08 August 2006

[distractions] Hell's Kitchen, Epi Nine

NB, 2006,1008:Some minor edits as I went back and corrected things I should of gotten right. Major text essentially unchanged.

Time for blunt language here, people: this epi kicked my ass. There's no other way to say it. Who would have thought that things would have went the way they did?

Well, obviously, not me.

Sherman, set the wayback machine for about, oh, a week ago. I went out on a limb and said the following foolishness:

Virginia's looking straight into the face of the end of her Hell's Kitchen career. We find that, over the course of the series, we've read the chefs pretty well, though Virginia's tenacity has surprised us and earned our grudging admiration.

It's going to be down to Keith and Heather.
Keep that in mind, will you? And with that said, let's go.

The Claws Come Out...

...and they're aimed straight at Virginia. Heather and Keith were out for her, and they did everything they could to undermine her. Her survival amongst such odds...

Well, we get ahead of ourselves again.

Heather and Keith came into the epi as HK's strongest Muppets...eh, chefs. As a matter of fact, they were getting so tight and so sure that the hating on Virginia that they started in on last epi just increased, as will be assayed.

The Palate of Doom

The next intra-service challenge involved Chef Ramsay's signature dish (which not even Captain Obvious, the narrator would name). It very much appeared to be a serving of fish in a sort of sauce. Presentation was pleasing but not too artistic–actually, it seemed to be a pretty accessable even to gourmands such as Yours Truly.

The challenge was simple in concept but daunting in difficulty: experience the dish (taste, smell, note everything you can) and reproduce it, from scratch, without the benefit of a recipe.

Think for a minute about what this entails. You're a chef, and you have a dish in front of you you want to reproduce. You have nothing but your wits, and your senses to correctly divine what went into it. You've got to have all senses on high and your palate has to be spot on, at least, if you want to get it right. Now, remember that in the taste test challenge, Virginia shone. She went into this one, thus, with an advantange. Heather and Keith are no slouches, but Virginia looked to be the one to beat here.

They had 20 minutes to create the dish. The kitchen erupted into a flurry as the three tasted, smelt, and frantically searched for the right stuff, returning periodically to check thier assumptions.

The dish seemed to be a serving of sea bass, on a vegetable pureé, in a sauce. Virginia and Heather chose the striped sea bass while Keith went with the Chilean bass, and as for the pureé, Heather and Keith went with mashed potatoes.

And this is where our opinion of Virignia began to change. Looking about for the proper ingredient she was about to go to the potatoes as well but spied a tray with Tuscan white beans. The a-ha moment was so bright it nearly blew out the tellyvision. We knew right then we were suddenly looking at genius about to happen.

This was also where our opinion of Keith began to take a serious hit. Determining that couscous was in the sauce, he located the packet...and tried to hide it. Virginia was too close on his heels, though, and scored them.

After 20 minutes all three had the dishes completed and Chef Ramsay tasted. We find ourselves agreeing with him; the quality was in. They were, as Chef cited, accomplished dishes. But the point was, how close to the mark did they hit?

One was spot-on...and that was Virginia. Her palate and her flash of genius won her through again.

One For Me, Two for You

The reward for winning the challenge was not inconsiderable; for the day, Chef Ramsay took Virginia aside and tutored her in running a restaurant properly, from selected cooking techniques to expediting (that's what Chef does when he's barking from the pass). A bit of good-hearted comedy was had when Virginia tried calling tickets from the pass; Chef, Mary Ann, and Scott banged pans about, shot her static, and were generally obnoxious and uncooperative. Virginia seemed to give as good as she got.

A new Virginia seemed to be emerging here; the wishy-washy, school-girly crushy salad chef was really starting to find her foot with alacrity that was extremely sobering.

Meanwhile, Heather and Keith were strawbossed by Jean-Phillipe in the menial task of polishing the restaurant's glassware and cutlery, all the while stewing in thier own juices. Now, we know we don't see it all, that editing takes out a hell of a lot, but they just couldn't choke down the possiblity that Virginia just might have gotten through on dint of her own talent. No, it had to be either her flirting with Chef or, hey, maybe that recipe was in the cookbook she got at that Sur la Table shopping spree.

They just became ugly, right up there on TV in front of millions of viewers. I certainly wouldn't be proud of that behavior. Sure, we can put it down to the pressure of being so close to the brass ring and all (not to mention the jealousy inherent in missing out on being tutored by a God of Cookery) but still, I wouldn't look back on that with anything other than a bit of shame.

But, hey, that's just me.

Cooks Behaving Badly

The rest of the day went no better for poor Virginia. Heather and Keith were cold and angry toward her, all but plotting her demise in front of her. When Virginia asked Heather questions about cooking techniques, all Heather returned was sullen silence. And later that night, in a particularly disturbing scene, Heather and Keith clowned around, Heather laying down on her bed and Keith flopping down on top of her (what, no ambulance called? Sorry...)

Due to the layout of the dorms, thier cutting up could be heard by Virginia, who had long ago drew the conclusion that she was the odd one out. It was tough watching her cope with the...well, snotty...treatment she was being dealt.

Too Many Expediters?

Dinner service the next night had a few remarkable ingredients thrown into the mix: Scott and Mary Ann, the sous-chefs who so far had played a minor, supporting role in the proceedings, got in to help out the kitchen due to the otherwise-low chef count, and additionally, to aid Chef in certain culinary escapades.

The twist on tonight's service was that, at some point during the service, each one of the contestants would get to stand in Chef's shoes; each one would get the chance to expedite for a time, and prove thier mettle in the context of the actual dinner service.

Leadership skills had to be in, and in hard. As Chef intimated, the expediter had to run thier brigade...not the other way round. And with emotions on high and the finish line in sight, this was a thing easier said than done. As an added filip, Chef would throw the sabot in at certain junctures to see how on-point Heather, Keith, and Virginia were.

During Keith's turn, while the service didn't exactly pancake, things didn't go well for him. The key to expediting in a kitchen full of high-strung chefs seems to be make yourself alpha dog straight away and don't relent. Keith relented; he had to repeat himself. However, he successfully blocked his bug, which was Scott's overcooking of the pasta. Taste the food before it goes over the pass; that's what quality control is all about.

Heather's turn, and she worked out pretty well. The delegation and direction on-the-fly skills she'd shown so ably before allowed her to take control of the kitchen with no doubt. Chef's sabotage this time, lumpy mashed potatoes, was not stoppped by Heather–she second-guessed herself, wondering if she'd actually correctly seen that they were lumpy, and erring incorrectly.

Virginia was stronger that Keith but not so strong as Heather. Her sabotage was the subsitution of the wrong fish for a dish, which she caught, rather stunningly quickly.

From our POV, Keith was the weak link of the night. He exhibited weak leadership and was extraordinarily curt with Chef Ramsay, leading him at one point to threaten to send him home right in the middle of the service.

The Last Elimination

The three were dismissed with the instruction to think hard and each be ready to nominate one of thier colleagues for elimination.

The lobbying got underway in earnest, but when it came time to nominate, there were no surprises, at least as far as Heather and Keith went; they both ganged up on Virginia. Virginia nommed Keith, tellingly acknowledging his obvious skill but noting that the fire, the passion that usually showed when K-Cheese rolled just wasn't there.

Chef is looking for a strong leader. The prize, remember is an Executive Chef position at a big-money Vegas restaurant, and a share of the profits. If the Chef can't lead, the quality of the product will suffer and your restaurant won't make you any money, slammin' or otherwise.

Heather had it. Virginia actually had it. Keith...well, he can cook, and rather brilliantly at that, he was a weak leader. Instead of leading his kitchen, his kitchen led him. On his only nom of the entire series, Keith was out.

K-Grease Shows True Color

Now, Keith had Chef's regard in many ways. He could have gracefully retired, shaking Chef's hand and perhaps getting a "job well done".

But, no. This, you see, isn't how K-Grease rolls. No, how he does it here is to shuffle and shift around, unhappy, and then cut loose with a patented profanity laden complaint about how he'd been so strong the rest of the way, and then accusing inappropriate conduct between Virginia and Chef.

Ramsay was only taken aback a little: "Why d'you have to be so rude?"

Keith: "You're rude to me all the time."

Chef: "So?"

Exactly. The point isn't that Chef's being rude to you; the point is that he knows, better than anyone, that if you don't run your kitchen, your kitchen runs you. And your kitchen must never run you: Chef knows, as nobody there could, that you have to make yourself alpha chef, if you care abot the quality of your product and the experience of the diners you serve. Keith, in this one, clear moment, demonstrated to the viewers why he's not fit to be an executive chef yet. He has this certain attitude that he just can't get rid of. He thinks it makes him unbeatable and charming. This is so far from the truth it's a toll call, and it's what's bothered me about him ever since he surged to the fore.

It's why the whole "K-Grease" persona is so lame. It's why, in the penultimate episode, he's going home. As Chef said, "And that, your attitude, is why you will never run a high-class restaurant."

We couldn't have said it better.

A Rather Silly Apology

The reader may have noted a marked softening of our attitude towards Virginia. You'd be right. Along with a whole lot of other people, we counted her out and made fun of her.

She got through on her wits and her gumption and we'd be ugly fools if we didn't give her credit for that. And enduring the really ugly scoffing from Heather and Keith won us over finally and completely; we've gone from detractors to fans.

This may seem rather silly, given the nature of this blog, and that this, after all, is a distraction–but a pretty possessing one, and even in as much as Virginia probably has much better things to do than trolling the 'net, seeing what people are saying about her, but after watching her come into her own in this next-to-last-epi, we've got to answer what we've already said about her–it's on the record, after all.

We were wrong about Virginia. In our defense, we've got to say, given her earlier behavior, how could we have known that she was the dark horse? In the space of one epi she's gone from wishy-washy and kind of whiny to impassioned and posessed. We think it's understandable that we discounted her abilities, given the timing and the editing of the show, but in the end, we were judging a book by its cover, and that was wrong.

Good on you, Virginia. We still think there may be some charm working on you, what with your almost preternatural ability to escape elimination, but you have what it takes, and when times got thier worst, you were at your finest–and we mean when Heather and Keith were ganging up on you. We hope they remember that.

And, hey, in the event that Virginia does cruise the 'blogs looking for what people are saying about her, congratulations, babe. We know that this was said and done months ago, with the ending kept under wraps, but to us, it's all in progress, so, good luck next week.

You proved you deserved to be there.

Next Week: Hell's Kitchen Gotteraemerung

The previews suggest at least one ring of a media circus. As last series, when the restaurant was divided and Ralph and Michael got to create thier own eatery on each side of the divide, that's what's going to happen this time.

The catch: the two finalists' kitchen staffs will be the chefs who've been elimmed over the course of the series, bringing all thier baggage along with them. If Heather and Virginia don't run thier kitchens, they certainly will be running them...hell, they'll be throwing them under the bus.

We expect a satisfying conclusion. And which one will take it? Heather has an edge in the kitchen, but the lump of coal that was Virginia has transformed under pressure into a rough-cut jewel. She could still surprise us all.

We admit it; we just can't decide. It could go either way.

Until then, diners.

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