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First Woman Wins…

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…the title of Top Chef! What, you thought maybe I was gonna say “Presidential primary?” Sorry ’bout that.But hey, we may not have our first female president yet, but at least we do have the first female winner of Bravo’s cheftestancy contest,Top Chef. If that seems trivial, consider that last night, when Padma Lakshmi announced Stephanie Izard as the Season Four winner, women from coast to coast shrieked, applauded, and called one another on the phone. Those who could wait until morning sent celebratory emails.

Stephanie’s four-course meal, presented to nine gastronomical bigwigs, consisted of seared quail breast, sauteed red snapper filet, roasted lamb medallions, and a ricotta pound cake. It was the lamb that killed, and though the cake went over like a lead balloon, the rest of Stephanie’s menu was lauded as exceptional. The judges were ecstatic over the lamb, which they said was full of surprises, particularly the braised pistachio nuts.

Yes, you read that correctly: braised pistachio nuts. I watched a video of LeeAnn Wong, a first season cheftestant, cooking the dish. She made it look so simple, but the recipe boggled my mind. First, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as white balsamic vinegar. Nor do I know the meaning of the words nappe as in Add in browned bones and reduce to nappe… or gastrique as in Pour spoonful of sauce on top and drizzle with blackberry gastrique… Spellcheck never heard of them either (I know that’s not saying much). Maybe I’m just a total ignoramus in the kitchen, but I’m not even sure what kind of pot is nonreactive (another spell check stumper).” Sure, I could probably figure it all out…but it just goes to show that when it comes to Top Chef I’m way out of my league.

Her menu attests to Stephanie’s worthiness for the title; she did not win just because of her gender—if anything, being female appears to be somewhat of a liability on this show, as it is in the field of upscale chefdom. I say this not only because no woman won in the previous three seasons (see my lament for last season’s runner-up), but because the majority of today’s blogs on the Top Chef site used most of their word space to lament Richard Blais’s loss. Ted Allen, whose blogs and presence on the program are generally great fun, baldly stated Richard’s loss is the big story tonight. Team Top Chef Blog, written anonymously, was titled Poor Richard. Andrea, who I believe works for the program, opened and closed her blog with tears for Blais. To my recollection nothing like this has previously occurred, no matter who won or lost, and it kind of reminds me of the media coverage of the Democratic primary race. Every time Hillary Clinton scored big, the story would somehow still be about Barack Obama. This is what sexism IS. It’s not all about harassment or rigid sex roles or non-equal pay scales, although those issues are important. Sexism begins and ends with the issue of who and what gets our attention. In our culture, men’s doings are so much more important than women’s that, even when the story isn’t about him, we make it his.

Moment of Truth

As I plowed through the blogs, getting madder and madder, I finally hit one that gave Stephanie an unqualfied congratulations. Bethenny, who also seems to work for the program, made some funny, quotable comments, like, What is amazing to me is that the chefs don’t flinch when making bacon ice cream using liquid nitrogen, but making a simple ricotta cake is daunting. And, Everyone loved Stephanie’s snapper with white and green asparagus with truffle essence. It was much the best, but there needed to be some criticism. Her leeks were a bit crunchy. The horror!

Richard does seem to be a fine chef, and he’s a prince of a fellow. He and Stephanie both have lovely personalities—so lovely that when they were on the same team they argued about who should get the prize, each one wanting to give it to the other (in the end they split it). I like Richard a lot, but as the season progressed he began to falter, and in last nights’ finale, by his own admission, he “choked.”

And then there was Lisa. Lisa was this season’s Marcel, the chef everyone loved to hate, and deservedly so. A nasty piece of work, her most recent cruel remark came last night after the three had gotten a summation of the judge’s thinking, before the final decision. Oblivious to Richard’s pain, she announced to Stephanie, You nailed the first and third courses and I nailed the other two. Richard just stared at her, as if in disbelief. I voted for this remark as most shocking of the night, but in fact it wasn’t at all shocking, considering the source. Besides having a much higher opinion of herself than she warrants, Lisa’s been bitching and throwing her colleagues under the bus since Day One. Most fans couldn’t believe she made it to the finale, considering she’d been one of the bottom three cheftestants in seven of the challenges. Had she won, I suspect fans would have rioted.

And so Season Four of Top Chef comes to a close. My biggest complaint about this program is such long stretches of time between series. We probably won’t see it again for another eight months or so. Meanwhile, you can catch up on Bravo’s reruns, or online.

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