJ grumps that it "sucks" but Tre "took it as a man." Tre endorses the judges' reasoning -- even if CJ slacked off, the executive chef should lead the team. He won't make the same mistakes when he has his own restaurant.

Right winner? Team Leftovers came out with all cylinders firing, and clearly had the best restaurant of the night. Dale did yeoman's work out front, but I think Sara was the most responsible for the victory. There were three key turning points in their performance:

  1. The decision to pay attention to the criticism -- Sara and Hung both urged the team to accept the criticism and work from it. We saw Sara's constructive attitude again when dealing with their restaurant designer; while he seemed to dwell on their mistakes, she quickly redirected the discussion to solutions. Instead of dwelling on their failures, they went into the challenge with a sense of can-do positivity.
  2. The QuickFire challenge -- This is when they really became a team. Before, they were just a bunch of people who had to work together, but this gave them an appreciation for and trust in their teammates.
  3. Sara's leadership in the kitchen -- That, kids, is how it's done. She was clearly the boss in that kitchen. She wasn't mean, but she was firm and decisive. She was also aspirational. If you want a high-performing team, you need to give them a clear and motivating goal. By declaring that all plates had to be judge-level quality, she gave her team something to shoot for that was within their reach. It didn't hurt to have Chef Tom watching, though; I'm sure that also helped elevate everyone's game. Sara's leadership also gave her teammates the freedom to step back and follow -- if something went wrong, it was clear who was to blame.

Right loser? Team April didn't seem to learn anything from their previous failure. In fact, they didn't even seem to realize they had failed. As far as they were concerned, they just needed a few little tweaks. Where Team Leftovers had the humility to learn from their mistakes, Team April considered themselves the pre-ordained winners. Even the QuickFire loss didn't shake that confidence. Tre's laidback leadership style didn't kill them. If you have a team that's functioning well, you don't need to ride them; you just let them run. The problem was, Tre's team wasn't functioning all that well. Their goal was to win the challenge. It's a nice goal, but you can't tell from what you're doing if you're winning or not. If you have a goal of making every plate perfect, you know where you stand as you work. Tre didn't have to boss his team to win, but he did have to motivate them to achieve and check their performance against his expectations. Casey and CJ couldn't take over quality control without upsetting the whole team dynamic. Tre was the anointed one who would lead them to Howie's promised land -- they all bought into his leadership. And he failed to get them to the promised land, so he went down. Shocking, yes, but deserved. I'm going to miss his calm, serious approach, but I'm sure he'll be fine.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?