26 June 2007

[hk2007] Hell's Kitchen 2007.3 & .4: I'm So Phoning This One In

850 I got lazy last week and didn't get a recap posted.

Then I waited, and waited...now, here it is, time I recorded the history, and I haven't even done last week's yet. I was thinking about that and I think I know why:

None of the contestants really light my fire much at all. And the challenge reward for this week's epi was just weird. Maybe it's because I'm just so...well, prole...who knows. So let's hit the high points of the last two epis, shall we?

Good to go.

Episode 2007.3: Breakfast and Lunch with the Military

The high point of this epi was the teams serving breakfast to two groups of America's finest; the Blues served the Navy, the Reds, the Army. In another Thing That Has Never Been Done Before In Hell's Kitchen™ (they are fond of those catch-phrases), HK opened for breakfast.

Now, I've had the privilege of serving this country in a military capacity. Soldiers and Sailors, perhaps conditioned by boot camp food, are amazingly easy to please. Have it hot, have it edible, have it ready to go when they get there.

And the cuisine was amazingly suited toward Julia's workday style–omelettes, pancakes, and the like. And, predictably, the Reds united behind Julia and pulled off a stunning breakfast service. Thier reward–a catered lunch on the museum ship USS Midway (CV-41) (and the concomitant LA-San Diego whirlybird ride) whilst the Blues had to peel onions and potatoes for a day's service at a military base–about 1/2 ton of produce.

At this point, Aaron finally lost it. Fainting he was taken to the hospital, which turned out to be his exeunt from HK, at long last. There was one thing we all agreed with him about, and that was he didn't deserve to be there. That such a low-hanging fruit stayed on the tree so long only proved that fortune favors the feckless.

The dinner service proved uneven as usual. The big signatures from this travesty were Brad's scraping of an overcooked Wellington (I just don't get the culinary affection for those, but I'm a gourmand, after all) and Jen's rescuing of cooked pasta...from the garbage (even this gourmand knows better than that...or if you're really compelled to rescue food from the dumpster, just eat it yourself). Joanna's serving of rancid crab was also on the nights list of hits (the way Mary Ann recoiled from it, you'd think an invisible friend had forgotten the "you can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose" rule).

El Ram had the more-losing team (the Reds, this time) think out of the box for elimination this time, making of it a group thing...no best of the worst. The conclusion at the elimination ceremony was Joanna (predictable), and...Julia, who they just won't stop hatin' on. Fortunately for the sake of the fabric of the universe not splitting and swallowing the Reds whole, Jen's conscience whispered loud enough in her ear that she offered herself up as well.

Julia was quickly put back in the line by Chef Ramsay, which put things down to Jen and Joanna. In the end, it was apparently judged that Jen's bin-diving was trumped by Joanna's poisonous seafood. Our palettes are decidedly street-level, but we concur.

At the end of 2007.3, one from each team is jettisoned, leaving us with even numbers-four on each; the Reds have Bonnie, Jen, Julia and Melissa, and the Blues have Vinnie, Rock, Josh, and Brad.

Except for Julia and maybe Melissa a bit, nobodys impressing us much.

Episode 2007.4: Offal is Awful, and Dining in the Dark

This episode's challenge was a favorite of ours from last season: the palette test. A chef, it's taken as read, must have an 'educated palette'. If one compares a chef with other artists–oil painter, for instance–it seems axiomatic that one should have some mastery of the attributes of the ingredients they are combining if one's to get a certain effect.

On the challenge, the Reds performed very well–and our darkhorse favorite, Julia, nailed all the food she was to taste. A controversy emerged when it became unclear that Bonnie was being completely truthful when she was under the headset and failed to respond to Chef Ramsay's test of whether or not she could hear him.

The Reds won the palette challenge hands down–and were treated to a most unusual dining experience, at a restaurant called "Opaque". This place apparently specializes in serving food in the pitch-dark, apparently to heighten the tast experience.

This was so bizarre I thought it had be be a fake–like how HK's customers are actual customers, not extras and Q-List actors between roles–but no, the place exists. Far be it for me to comment–to me, the acme of dining rests somewhere between Burgerville and The Berlin Inn. So, this leaves me scratching my head; they'll separate $99 from your back pocket while they're saving on things like decor, presentation...and lighting. So maybe they're cleverer than I thought.

Anyway, the Reds come back to the dorms and kick back for the rest of the day until dinner service–catching up on missed sleep, that sort of thing. The Blues have been prepping both kitchens for the night's service, but that's not all.

You all know what offal is, don't you? You know, sweetmeats, "chitlin's", organ meats...offal. Yum. Well, in order to further educate thier palettes, Chef also directed them to consume this foul stuff for lunch. Rock went from black to green.

It was as unpretty as it sounds.

The gimmick of the evening's service was the comment-card competition. What's always surprised us is that despite having to wait amazing lengths of time, the 'customers' in HK almost always enjoyed what they finally got. As it turned out, the comment cards bore this out; most people enjoyed the food that was prepared, but if it were a real restaurant, they wouldn't come back–because they had to wait so damned long for thier food.

It seemed very trying on El Ram, and his patience was chipped away at every returned entree. Need it be said that the restaurant was shut down with an uncompleted dinner service? Between Vinnie's 'personal trash bin' where several Wellingtons and one whole chicken resided and Bonnie's near-meltdown, neither really won, regardless of what the comment cards said. The elmination was to be one from each team; Rock (who Chef called 'solid') and Jen (who Chef damned with faint praise) would nom.

Rock chose Josh, while Jen chose Melissa. Chef Ramsay had sent them off to prune out their weakest links, and was summarily unhappy with their choice, promptly overruling them in favor of Bonnie and Vinnie (who were so weak it didn't take anyone with culinary skill to single them out).

We were not surprised to find Vinnie doing the walk-of-shame. The machismo had long gone, and he was surprisingly insightful and diginified in his exit.

But Chef Ramsay had the right of it: he was a crap cook.

The ones rising to the top seem to be Julia and Rock, with Melissa close behind. We just aren't into them this time around, nothing like we were into with Heather last year. While there are some mad skills working, they just can't get it together on the team level, and it shows...in spades.

We're starting to thing we're going to see Julia in the final, though...and you can quote us on that. We like her pluckiness and the way she believes in herself.

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