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Friday, October 30, 2009

Favre footage that just might bring a smile to your face

I had a little fun at the expense of crazy Internet commenters earlier this week, but honestly, Brett Favre returning to Lambeau Field is a really big deal.

Even non-football fans stuck in Titletown this weekend would probably admit to at least some sense of morbid curiosity about Sunday's 3:15 game. That's because this perceived public blood feud goes beyond mere X's and O's. If it were a reality TV show, it'd probably be like the over-hyped, he said-she said drama of Jon and Kate Gosselin's divorce ... with helmets.

No matter where you stand in the Packers vs. Favre debate, one thing is abundantly clear. Seeing Favre in Vikings purple makes it really, really difficult to remember him in green and gold.

At first, the reverse was true -- no way Favre can pull off the purple, right? Now, with a few games under his belt, it seems like forever ago that the guy suited up in Packers colors.

Yet thanks to YouTube, you can dust off some old, cherished memories of No. 4 just "slingin' it like a kid" out there. I'm particularly a fan of this clip from Favre's 1992 comeback win against the Bengals -- the first installment in Favre mythology -- because it includes a post-game interview, probably the first Favre conducted as a pro.

Packers fans already know that Kitrick Taylor caught the dramatic touchdown heave. That Favre came in for an injured Don Majkowski and stayed in the starting lineup every single game after that. Heck, playing in his first game, then-first round pick Terrell Buckley even returned a punt for a touchdown -- which, to this 12-year-old Packers fan watching at home -- was the best thing about that day!

Also, to date this thing further, yup, that's O.J. freakin' Simpson in the NBC studio. Bob Costas even has to explain how to say Favre's name -- wow, what a novel concept, eh?

In other Favre-lous news, Patrick Ryan, a Wisconsin native who is currently going to school in Los Angeles, put together this YouTube video about the drama-laden Favre-Packers timeline. It's a pretty entertaining trek down memory lane -- complete with Greta interview clips!

Finally, former Packers fullback William Henderson has been making the talk radio and TV rounds this week. He's been one of the most emphatic in saying that once you wear Packers colors, you don't go to the enemy. In this clip from ESPN's "First Take," Henderson said he plans to "boo" Favre until his throat his sore. (OK, that was actually what Homer Simpson said in "Lisa on Ice," but the intent remains the same.)

Also, if you're interested, here's an interview I did with Sports Illustrated's Peter King, who also serves as a studio analyst for NBC's "Football Night in America."

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,


New music video from "Office" webisodes is unbelievably catchy

If you haven't heard about the latest series of webisodes from NBC's "The Office," featuring Kelly and Erin's girl group "Subtle Sexuality," here's your chance to see what it's all about. Directed and written by Mindy Kaling, who plays flighty and pop-culture-obsessed Kelly on the show, the web series is a nice bonus to the usual Michael-centric antics of the show.

The series follows Kelly and Erin (Ellie Kemper) in their attempt to shoot a music video for their girl group, Subtle Sexuality, while the rest of the office is out on assignment. The song, titled "Male Prima Donna," is clearly a dig at Ryan (B.J. Novak), who has a bit part in the the music video as rapper "Mr. Understood." But nothing quite compares to the cameo from 'Nard Dog aka Andy Bernard (Ed Helms). The lyrics are ridiculous -- but the song is unbelievably catchy.

Watch the video here:

--Malavika Jagannathan,


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Commercial Interruption: V for Vegetarian

Sometimes there's just too much television for one Channel Surfing blogger to handle. That's when we need a break to sit back, relax and indulge in some friendly back-and-forth (via email, of course — we don't actually like to speak to one another in person). Bloggers Kelly McBride, Malavika Jagannathan and Thomas Rozwadowski ate up last night’s "Top Chef" vegetarian challenge, but can’t believe underachieving Robin is still standing. With the top contenders beginning to emerge, we can’t help but wonder if we’re in for a repeat of Season Four.

Kelly: I wasn’t sure if "Top Chef" could keep the momentum going after last week’s epic Restaurant Wars challenge, but the cheftestants served up another golden episode with last night’s — it’s about damn time! — vegetarian challenge.

First of all, is it just me, or do the quickfire challenges keep getting better? After last week’s blindfolded team challenge, "Top Chef" busted out another winner with the TV dinner challenge. Each chef was asked to create a dish inspired by a classic TV show, with choices ranging from "Seinfeld" to "M*A*S*H" to "The Sopranos." Jolly Lumberjack Kevin once again showed his stuff, winning with his "Sopranos"-style never-go-against-the-family meatballs. Mikey I. drew "Seinfeld," a show he’d never seen. I can’t be alone in wondering how in the name of Festivus that’s even possible.

Moving onto the main event, the promise of cooking at Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak had the cheftestants salivating all over their meaty menu plans. But in a delicious twist, guest judge — and fellow vegetarian — Natalie Portman showed up, forcing the chefs to scrap the meat and go veg. Yahoo! The chefs’ reactions varied, from Eli’s quasi-good natured veggie bashing to Jen’s stern, almost angry, statement that she could never — EVER — become a vegetarian. Really, guys, it’s not that weird!

In the end, Kevin maintained his dominance, taking home the top spot yet again (and making me wonder why I ever put anyone else atop my power rankings). The bottom-dwellers included Robin (big shock there), a shaken Jen and the ever-cocky misogynist Mike (who apparently thinks leeks are proteins). In the end, Robin survived to cook another day, while Mikey I. was left to pack his knives and go.

I couldn’t disagree with the judges’ decision, but after eight — count ‘em eight — trips to the bottom for Robin, it’s nearly impossible to believe she’s still hanging on. Last week’s Restaurant Wars challenge clearly shattered Jen’s confidence, and I’m worried she may be beyond the point of bounce-back.

So Malavika, how long until we finally see the end of Robin? (or is she destined to become this season’s Lisa?) Is Jen gone for good or can she salvage her confidence, along with her culinary skills? How sweet was it to finally get that veggie challenge? And does anyone else have a nonsexual girl crush on Natalie Portman?

Malavika: First, let me address the most important question on your list -- Natalie Portman is hot. End of story. I am not ashamed to admit it.

If I had to gauge my excitement about the vegetarian challenge -- something I've seriously been looking for since season 1 -- I would rank it right between discovering that I have superpowers and the Astros finally winning the World Series. Now, clearly I'm biased. As a lifelong vegetarian, my eating habits have been misunderstood and ridiculed for so long that I've come to expect the mockery we heard from Eli and Jen on a regular basis. But... and this is a big but here... vegetarianism isn't exactly the "alternative lifestyle" it was ten or twenty years ago. Scores of restaurants serve up veggie fare -- many of them exclusively -- and it shouldn't throw real chefs for such a loop as it did on last night's episode.

My number one criticism -- and this goes for ALL the dishes served up yesterday -- was that no one apparently thinks vegetarians eat anything beyond vegetables. Not a single chef presented a pasta... rice... a risotto... or, hello, frickin' beans. I think Mike V. came the closest with a polenta to presenting something other than just sauteed or pureed vegetables. In fact, I'm shocked the judges let that fact slide.

As much as I would have loved to see Robin go, Misogynist Mike deserved to go on the fact that he thought leeks were, ummm, a protein and he couldn't come up with a "Seinfeld"-related quickfire dish (Hello, soup? Pastrami on rye? Heck, even a Junior Mint would have cut it!).

However, if Robin somehow survives to make the final 4, I will swear off "Top Chef." I'm not even kidding. She cannot -- CANNOT -- skate by on mediocrity, mediocrity she full admits to and is almost even proud of. As for my gal Jen, she needs to get a grip on herself. She's a great chef, but confidence is a big part of success... and she needs to pull herself out of this funk as soon as possible.

Now, Tom, as the resident carnivore on this here post... what were your thoughts on the veggie-friendly episode? And please limit your thoughts on Natalie Portman to a one paragraph minimum.

Thomas: Apparently, one of those "scores of restaurants" that serves regular veggie fare is Misogynist Mike's. 20 dishes on the menu! Some with yogurt!

If Robin survives next week, I have the sneaking suspicion that this season of "Top Chef" is going to play exactly like Season 4.

Kevin is Stephanie -- steady, solid, well-mannered and occasionally extraordinary. Michael V. is Blais -- experimental, innovative and far too full of himself to realize that risk-taking doesn't always equal the best dish (Volt's jab at Kevin's winning dish, that it was something he could have made as an intern, was the most "jerkish" thing he's said to this point. And for the first time, I really disliked him because of it. How's the air up on that high horse, Mikey?)

Michael I. is Dale -- arrogant, hot-tempered and out of the race a bit earlier than anyone probably thought, Bryan and/or Jen could be Antonia -- good enough to compete, but not great enough to win. And finally -- as Kelly alluded -- Robin could be, COULD BE, Lisa, the doo-rag queen of the damned. Be afraid.

In the end, I guess I'm most concerned about the top two because AIN'T NO WAY Survivor Robin poses a threat. With Jen so shaken, Bryan fading into the background more and more (could Mike continue to be a bigger assclown to him? -- "They're full of grease, anyways" -- know when to let up, man!), and Eli never really a serious contender, it's the Kevin and Michael show. Last night's pouty Elimination Challenge reaction from Michael set the stage ala Stephanie and Blaiser, except Richard was a good dude who couldn't rein his creativity in during the finale. It seems that more and more, Michael just wants to be rewarded for always having the boldest idea.

I liked the veggie swerve at Craftsteak, but ultimately, I thought all the dishes looked like appetizers. Eli's dinky eggplant appeared about as filling as eating two Tic-Tacs. Also, I had higher hopes for the Quickfire, partly because I thought some real creativity could have been shown by big-time TV buffs. Honestly, I had a hard time figuring out what each dish had to do with their respective shows, and I was really bummed that Bryan didn't have enough in his sorely lacking funny bone to deliver M*A*S*H potatoes instead of MASHED potatoes. C'mon, man! Also, Misogynist Mike should have just served up a big plate of nothing to capture the true essence of "Seinfeld." And really, WHAT was the DEAL with those LEEKS?

Finally, while I would love to drool over sweet, sweet Natalie -- How about that double entendre-laden dinner conversation? Yowza! -- I want to give a shout-out to guest judge Paul Bartolotta. He and his brother are Milwaukee-born and bred, and Ristorante Bartolotta in Wauwatosa is ridiculously good. Three words: braised duck ragu.

How do you like that, you lower life form vegetarians?

UPDATE: Since appearing on the show, apparently Ms. Portman has become a vegan, according to a column she wrote for The Huffington Post. Those chefs should be happy. Vegans make us look normal.

-- Kelly McBride,; Malavika Jagannathan,; Thomas Rozwadowski,

P.S. The booted Mikey I. will be hosting an online chat at 12:15 p.m. today. Check out the details here.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Greatest "Mad Men" episode this season... or ever

Sunday night's episode of "Mad Men" was about as perfect for an hour-long piece of television as I've ever seen in a long time. If you disagree with me, I've got a vase and I'm not afraid to use it.

For a show on which I've already used up all my superlatives and adjectives of praise -- with plenty of critical love and awards to back them up -- that's a pretty heady statement. After Betty's discovery last week of Don's real identity, all bets were off for Sunday's episode, but it surpassed even my wildest expectations.

The Big Reveal: The Draper marriage has always been a see-saw. But the minute... no... the second Betty confronted Don about his past as Dick Whitman, the tables turned. How great was it to see her order him to open the drawer in his desk? I don't think Betty has been that sure or confident of herself, perhaps not since we saw her shoot her neighbor's pigeons down in season 1. Suddenly we see her resolute even as Don -- yes, the same Don who levels underlings with one withering look every day at work -- breaks into tears as he talks about his family. The remarkable acting from both Jon Hamm and January Jones allows you to somehow sympathize with both of them. Will Betty be able to forgive the lie she's been living? Will Don continue to live out his fantasy as Don Draper, or will be have to reconcile his past as Dick Whitman?

The Vase: If you haven't seen it, well, you have no idea what I'm talking about. If you have, however, your love for Joan has only skyrocketed after watching her smash the ceramic vase full of flowers over her husband Greg's whiny, self-indulgent head. Still, Greg somehow managed to one-up her vase-lobbing by joining the Army. (Was anyone else's reaction "good, so he'll be dead soon" or am I just too mean?). We all had an inkling that Joan and Greg's marriage wasn't going to last, but Vietnam wasn't exactly how I'd pictured it ending. Either way, good riddance!

Of All the Gin Joints: OK, so he's not exactly Rick from "Casablanca," but we finally got to see a glimpse of what gives Roger that same quick-tongued bitterness. Naturally, it's a woman. And it's not just any woman, but a woman who left him to run her father's dog food company that manufactures the food from horse meat. Niiiiice. Though he rejects Annabel's advances on account of Jane, something tells me Roger will be up to his old tricks again... but it's nice to see him out of black face.

With only two more episodes -- yes, only two -- left in this season, there are tons of loose ends to tie up. I'm not sure we're going to get all our answers in this season, but there's one thing for sure -- if Sunday's episode was a taste of things to come, it's going to continue to be a great ride.

All right, "Mad Men" fans, it's your turn. Did you feel sorry for Miss Farrell or are you glad she's sort of out of the picture? Did you cheer when Joan clocked her hubby on the head? Do you think either of the next episodes will happen with the backdrop of the Kennedy Assassination?

Comment away.

-- Malavika Jagannathan,


"Funeral 4 Favre" gets major airtime on ESPN

Press-Gazette readers had a field day when WAPL (105.7 FM) announced last week it would be hosting a "Funeral-4-Favre" before Sunday's all-important Green Bay Packers-Minnesota Vikings game.

Well, the news also reached ESPN's radar, with Dana Jacobson of "First Take" interviewing WAPL co-host Len Nelson this morning about the planned festivities.

Check out the below clip for details -- which for all you moaners and groaners, really do sound more lighthearted and fun than morbid or mean-spirited. Either way, we'll certainly be interested to see if the coffin mannequin has Favre's patented gray stubble or whether visitors bring Eggo waffles in lieu of flowers.

The event goes down from 3 to 6 p.m. Friday at Tom, Dick & Harry’s in Ashwaubenon. As Nelson explains in the clip, any proceeds raised during the event will go toward Deanna Favre's Hope Foundation.

C'mon, that's a nice touch, right?

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Week 6: "Top Chef" Power Rankings

Laurine who?

Because of last week's team Quickfire win, the almighty Power Ranking judges panel chose to only give points if the top three on an individual list were part of the winning team. Only Kelly picked up a point.

Meanwhile, Evan scored again thanks to Michael V. walking away with best-of-all-time Restaurant Wars honors, but the ever-feisty Ms. Q kept pace by being the lone contestant to pick Laurine (seriously, who the hell is she?) to pack her bags. Adam also grabbed five for picking the villainous Voltaggio for the top spot.

How it all shakes out: Evan, 26; Ms. Q, 20; Boyd, 11; T-Roz, 11; Mary, 11; Adam, 10; MJ, 6; Kelly, 6.

Onto this week's rankings.

1. Michael V.
2. Bryan V.
3. Michael Isabella
4. Jen Carroll
5. Kevin Gillespie
6. Robin Leventhal
7. Eli Kirshtein

-- Evan Siegle

1. Kevin Gillespie, aka: Zach Galifianakis
2. Bryan "I do not smile. ever." Voltaggio
3. Michael Voltaggio, aka: Chef Slim Shady, aka: Tony Hawk
4. Jennifer "I don't move my mouth when I talk" Carroll
5. Michael "Jagga bombs!" Isabella
6. Eli "Seriously Jewish" Kirshtein
7. Robin "I give up – you should, too" Leventhal

-- Sara Boyd

1. Bryan Revolt
2. Michael Revolt
3. Misogynist Mike
4. Big Red Kevin
5. 867-5309 Jenny
6. Jewwy Jewerson Eli
7. Robin Must Never Be Moved From This Spot

-- Thomas Rozwadowski

1. Kevin
2. Jen
3. Michael V.
4. Bryan V.
5. Michael I.
6. Eli
7. About cussin' time

-- Adam Reinhard

1. Brother Bryan
2. Jen
3. Misogynist Mike
4. Brother Mike
5. Kevin
6. Eli
7. Robin

-- Malavika Jagannathan

1. Jenny Jen
2. Mike V.
3. Bryan V.
4. Kevin
5. Mike I
6. Eli
7. Robin

-- Kelly McBride

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Why all reality TV shouldn't get a bad rap

In the aftermath of the Balloon Boy hoax, a murderous contestant appearing on VH1's "Megan Wants a Millionaire" and recent channel flips past anything with "Real Housewives," "Hills" or "Kardashian" in the title proving to be the grand work of Satan, you'd have perfectly good reason to write off any and all reality TV from now until the end of time.

But even as television execs sink lower and lower by exhuming the likes of Lorenzo Lamas and Antonio Sabato Jr., there are a few delicate rose petals buried at the bottom of the Gosselin diaper pile if you dig deep enough.

In fact, to say that all reality TV is created equal would be like saying that all Green Bay Packers fans go around stabbing random dudes in Minneapolis. So in order to clear reality TV's bad name, here are a few entries on my DVR tally that are not only worth watching, but are worth celebrating:

"The Amazing Race"

I've said it before, I'll say it again: "The Amazing Race" is the best reality show on TV. Emmy streak aside, the honor has more to do with a tried-and-true formula that keeps delivering winning results 15 seasons in. Oddly, "The Race" settled in the sweltering oasis for Dubai for two straight episodes, and last night's installment -- while fairly pedestrian in terms of the challenge component -- was among the richest in drama.

A large portion of "The Race's" appeal is that its contestants usually settle in the background as the geography and interesting local customs take center stage. But last night, Jesus-happy couple Mika and Canaan (you had to figure these folks were extremely religious with a name like Canaan) were pushed to the limit because Mika (that'd be the hot blonde, not the douche who looks like a Backstreet Boy) refused to go down a waterslide at the Atlantis resort.

That's right, folks. The only move necessary to stave off elimination was a ride down a 10-second waterslide, one a 7-year-old on a sugar bender would have completed faster than you could say "Geronimo." Instead, Mika's freakout allowed the Harlem Globetrotters tandem of Flight Time and Big Easy to squeak by -- but not before adding to the delicious drama atop the slide.

First, Canaan -- in a very un-Jesus like move -- almost threw his girlfriend down the slide. Yep. He grabbed her like a sack of potatoes and tried to toss her down, prompting Mika to scream "Help me, help me!" to the hapless Arab slide attendant, who unfortunately, is likely used to seeing the mistreatment of women day in-day out. After unsuccessfully accosting her -- and later trying to reason ever so gently with his gal pal -- Canaan pouted on the ground as the Globetrotters caught up. However, as the second team to arrive to the same challenge spot, they had to wait two minutes to slide down.

That's when things turned ugly. And by ugly, I mean really, really funny.

With the clock continuing to tick, Big Easy began to play cruel mind games with Mika, telling her, "Man, I wouldn't go down. It's high." Nerves rattled, Mika remained paralyzed at the top. Canaan, meanwhile, failed to appreciate the genius strategy, calling Big Easy a "piece of crap" for making his girlfriend cry.

In the end, Mika had to step away. The Globetrotters flew down the slide and were the last team to check in, sending God's children on their way back to church, probably for some good ol' fashioned forgiveness for bathing so closely to the waters of sin.

Now that's great TV.

"The Amazing Race" airs at 7 p.m. Sunday on ABC.

"Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Ruins"

I have tried unsuccessfully to wean myself completely from these gratuitous MTV installments.

But there's also something oddly likable about watching 20-something (in some cases, 30-something) men and women act like complete infants in what can only be deemed the "Real World" bubble of D-list celebrity. These are people who only hang around each other, only date each other, and upon leaving the cozy confines of MTV reality land, make appearances in crappy college towns as "celebrity bartenders" because they have nothing else to do but update their MySpace pages.

Yet I love every minute of watching these buffoons, probably because it reminds me so much of high school yet I don't have to be bothered to turn in my reunion RSVP card.

This season's drama has been the most extreme yet, with Wes, the Ugliest Man with the Ugliest Shirts in TV history (at left), almost getting in at least three major fistfights, while last week, Crazy Tonya drunkenly began slapping the taste out of Veronica's month due to an old "Mean Girls" style rivalry.

Again, all the glorious high school drama without the need to see that one girl you used to have a crush on -- you know, only to realize she's now gained 200 pounds and crapped out three kids. Win, win, right?

"The Ruins" airs at 9 p.m. Wednesday on MTV.

"Top Chef"

We write a lot about "Top Chef," largely because it's a show about food (and who doesn't love food?), but also because the chefs are captivating personalities who truly bleed passion for their craft.

Maybe last season's disappointing finale lowered the bar, but overall, this has been the most gripping installment of the Bravo show thanks to a deep, talented field that continues to keep us guessing. Last week's Restaurant Wars installment only amplified the drama -- with Jen almost getting the axe while Robin somehow continues to defy the odds.

When the final three is announced in a few weeks, it's going to be a major disappointment considering there are four potential "Top Chefs" among the current crew (seriously, Stefan would barely crack the top five this season.) Once dead weight Robin and Eli are gone, the game is officially on.

"Top Chef" airs at 9 p.m. Wednesday on Bravo.

"The Next Iron Chef"

Hosted by the always-affable Alton Brown, "Next Iron Chef" does exactly what the title proclaims. The show runs the gamut of challenges in an ultimate test of culinary chops determined by "Iron Chef" chairman and "Dancing with the Stars" contestant Mark Decascos. The winner will apparently replace Mario Batali and join Bobby Flay, Masaharu Morimoto, Cat Cora and Michael Symon on "Iron Chef America."

Lost in the shuffle because of "Top Chef" timing, "Next Iron Chef" isn't quite as riveting or filled with polarizing personalities as its Bravo counterpart. But the challenges are creative (can't say I've ever seen someone cook with stinky tofu before), the food always looks delicious (well, except for the stinky tofu) and the competitive spirit makes for a fast-paced hour of television. Also, long-time "Iron Chef America" judge Jeffrey Steingarten's crusty observations are always good for a laugh or two.

"The Next Iron Chef" airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on Food Network.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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Speaking of 'Top Chef': More 'Masters,' and anyone feel like dessert?

Kelly Choi gotta eat.

Bravo announced yesterday that the spinoff show "Top Chef Masters" will be back for a second go-round (note how I avoided any food cliches like "second helping" or "second course") in 2010. This is good news for Channel Surfers, who largely savored every moment of the nation's best chefs going knife-to-knife, almost completely sans ego, and refreshingly drama-light. Just entertaining challenges (remember the dorm-room fiasco?), fun personalities (like roly-poly Art Smith and his near-constant goofball antics), and food that looked so good you'd bruise your hand trying to grab it through the TV screen.

Wafer-thin hostess Choi (seriously, you host a food show -- eat something) will reportedly return, as well as judges James Oseland, Gael Greene and Jay Rayner.

In addition, Bravo is developing a third second spinoff, this one geared toward that most feared of all dishes for "Top Chef" contestants: dessert. Variety reports.) that casting is underway for "Top Chef: Just Desserts," which will shift the focus solely to pastry chefs.

The sweet stuff has perennially presented the most trouble for the chefs. Team Mission even acknowledged this on last week's Restaurant Wars episode, writing off crafting a dessert first thing when planning their menu. Also memorable was last season's Thanksgiving episode, when guest judge Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters referred to Mimbo Jeff's pumpkin mousse as a "barf-ait." So putting the spotlight on everyone's favorite part of the meal, with cream-of-the-crop dessert professionals, could either be a disaster, or be the cause of an diabetes epidemic nationwide.

So what's with the sudden spinoff mania? According to Variety, "Top Chef" has been such a success that Bravo wants to have some iteration of the show on their schedule all year. This of course brings up the very real possibility of the network rolling their pastry dough too thin. I do hope, however, that they get around to something like a "Celebrity Top Chef," where people like Emeril, Rachael Ray and Anthony Bourdain duke it out. (And heck, how great would it be if they could coax Tom Colicchio into taking part too? Dude's starring in Diet Coke commercials now -- time to put up or shut up.)

Or Bravo could even roll out a "Top Chef All-Stars" edition, like that one-off "Project Runway" did at the start of their recent season. Get all the past winners, some fan favorites (Fabio and the Blais, natch), and great reality TV will ensue.

Looking forward to another season of "Masters"? Will you watch "Just Desserts"? How many Twinkies do you think Kelly Choi needs to eat before she resembles an actual human being? Let us know!

-- Adam Reinhard,

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Commercial Interruption: Vicious Voltaggio?

Sometimes there's just too much television for one Channel Surfing blogger to handle. That's when we need a break to sit back, relax and indulge in some friendly back-and-forth (via email, of course — we don't actually like to speak to one another in person). Bloggers Thomas Rozwadowski and Kelly McBride have nothing but kitchen kudos for last night's episode of "Top Chef." This season is shaping up to be the toughest contest yet for the cheftestants, notably the dueling brothers Voltaggio. Smart money's on both to make the finale, but who will emerge victorious is anybody's guess.

Thomas: Last night delivered one of the most memorable episodes in "Top Chef" history. Not because anything particularly earth-shattering happened -- although it almost did if Jen had been given the heave-ho -- but instead, because it was thoroughly entertaining and lived up to the promise and hype of previous Restaurant Wars installments.

First things first: I LOVED the new blindfold Quickfire challenge. Inventive, challenging, fun, and even downright quirky when you consider how each contestant had to assemble a food puzzle in their heads. Oh, but it was a classic example of the agony and the ecstasy as the same teams assembled for Restaurant Wars with far different results.

While the competition itself was fairly anti-climactic considering team Revolt (yeah, Noah Webster isn't fond of that name choice) destroyed team Mission, there was definitely some tension regarding Jen's fate. I had a feeling Laurine would take the fall for basically pulling a Radhika, but Jen botched two dishes -- and her brown butter trout honestly looking like it had been sitting in a Glad trash bag for days. And no, even George Costanza wouldn't take a bite out of that.

But the strong survive another day, and I'm certain Jen will bounce back from what ultimately turned out to be a case of really poor planning in the kitchen from team Mission. When both Jen AND Kevin are flustered, you know it doesn't have much to do with the complexity of a dish so much as timing and harried execution.

That said, the real storyline seems to be "Top Chef's" continued push to make Michael Voltaggio this season's Stefan-like villain. Last night saw Mike bullying fellow bo-ring brother Bryan in "revolting" fashion. At the end of their victory, the Bry-Guy didn't even want to make eye contact and take some pity cash for Vegas strippers after Mike -- yet again -- earned the judges' raves. I love the competitive aspect of having siblings on the show, but I'm not really buying that Mike is a truly bad guy. Yeah, he's a hard ass in the kitchen. Yeah, he pushes buttons to get things done. That also makes him a phenomenal chef.

As Tom Colicchio pointed out, someone on the Mission team needed to step up and be a bad-ass leader. Mike did that for his squad. Still, does his pushy attitude make you root any less for him, Kelly? Last night's poll results from the "Top Chef" audience would seem to suggest Mike isn't a fan favorite these days.

Kelly: Might I first say that I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of last night's episode. It was a phenomenal success (TV-wise, if not dish-wise for some unfortunate cheftestants), from teamwork quickfire to "letting it ride" and, of course, the culinary cage match that is restaurant wars.

As for the brothers Voltaggio (who I still have trouble telling apart), I'm still loving the sibling rivalry and tension they bring to the kitchen. It seems they're definitely playing up Mikey V's jerkishness (yeah, it's a word), but that doesn't take away from him being a.) a great chef and b.) semi-entertaining to watch. The recent badass anger display only serves to makes Brother Boring a bit more interesting in my eyes, so I'm all for it. I also don't buy that he's suddenly become this complete jerk, but I have no problem with Bravo playing up that angle. He was clearly an effective leader for team Revolt (agreed -- HORRIBLE name), and in the end, that's what matters.

A few other notes about last night's episode: One, it's about time Laurine was sent packing. She's been decent but never very impressive and I was frankly getting sick of her. I think Robin's still around largely for the drama factor, but she still surprises with the occasional knock-it-out-of-the-park dish. That said, cobbler isn't going to get her the finale. My only beef with last night's Restaurant Wars (and it's a small beef) was that decor wasn't part of the challenge. What happens in the kitchen is obviously the most important element, but one of the things I've always loved about Restaurant Wars is that the chefs start literally from scratch.

Thomas, you seem pretty sure about Jen's impending bounce-back, but this isn't the first time we've seen her falter. I think she's a phenomenal chef (and my personal favorite at this stage of the game), but I wonder if the subtle cracks in her confidence will become more pronounced after last night's trouncing. Is the game's most solid female chef finale-bound?

Thomas: It would have been perfectly justifiable had Jen been knocked out last night. Before the elimination was announced, I actually said aloud that her two dish blunder was a more egregious mistake than Laurine's forgetfulness/lack of assertiveness on the floor. But Jen has certainly carried her weight this season, so she deserved the benefit of failing during a more challenging kitchen role than just going through the front-of-house motions like a brain-dead zombie (though Eli was definitely a powerhouse for his team. I mean, geez Laurine, how hard is it to pour on some charm for what, two hours?)

This season of "Top Chef" has always been about the top four: Jen, Kevin and the Voltaggio Brothers. Sure Robin's annoying, but unlike say, Ariane from season's past, she doesn't pull enough dishes out of her backside to even make a dent in the standings. She's a goner. Soon. (Please, God?) Eli and Mike I. have talent, but in this loaded field, they're merely bit players. They should have signed up for Hosea's season.

At the same time, I wouldn't be shocked if Mike I. cracks the top three due to a sparkling run of inspiration, but I have a harder time believing that the Fearsome Four won't actually get to compete in the grand finale. In fact, it's such a travesty that one of them will have to go, I'm hoping "Top Chef" plays the "bring back Mimbo Jeff" card and uses a wild card strategy. Really, all four are phenomenal, and on their best day could stack up with some of the best chefs in the country.

So, I haven't adequately answered your question, but I think Jen is finale bound. My guess -- or perhaps hope -- is that it comes at the expense of Bryan, though the dramatic part of me really wants to see two brothers duking it in the finale. All that seething anger over banging each other's girlfriends in high school or one getting a Sega Genesis for Christmas over the other will be on grand display for the world to see. Honestly, I just want Mikey V. and Kevin to be in the finale because they're both my personal favorites and have proven to be the most "Top Chef" worthy at this stage. Jerkishness vs. non-jerkishness. Riveting stuff.

How about you, Kelly? Who are you rooting for? And honestly, has there ever been a "Top Chef" competition with this many potential winners?

Kelly: I'm all for my girl Jen -- in part because she's the only female contender, but mostly because she can cook like nobody's bidness. She's clearly a talented chef (last night's debacle notwithstanding) with a real passion for what she does. Of course, the same can be said of either Voltaggio and our favorite jolly lumberjack, so I agree -- it's going to be one heckuva race. I predict a Mimbo Jeff curveball squared for the finale -- this is Vegas, after all -- and I can't wait to see how it all shakes out.

I can't remember seeing a more solid field, and not even the best Vegas oddsmakers will be able to call this one. Hopefully Robin packs her knives next week so the rest of the chefs can get down to business.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,; Kelly McBride,

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Week 5: "Top Chef" Power Rankings

What more can be said about Apathetic Ash?

A seemingly well-liked house mate with a good sense of humor throughout, Ash's blase nature these last few weeks also proved extremely annoying.

I mean, can you imagine being Biggie Smalls Ron or He-She Ashley and getting sent home before this kitchen clod? Two weeks in a row, Jim Gaffigan Jr. failed to put stock in his own meager abilities -- the final dagger coming after he admitted changing his dish at the last second -- again! -- only to use a Mike Isabella idea he was ill equipped to execute.

This when one of the judges labeled Laurine's dish "cat food."

You lost to cat food, dude. Not good.

Sadly, No-Confidence Ash seems resigned to playing second fiddle as sous chef for awhile. He's a classic case of "just happy to be here." Oh well, it's back to rinsing paintbrushes for you. Or heating up Hot Pockets.

As for this week's standings, Evan kept his hot streak going, but Ms. Q, despite a minor glitch in posting, isn't terribly far behind. The overall tally: Evan, 21; Ms. Q, 15; Boyd, 11; T-Roz, 11; MJ, 6; Kelly, 6; and Adam, 5.

1. Michael "Maverick" V.
2. Kevin "Grizzly" Gillespie
3. Bryan "Goose" V.
4. Jen Carroll
5. Michael "I'm a Tool" Isabella
6. Eli Kirshtein
7. Laurine Wickett
8. Robin Leventhal

-- Evan Siegle

1. Bryan "I do not smile. ever." Voltaggio
2. Jennifer "I don't move my mouth when I talk" Carroll
3. Kevin Gillespie, aka: Zach Galifianakis
4. Michael Voltaggio, aka: Chef Slim Shady, aka: Tony Hawk
5. Michael "Jagga bombs!" Isabella
6. Eli "Seriously Jewish" Kirshtein
7. The chick who's name I will NEVER remember (aka: Laurine)
8. Robin "Seriously, why are you still here???" Leventhal

-- Sara Boyd

1. Jen
2. Kevin
3. Michael V.
4. Bryan V.
5. Mike I.
6. Eli
7. Laurine
8. Robin

-- Thomas Rozwadowski

1. Bryan V.
2. Michael V.
3. Kevin
4. Jennifer
5. Mike Isabella
6. Laurine
7. Eli
8. Robin

-- Malavika Jagannathan

1. Mike I.
2. Jen
3. Kevin
4. Eli
5. Mike V.
6. Robin
7. Laurine
8. Bryan

-- Kelly McBride

1. Michael V.
2. Bryan
3. Jennifer
4. Kevin
5. Michael I.
6. Eli
7. Laurine
8. Robin

-- Adam Reinhard

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ESPN's "30 For 30" series tackles rise and fall of USFL

I'm a sports buff. I'm a documentary buff. Combine the two and I'm more elated than Brett Favre after the Baltimore Ravens' weak-legged field goal kicker botches a 44-yard game winner.

So I'm particularly excited about tonight's ESPN presentation of "Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?" -- a new documentary about the fledgling football league that dared to challenge the almighty NFL in the early '80s.

Now, if you're not up to speed on ESPN's "30 For 30" series, the cable network is rolling out captivating documentaries throughout the rest of this year and next as part of its anniversary celebration. The brainchild of "Sports Guy" Bill Simmons, "30 For 30" gives award-winning filmmakers -- among them Barry Levinson, John Singleton, Barbara Kopple and Alex Gibney -- full creative control in detailing various sports-related storylines that dotted the landscape during the ESPN era of 1979 to 2009.

Tonight's USFL documentary, directed by filmmaker Mike Tollin, has several intriguing elements that make it among the more promising of the bunch launched forth by the Worldwide Leader.

One, though the USFL's three year run was a mere blip on the sports radar, it still carries an impressive, if slightly confusing, legacy as an American football league that dared to dream big while bleeding money left and right. Two, and perhaps most important to nostalgia buffs, the USFL wasn't filled with the kind of retreads or never-weres that made up both the World League (NFL Europe) or Vince McMahon's colossal tank job, the XFL.

Instead, the USFL plucked away three consecutive Heisman Trophy winners -- Herschel Walker, Mike Rozier and Doug Flutie -- and has an alumni roster that includes Jim Kelly, Steve Young, Anthony Carter, Gary Zimmerman and of course, Packers legend/NFL Hall of Famer, Reggie White. Not exactly He Hate Me.

Or put it this way: if you're following the United Football League right now, you can't be too encouraged by the star power of Simeon Rice and Brooks Bollinger. Better yet, how interested would you be if they managed to sign away Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy next year?

Three, the league had Donald Trump, who in 1983 was just another multimillionaire with a large building named after him. Today, he's also a pompous reality TV star with incredibly bad hair and a penchant for ugly feuds with the likes of Rosie O'Donnell.

Tonight's documentary appears to focus heavily on "The Donald" and how he "convinced his colleagues that the league should either move to a fall season and go head-to-head with the NFL, or fold its tents," Tollin writes on

Tollin also says: "I feel more firmly convinced now than ever that the USFL could have worked. It's one thing if an idea fails. It's another if it's just not given the chance to succeed. I think the latter of it is true in the USFL.

"Get a consensus of getting a dozen or more captains or kings of the industry to agree at one time. That's why Donald Trump's decision to move the USFL from spring to fall created an enormous rift in ownership and diminished the league's credibility in the eyes of the fans, which ultimately led to an erosion in attendance and TV ratings and left them with nothing but a lawsuit to cling to for survival."

You can feel the passion from Tollin, who worked for Halcyon Days Productions, or the group that landed the exclusive production rights for the upstart league. That kind of insider perspective should pay dividends for the film. As someone who was too young to enjoy the USFL -- or collect its awesome-looking trading cards, dang -- I'm looking forward to gaining some insight on what went right and what went horribly wrong (you know, like Trump's hair.)

Put on your dusty Memphis Showboats jersey and tune into ESPN tonight at 7 p.m.

As expected, Trump does not have kind things to say about the documentary. For more on the "30 For 30" project, go here.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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Flight of the Conchords get 'freaky' today

Considering I've worn out my copy of their first disc, it's with Mel-like levels of giddy excitement that I type the following words: the new Flight of the Conchords CD drops today.

"I Told You I Was Freaky" contains select gems from Season 2 of the HBO show, including crowd pleasers like "Hurt Feelings," "Sugalumps," and the Emmy-nominated "Carol Brown."

The AV Club weighs in with a quick review saying, "while Freaky works better as a collection of moments than as a unified whole, those moments are still reliably funny, from the silly double entendre of 'Demon Woman' to the conversational antagonism of 'Rambling Through The Avenues Of Time.' It’s antithetical to quibble over issues of originality and cohesion when dealing with song parody, anyway; even when resting on their laurels, the Conchords have a singular ability to pen a damn funny song."

Tracklist is as follows:

Hurt Feelings
We’re Both in Love with a Sexy Lady
I Told You I Was Freaky
Demon Woman
Rambling Through the Avenues of Time
Fashion Is Danger
Petrov, Yelyena and Me
Too Many D**** (On the Dance Floor)
You Don’t Have to Be a Prostitute
Carol Brown

And some personal favorites with full visuals in tow. Enjoy them since there may not be another batch anytime soon.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,


Friday, October 16, 2009

Commercial Interruption: The ice queen returneth

Sometimes there's just too much television for one Channel Surfing blogger to handle. That's when we need a break to sit back, relax and indulge in some friendly back-and-forth (via email, of course — we don't actually like to speak to one another in person). Bloggers Malavika Jagannathan and new Channel Surfing inductee Kelly McBride are frustrated with the seemingly random eliminations on "Project Runway" this season. Last night's episode was just the latest in a series of unexpected auf'ings, and we can't help but wonder whether the move to Lifetime has somehow changed the show's ethics.

Kelly: What the devil is going on with Project Runway? Have the long-suffered court battle and move to the west coast caused the judges to take leave of their senses?

Last night's episode was another shocker, with talented Shirin going home for a slight misstep while Christopher "Bottom Three" Straub squeaked by yet again. And as much as I love my boy from Minnesota, his recent trifecta of scary looks in blue, weird wedding bubble dress and slutty Lady Marmalade knockoff should have had him Auf'd for sure.

Last night's challenge had the designers creating a stage look -- for guest judge Christina Aguilera, no less -- in the style of famed designer Bob Mackie. It was their chance to be glitzy, glamorous and over-the-top. Winner Carol Hannah earned her first victory with a long, textural black dress accented with just the right amount of feathers and sequins. Shirin also did a long, black number, but hers admittedly fell short and probably deserved to be among the bottom-dwellers.

Still, it paled in comparison to Christopher's cheap-looking nighmare, a weird corset and shorts combo under some sort of random cover-up. After thinking he had a good chance to go home last week, I was certain he'd be cleaning up his workspace after last night's disaster. Malavika, why on Earth is Christopher still with us?

Malavika: I had such high hopes that the return of the unflappable Nee-nah Gah-cia would mean a return to normal judging.

How my hopes were dashed. There's no earthly reason that Christopher should be here after three straight weeks of almost-eliminations at the bottom. Although I argue he had some spectacular pieces in earlier rounds that should have won (the newspaper challenge -- remember that?), he's taken a nosedive that cannot be excused. Instead, Shirin took the fall.

Now I've been hoping -- nay, praying -- that Nicolas would get his long overdue auf'ing this week, especially given that he basically made a REPEAT of his ice queen disaster in a shorter form for this challenge. Even the normally polite Tim Gunn pointed that out to him. However, he continues to skate by unscathed. Last week he openly admitted that the garment he made was the most hideous thing ever -- points for humor but not for effort -- yet he still persists in mediocrity. When will it end? When will they send him and his greasy/child-molester hair home?

His only redeeming quality -- and I'm not kiddng when I say only -- was the biting comment he made about Irina's... ummm... witchiness. That got a chuckle out of me. Any ideas on who will make the top three or four?

Kelly: If you'd have asked me yesterday, I'd have counted Shirin among the likely candidates. But even with her untimely departure, I still predict an all-female final three; namely, Althea, Carol Hannah and nasty-yet-talented Irina. We've talked about Christopher, who won't make the cut although he seemed a strong contender early on. Nicolas doesn't have what it takes, and I count both he and Logan in the lucky they made it this far category. I enjoy Gordana (mostly her accent), but she's been too hit-or-miss thus far (and could have gotten the Auf last night if not for immunity earned last week). Can't wait to see what next week's episode has in store.

--Kelly McBride, kmcbride@greenbaypressgazette and Malavika Jagannathan,


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bald ambition: Talking with "Top Chef" Hosea

“Let me put it this way, I wasn’t invited to Kohler last year.”

It’s with a healthy dose of self-deprecation that Hosea Rosenberg can joke about his meteoric rise from obscurity to insta-celebrity in a little less than a year.

Since being named the Season 5 winner of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” Hosea has discovered that it’s nicer to be in the rarified air of previous Kohler Food and Wine Experience invitees like Tom Colicchio, Jacques Pepin and Hubert Keller than on the reality TV chopping block.

If Hosea hadn’t already been sporting a bald dome, this year’s life-altering adventure probably would have led to some manic hair-pulling moments. After a stressful bit of hanky-panky with fellow contestant Leah Cohen, Hosea kept his cool and captured the “Top Chef” crown in February during a three-way battle with Stefan Richter and Carla Hall.

In the immediate aftermath of his victory, Hosea realized that his quiet Colorado kitchen life would never be the same.

Prior to his visit to Wisconsin next weekend, Hosea took time out from visiting his ill father in Colorado to answer a few questions for a story to run in the Press-Gazette on Saturday. Though our Channel Surfers had some fun at his expense last season, he couldn't have been more gracious, polite and candid during the interview.

For more on the Kohler Food and Wine Experience from Oct. 22-25, visit the Green Bay Hub this weekend.

Well, I assume it’s been a crazy year since winning “Top Chef,” but how often do you travel to food and wine events?

This year has been chock full of different events like the Kohler one. It’s been so fun. Events like this are great because it gives me a chance to travel all over the country and meet chefs from different regions. Most of them I’ve read about or heard about but never actually met. So the chance to cook with them is a real treat.

Do you get to pick what you want to do or does the festival set the agenda for you?

The Kohler folks laid it out pretty well. They’re really well organized and gave me information months ago. In fact, it’s a double-edged sword because while I like being prepared and having everything figured out ahead of time, as a chef, sometimes when you’re not in your own restaurant, or you’re traveling so much, it’s not easy to come up with a menu three months in advance. They wanted the food so early I put a menu together, and now I’m kind of wishing I could change a few things. (Laughs).

What will you be presenting?

I’m doing a beer luncheon with (Belgian brewery) Stella Artois and also a demonstration on sustainable seafood. The luncheon is three courses paired with different beers.

You know how to pick a crowd pleaser in Wisconsin.

Yeah, it’ll be fun. We’ll get a good turnout for that one. (Laughs).

Does everything you do in public inevitably turn into one giant discussion about “Top Chef”?

Oh yeah, "Top Chef" is always number one. People want to know the behind-the-scenes stuff, the interactions, how it enhanced my life. Everything. I have no problem talking about those things, especially in those settings. There’s no dead air. I’ve done presentations in the past and the crowd will get quiet, nobody asks questions. In this case, I’ll bring up "Top Chef" if they’re afraid to ask first. I'll volunteer information, get the conversation going and before you know it, everyone is gossiping about it.

Well, I’ll ask now that you’ve brought it up: What has changed the most since you won “Top Chef”?

This (upcoming event) is a perfect example. Or let me put it this way, I wasn’t invited to Kohler last year. (Laughs.)

But Tom Colicchio probably was.

(Laughs.) Exactly. Being instantly recognizable has helped my career so much. It’s opened so many doors. To get that exposure from "Top Chef," obviously, there’s nothing like it. Plus, it brought so much new business to our restaurant that it helped us in what’s been a really terrible year for a lot of people.

Were people coming to your restaurant just to see you? Was that weird?

It’s been crazy. People were scheduling summer vacations to come to the restaurant. Hopefully, I met their expectations when they came out, but that really puts a lot of pressure on you when someone brings their whole family from Florida to eat at your place.

Did travel get in the way of your daily routine?

My restaurant had to start a little travel blog called so they could chronicle all the events I’ve been to. (Laughs.) Actually, I just got back from Montana at a thing called Montana Master Chefs. Before I go to Kohler, I’ll be in Milwaukee for a James Beard Dinner at Bartolotta’s, actually with Stephanie (Izard), who won Season 4 of "Top Chef." We were also in Montana together.

Was that a designed thing, or is it just random that you’re at similar functions?

We’ve definitely met up at a few places, but it’s more accidental. We never really plan it out. We work great together, though, have similar food styles, likes. We did a wine dinner together in Montana that was really well received. They wanted us back next year, so that’s a really good sign.

You’re still at Jax Fish House, right?

Yep. That’s still my home base.

Did your “Top Chef” win change anything in terms of the operation there? Did you feel the need to get more experimental or live up to the billing, so to speak?

We’re celebrating our 15th anniversary right now, so things are definitely good there. There’s always something I could be improving on, but I think we decided right away not to change what the restaurant was about just because there was more attention. We wanted to do exactly what we had been doing. We’ve been open for 15 years, so obviously we’re doing something right. And obviously I can cook.

Early on, people wanted dishes from the show, like, they were expected that would all be on the menu now, which is kind of funny. A lot of those dishes are made on the fly. You don’t really plan them out, and win or lose, you wouldn’t necessarily want them on a menu. But for the anniversary, at the beginning of November, we are doing some specials and one of the nights, I will do all my winning "Top Chef" dishes on the menu.

Based on your background, you had accomplished a lot in Colorado prior to “Top Chef.” Was something still missing? What made you want to push yourself on a national stage?

My joke before going on the show is that I was a really big deal on the 900 block of Pearl Street, which is where the restaurant is. People knew me in downtown Boulder and I won a lot of cooking competitions in Colorado. Always placed well. But I thought "Top Chef" would be a good chance to see how I stacked up against other people in the country. I do live in a little bubble there, and a lot of times as a chef, you work so much, you don’t get a chance to travel. So really, it was a good way to expose myself to other styles and other parts of the country.

Did you have a lot of built-in confidence right away or was there a period on the show where you thought, ‘Man, I can really win this?’

I was really confident when I got there, and certainly felt that I could go very far. I always knew I was in the top 25 percent. But after the (romantic) stuff went down with Leah, I got a little shaky. I really started to lose confidence at the end in New York. I made a lot of mistakes. I mean, they put you in this pressure cooker. There’s no way to describe it. People who are on the show get it, but you don’t have any freedom. You’re not allowed to make phone calls. You can’t just leave the house and go for a walk.

So you’re basically under house arrest.

Totally. The camera is always going, so it’s really hard to catch your breath. You have to free your mind a little bit. So all that was starting to weigh on me. And it got in my head too much. I was doubting myself at the end of New York. But when I made it to the finale, we had a pretty serious break. I was able to go home, get back in my kitchen, deal with my personal life, my family life, all that. When I got to New Orleans, I felt really good.

It recharged your batteries then.

Absolutely. I was ready. I knew what I was cooking. I felt like I could totally do it once I got there.

You don’t really get that impression when you watch “Top Chef,” but you’re basically saying that the whole time you’re on the show, you’re not allowed to have any kind of outside life, even after the challenges are done.

You can’t do anything. You just hang out with the same people everyday. They can only put an hour show together, but it was 24 hours for us.

On the show, your biggest rival was Stefan. Did the TV portion amplify that a bit, or was it mostly good-natured, heat-of-battle type stuff?

That’s exactly what it was. I have no hard feelings with Stefan. We’re good friends and were actually just talking on my way down to my dad’s house. He’s ill right now, so he was wishing us well. He and I are friends. We’ve seen each other quite a few times since the show. I think they played it up as more of a rivalry than it was. I liken it to two guys on the basketball court, talking smack and bumping into each other. It was all in good fun. You’re just trying to get the best of the other guy.

Well, and Stefan is a talker.

Oh yeah, definitely. He likes to get under people’s skin. That was sort of his game. Everyone had a way of approaching the challenge.

Are you still in touch with other contestants from your season?

I was hanging out with Jamie not that long ago. Jeff, Leah, Stefan, Fabio … I haven’t really seen that much of Carla since the show. Some of the people that got knocked off early, I didn’t get a chance to connect with them. Melissa, though, the girl with the bangs, was also from Boulder. She and I were good friends before the show, but they didn’t really highlight that. That was kind of odd to me. I thought they’d make something out of that.

Especially since this season is all about previous connections and past work relationships.

I know. That’s why it was really weird that they never mentioned us being friends. We even work in the same restaurant group. So I was surprised by that going in because we were friends, and are now better ones because of it.

I believe you had mentioned on the “Top Chef” reunion that you were considering the possibility of moving from Boulder if the right opportunity presented itself. Maybe New York. Obviously that hasn’t happened. Any reason you’ve decided to stay?

Nothing has pulled me away. I’m working on a few projects based out of Boulder. I’m involved with a food company and a start-up, a gourmet food cart sort of thing. It’s also nice to have Jax as a home base. There are seven restaurants in the group and it’s good to have that network, that support to lean on. Plus, with all the traveling, they’ve supported me through everything. It’s good to keep that going. If I move somewhere else, I’m just the new guy in a big city.

Are you ever amazed at how far celebrity food culture has come?

It blows my mind. I graduated from college with an engineering degree. I became a chef because I really loved it, not because I thought I’d ever make a lot of money. So the fact that people recognize chefs now and want to be chefs because of so many food programs, it’s just mind-blowing.

Are you getting used to being recognized in public?

I am. It’s still weird at times, but I’ve taken so many pictures by now, I’m used to it. The first few weeks after I won, I could barely work in the kitchen. It was a joke to everyone, among all the cooks, because we had to hire an extra guy on since I was spending at least 40, 50 percent of my evening out in the dining room. Talking to customers, signing autographs, taking pictures … some people would call their parents so I could talk to them. I’m much more comfortable with it now, but at first, I couldn’t believe people cared that much.

Do you suspect it will die down when the new season ends?

Yeah, it will die down once the season ends, but people are so addicted to “Top Chef,” I think they’ll always remember the winners.

Well, you’re part of the brand now. They brought you back to judge “Top Chef Masters.” How was that?

So cool. It was great to see other chefs sweat.

And the food?

Amazing. Brilliant. There’s a reason they made it that far and are masters. My favorite dish to eat was definitely by Rick Bayless.

When you were judging with the other winners, did you feel like you were part of an elite club? Is it something you talk about or acknowledge?

Not really. It’s all been so shocking to our lives, we don’t need to talk about it. We get it. Thing is, the flipside is that there’s so much pressure everywhere we go now. People expect the best food of their lives from us. But you have to remember, “Top Chef” is just a TV competition. It’s not like they had every food critic on the planet go to every restaurant and decide who the best chef is out there. On “Top Chef,” you have a competition with a lot of limitations, whether it’s time limits, food limits or working in other kitchens. It’s survival as much as it is cooking.

So people have to remember, we’re the same chefs we were before. We were just unknown. The show is a jumpstart to your career, but winning doesn’t make you a better chef. That’s on you. And there’s a lot of pressure with that. Especially at food and wine events. People expect greatness, and I hope I can deliver. It’s definitely something you think about.

That said, did the show provide some sense of validation that you were doing what you were supposed to do?

Once I was on the show, I really wanted to prove myself. Yes. But I never set out to be a famous chef. It’s never something I tried to do. It feels really good in the competition area of cooking, but I didn’t need it. I felt I had proved myself as a chef, but I am a competition kind of guy. I’m really low key and mellow, but when it comes to contests or races, that sort of thing, I hate to lose. So that was a personal quest of mine. It had nothing to do with how other people felt. I don’t like to lose. I felt really terrible being on the bottom (during the show), so it was something I wanted to do for myself.

Through all of it, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned this past year?

I’d say the biggest lesson is be careful what you ask for. It’s been great. But it’s a lot more work that I thought it would be. My life has changed so much. I can never go back to the life I had before. And that life was great. Now ... it’s different. I was talking to one of the producers on the show, right after I won, and I said, “What do I do now?” and she said, “Well, you’ve got about four weeks before this airs, so if you’ve always wanted to do something crazy, do it now. Because all eyes are on you after this point.”

You’re not anonymous anymore, and before, I didn’t think of that. I didn’t think about being famous. Not that I did anything stupid before, like run around naked with my hair on fire, but now I have to be careful about what I say to people because anything you do can be quoted and end up on the Web.

Well, you kind of learned that the hard way on TV with Leah, I’d imagine.

(Laughs.) Yeah, exactly.

Are you watching the new season?

Definitely. I feel this season, as a small group, there are so many talented people. Some of the best people the show has seen. But it’s that group and then everybody else. The same people keep winning.

Do you have favorites? Predictions?

My top four are Kevin, the Voltaggio brothers and … the blonde girl, I can’t remember her name.


Yeah, those are my top four picks. But as I learned in competition, and I’m sure Stefan would agree, it doesn’t matter until the last plate goes out. Everybody probably agrees that Stefan was the favorite to win my season, but you have to perform the whole way through.

It’s more about consistency then. Is that why you think you won?

Yeah. I definitely stayed consistent throughout.

Would you come back to the show in competition form if they asked?

It really depends. If it were some charitable thing for fun, then I’d do it. Another competition, staged thing? It’d have to be a pretty significant prize. Because I don’t wish that stress on anybody, being on that show.

Well, my last question then is about your dad. How is he doing?

He’s doing OK. He’s going through some really aggressive chemotherapy right now. He’s certainly weak. Doesn’t look like himself anymore. This is the first time in awhile I’ve had some days off.

Does he live close to you?

He’s in the mountains, about a five-hour drive away. It’s beautiful here right now. The leaves are changing, falling. I’m enjoying my time with him before I have to get back to work.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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"Project Runway" rankings and more Nee-nah Gahcia

Oh, thank the fashion gods. The fabulous Nee-nah Gah-cia is back on the judging panel for "Project Runway" and will hopefully prevent the continued elimination of talented designers. Garcia and Michael Kors have been M.I.A. for much of this season, which is fine except there's little consistency on the judging panel beyond Heidi Klum, leading to a ill-deserved win for Nicholas' Tilda Swinton dress, Ra'mon's auf'ing and the unbelievable tragedy that was Logan's pants last week.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Garcia admits she disagreed with Ra'mon's elimination and would never have given Nicholas a win for his ice queen mess (finally! some vindication!). Regardless, the "PR" crew we know and love -- Heidi Klum, Garcia and Kors -- will be reunited tonight and hopefully, cross-your-fingers here, prevent any more fashion disasters from getting a pass.

With Epperson's ill-fated Oktoberfest-related departure last week, we are left with fewer and fewer talented designers to choose from. But try we will. We missed last week of rankings, but since we're all at 0 points, it's no big deal.

1. Carol Hannah
2. Christopher
3. Shirin
4. Irina
5. Gordana
6. Althea
7. Logan
8. Nicolas

--Malavika Jagannathan,

1. Althea
2. Carol Hannah
3. Christopher
4. Irina
5. Shirin
6. Gordana
7. Logan
8. Nicolas

--Sara Boyd

1. Shirin
2. Irina
3. Carol Hannah
4. Althea
5. Christopher
5. Logan
6. Gordana
7. Nicholas (oh pleasepleasepleaseplease)

--Kelly McBride,

"Project Runway" airs tonight at 9 p.m. on Lifetime. As always, feel free to leave us your thoughts!

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