Sunday, December 21, 2008

texas photos

i've been meaning to post a link to the photos from texas. i put them on facebook awhile ago, and forgot that doesn't get them to everyone. click here to see them. you don't need to be on facebook to see them.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

top chef 5, episode 6

ok, we're to the point that it should start getting interesting. there is really no one left that just sucks or is totally annoying. maybe i'll change my mind by the end of the episode. i mean, ariane seems to be performing over her head and carla is a nut job.

i don't care about team euro. stop it. stop it.

i wonder if maybe t-mobile is a sponsor or something. its sort of unclear in this very personal hosea moment. and the new t-mobile sidekick. which has a slide-y thing. and would make a great gift.

i think the tall blonde chick is out of her league, too. i forget her name. and i'm not looking them up anymore. she is just the tall blonde chick.

oh please. martha stewart. everyone is SO impressed. snore. maybe the winner will get that martha stewart cookbook she is holding.

yeah, she cooks like that ALL the time. or, at least her staff is instructed to cook like that all the time. or they will be killed.

h, paella in 45 minutes. good luck, hosea.

i have never mistaken potatoes for cauliflower. ever. never ever. not once.

i can't decide if fabio is kind of charming or totally annoying. maybe both.

melissa. ok, tall blonde chick is melissa.

martha picks mushrooms. yeah. sure.

ok, you can do paella in 45 minutes, apparently. way to go hosea.

expecially? come on, jamie. sigh.

so, how did ariane make the steak in the same pot she made the puree? hmmmmmm.

see, fabio addressed the issue. first the polenta, then the duck breast.

i'm ok with corn starch. i'm not a mom or a grandmother. but i'm ok with it. it's reasonable.

ET A BOOK! shocking.

wow. ariane is practically undefeated. who saw that coming. i still don't believe she did it in one pot.

martha can't stay around for the elimination. probably has mushrooms to pick, no doubt.

ooooo, well-known celebrities. none of those celebs hardly anyone knows. that's big.


ok, i guess there are 12 people left.

so, the cheese is from the milking maid? i guess?

none of them are really hitting their theme. i mean, some, just barely. the others, not at all.

what a special holiday episode. everyone pitching in like that. i think i'm going to cry. remember, this was august. they are totally pretending on the christmas thing.

excuse me, got to go text: C C C C C C C C C

i saw the fridge door open as they left, but i didn't think it was for real. seems like a set up.

natasha richardson's boobs will definitely pop out before the end of the episode. at least one, i'm positive.

uh-oh. sounds bad for gene

crab cake a TOTAL reach in theme. and apparently, not very good.

sounds like jamie doesn't need to worry about winning this week.

ooohhhhhhhhh, maids, cows. ok. i was thinking cheese. so was michy.

so everyone loves the two that were victims of the fridge disaster. interesting.

what is a "fair share" of girls? how many is "fair?"

hmmmm, boobs almost totally covered at judges table. still a red dress. can't be the same one, tho. OH! i bet they DID fall out. stupid editing.

HA! she prefers legs to breasts. on ducks, anyway. interesting. she was sure showing the breasts earlier.

michy has a book! i didn't know that. hmmm, just a week until christmas. just sayin.

i have no idea how they are leaning. i send melissa. she seems weak.

"wow" says melissa. wow, indeed. wow. merry august, everyone! i think they did this once before, and that they sent two home the next week. i think before, tho, it was a restaurant wars, and it would have been unfair to send anyone home on that first show. this time, they just got all caught up in the spirit of august in new york, i guess, while wearing red and pretending its christmas. they easily could have justified sending any one home.

here's my theory: jamie was the worst, and they felt her past performance merited another shot. they didn't want to send jamie home, but they also didn't want to send someone home that didn't actually have the worst dish. it's crazy, but it's my theory.

previews: i forgot there was a new judge. hmmm.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

top chef 5, episode 5

i still don't know everyone's names, but i think i know them all by personality by now.

did stefan's shirt say "i make good baby"?

wow. this quickfire is way harder than the old taste test.

radikha couldn't get curry ingredients. interesting.

hosea "out-palated" stefan. i love made-up words.

please please please please send manscape home. please? he's a freakin' cartoon.

wow. everyone is making radikha cook indian food.

nothing on the "new" team makes sense together. bbq sauce? for what? yuzu sorbet?

with every second he is on the screen, i become more adamant that manscape must leave. what a buffoon. as long as it's someone else's idea, its a great idea. goof.

i mean, technically, on that count, he's right, of course.

i hate these sexual tension commercial breaks.

yes, colicchio is the pope. sure.

ok, last week, i forgot to mention, when pam saw jeff's lines, she said, "did that say he works at club dildo?"

two words for the idea of DIY sushi: crash, burn

OH GOOD! a surprise! everyone just loves surprise mushrooms! bye bye manscape.

does anyone see sushi in there? anywhere?

thank you dana.

that is a whole lotta carrot puree.

ariane scores again! the lamb is perfect! yay!

doesn't look blue. at all.

actually, blue and yellow come out green, fabio, not yellow and green make blue. close. but they bought it, i guess. if you take the yellow out of the green, it is blue. but it isn't like you put any two of them together and get the third. i don't think that's how it works. any refractologists out there that can clear this up?

the all boys team and the all girls team are the winners. interesting. speaks poorly for the benefits of sexual tension.

wow. they love the sorbet. stefan looks like he just got castrated.

aw, poor jeff. he thought he won. i bet they love sorbet at club dildo.

why did jamie think she won? no one said they loved the puree. no one even mentioned the puree.

you have to be kidding. "no one expected anyone but me to win"? serious? all i kept hearing was about the tomato sorbet and the lamb. let's see ... going through notes ... she cooked ... neither of those. hmmm.

ohhhhhh!!!! manscape falls on sword, gets up, falls on it again, gets up FALLS ON IT AGAIN! PLEASE put him out of our misery.

no no no no ... keep eugene. 86 manscape! please!!!!!

ooooo, tom whips out the "i'd love to send all three of you home" line. for dessert, a trio of crushed ego.

YAY!!!!! bye manscape!!!!! see ya!! can you please shave?

um, dude, you are allowed to grab the back of barry sanders' jersey. that's how tackling works, most often. apparently, he doesn't understand ANYTHING.

oooooo, michy on the previews! love her. can't wait till next week.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

top chef 5, episode 4

fyi: i'm still going to the web site to get these people's names. i think i don't really know the contestants until we get down to about 9-10.

oh yeah. team rainbow. yeah, its so sad. please. she's the only one who knew how to cook. maybe that why she's still here.

the rocco renaissance continues. good for him. reality tv ruined him. now its bringing him back.

hmmmm. never had an amuse at breakfast. but i know i don't want zucchini flowers for my breakfast amuse.

mmmm. espresso pudding.

did carla do a breakfast amuse? hosea? gene? did people just sleep in? am i not paying enough attention?

ok, alex has never watched top chef. dessert is a free pass? ask tre. ask many, many people who went home for dessert.

carla looks like a video game character.

manscape is "charismatic." sure.

ok, i haved complained that next food network star spent too much time making tv stars and not cooks. and that they have copied the top chef format. but this elimination is straight out of that show. somewhere, bob tuchsman is giggling.

jeff came out of the gulf of mexico?

ba ba boey?

charm? personality? manscape? serious?

yay ariane! again. i think jeff's looked best. but i see where ariane's dish would be popular. what jeff said about 4 ladies with unsophisticated palates in the morning is right, but that's the game sometimes. wow kathie lee looks like she is 300 years old. would've been nice to have ANY IDEA why she was spitting it out. in the past, when someone spits, we've been told why. i suspect her dentures rattled.

melissa didn't throw alex under the bus. the judges tried to take it there, so clearly they know that alex has issues with wanting to be there.

HEY! we're 54 minutes in, and no one has told tom how hot and hunky he is. what's up with that?

oh good. sexual chemistry. that's what this show is about. ha. then again, even the rainbow guy can't stop talking about leah's rack. these chef's coats are not flattering, apparently. and that was a teze to make me watch commercials. nice.

i don't even care who they send home between melissa and alex.

that made sense. but wait, i thought dessert was a free pass? oh right, only among people who have never seen the show.

Monday, December 1, 2008

super sunday, part 3

i've been slow to post this one because it is going to be another ending of the whole experience. basically, this will be notes of stuff i forgot earlier.

-- so the first thing takes a little set-up. and if you know me, you know that by that, i mean A LOT of setup. i don't regularly watch any of rachael's shows, but i've never been a hater. there are people who dispute that, but i don't remember ever saying anything bad about her. i mean, its ok that she has shows i don't watch. i totally get why her shows are popular, they just aren't what i do (but i'm hunting down that deviled egg recipe). in fact, not only do i not recall ever talking smack about her, but i distinctly recall vehemently defending her. several times. i'm not saying who i was defending her against, but maybe becky and melanie remember. you'll have to ask them. just sayin'.

anyway, for years, i basically had no real opinion of her, but i began respecting her a couple of years ago after two things. first (actually, it may not have been first, i don't remember what order these things happened in. but let's say this one was first), she was on a special holiday edition of iron chef: america. she was teamed with mario against bobby flay and giada delaurentis. alton introduced the four "chefs," and she totally demurred. she said that "these three are the chefs. i'm just a cook." she totally won me over by respecting the distinction.

second (you know, maybe it was second, whatever), i watched her chefography on food network, and was totally impressed with her path. it was sort of impossible to not be. she invented what she does, and it is something that benefits a lot of people. and she was adamant that she was not a chef.

ok, that was the setup.

when she sees me at the tailgate party, after the previously mentioned bowing episode, while she was telling me how much she wanted the "PIG IN A PIG IN A PIG!" (there were associated hand gestures), she called me "chef" twice, and without even realizing the irony involved in me saying it, both times i responded, "i'm not a chef, just a cook." TWICE. and it was like 45 minutes later before it sunk in what i said, where it came from, and how insanely ironic it all was.

also twice, chef tim redmond, the track chef who was in charge of cooking my dish at the party called me chef. the first time, i said "i'm not a chef, just a cook." the next time, i just smiled and answered his question. i don't have delusions, but it was fun to just accept it once.

and, technically, sort of, a cook was in charge of carrying out my dish. so, technically, sort of i WAS a chef. but just for a little while.

-- people kept asking if the weekend made us nascar fans. tell you what: anytime i can go to a race where i am treated like royalty, with guys dedicated to getting me where i need to be, with complete access to whatever i want at a huge complex ... yeah, i am a fan of that.

but the truth is, there were two races after texas, and i watched the last 25-30 laps of each to see who won. and i found myself rooting for carl edwards, who we sort of met. i don't think i can sit there and watch 500 miles of race, but watching the last few laps was kind of fun. and a nascar fan friend -- who i will not identify due to the nature of the admission -- told me that's all he usually watches. (he also said that he watches restrictor-plate races from start to finish, because those are different somehow. i know i heard people in texas bemoaning restrictor-plate tracks. i have heard of restrictor plates. i understand what they do, but i can 't possibly pretend to understand their strategic effect.)

i understand that edwards won in texas and in homestead, basically because he got good gas mileage. i thought that was kind of funny, actually, under the current economic climate.

-- part of sunday morning was me, darcie and mario sitting around talking about the contest. i
basically didn't want to ask any questions about details, but got some anyway. i'm not going to share too many details, specifically, but to those of you with whom i spoke to regularly during the course of the voting process, we were right. i don't want to embarass anyone here, or betray any confidences, but we were right.

i thought the two weeks of voting was going to kill me. i didn't mention it. didn't seem relevant anymore. in fact, i honestly forgot until pam and i were talking about it at the airport the next day.

also, remember how i said that all i wanted to do was finish third in the voting? that's all i did. and i was told that i finished 2/10ths of a percent ahead of fourth place. it was implied who i
finished barely ahead of, but i'm not positive, so i won't put that here, either. jeremy had the best quote when i told him i made the cut by 2/10ths of a percent: "wow! that's not a lot of 10ths. or a lot of percents."

i said from the start that i felt like if i got through the voting that i would win. mario gave a little insight on the thinking in judging the final three, but that will stay between us.

except for the part where i won. ha!

-- about the hat: i like it. i got it because i knew that i was going to need a hat all weekend, and i have a million baseball caps. but when i wear them too long, i get a headache because the visor pinches my head. also, i knew i was going to have my picture taken a million times, and i didn't really want to be branded. so i found that one, and it worked. people have told me they are going to buy me more. i have two words for those people: extra large. l/xl doesn't cut it. i didn't have to win a national grilling contest to get a big head.

-- i had all these topics that i wanted to talk to mario about. mainly, i thought of a bunch of stuff to ask if we had nothing to talk about. that never happened. conversation was very natural. ther
e was never an awkward silence. so i never talked to him about any of that stuff. here are some of the things i wanted to talk about but didn't: his current series about spain, including how the cast was assembled and how it ended up on pbs; is he done with iron chef; i wanted to suggest chris ponte as an iron chef challenger; where did he find anne burrell, and were there more like her there; why is cat cora an iron chef; i wanted to talk about the beet ravioli we had at babbo (it was phenomenal); i wanted to talk about the book heat, and the access he gave for that.

i wish i could remember more about the things we talked about, but i mentioned before that i kept having to jar my brain out of how cool the situation i was in was. i try not to be
overwhelmed, but it was hard that day. but i watched some video clips pam took, and there are some from our conversations. and it seemed i was talking. and i didn't even seem stupid.

i had also considered talking about an idea i have for a show, and the options that i might have in working in food. i decided not to ask about these things because, when we were talking
about the contest, one of the things they said they liked about my video was that it didn't seem like i was auditioning for a show. i figured that it would be best to not start now. i also considered asking his opinion on the next food network star. i've considered applying for it, but am not convinced that they are looking for the kind of thing i want to do.

i did ask one thing that i had ready to go: when we ate at babbo in may, we had a wine that i loved. i told him that, and he said, "was it (blah blah blah)?" i said no, it was fondo antico baccadoro. i told him that i have looked everywhere for this, and can't even find it online, except at a wine store in new york that doesn't ship to florida. not only that, but that the guy at bern's in tampa -- which has a famously huge wine list -- had never even heard of the winery. that mad
e mario smile. so where do i get it? "call my wine store," he said. i haven't yet, but i will.

-- darcie, who i have referred to a million times in e-mails and blog posts as the "contest contact," quickly became one of my favorite people ever almost immediately upon meeting her. she met us at the hotel shortly after we got there, and one of the first things that she told us was that during the judging phase of the contest, the name of my dish was somewhat controversial. some people hated it and some people loved it. within a couple of minutes, it became clear that she was one of the people who hated the name. i figured if she was willing to tell me that she didn't like the name of my dish within the first minutes of meeting me, i could believe anything she said to me. that made me immediately happy. she is a force of nature.

-- i had thought about getting mario to sign a bunch of stuff so i could give them to as many people that helped me get through the voting as possible. but as we sat around and talked, whenever someone would come up and ask him to sign something, it completely broke the train of thought. he was totally gracious, and everyone was polite, and its not like i didn't understand. but when it came time to get that sort of thing for myself, i felt like it would minimalize the experience. i understand i am just a fan who got tremendous access, but i also felt like we were friends who got to hang out for a couple of hours. so i got him to sign some stuff i brought to get signed for mazarro's and a&n, two stores that helped me out a lot during the voting round. and he offered to sign our party credentials and he personalized an italian grill book for me.

-- getting interviewed is practically the perfect scenario for me. turns out, i can talk forever.

-- while i was in texas, i did mini (for me) posts on laura reiley's blog at the times. my sunday blog from there got five comments. three of them were very nice. two of them were head-scratchingly nasty. i probably shouldn't even acknowledge them. they instantly did not bother me. it is shockingly easy to diminish the relevance of idiots who make drive-by comments in relative anonymity. i considered responding there, but decided, why? wow, "jay" from where ever thinks i'm a "fraud?" i'm crushed. i actually laughed when i read that. who knows me better than "jay" from where ever? small, small people. hopefully, being a mean-spirited jackass made "jay" from where ever nearly as happy as my fantastic weekend in texas being treated like a rockstar and hanging out with celebrities and eating fantastic food made me. (did that sound sincere? i sure hope.)

-- when we got back, i agreed to do a demo of the dish at a class/dinner at a&n, the clearwater pork store that helped me campaign. i agreed to do it because i felt i owed them. but i thought i would be a disaster. surprisingly, i think i did ok. i kept thinking it sounded like i knew what i was talking about. and i didn't stutter or stammer. becky and jeremy came up for the event, and having friendly faces in the crowd definitely helped.

-- i have made the dish three times since i got back, and am scheduled to do it one more time in the near future and two other times that aren't scheduled yet. with rare exception, i can't tell you how weird it is for me to make the same dish more than once. so when i made it thursday for thanksgiving, i plan to change it up a little. just to keep myself interested. instead of orange-fennel sausage, i made it with apple sausage and an apple-ginger glaze. i liked it, but i'm still working on it.

-- i got a ton of e-mails and posts after the announcement, but i think my favorite one came from my uncle dave. "I turned the TV on at work and had about 12 people all watching the
announcement. I felt famous."

-- i think one of the reasons i was really happy that barry harrell got to come up for the tailgate party was that it gave me a credible witness. i think, at this point, i wouldn't blame anyone who thought i made all this up in an elaborate ruse. but barry saw it happen. i swear.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

top chef 5, episode 3

nice quickfire with grant achatz there. his whole thing is taking a dish and making something else out of it. weird that he is on this season instead of last season in chicago. we are planning to go to chicago in the summer to check out his restaurant, alinea, which is widely considered the best in the country right now. very intriguing. his battle with tongue cancer is amazing. truly inspiring.

poor ariane. poor, poor ariane

was so nice to learn that carla's favorite ingredient is love. so many cooks like to cook with love. i have never seen it in a store. puh. leeze.

does jamie have a t-shirt other than the 666 one? and the rainbow one, i guess.

"most powerfulest?" seriously? did he just say that?

somehow, i think the foo fighters are going to be easier to impress than bourdain was for thanksgiving a couple of years ago.

so, i'm writing this while watching, and i am suggesting that every time a team has ALL the best cooks, they almost never win. so we'll see.

HA! suuuuuuuure. give ariana the turkey. wow. nice decision. she'll probably rock it.

oh good lord. team sexy pants?

ok, the cougars is pretty funny.

i guess butterball is a sponsor.

every time they show jeff's restaurant name, i think it says club dildo. i think that is not what it says, but i have no idea where he actually works.

jesus dude, you're going to see tom EVERY episode. shut up.

yay araine! they like the turkey!

"white chicken turkey gravy"? what is that?

oh, good. manscape has party underwear.

ok, there goes my theory about the dream teams.

i like jeff. i know people don't. but i just do. not looking good for him, tho.

props for ariane! big smile. nice.

oh no! another blow to team rainbow! sheesh. what a baby. i wish they could have sent manscape home, too, tho.

i didn't even see radikha this week. i guess because there was no indian food. i'm still convinced i don't even know who all the contestants are yet. oh well.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

guest blogging

i am guest blogging this week and next at stir crazy, i'll still post top chef tomorrow night, and i swear, i'm almost done with part 3 of super mario weekend. i just don't want to forget anything before i post it.

gotta go clean so i can start cooking tonight.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

top chef 5, episode 2

okay, so the first thing that stands out about the quickfire: radhika is so concerned that she is going to be pigeonholed as the indian chick that she makes an indian dish for the second consecutive quickfire. but those jerks are probably going to think that's all she can do anyway.

apparently, this week, it worked.

"i finally proved that i CAN make good food." um, it was a hot dog. even if it was good, it was one quickfire.

ntil she tasted fabbio's, i got the impression that donatella didn't like any of them. she hadn't reacted at all when she tasted radhika's.

whatever. at least the loser of the quickfire didn't get sent home this week. although, as it turns out, that would've saved us some time.

when they announced the elimination challenge, i thought it was weird that everyone seemed to jump up and down that they wanted to do dessert. have they not see the show? then, the best part, they all later seemed to be acting like they never wanted to make dessert. like they were somehow relegated to it.

i have been to that whole foods. it's pretty crazy. its on two floors, which makes getting around with a cart. and i never saw ostrich eggs. i'm definitely going to look next time. and they had an amazing selection of seafood. it's hard for me to believe that they didn't have fresh crab.

it's too bad that apparently, jill didn't see what happened when patrick got excited about an ingredient he had never used last week. sure an ostrich egg is cool. but if you don't know how to open one, seems like a really bad idea.

of all the nasty things that people have said about dishes on this show over the years, "dog food" and "glue" are about as bad as it gets.

as far as the winners, certainly interested in the spherical olives. all over it. the chowder sounded good, carla probably didn't need the cheese. but wasn't the difference. fabbio wins. makes sense. and hey, carla's crust is flaky. who'd've guessed?

i don't know that i see the purpose in bringing in the people who weren't good enough to get on the show to talk smack about the people that did. i mean, makes for some catty comments, but their opinion seems less than useless.

hosea seems good enough that being in the bottom three is an aberration. ariane seems to be a fixture. jill seemed to have no idea where she was, much less why. when padma said that the choice was clear, have to say that i was pretty sure it was ariane. i mean, she spit it out. but i guess at that point i had forgotten about the gluey dog food.

i think ariane needs counseling. life just seems to be too much for her. she seems nice enough, but i don't know how you can cook with that little confidence.

postscript: hosea and leah appear to have no chance of getting into team rainbow.


Friday, November 14, 2008

top chef 5, episode 1

okay, i want to start doing this, but its so hard to keep everyone straight -- no pun intended -- the first few weeks. i sort of think they should have an introductions episode where they profile everyone before they start eliminating people.

that would create an extra episode of one of bravo's most successful franchises. how have they not thought of this yet? i mean, we're definitely going to have to sit through reunion shows. this would be at least as interesting.

anyway, not only do they eliminate someone on the premiere again this year, but they eliminate TWO people. in the quickfire, when i saw two people making salads, i fairly well suspected that the two people not making salads were safe. lauren's salad looked perfectly good, but perfectly ordinary. i was not remotely surprised to see her sent packing.

but by about the second time they interviewed patrick, i was already tired of him and his culinary school. and everytime he talked about wanting to show people his "passion," i thought, yeah, because you have no perspective to show them. i realize i'm one of the few people with enough stamina to watch next food network star, but he immediately reminded me of kelsey from last season, whose entire breadth of life experience seemed to have come from culinary school. she seemed perfectly lovely, but she wasn't going to tell me anything she hadn't just learned in class.

so imagine my delight when patrick picks an ingredient that he has never worked with for the elimination challenge. seriously? it seemed like christmas. i knew when he picked the black rice noodles he was screwed, and then when he seemed so surprised that he didn't know how to cook them, i giggled. i'm sure he's a nice guy, but i didn't miss him and he wasn't even technically gone yet.

i would go through the contestants one by one, but we didn't learn enough about any of them to make reasonable judgments, i'd say. i know that four of the five seasons that the eventual winner has been a finalist the first week, and i know everything i have read seems to suggest that everyone thinks stefan will be there at the end, but i'm not sold. even if he is the best cook, i have a different statistic: only one time in top chef history has the person whom i thought was clearly the best cook won the season, and that was season 1 (harold).

in season 2, sam was certainly the best, probably followed by cliff. ilan won. ilan was not in the top 5 that season, i thought.

in season 3, tre and casey were the best, in my opinion, and hung won (tho i thought hung had his moments.)

in season 4, i didn't have a clear favorite between stephanie and richard. stephanie won. so that one was close, i guess.

of course, i have not tasted anything that they are judged on, and i am handcuffed by editing. but that is how it looked to me those seasons.

i was very happy to see leah make the top 3 after having a hard time in the quickfire. she is the only one that works at a restaurant i am familiar with, working for anne burrell in nyc. so i can root for that. and jeff is a florida guy, so i can get behind that, too.

if i were to predict, i would say jeff makes it somewhere in the middle, week 7-8-9, and leah probably makes it a little further. but that's who i'll be rooting for.

i've already had enough of carla. she appears to be insane. of course, that was all it took for andrew to make it to the latter stages of season 4, so i'm guessing she hangs around awhile.

and, someone, please explain to me why the sexual orientation of the person cooking your food is relevant? or better, don't explain it. i don't want someone's orientation to even be CLOSE to a factor in the preparation of my food. why why why do we have to hear about that every season? i don't care. at all.

it reminds me of the simpsons episode where there is a gay pride parade, and they are shouting "we're here! we're queer! get used to it!" and lisa says, "we watch your parade every year. we ARE used to it."

here's what i'm thinking: whenever i turn on bravo, i do it with the understanding that there is a better than average chance that someone on the screen at any given time is probably gay.

i. don't. care. ugh.

team rainbow. please. whatever. they're already selling t-shirts on the bravo website. sigh.

also, i can't root for anyone who landscapes their facial hair. sorry danny. see ya.

anyway, hopefully this recap will make more sense in future weeks as we begin to learn who we are dealing with.

i know that half of the people who read this watch top chef. please discuss.

Monday, November 10, 2008

super sunday, part 2

previously, on gastroblog: i had just had what was easily my best two hours of the past decade, if not ever. and was just dropped off at the suite to watch the nascar race. we join the day, already in progress ...

so darcie, left, drops us off at the elevator to our suite and tells us to come back to the tailgate site after the race for dinner.

we go up to the suite and sit down. it was then that i realize that i had totally forgotten about reo speedwagon. oh well. they're in clearwater in april. i got over this very quickly. just as the race is about to start, i send out a text to a bunch of people -- i don't remember who all, and it is extremely possible that i picked recipients randomly, plus i have never sent out a mass text before, so don't be mad if you did get it. i don't remember what it said, but it was something innocuous, like, "i think mario liked me." that set forth an avalanche of texting that took like two hours and caused me to need to delete my inbox and my outbox because they both got full. to put that minor fact in perspective,
i have had this phone for about nine months and only cleaned out the inbox once (like, a week earlier), and don't think i had ever cleaned out the outbox.

pam started texting people too, and we were just sitting there laughing and reading texts to each other. i suspect that the nascar fans sharing the suite with us found all the just fascinating. but we later had to hear that one of the women in the suite had won her tickets in a wet t-shirt
contest, so she killed us on tmi points and made me not care anymore. and, i mean, umm, not sure if i can say this, but that would not have been the most interesting wet t-shirt contest ever. just sayin.

it was while we were in the suite that ellen texts pam and tell her about the ap photo, to which i will gratuitously link. again. CLICK HERE.

it was a little harder for us to get into sunday's race than it had been saturday's, mainly because it was much longer, and as good a sports as we were trying to be on developing an interest in nascar, there is a certain statute of limitations on left turns. but i was glad carl edwards won, because it was fun to watch the backflip and all. plus we had seen him at asphalt chef the night before.

so after the race, we made our way back to the tailgate site, and it was darcie, leo (our limo driver, left) and billy harris, who was the emcee at the asphalt chef. wine was open, bread and cheese were on the table. so we sat there and watched gridlock and talked about the day.

eventually, i asked about dinner, suspecting that we were just going to break out leftovers from the tailgate party. which, if there were arancini, i was set.

no leftovers, darcie says. "you're cooking."

ok, cool. what am i cooking?

"whatever we can find."

here's what that meant: there were four rental luxury RVs on the site. each had a fridge. except for darcie, the occupants of the RVs were all gone. so any food in the RVs was probably going to get tossed when the rental company picked them up. in two of the RVs, all we found was wine and beer. not telling whose RVs those were.

in the other two, here's what we found: a bag of romaine. pepitas. a bag of arugula. two lemons. a green bottle of something that had a label that was all in italian (i assumed nice olive oil, but was wrong), a half-full gallon jug of olive oil, a bag of spinach ... and three steaks that had not
been cooked at the tailgate party.

now, to call these "steaks," kind of does a disservice to them, in lumping them in with earthly cow parts. these things were insane. they were from allen brothers. they were 3-inches thick, and 48 oz each. that's three pounds. each. there were five of us.

the number floating around the tailgate party that afternoon was that the steaks were worth $100 each. i just looked on the allen brothers website, and it appears they retail for $130 each.

i asked darcie if she REALLY wanted me to cook all three steaks, since there were only five of us. the consensus was that it was now or never for these steaks. then we talked to the people who were tailgating behind us, and they were interested in one, so we wrapped it up and gave it to them.

now to the grill.

there were five. they were all upscale vikings. i decided to camp out at the biggest one on the lot. u know, not for any particular reason. well, ok, because it was the biggest. first of all, there is no flame. its all infrared burners. there are two burners and a broiler. the burners get to normal grill temperatures, but the broiler element can burn your eyelashes off from 15 feet. plus, it had two side burners.

so i get everything preheating, and unwrap the two steaks i have left to cook, and pam keeps asking me, "do you know how to cook a three-inch steak?" "yes," i said. meaning, theoretically, i knew that heat should be involved. but i had never even seen a three-inch steak before that afternoon. so there was a practical issue involved.

i knew one thing: i needed salt. pepper would be good, too, but i needed salt. and i didn't see it anywhere. "i don't know if we have salt," darcie says. these steaks are amazing. i can't cook them without salt. we need salt. it's a moral imperative. "okay, i'll look again." she goes through two of the RVs. nothing. "you sure we need salt?" i told her not only do we need salt, but she has to tell mario that i refused to cook these steaks without it. so she goes into another RV, and
she comes out with official mario batali-brand salt and pepper grinders. they are huge, and they are still wrapped. amazingly, they came pre-loaded with salt and pepper. "will this work?" actually, yes, it's perfect.

i felt like i had been tested, and that i had passed.

so i salted and peppered the steaks, and i put them over the broiler element to give us some grill marks. i have never heard such a sound as when these steaks hit that iron. it was instant branding. it made me feel like i knew what i was doing. it was amazing. so i got the marks on both sides, then i turned off the middle burner, moved the steaks there and closed the grill.

my plan was to saute the spinach and serve the steak on top of the spinach. and i was going to dress the spinach with olive oil and lemon juice. so then i looked at the salad greens, and decided i could make a salad while the steaks cooked. but for dressing, the only acid i had was the two lemons i wanted to put in the spinach.

enter that mystery green bottle that i thought was olive oil.

it was dark, so i could barely see the label, but i know a few italian food words, and i didn't see the word "aceto" or "olio," so i couldn't determine whether is was vinegar or oil. so i poured a little out on my finger to see what it was, and when a thick, syrupy black glaze came out, chills ran down my spine. from the looks of it, i suspected it was very, very expensive balsamic vinegar. then i tasted it, and i was pretty sure that was what it was. i had always heard that with really good balsamic, you could pour it over vanilla ice cream. i had never had balsamic that i could imagine doing that with. but this stuff, i could totally see doing that.

i have considered buying high-end balsamic in the past, and i have found it to be more
than $150 for a 3.5 oz bottle. this bottle was probably 8-10 oz. as i did math in my head, i asked darcie if she really wanted me touching this bottle. she laughed. "sure!" so then i had another issue to contend with: was i really going to use remarkably expensive balsamic for ... salad dressing? if this vinegar was what i thought it was, i was about to make the most expensive salad dressing i had ever heard of. "do it!" darcie said. i have seen mario make simple things with extravagant ingredients before, so i hemmed, and hawed, and made salad dressing. it was really, really good salad dressing. the vinegar was so viscous, it took very little effort to emulsify it with the oil with a fork. which was good since there was no whisk in sight.

i made a salad with the romaine, arugula and pepitas. i later i wished i had thought about it more, because there was cheese on the table, and there were pears and apples in one of the RVs, and there was bread that i could have grilled to make croutons. but instead, everyone got a plate with lettuce, pumpkin seeds, and about $50 worth of salad dressing.

i told darcie that as adamant as i was that she tell mario that i refused to cook the steaks without salt, i was totally ok with it if she never told him i made salad dressing out of that balsamic.

after i found the pears, i cut one up and drizzled some of the balsamic over it and served that by itself.

afraid for its potential fate, i really wanted to take the vinegar home with me, but i couldn't find the cap. and i tried to figure out ways to get it home without the cap. but i eventually gave up.

after i guessed that the steaks might be about done, i took them off the grill and covered them with some aluminum to let them rest, and wilted the spinach in a mario batali saute pan over one of the burners. (there was also a mario batali lasagna pan on the table, and i was eyeing that hard. i was afraid to say how much i wanted one of those, because i had already gotten so much stuff that weekend and i was afraid she might give it to me. plus, it probably weighed 10 lbs, and i didn't want to try to get it on the plane.) i added the lemon juice to the spinach, then sliced the steak, and at first i was afraid it was overcooked. but when i got better light on it, i decided it was about perfect medium-rare. i carved it up, and plated it on top of the spinach and went to the table.

it all tasted good to me.

darcie said that usually if she sits around long enough, someone brings her incredible food to eat. so, basically, i need to sit around her more often. but while i was cooking, she declared me a member of the mario batali family, which wasn't listed in the official list of prizes, but is really, really cool.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

super sunday, part 1

there is no way to recap what happened on sunday in one post, so i am going to space it out over three posts. my tentative outline is to start off with what happened before the race, then what happened after the race, then catch up on everything i meant to say in the first two but forgot. also, ask me questions about stuff, and i will address them in the third post. some of this will be straight out of my post on laura's blog.

people keep asking me if i had fun in texas.

rachael ray bowed to me. three times. and mario batali kept describing my dish with variants of the same two-word sentence structure: "(expletive) (exclamation)!" the expletive was the same each time. the exclamation varied between "awesome" to "amazing." i think there were others.

yeah. it was a good weekend.

we got picked up at the hotel at about 7 a.m. and ended up at the tailgate party site in the middle of the speedway infield about 8. there is a little activity, and darcie asks us if we've had breakfast. we had not. so she asks krista, mario's food stylist, to make extra for us. she also told us that mario had asked what we had done all day saturday and to make sure we got to hang together on sunday. i figured that the tailgate party would be my best access of the weekend, but it was nice to hear.

breakfast was green eggs and ham, and chilaquiles. the eggs were cheesy and covered in green chile. the chilaquiles -- tortilla casserole -- was full of really good chorizo. as we're eating,
mario asks me when my pace car ride is. i say, right after breakfast. he laughs and suggests that having breakfast might not have been the best idea. "leave the window open," he suggests. "the car is always going to turn left, so you want to barf to the right." as we left for the golf cart on the way to the pace car, mario reminded us, "aim to the right."

we had to wait awhile for the pace car, and when it was finally our turn, we learned that pam could go, too. the car was an impala, and we hit 105 mph, which was fun, but i've been in cars that were going faster than that (not naming names. just a coincidence that i'm looking at you, ronnie.) still, going that fast was fun, and going around the banked turns was cool. when we hit the turns, gravity would seem like it should force your body to lean to the left. but the force of the turn drives your body to the right, straight into the door. it doesn't make any sense in your head, but you can't ignore the rest of your body. (later, mario would come back to the tailgate area and tell us that he had just taken laps with jimmie johnson at 190.)

soon after we got back, rachael showed up, and within a couple of minutes, she was walking emphatically toward me making extreme hand gestures and shouting, "pig in pig in pig! where is it?" i wasn't in charge of cooking anything, so i honestly had no idea. but that was when she started bowing. i have to say, i really, really wish there had been video of this. we sat with mario and talked for awhile, about what, i really have no recollection. but pam got pictures, and i seem to be talking, and mario and rachael -- cuz that's what i call them now -- are looking like they are listening, and maybe even interested. i remember i told rachael how much i liked the deviled eggs at the asphalt chef party the night before. because they were awesome. pam told her she like the buffalo chicken meatballs. "i try to give the people what they want," she said.

i was impressed i was with how real and sincere she was. my phony detector has a hair-trigger, and i thought she was great. the woman is insanely famous. people were falling all over
themselves just to get a glimpse. and there we were chatting, and the fact that she seemed legitimately interested in my dish is still hard for me to comprehend.

so mario and rachael had to go to an interview and were gone for about an hour. i spent the time talking to people from uncle ben's and from the food bank, and basically walking around, trying to burn off nervous energy. then darcie came back from the interview and yelled at me to not move, because rachael was about to come back and they wanted to record for her show. at that point, i kind of freaked, because i had no idea what i was supposed to do or talk about, or how much i would stammer. so just before they got back, one of the speedway's chefs put the meat on the grill, and krista handed mario a pair of tongs, and all of a sudden, mario was at the grill, rachael was standing next to me, and from somewhere, there were like 20 cameras, still and video, crowding around us. looking back, this would seem to have been the most totally surreal moment of the weekend, and i don't understand how i wasn't overwhelmed to the point of collapse. but the truth of the matter is -- and i know this sounds stupid -- it felt totally natural. because the scene was set as if we were three pals grilling ... and that was exactly what it felt like. i would be interested in seeing the video, to see if i was incomprehendibly stupid, because i suspect that is totally possible. but it didn't feel that way. and when i see the photo that moved on the wire (click here), i'm amazed at how natural it actually looks. mario is using his own camera (and i would like to get a copy of that photo, actually). rachael was leaning back into me, and was lifting the tongs up over my head to pose for mario. see? it sounds weird, right? there's no way to say it that it doesn't. but it was AWESOME.

so mario turned all the pork packs, and it was going to take those things more than a half-hour to cook, so we broke, and suddenly, there was a line of reporters who wanted to talk to me. they all wanted to talk to me separately, so i really wished i had prepared a story so that i could be
consistent. because i knew if i started rambling, i would come up with a different aspect of the story each time, and it would sound like i was telling them all completely different stories. but that didn't seem to happen. i think. we'll see.

after that, tim, left, the track chef who was cooking the dish, came up to me and seemed nervous to be talking to me. he called me "chef" more than once. i giggled. tim said that he was afraid that the pork would burn if he left it on the grill, and he wanted to know if it was ok if he finished them in the brick pizza oven. yes, it was ok with me. he also asked me to try the glaze. when i made the glaze, i just heated up some oj and melted the marmalade into that, and kept adding marmalade until it was the consistency i wanted. they clearly had more than that going on in theirs, and whatever was in there, it was really good. tim asked for my approval on the glaze. i gave it. i'm not sure what would've happened if i had not.

unfortunately, sometime between the photo shoot and the pork coming out of the oven, rachael had to leave, and i am legitimately disappointed she didn't get to try it. tho i am devising a plan to get it to her. i'll let you know if/when that happens.

getting the pork out of the brick oven turned out to be another media event, as a photographer wanted me to slowly take the pan out of the oven. which would've been ok, except that the oven was like 800 degrees. slow isn't how you reach into an 800 degree oven. we got it out, and i started directing tim to grab one of the pork packs out of the tray so he could start carving it while i finished my media obligations with the photographers. it was at this point that i realized that it was probably now technically ok to be called "chef." but i still wasn't comfortable with it. tho i want to be.

when the pork was carved, mario came over, tim anointed the pork with the glaze, and the cameras started popping as mario reached in for a piece and told me to, also. we both tried, with cameras still popping. it was really good, i thought. "(expletive) (exclamation)!" mario proclaimed. it was really, really good. they used the sauce more liberally than i had, and i really liked it. so did mario. (that's krista in the photo with me and mario).

it was at that point i realized that rachael was gone, and mario told me that he had already taken a picture of the pork and e-mailed it to her, mocking her for leaving. it's sort of ridiculous for me to talk about anything regarding this weekend as "disappointing," but i would've loved to see rachael's reaction to tasting it. because it was awesome. maybe even (expletive) awesome.

i told mario that i was willing to come to new york to make it for her. he motioned me over to a table and said, "let's talk about that ..."

we sat for some time and talked for quite awhile about restaurants and cooking and ... a lot of stuff i don't remember. every once in awhile, it would just hit me where i was and what i was doing, and i think my memory just turned off. but it was a lot of fun. i have talked to a few celebrities here and there, and it is often extremely awkward, insomuch as you really have nothing to actually talk about. it was never like that, with either mario or rachael. i immediately felt like i had known them forever.

darcie got us two extra passes to the tailgate party, which gave me the chance to see barry harrell and his wife carrie, who moved to texas last year. i was really happy to get to hang out with them, even for only a short time, and i was really happy that they got to try my dish, and everything else on the menu. they got to meet mario, and got some pictures and autographs. then pam and i got a picture with barry and carrie ... taken by mario.

at that point, it was time to go to the suite to watch the race. we were in a different suite than mario, and he was going to be leaving for ny before the race ended, so we said our goodbyes, got on the golf carts and headed out.

that's where i'll pick up the next post. may take a day or two.

here is sunday's menu, and my take on each dish:

Passed Appetizers

Pizza - Marinara with Marjoram, Thinly Sliced Garlic and Serrano Peppers (unbelievably spicy. the brick oven was really cool. i want one.)

Asparagus Wrapped in Pancetta with Citronette (these were amazing. the pancetta seized up around the asparagus like skin.)

Grilled Peppers with Anchovies, Capers and Bread Crumbs (i don't know what the deal was with these anchovies, but they were really good. unlike any anchovy i've had. much less aggressive. the dish was like a panzanella on steroids.)

Arancine with Salami and Pecorino (deep fried rice balls. like that's even fair.)


T-Bone Fiorentina with Sautéed Spinach (these were the 3-inch thick allen bros. steaks. unreal. more on them in the next post. they play a pivotal role.)

Sweet Potatoes in Cartocci (didn't see this.)

Spicy Black-Pepper Coated Drumsticks (these were wing drumettes, and the sauce on them was an alabama white bbq sauce. i have heard of this, but am mostly unfamiliar with it. these were awesome. they were served on a platter with shaved fennel.)
Grilled Artichokes with Mint and Chiles (i always struggle with artichokes unless they are part of a spinach dip. good, tho.)

Portobellos with Arugula and Parmigiano (the mushrooms were awesome and the shards of parm were great.)

Pig-Wrapped Pig-Stuffed Pig ((expletive) (exclamation), dude!)

Monday, November 3, 2008

megapost postponed

so, when i do the post re-capping today, i want to do it right, and i am exhausted and have a plane to catch in the morning. so for the time being, i put up a brief synopsis on the step blog (click here), which is worth going over to look at if only for the ap photo that is on there (i can't legally run it here, but i could run it there since the paper subscribes to ap.) but the truth is, that photo sums it all up, right there. mario batali taking a picture of rachael ray leaning up against me with a pair of tongs.

yup, that was my weekend. more to come. very, very sleepy.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

a day at the races

my first day at the track, and ... wow. we didn't get a lot of time with mario, but it was amazing. we got to the texas motor speedway at about 9 a.m. and headed to the infield, where they were setting up the area where the tailgate party will be on sunday. we hung out there for a bit when darcie, mario's brand manager and my contest contact, got a call from mario saying he was here early, and can they send the helicopter now? I had been pretty excited that we got a driver to bring us in. I didn't know a helicopter was an option.

when he landed, we met him for about 15 seconds, then our handlers -- i have handlers this weekend -- took pam and i on a vip tour of the track. i have rarely felt so important. These guys, doug and bruce, were amazing, driving us around to the garages, the pits, the infield, the midway, and eventually to our seats in the suite and the winner's circle. we got another few minutes with mario, and by then rachael was there, too, at the sprint trailer on the midway, where they were doing a q&a session. pam and i got to stand on the stage during the event, then they were whisked off again.

after the race, we went over to the speedway's country club, where mario, rachael and dallas chef tim love competed in an iron chef-styled event called the asphalt chef. it was a big party, with each chef contributing some appetizers, and i have to say, rachael's bacon & deviled eggs, pictured at left, were the best thing i had there. the picture doesn't look great, but they were actually very attractive in addition to be excellent. there were party favors: everyone there got a pair of orange crocs. oh, and the secret ingredient in the asphalt chef challenge was chili peppers, and mario, who was paired with driver juan pablo montoya, won. he made a shrimp summer roll and grilled flank steak with two pepper sauces. sounded good to me.

tomorrow is the pace car ride, then the tailgate party. i am really looking forward to the tailgate party.

Friday, October 31, 2008

we're in texas!

we made it to fort worth today without much to report. There was nothing scheduled today. I met briefly with darcie, mario's brand manager who has been my contest contact for the past month or so. she and i have exchanged about 300 e-mails and a handful of phone calls since I made it to the quarterfinals. so it was nice to meet her. she gave us some of our race tickets and updates the itinerary. oh, and gave me the menu for sunday's tailgate party.

i am trying to keep it a big secret that i am not a big nascar fan, so don't tell anyone. but i also suspect that i am going to have a lot of fun. saturday's schedule has us getting to the track at some hour at which i am usually not awake, and we are getting a vip tour of the track, get to check out the pits and watch the race from a suite. my experience with suites and sports events suggests i will enjoy that. after the race, i am going to an event where rachael ray, mario batali and dallas chef tim love are competing in something called asphalt chef. they'll each be paired with a nascar driver and compete in some iron chef-like thing. my understanding is that this is being recorded for the pre-race show on abc on sunday, so check your local listings. after that, pam and i get to go to the swanky speedway club for dinner.

(i actually met tim love once before, and it's kind of a funny story. it was my 40th birthday, and my friend and i were having lunch at cafe ponte. I saw michelle bernstein, a fairly famous miami chef, walk in, and i was left a little speechless. as we were walking out, i stopped by her table to talk to her. she was with two guys, one of whom seemed mockingly annoyed that everyone always knew who michelle bernstein was. he called himself and the other guy her "backup singers." It was tim love.)

sunday, we get to the track early again, and i get to go for a ride in a pace car, then go over to the tailgate party. sounds like i'm not actually cooking, but sitting around getting credit for inventing one of the dishes. the party is supposed to be for sponsors and media. should be interesting. i have seen the menu, and i'll post it on sunday night. i'm not sure if i'm supposed to before the party. i think I can safely tell you that pig-wrapped, pig-stuffed pig is on there. and i'm pretty humbled by that fact, when looking at the rest.

after the tailgate party, we watch the big race from the suites. and we come home monday. a lot of the itinerary is loose, and i'm happy about that. I'm hoping that it give us a chance to do whatever seems fun at the time.

oh, the limo ride here was a little bit of an adventure, but it was in a hummer, so that was pretty cool. driver said it costs $250 to fill the tank. gulp. and when we got here, the hotel sent up a cheese plate. that is the picture above.

i walked over the central market, which is about a half-mile away. central market is a texas grocery chain with a big reputation, and i was looking forward to seeing it. the one here is kind of new, and it was nice, but nothing mind-altering. i might need to go see one of the original ones. dan will have to tell me where those are. i know he likes the one he has in san antonio. oh and we had lunch at a place called taco diner. it claims to be a mexico city taqueria. very good stuff. we had the steak tacos and some pork sopes. and mango agua fresca. yum.

i plan to twitter more from the track tomorrow, and i will post with photos tomorrow night.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

the fabulous prizes

so, got three boxes of prizes from fed ex this week. above is a photo of some of the haul:

in the back, there are viva paper towels. i got 30 coupons, each for a free roll. also in back is the uncle ben's pack with 12 boxes/bags of rice.

in front of the paper towels, there is a bamboo pizza peel, a slate piastra (a cooking stone you use on the grill), a couple of silicone spatulas and a wooden spoon, an apron, the 4-quart enamel-coated cast iron pot, and a couple of towels.

in front of all that, there is the panini pan, with a bronze grill spatula, a pizza pan/griddle, magnetic nesting measuring spoons, bronze tongs, a pizza cutting wheel, a set of measuring/prep bowls and a 2-cup individual pot.

not pictured are two pairs of crocs, for which i got coupons to redeem online, and two autographed cookbooks.

also not pictured is the trip to texas to meet mario and rachael and hang out at the nascar race. the tailgate party is still the highlight for me, but apparently i will be riding in a pace car, too.

more details on the trip to come.

you might notice that i have added a twitter feed to the blog. that is how i will update you all from the track this weekend. i will also post blogs and photos each night, but i will try to get immediate updates posted through the twitter. you can add me if you twitter (i feel so, i don't know ... 27), or just check back here for updates. i will send in updates whenever something interesting happens, which i hope/suspect will be often. don't be surprised if you see the tailgate menu and the reo speedwagon setlist on there before its all over.

i will probably not be monitoring replies from the track, but i will see them when i get back to the hotel. so don't be offended if i don't @ back at you immediately.

on twitter, i am jwscoop. its a long story.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

the recap

ok, it has been six days, and i think i can finally think mostly straight again.

if only to forever document it for the purposes of my own memory, i am going to run down the end of last week:

by thursday evening, i was sure i had not won. i felt fairly confident that they would call the winner before the air date to give them a heads-up, and when my phone had not rung by about 6 p.m., i was pretty devastated. so i poked around the internet, seeing if i could find anything posted by the other semifinalists suggesting they HAD won, but didn't find anything like that, either. i was exhausted enough that i actually slept pretty well.

so friday comes around. rachael ray's show is on in tampa at 2 p.m. we had learned that it was on at 10 a.m. in orlando and washington dc, in each of which i have plenty of friends that could tip me off. then pam saw that it was on at 9 a.m. in miami, so i refocused my targets. i sent e-mails to everyone i know down there asking if they would be home, or at least near a tv. no one was. apparently, 9 a.m. is a popular time to go to work and/or take kids to school. i had no idea.

luckily, john devine had an idea: call bvs. he's retired! so i called bvs and asked if he was near the TV. not only was he, but it was on. luckily, that day's tennis or golf game hadn't started yet. he flipped over to the show and when they got to the announcement, held the phone to the TV. i heard banter, then i heard my name, then i heard rachael, then i just started giggling and heard not much else.

i immediately set my facebook status to "jim webster won!" and my e-mail started popping, my home and cell phones started ringing and my facebook wall started filling up. it was amazing.

at about 10:20, i was IMing melanie in dc, because it was about to be on there. then at like 10:33, instead of trying to keep up with IMs, i just called her, and listened to it again. i caught little more than i did the first time, because of the giggling and a not-great cell reception. but it was still nice to hear it again.

we finally got to work about 11:30, which is a little late on a friday, and my desk was decorated in pink and pig. there were photoco
pies of pigs all over the desk, pink streamers hanging from the ceiling and a flying pig, which i think is staying. there was a crown with a pig on it, a picture of mario that said "i can't wait to cook with you," and a sign on my monitor that just said, "OINK."

before i saw this, i wasn't sure if i would get any work done that day. after i saw that, i was pretty sure, no.

when the show finally aired in tampa, i was at my desk. a bunch of people huddled around the TV next to my desk, and scott keeler, one of our photographers, was sitting next to me. i tried to look around a couple of times to see who all was around, but i was finding it impossible to retain information. so i just sat and started watching. then i started to hear the sound go up on multiple TVs, and i saw groups huddled around the newsroom. i was later told this was happening all over the building.

so they come back from commercial, and i am actually starting to get nervous. and i know i won. but mario starts talking about the contest and the sponsors and such, then they start talking about "we have a champion." "a CHAMPION?" i think it was at this point i got all ritchie blackmore and may have actually left my body so i could
watch the whole thing from a different vantage point. i think i was still ok with it all when mario said, "jim webster of tampa, florida." but it was when he started talking about how they made the dish, how much they liked it and what a good idea it was that i started shaking. it seemed 100% impossible he was talking about me at that point, and i was numb.

when it was over, i didn't know what to do next, so i just got up and started shaking hands, hi-fiving and hugging anyone in sight. later, there was cake, which, apparently, you can get a cake with a pig on it from publix with remarkably short notice.

i didn't get much done that day, as it turns out.

once we gave up pretending that i might accomplish work, we left and met a bunch of friends for dinner at MJ's, which is one o
f my new favorite places. pam and i went there the night after i had spent the day canvassing for votes in ybor, and had given the waitress some of my cards. she gave one to the chef, who came out and talked to me and seemed very excited about the deal. dinner was great. it was awesome hanging out. i think my favorite part was listening to jeremy analyze the announcement. he and i had discussed the rationalizations supporting me the night before, and he said that mario had pretty much supported everything we said in his announcement. also from jeremy: "it wasn't that mario liked your concept. it wasn't that he liked your execution. mario liked your concept AND your execution." that cracked me up.

and when becky said, "does mario know that he was talking about your food the same way we talk about his?" that was cool, too.

i got home, and there were about 40 more e-mails and 10 more facebook posts. it was nuts. i feel bad that i haven't responded to each yet. but i hope to.

on saturday we went to orlando and i met ronnie at tom's show. we made plans to try to arrange a get-together so i could cook for everyone.

i have a million more details i want to mention, but i'm already positive this post is too long for anyone to actually get through. so i'll cut it off now and try to do another soon.

thanks again, everyone.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

whew, what a day

i rarely have a problem with speechlessness, but i really have no idea where to start in discussing today. it was an amazing day. i will eventually think about it, and post something, but i wanted to get the video up for anyone who missed. so take a look.

and thanks.

Friday, October 17, 2008

spoiler alert: I WON!

so, i haven't seen it yet, but i called my good retired miami friend bvs, and he held the phone up to the tv while they announced the winner ... and it was me! at least it sounded like it was me. i guess i won't know for sure until i watch it at 2.

(if you are taping and want to fast forward to me winning, it will be on at about 35 minutes past the hour. this way, you can sucker bet your friends at the bar.)

so, here is what i know, in addition to a year's worth of paper towels and a week's worth of uncle ben's rice (i like my rice), and a bunch of kitchen stuff, now pam and i will be going to fort worth, texas, to attend a nascar race, but more importantly, cook at a tailgate party with mario and rachael. i was all giggly, but it sounded like rachael said she couldn't wait to taste it, tho i don't recall her dropping a "yum-o" or anything. maybe she was reserving that for actually tasting it.

ACK! not thinking straight.

anyway, thanks SO MUCH to everyone who got me through the quarters. couldn't have done it without you. i'm going to go douse my head in cold water now.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

winner announced friday!

so, for reasons i will not expound on, i have managed to convince myself that there is no way i lost this thing. and those feelings are only quelled by the absolute positiveness i have that there is no way i won this thing.

the winner will be announced on the rachael ray show on friday. here in the tampa bay area, it is on ch. 8 at 2 p.m. i know in orlando and washington dc it is on at 10 a.m., and luckily i know people in both of those markets who will keep me appraised, so one way or another, we'll eventually know.

i was really keeping it together until about yesterday, when my psyche began to crumble. i'm having trouble know that my fate as it relates to this has already been decided, and i don't know what it is.

anyway, if you are interested in watching, friday is the day. wish me luck.

Monday, October 6, 2008

i'm in!

the semifinalists have been announced now, and i am one of them! and in my lifetime, i haven't used as many exclamation points as i have in the past month! this is crazy.

so, i am in the final three, and the other two are the pigeon guy and the father-son bbq team. there is no voting in this round (!!!!!); a team that includes mario will pick a winner from among us. my only goal was to get to the round where we would be judged on merits. i wasn't excited about the voting round, but thanks to everyone who helped get me through it.

the winner will be announced on the rachael ray show on monday, oct. 20. i am sure you guys all have your DVRs set to permanently record her show, so none of you will miss it.

thanks again to everyone who helped me campaign. sean, laura, janet, anne and kelly all got me great play on the times web site. ellen and dan got me great play in tbt. kristin s. and phil included me in personal blogs (i know of those. if i didn't know of yours, thanks!), 90-some people joined my facebook group and i know that many of you mass e-mailed your address books. pam went crazy in internet chats to drum up support. and all the gmail and facebook status update calls to vote made me feel really good. with all the issues that surrounded the voting, i really appreciate all the help.

i will try to post the video soon, if you missed it earlier.

wish me luck!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

waiting ...

we are now in the waiting phase of mario batali's ultimate grilling challenge. i should know by thursday whether i have advanced to the semifinals.

i am very happy with my campaign, and the results that i am aware of so far. i have no idea what happened over the weekend when they went to the e-mail voting. i felt that that change may have helped me a lot, but it also seemed like a recipe for evil manipulation. and i am fairly appalled by a tactic i witnessed from one of my competitors. i just hope it didn't work for them. but, realistically, i realize that they were probably not the only one using sleazy, unsportsmanlike tactics. they were just the one i found.

if i lost because i didn't sink to that level, technically
, i guess, i have to be ok with that.

i don't like to talk smack, but on a culinary level, i think my dish was the best of the seven. on a creativity level, ditto. i was a little rough in the video, but thanks to some awesome editing by pam, it was better than i might've imagined that i was capable of. and it was almost fun enough that i am planning my next video. more details on that as they come available. don't worry. no attack sites, no voting.

and, come one, i definitely had the best dish title. like it was close.

when the voting shifted to e-mail, i seemed to be in fifth, but was close to third, which is where i needed to get. i have no idea how the e-mail voting may have changed that, but i know that i ended up third in video views after a strong weekend push. my rating seemed to indicate that i was getting more bad ratings than good, which means one of two things: either america hates me, which i choose to not believe, or that the other contestants were instructing their voters to vote me down at a higher rate. which, i think, says something. (actually, it says two things. first that they thought my dish was the biggest competition, and second that they are small, small people afraid of a challenge. ha!)

thanks to everyone who voted. i will try to not put either of us through anything like that again anytime soon.

Friday, September 26, 2008

last chance to vote for pig-wrapped pig stuffed pig

As many of you know by now, there have been technical problems with the voting in mario batali's grilling challenge. but for the final few days, there is an alternate method that should get you through.

here's what you do now:

1. Click here and click on "vote here" in the upper right corner.

2. Go through the registration process. they only require an e-mail address, zip code, birth date and some advertising opt-outs.

3. You will then get instructions to e-mail your vote to your subject line should say VOTE, and in the body of your message, put Jim Webster, five stars (if I may be so bold as to suggest your vote!)

That should be all I need. The site has had many problems so far, so this is a fall back for them. And there is a problem if you try to access through Firefox 3. If the site blocks you, or you encounter any other problems, please follow step 3 and add what problem you encountered to the message, in addition to the vote.

I'm not currently in position to advance, but I think it is totally within reach, if i can get a good push from last-minute voters between now and monday night.

And if you have voted already, thanks!

if you are just tuning in, i among seven quarterfinalists in the contest for my recipe, which includes orange-fennel sausage stuffed inside a butterflied pork tenderloin, which is wrapped in pancetta. if i am in the top three in voting, i move to the semifinals, and if i win there, i will win a trip to texas to cook with mario at a tailgate party.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

voting problems

so, the voting seems to be down. i have no idea why, and don't know what to do about it. the site is up, you can watch the video, but if you try to register to vote, you get an error message. so, for now, don't. i feel terrible that i have drawn so many people into this fiasco.

thanks for your efforts. the voting was supposed to be open until monday, so i'll let you know if it reopens, but this is at least the fourth problem i have noticed, so i would understand if you've had it with me and my requests.

regardless, i'll let you know what i know when i know something.

thanks for the support so far.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

ybor and mj's, saturday, sept 20

so, i took the pig-wrapped, pig-stuffed pig campaign to the people today. i printed up some cards with information about the dish and voting, then went out to the ybor saturday market where the national tour of top chef. i figured that is as good a demographic as i would find.

they had a big tractor trailer truck with slide outs. inside, there was a tiny kitchen and 38 chairs. the chefs presenting were carlos fernandez from season 2 and richard blais, who was a finalist in the most recent season. richard is one of my favorite contestants from any season, so i was looking forward to seeing his demo.

anyway, i got there at about 945 a.m., which was 45 minutes before the first show. i wasn't looking forward to walking around and talking to strangers, but i figured my vote total needed a boost, so i needed to do it. and it was actually sort of fun. everyone -- well, almost everyone -- seemed happy to hear about the contest and what i could win. and most said they would go right home and vote. i gave out about 400 cards. so far, i've had a bounce of about 50. hoping that i get more tomorrow, but i was hoping for a 20 percent return, and that seems highly possible. i mean, of course, i don't know that all of them were people from ybor today, but i'm sure it didn't hurt.

i gave a card to blais and talked to him briefly. he seemed genuinely nice, which he seemed on the show. he said he was going to vote for me. i was rooting for him on top chef, so nice that he's returning the favor here.

he made sweet tea ice cream in the demo. he made it with dry ice, which i have seen happen on tv before, but never tried. it was pretty awesome. he made the ice cream base, and while it was still hot, put it in the bowl of his kitchen aid stand mixer. with the mixer running, he started adding the dry ice, and fog started billowing out of the bowl. it looked like a movie prop. we got to taste, and it was really good. it tasted like carbonated ice cream. i want to do this. oh, and i'm looking forward to my next trip to atlanta. richard is opening an upscale burger joint there. i'll go. oh II: while i was in ybor, i had lunch at mema's alaska tacos. i guess what makes a taco an alaskan taco is that they fry the tortilla. i had a gator taco, which was kind of cool. they were good, but kind of small and kind of expensive. shrug.

so i secured some votes. hopefully enough, and got to meet someone i respected on tv and learned that he deserved it. good day. and it wasn't even over yet. ...

so after a day of talking at ybor, i came home and crashed in front of the tv and watched the rays. then, all of a sudden, it was 730 and i was hungry. so we took a suggestion from laura reiley and headed over the mj's martini jazz and tapas bar. they asked us if we had ever been there before. we said, yes, but the last time we had been there, is was about seven years ago, and it was a steak & ale.

i want to go back and try everything on the menu. we started with the mussels a la tara, a nice bowl of mussels in a wine-butter sauce. sweet. portabello mushroom stuffed with goat cheese and spinach. sweet. we also had the slow-braised burgundy short rib. the description on this dish was just "with gratitude and respect for chef boulud." so i asked the waitress if the chef worked for daniel boulud, and she said yes. that was pretty cool. daniel is someplace i'd like to go someday. the short rib was good, though not quite as tender as i might've hoped. the sauce was really good. and the potatoes were good.

pam got the pan-seared salmon which had a lavender honey. i got the pan-seared duck breast, which came with a sour cherry sauce. this was awesome.

for dessert, i didn't have to choose, they had a sampler. a little taste of four different desserts. new york cheesecake, and the open cannoli were my favorites, but the carrot cake and the chocolate almond torte were good too.

they have something called bananas sorta foster. i need to go back and find out what that means.

all the plates were small, which is always fun. you could go create your own tasting menu. tapas is a great plan.

so, pam brought some of the cards that i took to ybor saturday morning, and we gave some to the waitress, told her the story and asked her to get all the employees to vote for me. she said sure. as we were getting ready to leave, i saw the waitress in the kitchen showing my card to the chef, domenica macchia. they seemed to be animated. then i saw her coming out to the dining room. so i waited. she seemed really impressed with the idea and the opportunity, and said she would vote for me. it was fun talking to her, too. i'm definitely going back. so should you.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

pig voting

hey, to anyone here because i met you in ybor this morning, thanks! and if you came here because you had a problem voting, i didn't mention to everyone, but there are problems with the site on firefox. i mentioned to a bunch of people, but know it didn't come up with everyone. explorer and safari don't have a problem with it, so if you have access to another browser, please try again.

i have been assured by the contest people that there is nothing wrong with the site. in fact, if you can click to ignore the warning on firefox, but that gets really annoying.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

ronnie the greek handicaps the field

ronnie perkins has been one of my best friends for almost three decades. and i know no one who does a better job of studying the candidates and issues before he votes.

but i sort of thought that when i told him i needed his vote for the batali grilling contest, i might just get it. nope. he studied the field, broke it down, weighed pluses and minuses, and finally came to his conclusion.

here is his report:

I watched the other videos to see your competition. Here's my assessment:

Salmon guy - sort of quirky but the vintage wine since thursday, low-rider capital of the world, and fish-hating granny was funny. decent presentation but not for me.

- a bit too much energy for this contest. good sound and video effects. Unique idea but it seemed way too much effort for a NASCAR tailgate party. Just throw a pig in the ground and tap a keg!

Jack Daniel's BBQ man - i liked the ingredients flying in and the process through the night but he's too cocky for me. although the food looked good it wasn't original and he didn't discuss anything but the bbq sauce and the duration on the grill. i liked having the gang at the end taste-testing the finished product.

Pigeon killer - i like squab/quail but he was way too boring. nothing but grilled bird with some bbq sauce and wine. i liked the grape wood idea since it was from his vineyard but not much else.

Vince's pork roast - definitely your toughest competition. i liked the ingredients and the way it was wrapped and tied for cooking. the audience was a good background and his presentation skills were really good as was his finished food presentation. hopefully he doesn't have many friends!

father and son butt team
- not bad. pretty good looking food although i don't like coleslaw. the jeff gordon look alike was a funny idea too.

PWPSP - oh yeah. i like how you showed the construction, the grilling, the cutting, and the tasting. but the final presentation of the food was the best of show and the idea (3/7 pork) and the name should be a crowd-pleaser. my only critique would be more eye contact. i think you have a winner! everyone will need to vote! good luck!

well, there you have it. after much thought, the considered opinion is pig-wrapped, pig-stuffed pig. ronnie assured me i got his 5-star vote.


ps: i can't really tell if you can tell how the voting is going, but if i am reading it right, i fell overnight. i really thought i'd gain with all my late-night friends. the quail guy shot out of nowhere, going from (i think) sixth place to (i think) first. then it appears that the guy with the wrapped pork shoulder is close behind (hmmmm, sausage wrapped in pork. know what that needs? bacon.), then the bbq sauce guy. then i'm neck-and-neck with the father-son team. sigh. i'm hoping that the other entrants used up all their friends the first day and that i still have a lot more in the bank. so get out there and vote!