Top Chef Under-Seasoned Five

Top Chef Season 5 CastThe quickest way for a chef to pack their knives on “Top Chef” is to present an under-seasoned dish to the judges. If you haven’t mastered Basic Cooking 101 with salt, pepper and spices, you have no business being in the kitchen. After watching Season Five, all the contestants were under seasoned. That was painfully obvious in the first episode, where 50 chefs from the New York area who didn’t make the show slammed the dishes presented to them for the first elimination challenge.

As the season wore on, I lost all interest in who stayed and who went home, didn’t read the blogs, and simply didn’t care while watching the episodes. The cooking and the drama were uninspiring. If you’re going to serve deviled eggs, the deviled eggs better be phenomenal because anyone can make plain old deviled eggs. If you’re going to serve tender lamb, you don’t butcher and hammer it to death. Even when there were eight contestants left in the “Restaurant Wars” episode, which pits two teams to create and execute a restaurant concept from scratch, they managed to blotch that with a lackluster performance. The moronic contestants from Season Two, who almost killed the series because of their reality TV antics, could cook circles around these contestants.

I did take a shine to Jamie from San Francisco (executive chef at Absinthe). For the first six episodes, she came close enough to winning something. That didn’t change until she won episode seven. When she got eliminated in episode 11, she looked bone tired. She had an opportunity for the semi-finals in New Orleans to come back into the competition, but she lost the Quick Fire challenge. She seems like the only one who had heart and soul behind her cooking.

When regular judge Gail Simmons left the show for her honeymoon, Toby Young, a British food critic with no professional culinary training, joined the judges table. His comments—”I have found the weapons of mass destruction in this bowl,” “the bland leading the bland,” “taste like cat food”—was unusually harsh. No surprise if you read his book and/or seen the movie, “How To Alienate People and Loose Friends,” where he comes across as being a total prick that shocked and horrified the contestants.

I’m disappointed that Young toned down his comments after his first appearance, adjusting to the Americans rather than the Americans adjusting to him. This season might have turned out differently if he had hammered the contestants rather than sugar-coating the truth about their lousy cooking.

Cheech & Chong In Santa Rosa

Although I saw the “Cheech & Chong” movies when my family got cable TV in the early 1980’s, I didn’t quite remember their comedy routines and wasn’t really a fan. After attending WonderCon in San Francisco, my friend and I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to see their revival show at the Wells Fargo Center for The Arts in Santa Rosa.

Chong’s re-interpretation of the Bible with God being the ultimate stoner was hysterical. The scripture says God is Lord of the MOST HIGH, who created a GREEN earth to get stone on the seventh day, spoke to Moses from a burning MARIJUANA bush, and led His people with a column of fire and pot smoke in the desert. The ancient Israelis kept asking Moses if he was high enough while wandering the desert for 40 years, and Moses wanted to find the land of milk and honey because everyone had the MUNCHIES.

Chong pointed out that Mexicans and pot are everywhere except for one place. Cheech comes out as a janitor who takes a joyride on a rocket to the moon with the theme music of “2001: A Space Odyssey” movie playing in the background. The video screen at the back of the stage showed Cheech in a spacesuit getting into a lunar rover on the moon to jack the front end up-and-down on hydraulics like a 1970’s low rider.

I have a very indirect relationship with the pot culture.

My older brother was a 1970’s hippie/stoner who grew pot in the backyard. When he told our mother that the pot plants were tomato plants, she believed him until the plants got really tall without any red fruit appearing. After a pair of FBI agents came by looking for him one day, my parents cut down all the weeds behind the house. For the next ten years, I was forbidden by my mother from growing tomatoes plants from seed since she was afraid that the FBI agents would come back.

On the other end of the legal spectrum, I took care of a roommate dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease for four years in the late 1990’s. He had a prescription for medical marijuana, which I didn’t know about until I told him that his “special” brownies looked like horse manure and made the connection. After paramedics failed to revive him from a cardiac arrest, I was busy dumping his stash down the toilet while a sheriff deputy waited for the medical examiner to pick up his body. Depending on where you are in the medical marijuana debate, my roommates were either heroes or criminals for helping to ease the pain of a dying roommate.

A thousand joints lit up at once when the show ended, as a huge cloud of pot smoke appeared above the audience. We got out of there as quickly as possible. Secondhand smoke from pot always gave me a pounding sinus headache. That kept me awake on the two-hour drive back home.

WonderCon 2009

Carrie Fisher AutographMy friend told me that the line for WonderCon 2009 at Moscone Center was similar to standing in line for a keynote address by Steve Jobs. Since the comic book convention split one hall between the registration area and the exhibit floor, the support beams for the convention center in the registration area reminded me of the ship support areas on the “Battlestar Galactica” TV show. I was more focused on attending the panels rather than looking at the exhibit floor. One day isn’t enough time for a convention like this.

The “Pandorum” panel was interesting. After seeing a trailer for a new sci-fi horror movie from the creators of “Resident Evil” movies, with strong hints of “Alien” and “Event Horizon” in the storytelling, three unknown cast members who had no clue what to talk about except make lame jokes about a sex tape on the future DVD release.

The “Star Trek” panel showed a new trailer that actually made me believe that this will be a successful re-launching of the franchise. My favorite part was Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) pointing out that the Enterprise doesn’t have a captain or a second-in-command, and Kirk (Chris Pine) saying, “Actually, you do,” before taking the captain chair himself. The panel had a wide-ranging discussion about being faithful to the original series while breaking new ground. A second movie may happen if a good enough script comes along.

Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher from “Star Wars” were signing autographs. I got an autographed picture of Princess Leia in the slave girl costume. Surprisingly, I saw only one woman wearing the slave girl costume. I was quite speechless in Carrie’s presence. “What’s your name? Is that C-H-R-I-S? Here you go.” I didn’t have the courage to admit that I totally missed her cameo in “Fanboys” because I didn’t recognize her as being a doctor.

While walking around the exhibit floor, we saw a bunch of guys dressed up as Dr. Manhattan from the forthcoming “Watchmen” movie in blue body paint, wearing Speedos and sandals while walking around the exhibit floor. One guy was a spitting image of the character. The others should have gone to jail for indecent exposure. I suggested since we’re in San Francisco, we could get some blue body paint, walk around naked, and no one would notice. (For normal naked people wandering around the streets, go to Berkeley across the bay.) Unfortunately, we didn’t have the tall, thin and muscular physique that the Dr. Manhattan character requires. We would more than likely be mistaken for a pair of naked “Smurfs” and be beaten to death by the “Star Wars” stormtroopers running around the place.