On a Very Special Holiday Episode of Top Chef

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Who knew she would still be around? Ariane

With last night's episode of Top Chef, something is becoming more and more clear. Everyone on this season is pretty nice, even Stefan; no clear villain is emerging. There's a lack of cutthroat ambition making for some boring TV and some boring dishes. No one is getting crazy and doing anything like the faux hawk's controversial chocolate wasabi creation last season. Why no one even has a faux hawk. Instead, each week, and sometimes twice in one episode, Jamie does something with a scallop. Oh well, it's the holidays, a season of giving and sharing and caring, and last's night's episode was definitely filled with plenty of all that stuff. There was even a gratuitous amount of singing.
You have to wonder, who left the refrigerator door open and ruined Radhika and Hosea's meat? My money's on the Top Chef producers. Call me cynical, but it was pretty convenient that the episode where everyone really had to pull together and be all selfless was the one right around Christmas. Still, it was nice seeing everyone help Radhika and Hosea make less mediocre dishes then their own. And mediocre they were. Melissa's beef-gorgonzola crudite looked like something they're making behind the sample counter at Trader Joe's, only TJs probably make it taste better.

Yet, while the main challenge proved a snooze, as was the judging--I miss Gail so much already and Michelle Bernstein is no fun--the Quickfire Challenge was quite entertaining due wholly to one Martha Stewart. The convicted felon and professional homemaker was in fine form as she made her rounds and tasted the chefs' "one-pot dishes." She was so WASP-y, so passive aggressive, we fell in love with her all over again. "The broth is thickened?" she cooly queried Gene on his Korean broth, knowing full well the answer. "Oooo-kay, well good," she said and walked away. Miss Martha only boils and reduces, time limits be damned.

She then skipped off to try Stefan's veal goulash with Chanterelle mushrooms. "Did Chanterelle grow where you worked?" she asked the euro, as if speaking to a small child.

Stefan knew how to play it, perhaps having bedded a number of older women in his youth, "where I grew up and where I worked," he enthused.

"Yessss, I pick them in the summertime," said Martha wistfully, instantly transporting us all to an idyllic New England existence of seasonal mushroom gathering, "I love Chanterelle mushrooms."

Ultimately though, it was kooky MILF Ariane who won Martha over with a beef and cauliflower puree combo. Ariane just keeps winning, much to the chagrin of the younger chefs who all feel they are more "modern" and "experimental" than the Jersey girl. They probably are, but the joke's on them. Ariane may unwittingly be cooking post-irony, post-post-modern food. You can sometimes see the judges taking not only her food's simplicity, but also her unpretentious presentation (she told us, like Jessica Seinfeld before her, that making a veggie puree is a great way to sneak in some healthy eating), as being so disarming and unexpected as to make it the most "modern" and "experimental" thing on the show. She's not cooking comfort food or classic American dishes to be hip or funky, she just is. And, girl knows how to cook meat just right. She has moments of Sarah Palin intrigue; her boring food is the most exciting thing going this season. In the main challenge, I half expected the judges to find something magical in her deviled eggs. But really, deviled eggs with six pretty expected flavor variations, no real twists? Simplicity has its limitations.

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