Thursday, June 30, 2016

Words of wisdom - June edition

You can't have a better tomorrow if you are thinking about yesterday all the time. --Charles F. Kettering

Know thyself, especially thyself after a couple of drinks. --Robert Brault

Yesterday I was clever and wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself. --Rumi

The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is. –Winston Churchill

Wrinkles should clearly indicate where smiles have been. --Mark Twain

Keep true, never be ashamed of doing right; decide on what you think is right and stick to it. --T.S. Eliot

Whatever you may do may seem insignificant, but it is most important that you do it. --Mahatma Gandhi

Fear an ignorant man more than a lion. --Turkish proverb

No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted. --Aesop

Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake. –Napoleon Bonapart

I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: ‘O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.’ And God granted it. –Voltaire

From the Department of It's Funny Cuz It's True...

Via BuzzFeed Books, it's 21 Things That Will Make Sense To Writers.

A few that really hit home:

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Someone else who doesn't want to pay writers

For reasons I've never been able to fathom, writers have always been treated like red-haired stepchildren in the Hollywood food chain. Jack Warner infamously described his writers as, "schmucks with Underwoods" (Underwoods were typewriters, the Macs of their day). It was even used as the title of a book containing interviews with screenwriters from the golden age of Hollywood. Think of the classic films Warners produced during that era, and read that quote again. Think of the stars they were writing for, including Bette Davis, James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart, and read that quote again.

Even successful novelists who were lured by the studios got shoddy treatment. Raymond Chandler famously said, "If my books had been any worse I should not have been invited to Hollywood and if they had been any better I should not have come." Most of them only stayed for the money.

Money paid to writers - or lack thereof - has been a point of contention the past few years due to The Huffington Post's refusal to pay a lot of their freelancers. They seem to think it's enough just to have a byline on their site. This came up during a panel at the L.A. Times Festival of Books a few months back. The argument is that writing is work and that writers are entitled to be paid for their work, just like anyone else.

Now comes news that The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is offering aspiring late night writers a chance to "audition" by submitting a packet of cold openings, jokes and sketches for a chance to join the show's writing staff. I have a number of problems with this.

Asking for writing samples is one thing. Writers have samples on hand. To have to create a packet specifically for the show - without any guarantee of compensation - seems like they're just looking for free material. By my count the submission packet has to included thirteen different bits. And there's no way that there isn't anyone on this show or at CBS who doesn't know any experienced, qualified writers who are looking for work and could step right in with little or no fanfare. I haven't bothered to look at the show's ratings, but it smacks of a publicity ploy, not to mention it could open a big fat can of lawsuit worms for the network if they use some of the submitted material, or anything similar, and some aspiring writer thinks the show ripped him or her off. And it's not like CBS and The Late Show can't afford to pay their staff.

It also seems a bit beneath CBS as a network. I would buy this if it was MTV or some obscure cable or local station, but I would still have a hard time taking it seriously. People in the entertainment industry always know someone looking for a gig. When I worked in HR at a post production company, we never once advertised for a position that was post-related. If a spot opened up, someone knew someone who could fill it right away. The only position we ever ran an ad for was a sales job.

Does anyone really believe for a second that some aspiring writer is going to be plucked from obscurity to write for a CBS show? It would be great if it does, but that's not how the industry works. If they were asking for one sketch, or one cold opening, that would be one thing. But this "packet" involves a lot of work with no guarantee that the writer is going to be seriously considered for employment. Not sure what the show was going for with this ploy, but based on a lot of the comments on the Deadline article linked above, it seems to be falling flat.

I will be interested to see what the Writers Guild has to say about this. Even more interesting will be if we ever find out where the next Late Show staff writer comes from.


Monday, June 27, 2016

Birthday Bundt mania

My birthday this year was amazing for a number of reasons. On Friday, I got an email that had some great news. I have to keep quiet about it until the official announcement is made, which will happen on July 10. I can only give you a hint: it involves writing.

Another reason my birthday was awesome is because of this gift from my Mom:

I love you, Nordic Ware.

It's a pan for making individual pineapple upside-down cakes! Can't wait to use it.

Speaking of cakes, I kind of remembered at the last minute that I needed a birthday cake. I was strapped for time, so I busted out the swirly bundt pan and a dump cake book my Mom got me a couple years ago. I kind of sniffed at it at the time (I had just graduated from culinary school) but I needed something quick and easy, and this was quick and easy. I've also been thinking a lot lately about letting go of my inner food snob, so finally making something from this book was a nod to both that and to Mom. I made an apple pie cake and it was beautiful:

This pan can do no wrong. Seriously.

It was delicious too. We had it with vanilla ice cream. You know, kind of like apple pie a la mode.

We also had a wonderful lunch over at Tony P's. Mom and I love that place and we've been wanting to get The Brother over there for some time. I had some great mahi-mahi and one of their giant mai-tais. The Brother was impressed with their massive beer list.

All in all, just a great weekend. Hope yours was too!

Food Network Star - Motorsports Tailgating (Week 5)

So between having family over and celebrating my birthday last weekend (and getting some amazing news that involves writing, more about that later) I never got around to recapping Week 6 of Food Network Star until now, more than a week after the fact. Bad blogger! Let's fix that.

First challenge this week is kitchen hacks. Giada explains by giving the example of using an iron as a panini press. Rob has done online videos about kitchen hacks, like using a knife to open a beer, so he's thrilled. In addition to hacking, the chefs will also have to shoot a one minute Snapchat video about said hacks. Aaaand go!

Erin grabs the muffin tin, which she's used in the past to make dehydrated pineapple flower decorations. Thinking girl is gonna nail this challenge. She's going to make Pineapple Pie Pockets with dehydrated pineapple.

Rob's got himself a waffle iron, which he is going to use as both a grill and panini press to make German Reuben Cuban Burgers. He says he's won with this dish in the past. Joy is using a smoothie maker to make Hot Crab Dip. Ana is making a Cuban Natilla Custard in a Mason jar. Usually this is made in a double boiler, so hopefully it will work out. And I have a bad feeling about this.

Damiano snagged a turkey baster, which he says he has never used before. He makes Frittelle, a deep fried pastry. He wants to use the baster, which reminds him of a syringe, to fill the pastries with cream, but the baster isn't cooperating. He eventually decides to go with something more amenable to piping, a berry puree. Tregaye is using a saute pan as a meat mallet, which is actually what we used in culinary school. In other words, it's not really a reach and I'm not sure it counts as a hack. Either way, she's making a Country Fried Steak Sandwich.

Monterey is using her French Press as a filter to make a marinade for her Moroccan Spiced Chicken. It sounds ambitious. I hope she makes it. Jernard is making Cajun BBQ Fried Chicken. He's using his martini shaker to make the sauce.

As time winds down, Joy is concerned a one minute Snapchat won't give her enough time to explain her dish and herself. Monterey's chicken isn't cooking so she throws it into the deep fryer. Erin's pineapple flowers are charred, so they become garnish instead of part of the dish. Tregaye is supremely confident about appearing on camera.

We welcome our guest judge, Billy Joel's ex-wife who isn't Christie Brinkley. Erin goes first and even Tregaye is impressed. Unfortunately the judges want to eat the pineapple garnish and things get awkward when Erin tries to discourage them from doing so. Joy is up next and her large number of ingredients is met with derision from Damiano and Jernard. The judges are equally unimpressed, but they like her crab dip.

Rob's Snapchat is uncharacteristically reserved. Katie Lee thought it was a great hack and Bobby tells him to stop overthinking things. His food goes over well. Ana does well, but is also somewhat reserved, and Bobby tells her to go for it. The judges love her custard and Giada can't help being frustrated by Ana's untapped potential: "I don't understand it. You cook so well. Why can't you get more excited about it?" Ana says she will.

Next up, Tregaye is going to show everyone how it's done. And she does, nailing the steak-pounding. Unfortunately her dish is a lot less impressive than her Snapchat. Giada describes it as too salty and too heavy.

Monterey nails her Snapchat, and using a french press to make marinade really is a hack. I would never have thought of it. Even Bobby is impressed: "I feel like you had a show on Food Network." That's the good news. The bad news is that her chicken is still raw. Talk about going from one extreme to the other.

Jernard wants to make up for his poor presentation last week and busts out the Chef of Love card and nails it. Bobby congratulates him on getting his swagger back. His chicken is cooked perfectly. Damiano also scores on his Snapchat and his dish. Bobby wants ten of his pastries.

Now on to crown a winner: My choice: Jernard. The judges choice: Damiano (much to Giada's delight, and I'm officially tired of the token, heavy-accented Italian contestant).

For the main challenge, we get an actual chef: Robert Irvine. The contestants are thrilled. He introduces their theme: Tailgate Party. They will each be given a protein to use and one of them is tofu, which Ana describes as something she avoids when it's in her food. Just to really screw with them, they have to play a car race video game, where their finish will determine the order they get to choose their protein. Loser gets tofu!

And they're off! The finish (after Damiano rear ends Erin and knocks her out of the lead): Damiano, Jernard, Erin, Tregaye, Joy, Monterey, Rob and Ana. And they start choosing their proteins:

Damiano: Skirt steak
Jernard: Chicken wings
Erin: Bratwurst
Tregaye: Ground meat
Joy: Prawns
Monterey: Bone-in Pork Chops
Rob: Turkey Dogs
Ana: Tofu

Poor Ana.

The contestants have an hour before the tailgaters arrive. Joy goes for the hamburger buns, much to the displeasure of Tregaye, who is going to have to use hot dog buns for her burgers. Ana is making the best of her bad situation, reasoning that tofu works with Asian flavors, and her grandfather was Chinese (who knew?) so she's making Chino-Latino Tofu Fried Rice, putting a wok on the grill. Rob isn't loving his turkey dogs. "Turkey dogs are blah. They have a fake smoke taste to them, so gonna wrap it in bacon..." He's also making a root beer barbeque sauce to go with them. Sounds really good, actually.

Tailgate is a new, foreign word to Damiano, but I'm not worried because Giada obviously has his back. It reminds him of a food truck, so he's making a Skirt Steak Sandwich, which sounds great. He's also using Burrata, wild mushrooms and arugala, which doesn't sound especially tailgate-ish. Monterey is making pork tacos. She notes that her time management is on point, so she has no excuse for not finishing her dish this time. Foreshadowing?

Tregaye is making Inside-Out Cheeseburgers, which she says she makes all the time for her family. But she's still going to have to serve them on hot dog buns. Also, some of her cheese-filled burgers are falling apart on the grill.

Halfway through their hour, Robert Irvine shows up and tells them he wants to see how well they do at high speeds, and promptly takes ten minutes off the clock. Weak, dude. Just let them cook. Ana's rice isn't cooking and she's reduced to bargaining with God: let her rice cook and he can take ten years off her life. She really wanted those ten minutes.

Erin has a serious case of hero worship when it comes to Robert. She tries to chat him up, but it was, as she describes it, awkward. I hope her dish blows him out of his seat. She is so sweet. Jernard is making Tipsy Tequila Wings, with an emphasis on tequila. I want. Joy is making Grilled Prawn Po'boys with Jalapeno Pineapple Slaw. She describes it as "Great beer food, which of course is tailgating." And Ana may have just lost ten years, because her rice is done.

The tailgaters arrive while the chefs are still plating. Joy is selling the heck out of her dish to the judges. Jernard: "Hello, Southern queen." Bobby likes the sandwich, although Robert thinks it's a little too sweet. Bobby also notes how exuberant Joy was about her dish.

Tregaye still isn't thrilled with getting stuck with hot dog buns, but wisely decides to, "Sell it as if I meant to do it." Bobby calls her on it, but she doesn't back down and eventually he does. They like the burger and even the "hot dog bun idea". Tregaye really scored with this one.

Erin is her relentlessly adorable self, wrangling in the tailgaters with, "I feel like I have some beer lovers right here." She also doesn't want to go the "spastic, star-struck Erin" route with Robert this time around. It doesn't go as smoothly as planned, and Tregaye wipes out any goodwill she earned with me by making fun of her for it. No matter, her mini bratwurst burgers are a big hit with the judges.

One of the tailgaters asks Jernard how he got the name "The Love Chef". He tells her he has nine kids. He also jokes that he only blames a few of them on the tequila. Nice segue into his dish. He chats up the judges about his wife, who is working on her doctorate (in what, he doesn't say, but still I found that damn fascinating - she works that around nine kids?) and they love his wings. Giada comments that Jernard radiates happiness and it draws you in. He does seem like a nice guy. I'd love to see him with his family. If there's one thing women like, it's guys who are really into their families.

Rob's bacon-wrapped turkey dogs look great, but he's strangely not doing a great job of selling them. Not sure where the Rob from weeks one and two has gone. The judges seem to agree, wishing he'd done a better job explaining his dish.

Poor Monterey. She hasn't even gotten started when Giada asks if the meat is cooked this time, forcing Monterey to explain her earlier faux pas in front of Robert. I love that Monterey states that after that disaster, "I need to show them the chef and not the ex-model." Unfortunately she stumbles in her presentation - I don't think she thinks well on her feet, something I can sympathize with. Erin observes that Monterey is succumbing to nerves and when that happens, "She makes no sense and she starts falling apart." Robert suggests she take a deep breath. Monterey herself describes it as a train wreck. Luckily, they like her tacos.

Damiano introduces himself to the tailgaters, being sure to mention he's from Tuscany. I'm beginning to think he's going to win simply because of the Italian thing. Although he's a smooth operator when selling his dish to the judges, Bobby thinks the steak is lacking flavor. Giada promptly comes to Damiano's defense with the explanation that Italians don't season the way Southerners do, and advises Robert that compared to some of the other dishes, this one is "very simple". Stop making excuses for him. This isn't Food Network Italia.

When the judges arrive at Ana's station, she jokes that, "I was lucky enough to get the tofu." Bobby: "Good attitude." She's still a bit shaky in her presentation and Bobby tells her to work on her self-esteem. Bobby and Giada are a bit frustrated with Ana's tendency to go negative, but her dish is a hit. Even Robert, who says he's not a tofu guy, likes it. Bobby notes that Ana's food is always good.

My choice for bottom three is hard, because it seemed like all the food was good, so we're going to have to go with presentation. Rob, Monterey and Ana seemed to be the ones who had problems with that, so I'm going with them. Besides, everyone else just seems safe, although I'd like to see Damiano get dinged for serving an unseasoned dish to professional chefs. And if it was anyone else I think I would have gotten my wish.

The judges choice for top three: Tregaye, Joy and Jernard. Damiano is also safe, despite the fact that Bobby and Robert thought his dish was bland. Yeah, the fix is in. I won't be at all surprised if he wins. Robert dings Erin for not mentioning she's a baker in her presentation, but praises her dish. And those five are safe for the week, meaning Rob, Monterey and Ana are looking at the chopping block.

My choice for elimination: I want to say Rob, because the last couple of weeks I've noticed that if a challenge or ingredient isn't right up his alley, he doesn't seem to be able to be bothered to show any enthusiasm for it, but I'm thinking the uncooked chicken is going to haunt Monterey. It's a shame because I really like her. I think the judges see a lot of untapped potential in Ana and will keep her on as long as possible, and I don't disagree with that.

Giada wants Ana to show more enthusiasm. Robert loved Monterey's food, but her presentation was disorganized. Bobby liked how Rob brought a lot of flavor to the turkey dogs, but wonders why he didn't make more of a show about his root beer barbeque sauce. They're sent off while the judges make their decision and Monterey is frustrated because, "It seems like when my food's awful I do a better presentation and then when I feel like my food's alright my presentation is bad."

The judges choice for elimination: Monterey. She's gracious in defeat, stating that it just isn't her time, but that she will take away a lot of advice from the judges. I'm really sorry to see her go, but as mentioned here, she's still alive on Star Redemption.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Master Class does it again: Aaron Sorkin teaches screenwriting

You gotta hand it to MasterClass - they do not do anything half-assed.

Aspiring thespian? Say hello to your instructors, Oscar-winners Dustin Hoffman and Kevin Spacey. Prefer to be behind a camera? Werner Herzog and Annie Leibovitz have your backs.

Want to sing like a canary? Warm up with Christina Aguilera and then hit the stage with Usher.

Aspiring novelist? World-dominating best-seller James Patterson at your service.

Not the artsy type? Tennis anyone? Grand Slam queen Serena Williams wants to take you to court.

And the hits just keep coming. MasterClass just announced their newest class and world-class instructor: Aaron Sorkin is teaching screenwriting. Yes, that Aaron Sorkin. The Social Network (which I love to death) guy, among other things. The Oscar and Emmy winning guy.

You know what is the most amazing thing about all these classes? $90 each. That's it. Ninety bucks and internet access. For that you can learn at the feet of the masters.

Of course I'm signing up. This alone sells it:

I'm talkin' to you, MasterClass

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

For your 4th of July holiday planning

Via Shadow & Substance, it's the complete Sy-Fy 4th of July Twilight Zone Schedule!

Get those DVRs fired up!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Food Network Star - Motorsports Tailgating (Week 5)

Due to family obligations, I'm not going to be able to get to a full recap until probably the end of the week. When I decided to do this, I had no idea of the time commitment I was making, but I don't want to just drop it because I have a bad habit of doing that with projects and I don't want to do it yet again. So until I can get to the full-on recap, here's the short, no-frills version.

Rob (for the second week in a row, looks like the sheen is off), Monterey and Ana were the bottom three. For all her sparkle and watchability, Monterey has just had too many missteps and was eliminated this week. She seems gracious in defeat, at least in this interview.

We still have a chance to see Monterey again if she can learn from her mistakes and triumph in Star Redemption. And speaking of Star Redemption, I might actually have to watch it this week, as its most recent elimination was Insufferable Aaron.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Friday, June 17, 2016

Here, have a crapload of scripts

Courtesy of LA Screenwriter - a treasure trove of feature and TV scripts!

Finally, an online time-waster I don't have to apologize for.

Aw geez...Fargo S1 pilot script.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

More Bundt-mania: Banana Bundt Bread!

I had a trio of bananas that had seen better days, so I did the only thing I could - I threw them away. KIDDING!!! When life gives you bananas that have seen better days, you make banana bread!

My go-to banana bread recipe is from culinary school. It's really simple and always turns out well.

Since I'm still stuck on my swirly Bundt pan (actual name: Heritage Bundt Pan) I decided to use that for the bread. So much more exciting than a boring old loaf. Seriously, look how pretty it turned out!

When making this as a loaf, the recipes calls for it to bake for about an hour. When I've made this in Bundt pans, it only needed to bake for 45 minutes. The loaf batter is a bit short for Bundt pans in terms of quantity, but it still bakes just fine. The resulting "cake" is just a bit shorter than your average Bundt. Also, regardless of whether you're making your banana bread as a loaf or Bundt (or any other variation) you want to let it cool completely before slicing. Slicing it while warm releases steam out of the bread and dries it out. The first time I made this in school I resisted the urge to cut into it until it cooled completely, and the result was that it stayed moist for a week.

Also, it's very yummy with tea for breakfast.

Loafing around version.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Liquid diet

I'm pretty sure I have a pizza version of this meme around here somewhere...

But this works too.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Food Network Star - Room Service Revenge (Week 4)

And then there were nine...

Bobby doesn't waste any time. He dives into working on live TV - "There are no do-overs. Make a mistake - it's out there. Can't fix it." The contestants are going to be doing live remotes as part of a mock Entertainment Tonight segment, complete with ET hosts Nancy O'Dell and Kevin Frazier.

The topic is new food and cooking trends as forecast by Food Network Magazine. The contestants will create a trendy dish, then present them during a live remote. They are broken into trios and given their assignments.

Ana, Rob and Erin get new trendy spices and ingredients. Erin is not thrilled about having to use miso in baking. She explains that miso is fermented soybeans and she feels that ingredients in baking should be fresh. Another spice: baharat. Rob can't even pronounce it, nor does he have any idea what it is. Oh, and pork floss. What is pork floss, you ask? I've never heard of it either, but you can learn all about it here.

Jernard, Yaku and Monterey's theme: Frugal is Fashionable. They will be using leftover parts of food items that would normally be discarded. Ingredients include cores and stems of food like cauliflower and broccoli. Bobby describes it as, "A very green way to cook." It seems like a pretty thankless assignment, but Jernard points out that with nine kids, they don't waste anything.

Damiano, Tregaye and Joy's theme is gadgets. In this case, a sheet pan. In which they have to prepare an entire meal.

And they're off!

Jernard is confident in his food. Dude is whipping up a Rainbow Chard and Carrot Stem Pesto. Monterey is happily caramelizing cauliflower stems for her Sea Bass with Roasted Cauliflower Puree. Yaku is doing a Beef and Broccoli Stem Soup, along with Broccoli Stem Chips. I think they got the most difficult assignment and they're just all over it. All of these dishes sound awesome and make me wish I was the has-been actress/guest judge of the week. But since I don't have a flat-lining acting career (just a six-month culinary program and a bunch of other cooking classes) I'm obviously not qualified.

Ana is worried about time (as noted last week, it's her weak spot). Rob tells her to hang in there. She's got the pork floss and is doing Chorizo Hash with Pork Floss, which actually sounds pretty good...if she can finish it before the thirty minutes are up. Erin has gotten stuck with the miso and then this happens: Erin: "I'm going regret putting this in my mouth." She tastes the miso and instantly regrets it, reacting the way most of us do when we've had to take a swig of nasty tasting medicine. Rob "Miso sorry I gave you that." HAHAHAHAHA. But Erin's a good sport. She's making Miso Blackberry Cupcakes. Her plan is that the vibrant taste of the blackberries will cover most of the fermented taste of the miso.

As a working mom, Tregaye's been there and done that as far as throwing everything into one pan to make a meal. She's doing Pistachio Crusted Lamb with Roasted Vegetables. Joy: "I don't do weird food trends," so she's taking the simple approach - Steak and Vegetables in a roasting pan. Damiano is making Tiramisu. The problem is that it doesn't look like he's doing it all in a single pan. Tregaye has also noticed this, mentioning that he'd better be able to explain his dish as a sheet-pan dinner. I'm beginning to wonder two things about Damiano: 1) Can he cook without having to fall back on his Italian roots, and 2) How long can he skate on his looks and accent.

Since we hadn't seen Rob's dish earlier, we now see he's got the baharat (which he still can't pronounce, which may become an issue doing a live remote) and is doing Baharat Shrimp with Bacon.

I've got to say, except for the single-pan dishes, I'm blown away at some of the crazy ingredients the other teams had to use and how effortlessly they seemed to make it work. Really impressive. Also, I'm thinking I need to get my hands on some pork floss.

And now for the remotes. Ana is up first and says she's done live remote TV before. She also has gotten tongue-tied on camera a lot in the past few weeks.

The ET hosts are in-studio with the judges to introduce the remote spots and throw to the contestants, who are located elsewhere. Giada asks them to "apply some pressure." I'm almost cringing waiting for this to start.

Ana starts well, explaining that pork floss is not something you clean your teeth with. Kevin promptly interrupts her asking what exactly it is. Ana has a brain freeze, she can't remember how it was described earlier. When she finally tries to wing it, Bobby and Giada are visibly unimpressed. Rob isn't exactly supportive either and I'm starting to think for all his natural talent on camera, he isn't the greatest teammate. Ana's spot is over before she can even begin talking about her dish.

Rob is up next, and unlike Ana, the contestants are now forewarned that they're not going to be allowed to just go into their spiels. His pronunciation of baharat is getting closer, but is still wrong. He's asked by the ET bots where one would find the spice, and has to wing it, but his sense of humor kicks in and he explains, "Today I found it right here in the studio." It seems to work for the judges.

Erin is flowing pretty well, but the ET hosts kind of sabotage her by seeming bored by her explanation. She compares miso to chicken bullion, which seems to amuse Giada. Also, despite her knowing what miso is, the words "fermented soybeans" never come out of her mouth.

Tregaye flat out admits she's nervous about doing her live remote. In previous episodes, they had the luxury of multiple takes. And when Nancy throws to her, she doesn't say anything, just smiles at the camera. She doesn't seem to realize she's live. I don't know if her earpiece isn't working or if she wasn't cued to start, but something's definitely wrong. Once she finally realizes she's on she does great, but she doesn't appreciate the constant interruptions from the ET hosts. "Where I come from, that's kind of rude." She "solves" this problem by talking over the hosts, which really gets Bobby and Giada's attention, and not in a good way.

Damiano starts as usual by reminding everyone he's from Italy. Kevin wants to know where the sheet pan is and Damiano's response is that he doesn't have it with him and he just starts going on unintelligibly about his dish. Even Giada has to admit he doesn't seem to have understood the challenge. Kevin: "Still not sure what Damiano did, but it was fun." Tregaye: "That was like a nightmare." And he's still skating on the Italian thing.

Joy is not only charming and a great cook, but has also figured out how this is working. After mentioning her five kids she beats the ET hosts at their own game by engaging them before they get a chance to cut in, asking if they have kids of their own. I don't think Joy has made a less than stellar move since this show started, and she doesn't make one now. Nancy tries to sabotage her a bit by suggesting her dish is actually a pan within a pan (Joy has her steaks and veggies wrapped in foil) but it doesn't work, as Joy points out the benefit: "No cleanup." Giada nods in agreement. Stick to pointless celebrities, Nancy.

Jernard seems to be operating with a lot less energy than usual but doesn't have any trouble describing his dish. He stumbles a bit when asked what rainbow chard is, but seems to have winged his way through it.

Monterey starts off great, considering her ingredient was cauliflower stalks, and her dish is gorgeous. Jernard seems impressed with how calm and focused she is. She mentions her background as a model for knowing what's fashionable. "You eat with your eyes. You want to have a beautiful gown for the Oscars, you want to have a beautiful plate in front of you." Kevin loves the reference. Even Giada and Bobby are impressed with how well she's doing. It was pretty much perfect, and I think Monterey was finally able to show us her best.

Yaku seems to have his spiel down pat, but the hosts initially seem bored by his low-key energy. He kind of stumbles when he describes his broccoli stems as, "Something you would usually throw in the garbage." It's kind of a callback to when Melissa was repeatedly admonished not to use negative words when talking about food. However, Bobby loves his idea of slicing the stems and frying them up like chips and the hosts warm to the idea and by the end, it's all good.

The contestants are brought before the judges and Giada tells them one team stood out. My pick: Team Frugal Kitchen. The judges agree. However, they don't get much chance to enjoy their accomplishment, because the next challenge starts NOW. However, as the winning team, Monterey, Jernard and Yaku are now team captains and Jernard gets to pick first. He promptly picks Joy. Yeah, that was a no-brainer. Yaku picks Tregaye again. Are they dating or something? This has not been a successful pairing. Monterey picks Erin without hesitation.

Jernard then selects Rob. That trio is already my pick to win the rest of this episode. Yaku now has his choice of Ana and Damiano, and he goes with the Italian guy. Poor Ana is the last one left, but the sting is probably assuaged by Monterey's happy reaction: "Yes, I get Ana." Rob makes a snotty remark about her being the last one picked, and I'm starting to cool on him. He might be entertaining, but I'm starting to think that under that fun, over-sized teddy bear exterior is someone who really isn't a very nice guy.

The teams get their assignment: They're headed to the historic Park Plaza Hotel, where they will be creating upscale room service meals for VIP guests. Bobby tells them to think of themselves, "As private, on-call chefs for very particular clients. You have to be prepared for anything." The team captains are then handed notecards with their particular assignments. Jernard reveals he has an even bigger advantage in this, besides his kickass team - he's worked in room service before. Team Monterey draws "Spa Escape" and Team Yaku gets "Honeymooner's Holiday", and they all seem happy with their themes. Team Jernard draws..."Afternoon Tea". Awkwaaaaard. Monterey thinks the idea of Rob at an Afternoon Tea is hilarious. Aaaaand they're off to plan their menus!

Team Honeymooner's Holiday: Bacon Wrapped Shrimp with Potato Salad (Tregaye: "I'm going to bind them (the shrimp) together to show their bond.") Yaku is going to do a duo of heart-shaped Filet Mignon and Lobster. I'll be right over here eagerly awaiting dinner. Damiano will do Vanilla Gelato with Puff Pastry Hearts. It all actually sounds really good. I do kind of feel like they got far and away the easiest challenge.

Over at Team Spa Escape, they decide that Ana will prepare Salmon with Guava Sauce and Erin will do a White Chocolate Mint Mousse Trifle. Yes please. Monterey is going to do Crab and Lobster with Chamomile Chives and Sesame Crisp. But then she notices they're lacking vegetables, so she changes to Crab and Lobster in Japanese Dashi.

At Team Afternoon Tea Joy promptly announces she's doing a cake (Grilled Vanilla Bean Cake with Strawberries and Whipped Cream). Jernard talks about his cream cheese dates in a Fried Orange Liqueur Bacon Rangoon (a rangoon is a deep-fried stuffed dumpling). Rob wants to come up with a "nacho crunch" or something and while Jernard rolls with it, Joy observes that the guys don't seem familiar with the kind of foods served at tea. Rob points out that he's a happy hour guy, not a tea guy. Joy guides him into the idea of a Lobster Sandwich on Pumpernickel. I was beginning to wonder if there were going to be any tea sandwiches at this afternoon tea.

The chefs are bustling in the Park Plaza's kitchens when the phone rings. Joy answers it and some guy with a really phony sounding English accent tells her he wants to make changes to the Afternoon Tea menu. I kind of wish they would just let them cook and be judged by the food and concept. While Joy is trying to find something to write with and on, the caller snottily asks, "Are you there...(and at this point the caller is revealed to be actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson)'s not going to be afternoon forever." Shut the fuck up.

When we come back from commercial, Ferguson is still at it, telling Joy he doesn't want anything fried (too heavy for afternoon tea, which I don't really disagree with), mocking their choice of pumpernickel (at this point we cut to Bobby and Giada laughing as if they're in the presence of comic genius, although if I hadn't committed to recapping the show I would have stopped watching at this point, because he is beyond annoying). So, pumpernickel's out. And while he's okay with the vanilla pound cake, he wants another flavored cake to go with it. Joy handles the whole thing cheerfully and like a pro. When Ferguson finally hangs up the phone, he and the judges laugh uproariously, as if we've just witnessed the comic genius of say, someone on the level of Robin Williams. We learn that Ferguson's bona fides is that he is starring in a one-man show about an upscale New York restaurant, making him fully qualified to possibly derail the career paths of a trio of actual, real-life chefs, at least according to Food Network.

In the kitchen, the chefs are dealing with it. Joy divides her cake batter and will add lemon to one of them. Unfortunately, this doesn't give her enough batter for the pans she was going to use, so she has to resort to silicone mini cake pans, which she doesn't think will work as well. Since Jernard can't deep-fry his rangoon he's going to bake them. Rob decides to go with a lettuce wrap for the lobster sandwiches. He doesn't want to deal with the possibility that the guest is gluten-free. Rob: "It's probably some actor or actress that's watching its figure." Good call, Rob.

Ferguson is then turned loose on the spa menu. He seems delighted at being able to "cause some chaos here". I just want to watch these people cook. Erin gets the call and Ferguson turns on a hilarious surfer/stoner dude voice. Well, hilarious to Bobby and Giada anyway. Again, I just find it annoying. Surfer/stoner Jesse informs Erin that he's allergic to shellfish, soooooo...and the guava sauce also has to go - he doesn't want tropical flavors.

More shots of Giada and Bobby cracking up. At this point I don't know what's more annoying - Ferguson or the judges. Call it a tie.

Erin is also told chocolate is out. Like Joy, she's cheerful and accommodating, which is more than this segment deserves. After she hangs up, she roars, "FOR REAL?" Luckily for Erin, she finds some almond paste that she thinks will work in her trifle. I hope she's right. Ana goes with figs for her salmon dish. Monterey goes with sea bass, which she's used more than once during the show, including in the live remote challenge and I wonder if she'll get dinged for that, especially since there's already a fish dish. It does turn out beautifully. The almond paste wasn't sufficient to stabilize Erin's mousse and it's too runny, and just to add insult to injury her meringue is breaking and she doesn't have time to fix it.

And now we're treated to Joy's first ever misstep - the texture of her cakes is wrong, the whipped cream on them is melting and her plate is a mess. The chefs are counting down and I'm wondering where the twist is for Team Honeymoon.

Now Team Spa gets to meet their VIP guest/tormentor. Monterey is actually stoked to meet him. She presents her dish and while it's so pretty, she's doing her table-side garnishing without chatting up the diners and when Bobby asks her what's spa-like about her dish, her response is, "'ll find out." And she was doing so well tonight. Bobby and Giada think the dish is too spicy, but Jesse, who has apparently decided to be a human being, appreciates the bold flavors. Bobby and Giada do comment on how stunning the dish is. Ana's presentation is a bit awkward - she suggests that she has a resemblance to Sofia Vergara, and she has Monterey toasting some nuts for her dish and keeps referring to her as "nut girl". But her food is delicious and Bobby loves how she replaced the guava with fig.

Erin comes in and chats them up. She's not confident about her dish, but she seems to have learned from a couple weeks ago not to just walk in and admit defeat. She launches into a story about going to spas with her mom and how they would get citrus sugar scrubs while she torches her meringue, so she made sure to include citrus in her dessert. Unfortunately, there's issues with the texture of the dish - Giada thinks she should have used more almond paste. But Erin is also considered to have done the best job tableside. However, Bobby points out that as a team, they had one great presentation and one great dish, giving them a mere 33% success rate.

Next up is Team Afternoon Tea. Joy gasps when she sees Jesse, but quickly recovers, in fact she's so charming he apologizes for the phone call. Jernard goes to work on the sauce for his rangoons. He's doing great until Bobby asks him what's in the sauce and he blanks. By the time the dishes are in front of the judges he's finally able to tell them how he finished the sauce. He berates himself for not telling any kind of story, despite the fact that he does it all the time. But it's about to get worse. The judges don't think the flavors work, plus there's not enough filling. Giada describes the dish as "lacking finesse" and Jesse describes it as "down home and dirty". Certainly not the fine dining experience the contestants were assigned. Bobby and Giada also note that Jernard is usually "more personal" and that they missed that.

Rob describes his lettuce wrapped sandwiches as "a healthy version of a lobster roll". Apparently this dish isn't something he'd make or eat on his own, so it's hard for him sell it and his lack of enthusiasm shows. To make matters worse, he's trying to roll the "sandwiches" and the lettuce starts to tear, so he starts to move some of the filling to the side. Bobby stops him with, "Open face is fine with me," which Rob probably should have thought of himself. The dish is a flop with the judges. Jesse wonders why he didn't just use a different type of bread, although I thought the lettuce idea was a good call. The judges also note that Rob just didn't seem proud of his dish.

Luckily for Joy, the dish she plated in the kitchen isn't the one she's serving. She chats with the judges as she talks about her restaurant and bakery while she assembles the plates, but Jesse is making her nervous and she can't get her torch to fire up. Rob takes it from her and gets it lit. Joy: "I'm as nervous as a long-tailed cat on a porch full of rocking chairs." She tells a charming story about how making this dish for her daughter's birthday launched her culinary career, but gets distracted from finishing her plating. Finally Rob finishes the last dish and serves the judges. She kind of recovers when she wraps her story with, "I guess you can say that my journey to get here before you today was not a piece of cake, but it did start with one." Giada: "AWWWW." The judges like the dish, but Bobby notes that her story went on too long. Giada agrees that Joy seemed nervous in a way they hadn't seen before. Bobby: "This team was definitely struggling." Giada: "Something went south." Yeah, like a sabotage. And speaking of sabotages, where's the one for the remaining team? Funny you should ask - there's one more team left, and the judges thank Jesse for coming.

We're back with Team Honeymoon in the kitchen, where they're prepping their meal. Then we go back to the dining room where we meet our next guest judge, internet foodie star and cookbook author Hannah Hart (My Drunk Kitchen). She's asked to play a fickle hotel guest. Hannah cheerfully explains that she has a lot of experience being both fickle and drunk. Giada promptly goes way off script: "So has Bobby!" Would this be the same Bobby recently divorced by his wife for cheating on her? I'm surprised Giada went there, considering her name has been known to pop up in some of the Flay cheating rumors.

Turns out Team Honeymoon is going to get their sabotage, it's just that everything is being shown out of order. Not sure why they didn't have Ferguson do all three and just have Hannah on another episode, but here we go. Tregaye takes the call and is not happy about being told there are changes. Hannah tells her no red meat. There goes the heart-shaped filet mignon. She loves the dessert...but the gelato has to be dairy free. As for the bacon wrapped shrimp, the honeymoon will be in Mexico, so could Tregaye just make sure it tastes like Mexican food? After hanging up (Tregaye: "Okay, no problem." Hannah: "Gracias.") Tregaye announces the changes. Yaku flies into action, but Damiano doesn't know what to do - everything he makes has dairy. "What am I going to do, throw everything into the trash? I'm screwed."

When we come back from commercial break, Damiano is still melting down. He finally decides to go with a sorbet. Yaku has switched out his steak for chicken, but he still has to start his lobster and time is dwindling. For the Mexican thing, Tregaye is switching from rosemary to cilantro in her potato salad. Damiano is still stuck in Italy, where people just don't make these kind of changes. He wants to know who does. He's about to find out.

The team is brought in to meet their VIP guest/tormentor and for the first time since we've met him, a still pissed off Damiano doesn't turn on the Italian charm. He does know who Hannah is. "She was probably drunk when she made that request."

Tregaye has worked in upscale hotels with celebrity clients, so she's not nervous. She's using something to create fog inside the clear lids over her dish, and as she does she calmly and sweetly talks about how she's known her husband since 9th grade and explains how she knows all about the ups and downs of relationships. As the covered, cloudy plates are set in front of the judges, she tells them, "In your relationship, sometimes it will get cloudy. When the smoke clears (and here the judges lift the lids and the smoke does clear) there's always something beautiful at the end." It's a beautiful, flawless presentation, even the timing of the story is perfect. The judges love it and they love the dish. Bobby comments on how relaxed and calm Tregaye was. Maybe an upscale hotel with celebrity guests is Tregaye's calling, rather than having to play to a camera, because it was really impressive.

Yaku is comparing the preparation of his sauce to love, but he sounds a bit shaky to me. I don't envy him having to follow Tregaye's presentation. But he's sweating and something just feels off. He thinks he's nailing it, but neither Tregaye nor the judges are impressed. It's about to get worse - the lobster isn't completely cooked, in fact Bobby describes his as, "Totally raw." It's a shame too, because the dish looks delicious. Plus, what a waste of lobster.

Finally we have Damiano, who is asked by Bobby if his dish (which is very pretty, with its red sorbet and chocolate heart cookie) makes him think of his love life. Damiano: "This makes me think of my family." Yaku is blown away - and not in a good way - by this answer. The judges love the food, but Hannah points out that as important as familial love is, "Maybe he doesn't have enough romantic love in his life. Because this is a honeymooner's holiday plate." It almost seems like for the second challenge in a row, Damiano either didn't get the concept, or just didn't care.

The judges bid farewell to Hannah, who I would love to see again on Food Network. Bobby: "Next time let's get drunk." Giada cracks up. Hannah: "That sounds great!"

Now it's time for judging. Bobby notes that the room service challenge got the best of most of the contestants, so much so that they've decided not to name a winning team, which would normally make all team members safe. The contestants are shocked.

IMO the only person who nailed both presentation and food was Tregaye. To me, she's the only one who is really safe. Plus, not a single "whimsical" out of her tonight. I would throw in Ana and Erin as they nailed food and presentation, respectively.

The judges name their top/safe three as Tregaye, Damiano and Ana.

My bottom three: Yaku, Jernard and Rob. Seems pretty obvious. The judges agree as Giada tells Erin, Joy and Monterey that they're also safe, and the top six head off to the safety of the waiting room.

Bobby tells Yaku he has great presence but they still don't feel like they know him. Plus, you know, the raw lobster. Giada reiterates that Jernard's dish lacked elegance and finesse and also told him he didn't bring his usual vibrant personality. Rob flat-out admits to his train-wreck. Bobby tells him his lobster was cooked perfectly and wondered why he just didn't use a different kind of bread. "Just not your best day." Rob doesn't argue with him.

My choice for elimination: Yaku. Rob has too big of a personality to not at least be able to fake enthusiasm for his dish, even if he didn't feel it. But I think he's too much of an obvious front-runner to get dumped in only his first appearance in the bottom three. It's a real toss-up between Yaku and Jernard, but at least Jernard's dish was cooked. Raw lobster just isn't something you skate on.

Giada points out that one of the contestants has to be ready to do their own show in seven weeks, and they have to keep the people they think have the most potential. However, even though she's done it countless times before, Giada doesn't want to say the name. She turns to Bobby and murmurs, "You do it. I can't do it." Bobby finally does it: "Yaku." Giada tells him she's sorry. They seem to love him as a person and a cook. They don't mention the raw lobster.

Unlike some of his predecessors, Yaku is gracious in defeat. "I went from hustling chicken dinners to cooking on Food Network. If that don't tell you anything is possible, then I don't know what does. I'm just glad my son has a father to look up to and be proud of." I can see why it was so hard for Giada to dismiss him. The sad thing is that his dish looked awesome. If the lobster had been cooked, I'm pretty sure it would have been Jernard's swan song. Dude dodged a huge bullet this week.

In addition, Star Redemption, which I have zero interest in, has started up. I just don't care for the concept and don't think it's fair to the surviving contestants. According to Food Network Gossip, Yaku joined previous eliminations Havird and Aaron (apparently Melissa and Martita aren't participating) and again, Havird was the first elimination. That has to suck for him. He came on the show because he thought he had a future on Food Network, only to be the first elimination twice. I feel for the guy. Wish it had been Aaron, who I have no desire to see back unless it's to see him promptly eliminated again.

And then there were eight...

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Screening: To Kill a Mockingbird at the Million Dollar Theater

As part of this year's Last Remaining Seats program, The Los Angeles Conservancy presented the classic To Kill a Mockingbird at the historic Million Dollar Theater last Wednesday.

To Kill a Mockingbird  (Universal-International Pictures, 1961)
Starring Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Philip Alford, Brock Peters, Collin Wilcox, James Anderson, Frank Overton, Estelle Evans, William Windom, Alice Ghostley and Robert Duvall
Directed by Robert Mulligan
Screenplay by Horton Foote, based on the novel by Harper Lee
Winner of the Academy Award for Best Actor (Peck), Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Set Decoration/Art Direction (Black & White)
Also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (Badham), Best Cinematography (Black & White) and Best Music Score

Jean Louise Finch (Badham) - a young tomboy better known by her nickname of Scout - looks back on a formative period of her childhood in the Depression-era South in this film adaptation of Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

Scout and her older brother Jem (Alford) live with their widowed father, lawyer Atticus Finch (Peck) in a small Alabama town. Scout experiences a number of normal childhood bumps in the road - first day of school, conflicts with other kids - until Atticus is asked to defend Tom Robinson (Peters), a black man accused of beating and raping Mayella Ewell (Wilcox), a local white girl. As the case progresses, Atticus is increasingly unable to shield his children from the cold realities of prejudice and poverty.

The film is pretty much flawless, but it's in the court scenes where it really shines. Director Mulligan takes his time presenting testimony from both Robinson and his accusers. Atticus's summation alone runs almost ten minutes. But predictably, the all white, all male jury (hardly a jury of Tom Robinson's peers) convicts him despite the overwhelming evidence produced by Atticus that Mayella's abuse most likely came from her alcoholic father (Anderson).

Another source of interest in Scout and Jem's otherwise idyllic world are their reclusive neighbors, the Radley's. They develop a bit of an obsession with Boo Radley (Duvall), the family's adult son who is kept locked up in the house due to having once attacked his mother with scissors. They will finally meet Boo (who the unfailingly decent Atticus introduces as Mr. Arthur Radley) when he comes to their aid when they're menaced by an angry and intoxicated Bob Ewell, still stinging from being made to look bad by Atticus during the trial.

Some To Kill a Mockingbird  facts and trivia:
  • Other actors considered for Atticus Finch: Rock Hudson, Spencer Tracy and James Stewart.
  • The narration by the adult Scout was provided by legendary (and uncredited) actress Kim Stanley.
  • Boo Radley was Robert Duvall's film debut. He had no dialogue.
  • Despite their stunning debut performances, neither Mary Badham nor Phillip Alford pursued acting careers into adulthood. Badham became a wife and mother, while Alford became a successful businessman.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird  was largely drawn from Lee's childhood. She based the character of Atticus Finch on her father, Amasa Lee, who was a widower with children and also a lawyer who was always ready to offer legal defense to blacks who he felt had been unfairly accused. Harper Lee was so moved and impressed by Peck's performance that she gave him her father's watch. It did not appear in the film, but Peck did wear it to the Academy Awards ceremony.
  • For his portrayal of Atticus Finch, Peck received his fifth Best Actor nomination and his first win.
  • The film was both a critical and financial success. It earned back ten times its cost at the box office.
  • Of all the films he made in a career that spanned fifty years, Peck identified To Kill a Mockingbird  as his favorite.
  • The film could not be shot on location in Lee's small Alabama hometown because by the early 1960's it had become quite modernized. The entire town seen in the film was built on the Universal backlot.
  • The character of Scout and Jem's precocious friend Dill was based on Lee's childhood friend, author Truman Capote.
  • The film has an impressive 91% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
  • Brock Peters gave the eulogy at Peck's funeral. 

The view from my nosebleed seat.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Review: 42nd Street at the Pantages

I've always been a fan of the film version of 42nd Street, despite its somewhat hokey (I consider it sweet) take on the battle to make it in the world of theatre, and even despite Ruby Keeler's painfully bad (but relentlessly earnest) performance. But I had never seen it onstage and when I found out those dancing feet were coming to the Pantages, I couldn't miss it. And I was not disappointed.

42nd Street  has got to be one of the best musicals ever. It's fun and energetic and loaded with great songs, including "You're Getting To Be a Habit With Me", "I Only Have Eyes For You", "We're in the Money", "Lullaby of Broadway", "Shuffle Off To Buffalo" and of course "42nd Street". Set during the Great Depression, the show is about a group of youthful hoofers hoping to make it into the cast of "Pretty Lady", the newest Broadway musical directed by the legendary Julian Marsh. Most of them would be happy just to be in the chorus, but one of them - Peggy Sawyer - will find herself on the fast track to stardom when she's tapped to fill in for the show's injured star.

The show is near flawless. No expense appears to have been spared. The acting pops, the costumes are just stunning, and the choreography and dancing were amazing. It was boggling to me - a definite non-dancer - to see not only how well they danced, but how they did so in perfect unison. The only thing I thought was odd was that in this production (as opposed to the film) they made Peggy a sort of lovable klutz who kept screwing up "Pretty Lady" dance rehearsals. This made it kind of weird that everyone would think of her as the perfect replacement for an experienced star, or anyone else for that matter. But I loved the show so much I was willing to overlook that.

According to their Playbill bios, several members of the cast are making their national tour debuts, including Caitlin Ehlinger, who plays Peggy Sawyer. You can see some videos and pictures from the show on her website. She's a bit of a real-life Peggy, minus the injured star.

The only thing that detracted from the experience was how many people were seated after - well after, in some cases - the show had started. I was in an aisle seat and had to get up twice during the first few scenes to let latecomers in. I had a trio of theatre wonks in the seats behind me who were discussing this during intermission. One of them considered it "disrespectful to the theatre" and I agree. I'm one of the least punctual people you'll ever meet and I made it to the Pantages with plenty of time to spare. In addition, despite an announcement before the show began, someone's cell phone went off during some dialogue. It rang three times before the guilty party turned it off and it was distracting. Again, disrespectful. I put mine on airplane mode just to be safe. It's not rocket science, people.

Nontheless, the show itself is great and I can't recommend it enough. 42nd Street  is at the Pantages through June 19.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Food Network Star - Show Promos (Week 3)

This week's episode opens with Monterey talking about being in the bottom four last week: "It was like the floor dropped out beneath me." No kidding, I thought the poor girl was going to pass out before they told her she was safe.

The contestants are greeted by Bobby, Giada and Maile Carpenter, who believe it or not, is not a one-time B-list actress whose career has seen better days. She is, in fact, the Editor-in-Chief of Food Network Magazine and therefore totally qualified to judge this bunch.

Bobby brings up one of the magazine's most popular feature: Name This Dish, in which readers are challenged to come up with the most creative name for a photo of a dish. The contestants are being challenged to reverse the process - they will be given some of the names readers came up with and have to create a dish based on that. Martita is not keen on the creative naming of dishes - if it's chorizo and eggs, she calls it chorizo and eggs, "...not something weird." I don't think Martita understands the feature.

Giada continues the assignment: after creating the dish, the contestants will work with a professional photographer to take a magazine-worthy picture of their creation. And in an additional twist they're going to see if Maile can match each dish to the title assigned. In other words, your dish better match the description, or you're toast. Yaku notes that Maile sees thousands of pictures of beautiful food every day and that they really have their work cut out for them. Maile, who needs to work on her posture, waves an awkward goodbye to the chefs and wishes them luck.

Here are the assignments, supposedly picked at random:

"Batter Up"/Joy (Joy's mind goes straight to deep-frying)
"Crab Appeal"/Yaku
"Mount Everzest"/Tregaye
"Better Off Bread"/Monterey
"Meat Me Halfway"/Martita
"For Heaven's Flake"/Erin ("Sounds like a beautiful pastry dish. I know exactly what I'm going to do." After her crash and burn last week, I hope so.)
"Cold Hearted Cake"/Rob (Rob is not thrilled. "I'm not a baker.")
"Hot or Not"/Damiano
"Sea and Be Seen"/Jernard
"Carved For Attention"/Ana

They have thirty minutes (Martita: "Oh, dios mio.") And they're off.

Martita is confident she can whip up a good dish, but not so confident Maile will be able to ID it. Yaku is going for a crab salad with a Caribbean flair and asks Erin what she's making. "For heaven's flakes, I'm making a sugar buttered pinwheel. I can make this dough look like a star, and a star is in the heavens." I love her and this sounds like an amazing take on the challenge. She then cutely asks Damiano if he's baking, because for all his talk about being an Italian pastry chef, I don't think we've seen him bake yet. He's making a parfait that is going to involve liquid nitrogen. Smokin'.

Joy is making chicken and waffles with a praline sauce, one of the most popular dishes at her restaurant. Jernard takes his assignment as wanting to stand out, so he's serving his scallops dish in a martini glass, which I think Joy did last week. Tregaye is making a lobster bread pudding, but with the photography angle in mind is making them in the form of mini-Bundt cakes. "What's that gonna look like? A mountain!"

Rob admits that this is not his lucky day because again, he doesn't bake. It's the first time we've seen him less than brimming with confidence. He decides to go with pancakes in the shape of a heart, although what we seem him pouring into the skillet doesn't really look heart-shaped. More creative editing? Maybe not, on seeing the completed pancake. Tregaye thinks it's more United States of America-shaped than heart-shaped, and I have to agree with her.

Ana thinks her theme, a play on "Starved for Attention", sounds more like an episode of Real Housewives  than Food Network. But since TV gets people's attention, she goes with a Cuban sandwich with squares cut out of the middle of the bread to resemble a TV screen. Unfortunately her sandwiches don't seem to be coming together, but we've seen this kind of misdirection where Ana in the kitchen is concerned, so I'll wait to see the final product.

Monterey is doing grilled cheese sandwiches will five-minute eggs. Her photography concept is that the runny yolk will look like blood running out. She admits this is a little morbid. Unfortunately her eggs are fighting her and her plates are messy as hell. She hopes that the taste will override the appearance.

The photographer comes in and starts shooting away. We aren't introduced to him; maybe his career hasn't tanked enough yet to make him show-worthy on Food Network.

Maile is back and Giada has a bombshell for the chefs: Maile has already reviewed their pictures and if she couldn't ID the theme from the photo, the judges won't be tasting that dish. I wait for Monterey to faint dead away.

Up first, Tregaye. Per Maile, "So this was a no-brainer for me. I knew right away this was Mount Everzest." Tregaye is thrilled. The judges love the taste as well. My take: As a Bundt pan fan, I think of a lot of shapes when it comes to Bundt cakes: cathedralsswirls, beehives...but I don't look at a Bundt cake and think huge mountain with an epic cliffside. And I'm not sure where the lobster came in. This should have been a pure fruit zest cake. The theme didn't say anything about seafood or the ocean.

Erin is up next. Maile: "I got this one in two seconds." She also likes how Erin incorporated her theme into every aspect of the dish and the judges love her pastry. My take: Best execution of theme. Girl's back on her game.

Jernard's dish is up next and we have our first miss, as Maile apologetically admits she couldn't guess the theme. She agrees that it's a beautiful shot that she would run in the magazine, but she didn't put it together with "Sea and Be Seen". Jernard is extremely disappointed that the editor-in-chief of FNM won't be tasting his dish. My take: Jernard got hosed. I'm surprised Maile couldn't figure this out. The elegance of the martini glass and of the dish as a whole screams "beautiful people who go out to be seen" to me. And there's a piece of seafood front and center, so again I don't see what the problem was identifying this one.

Ana: Maile was able to match it up after studying it a bit and realizing she was looking at a TV. It's not a really attractive image or dish and Maile even says it's not something they would run, "But I love your thought process." Giada also loves the idea but says the sandwich was hard to eat. "It needed something to bind it." My take: It looks awful and I wouldn't want to have to taste it. Ana's lucky that Maile figured out the TV angle, because all I saw was an unappealing mess.

Martita: We see a shot of the dish and it's basically beef with peppers, and there's more peppers than beef. Yaku: "Am I blind? I cannot see Meat Me Halfway in this at all." Maile had the same problem. "Nothing about it said 'half' to me." My take: Worst execution of theme. It was like she didn't even try. How she didn't even figure out to plate half meat/half veggies is boggling to me. This was probably the easiest theme and she completely dropped the ball.

Damiano: In the photo his dish looks like a smoking mess. I don't know what the hell it is. Neither does Maile, although she was still able to ID it. "I wasn't sure if it was hot smoke or cold smoke, and I think that's genius." Damiano is so happy with this he repeats it. "I'm a genius! Hot skillet and a cold dessert. Amazing!" It looks much better in person than in the photo and makes more sense when he explains it. The judges love it. My take: I think Damiano is lucky he made it to tasting so his dish could be better seen and understood, because again, that picture was a disaster.

Joy says she'll be crushed if Maile doesn't get it and the judges don't taste her dish. Luckily, Maile got it. Bobby: "I am a total sucker for this dish. I love that juxtaposition of the heat and the sweet. I'm coming to your restaurant just to eat this." Joy signals for a touchdown. My take: Now this I want to taste. Good execution and the food looked and sounded amazing.

Monterey: I hate to say it, but her dish looks like it was dropped and replated. Monterey: "Last week I had a 50/50 chance of going home. I don't think I can take it if the judges don't taste it." Nobody can figure out what it is, Maile included. My take: I think she had a good idea to execute the theme, unfortunately she didn't actually execute it.

Rob's pancakes still don't look like hearts, but thanks to "the red blob" (berries) in the middle of the cake, Maile figured it out. Rob really dodged a bullet there. He returns to form with, "It may not be a pretty heart, but she (Maile) won mine." Giada: "I would have loved to have had a little more flavor in it. But, it's cute. My seven year old daughter would love this." Rob: "Lunch lady. I know how to feed kids." My take: More like dodged a cannonball.

Yaku: His dish doesn't look terribly like crab salad in the photo IMO, but it did to Maile. The dish includes a fried orange peel for contrast and the judges are already biting into them when Yaku points out, "It's not edible, it's more for a spoon." The judges already have forks. This demolishes his momentum. Bobby: "Don't put things that you can't eat in the plate. I would never think this was a spoon." However, Bobby really likes the flavor and seasoning of the crab salad and tells Yaku he has "a really good palate". Giada agrees and Yaku is salvaged. My take: I think he had one of the easiest themes, so crab salad was kind of a no-brainer.

The judges name a winner for the combination of interpretation and best dish. I'm torn between Erin, because I think she nailed the concept far and away better than anyone else, and Joy because tastewise, her dish seemed to be the big hit. The judges give it to Tregaye and she's just as shocked as I am. The judges were impressed that she was able to make a cake in thirty minutes (true, that's not easy to do) and felt she nailed the interpretation. I think her dish was good, but not great and ranking them I would have put her in fourth place at the most. I'm dumbfounded they thought hers was the best. But since it's not my call, Tregaye will have an advantage in the next challenge. In response, Tregaye uses the word whimsical to describe herself yet again. If you have to keep telling  people you're whimiscal...

For the next challenge, the contestants are assembled on a residential street so Main Street America that Rob describes it as looking like "the set of Leave It To Beaver". I'm not sure it isn't  a backlot. Giada tells them that Food Net is always creating new shows and pitches Family Road Trip, a show that each week creates dishes inspired by various family destinations. This is music to Joy's ears - she and her husband have five kids. Jernard has nine of the little buggers, so he should be all over this. Per Giada, the contestants are the hosts of this new show. They will work in pairs and will each be assigned a Volkswagen Passat (product placement alert!). In the trunk of each car are clothes and props that hint to the destination and ingredients to be incorporated into a family meal. They will then shoot promos for their episodes of Family Road Trip.

We now find out the advantage Tregaye earned earlier: she gets to choose her co-host. She picks Yaku. I guess she enjoyed being paired off with him last week, but they didn't exactly light the screen on fire. I would have gone with Joy or Rob, since they've been so consistently strong. Oh, and part two of the advantage? Tregaye gets to pair up the other contestants. Sabotage City, anyone? She goes with Erin/Damiano, Rob/Monterey, and "the two Latinas" as Tregaye describes them, Martita/Ana. That leaves Joy/Jernard as the final pair, and the contestants are turned loose on their product placement vehicles to find out their destinations and ingredients.

Rob/Monterey: Beach vacation. Rob doesn't seem to think they're well-matched until they get in front of the camera. Then they do their spot and they absolutely shine together.

Tregay/Yaku: State Fair. Tregaye: "I'm the queen of fun. When you think of whimsical and you think of fun, you think of the fair." I don't really think of fairs as whimsical (that word again), more like a throwback to a simpler time, but whatever. It is a family destination. The good news is that Yaku has apparently learned to speak on camera. The bad news is Tregaye is over-the-top enthusiastic, as she was in her initial spot in the first week. Yaku tries to explain this to her tactfully ("It's like a little tiny person driving a big, gigantic machine.") Tregaye doesn't seem to agree: "I would want to come with me to the fair."

Joy/Jernard: Lake House Escape. Joy is liking her chemistry with Jernard, and points out that they both cook Southern and have fourteen kids between them. Jernard, based on previous advice, doesn't want to just be the big loud guy. They do have great chemistry and Jernard doesn't yell in the promo.

Martita/Ana: Grandma's House. Martita: "I'm worried about working with Ana. Ana doesn't do very well in front of the camera." Ana: "I've always thought that Martita is overly rehearsed. I think it's important that our promo sounds like a very natural conversation." They're not agreeing on what to do and Martita plays the "I've done this before, I know what they're looking for," card. "Just let me take the lead on this one." And she does, much to Ana's displeasure and I don't blame Ana - you're partners, share the dialogue. Ana finally just interrupts Martita so she can be part of the promo too.

Erin/Damiano: Camping. Neither strike me as the camping type. For some reason Damiano wants to make ricotta gnocchi for their first course and Erin asks the obvious question: "How does gnocchi tie into camping? How are you going to make gnocchi while you're camping?" They're good on camera together, but Erin is concerned that they're going to get dinged for not driving home the camping theme.

The contestants are then off to the kitchen to create their meals, which have to include the ingredients found in the product placement cars.

Rob/Monterey: (Beach) Potato chips and Salt Water Taffy. Monterey apparently isn't much of a baker, but she figures she can "cobble together some functioning recipe". Since she can't just put the taffy in the ice cream, she hits them with liquid nitrogen, then smashes them and seems happy with the result. Now if only her cookies turn out...

Joy/Jernard: (Lake House) Crawfish and White Bread. Since both are Southern cooks, a Low Country Boil (Shellfish in a Pot of Vegetables and Sausage) is a no-brainer. They're also making Garlic Grilled Cheese Sandwiches. Jernard tells Tregaye she did him a big favor pairing him up with Joy.

Tregaye/Yaku: (State Fair) Cheese Curds and Corn on the Cob. Yaku is whipping up Chicken Fried Steak because, "What's county fair more than something that's deep fried?" He's making a bechamel sauce with the cheese curds to go with Tregaye's Crab Corn Muffins.

Martita/Ana: (Grandma's House) Canned Chicken Noodle Soup and Dried Prunes. Martita is using the soup to make Sopes (soft shell tortillas) and Frijoles. Ana is using the prunes for Chicken Marbella. Ana: "Grandma's gonna love it. One pot big family meal." Ana is concerned that Martita makes pretty much the same dish every time. "It's either a taco, or a tostada. I want to show the judges different things." She also whips up a combination mojito/margarita that Martita keeps interfering with. They aren't working well together and if Martita is this week's elimination, I'm okay with that.

Erin/Damiano: (Camping) Marshmallows and Trail Mix. Damiano is bringing his Italian heritage, but I'm not sure how that's going to represent camping. Erin is making a S'mores Junkyard Blondie. Damiano immediately starts interfering with it, feeling her dish needs more "finesse". Damiano: "Erin is a baker. I'm a pastry chef. In order to plate properly we're going to need to add some element to this dish, otherwise it doesn't look like a nice composition." That really rubbed me the wrong way. Someone remind him that we're talking camping, not fine dining. Erin isn't thrilled either.

Monterey's cookies didn't turn out, so she just crumbles chips on top of the ice cream to give the crunch of the cookies. Ana is happy with her dishes, but feels like having Martita trying to take over cost her time. She runs out of time before she can put her sauce on her plates.

It's time to be judged on both their promos and meals with guest judge actress Ali Larter, who is introduced as, "An actress, a cookbook author, and a mom." Don't even get me started.

Joy/Jernard: They work really well together and mention all their kids. Jernard isn't bellowing and Monterey wants to know, "Where was this Jernard when we were doing our promo at Grand Central?" Martita: "These two are adorable together. This is the perfect family show." They wrap their promo with Jernard: "Let's get going!" Joy: "Yeah, before the kids have time to say, are we there yet?" Bobby: "I thought you guys were really good. I mean it just seemed so natural" Joy: "Jernard and I could have a show called Fourteen Kids and Not Counting." Hot damn she's a natural. Their Low Country Boil is a big hit with the judges. Ali likes the idea of grilled cheese sammies for the kids, because it's something they can just grab and go. Jernard: "Kids running around. That's right up my alley."

Erin/Damiano: Ali is charmed by Damiano's accent, of course, but despite his explanation that he made gnocchi when camping with his dad, nobody sees the connection. Jernard: "Who goes camping and makes pasta?" Otherwise the promo goes well. They work well together, at least on camera. The judges aren't buying the gnocchi as camping fare. Erin: "Oh, I saw this storm coming." Even Giada, who always seems overly taken with Italian contestants, tells him he didn't sell it, although she does like the dish. As for the dessert - the presentation of which Damiano insisted on fancying up - it's deemed by Bobby as too elaborate for a camping trip, but other than that he really likes it. Giada: "It's beyond good." Bobby: The cookie had wonderful flavor to it and it's incredibly inventive." Erin takes the high road by saying that she and Damiano could make, "Beautiful dessert babies."

Tregaye/Yaku: At first it seems like the 6'9" Yaku is doing the spot himself until the diminutive Tregaye jumps out from behind him. Unfortunately, she's firmly back in the schticky, over the top act again. Monterey: "That little entrance was genius...but it starts going downhill rapidly." Tregaye won't stop bouncing around like a little kid and even refers to herself in the third person ("Tregaye loves the state fair!") The judges are not impressed. Bobby tells her she was distracting. Their dish looks great, but not particularly state fair-ish. Like the previous dessert, it looks awfully fancy for the destination. Bobby loves the Chicken Fried Steak. Tregaye busts out "whimsical" yet again while discussing her Crab Corn Muffin. Jernard: "I'm still trying to figure out what whimsical tastes like." Bobby is sick of it too: "Whimsical doesn't mean anything to me. You better start giving us some descriptives in terms of what we're going to be eating when you cook." The judges are meh on her muffins, but they may have just cured Tregaye of her whimsical addiction.

Martita/Ana: Martita starts off and Tregaye compares her to an on-scene TV reporter, and not in a good way. In her defense, Martita is extremely comfortable on camera. They start off pretty well but as the promo goes on it gets to be a bit rambling, more like they're chatting than selling a show and never mention what they're going to be cooking, except for a lot of booze. Giada tells Martita she was very polished, and Ana that she was very conversational and not overly polished. Ana introduces her Chicken Marbella and tells the judges she didn't have time to put the sauce on (I'm wondering if she should have just let that go unless they asked her about it). Giada: "I like the chicken. I could have used the sauce. I can feel that you can cook. You are just not good with time." Unfortunately Martita's sope is undercooked. Yaku thinks he's starting to see a pattern with Martita's dishes and goes so far as to suggest she might be a one-trick pony. The "Mo-Garita" on the other hand is a hit.

Rob/Monterey: They have great chemistry. Rob describes potato chips as his favorite vegetable, which gets a laugh. Monterey describes her ice cream cookie sandwich that Giada seem stoked about. This really sucks for Monterey, because the dish she's presenting isn't what was in the promo. Rob somewhat callously comments that she shouldn't have mentioned it in the promo, "If you couldn't pull it off." I have a bad feeling about Monterey. The promo itself is a hit. Giada: "I think it was kind of close to perfect." Ali also can't wait for the ice cream sandwich, forcing Monterey to admit that the cookies didn't work out. Ali thinks there's too much crunch and not enough refinement in Rob's Cheddar Potato Chip Baked Clams. Rob takes exception with her expectation of refinement in a dish made with potato chips. The judges like Monterey's ice cream, but Bobby dings her about promising viewers a dish, then not giving it to them. Everyone loved the idea and were disappointed they didn't get it. Monterey is hoping that she'll be saved by how well their promo was received, describing it as "Probably the only thing that is standing between me and going home." I have a bad feeling she might be right, which is sad because I would watch her on TV.

We come to the moment of truth. Bobby tells them that everyone did a pretty good job and showed a lot of growth. Giada: "There's one pair whose promo stood out and delivered the family food they promised." I'm going with Joy/Jernard. Giada agrees and they are safe from elimination.

Bobby mentions that there were a couple others that did pretty well.  At this point it's a hard call to determine who will be in the bottom four because they all did a pretty good job with their promos. But since I have to pick:

My bottom four: Ana/Martita (because their promo was weak and the missing sauce) and Tregaye/Yaku (because their promo was weak and Bobby's bitching her out about describing her food accurately, although because Monterey didn't deliver her ice cream sammies I think the judges will go with her and Rob).

The judges bottom four: Ana/Martita and Tregaye/Yaku. I was pleasantly surprised for Monterey. The judges made it clear that the amazing promo saved her and Rob.

Bobby calls Tregaye out about her performance, saying she didn't give them a lot of substance. They loved Yaku's Chicken Fried Steak and that was it. I think he's the most obviously safe one in this bunch because they didn't offer any criticism or advice. Giada tells Ana she has got to improve on her timing. Ana tries to explain that's she feels like she needs to stop overdoing things and when Giada tries to cut in, Ana insists she's not giving excuses, but Giada tells her she makes excuses all the time. Bobby gets that expression he had last week when Aaron started arguing with him. I think Ana may have just hung herself, which is too bad because I think she's a great cook and I'd watch her on TV. Giada reminds Martita that her sope was undercooked, and also tells her it's the second similar dish she's made in three weeks. Apparently it isn't just her fellow contestants that have noticed Miss I Know What The Judges Want repeating herself.

My choice for elimination: Martita
The judges' choice for elimination: Martita

I was surprised by this. I really thought they were going to cut Ana.

Martita is gracious in front of the judges, but away from them doesn't agree with their choice. She states that she still thinks she'll still be on Food Network one way or another. I don't agree, she's now had several shots and hasn't sealed the deal, but she still has Star Redemption  to look forward to, so maybe she'll get yet another chance.