We start off this week with an overview of the contestants, the judges, the prizes, and blah, blah, blah. I'll spare you the ugly details, folks. Especially since there's highlights galore of last week's antics, meltdowns, and triumphs. It just goes on and on. How many times can Joan Lunden use the word "wicked"? Through all this mundane minutiae there are brief glimpses and comments from a few perfectionists. There's dearly departed Tom saying that he believes he was placed on the wrong team. He's absolutely right. He belonged in Team Bitter Loser. How about Kimberley, mistress of the obvious, stating that she's got to kick it up a notch. And who can ever overlook Darlene, HSN (Fabric) Queen, breathing a sigh of relief now that she's free of Tom's despotic reign. But surely she'll get on someone else's nerves, don't you think?
French-American Fusion Cuisine, S'il Vous Plait?
It's Day 4 and Joan gathers everyone around the dining room table to announce the next team challenge. Why is Margo the only one standing? The mission for today is to plan and execute the perfect soiree. For the non-francophiles reading this, that means par-tay. Oh-la-la! But first, Joan has to conduct a session of round-robin, letting each team choose from some option placards that will determine the tone of their fiestas. Team CB won the last competition, so they get to choose first, and go for "Red" instead of "White". Team Artisan has the next choice, selecting "Little", leaving "Big" to the CB crew. To wrap things up, CB picks up "American Outside" and the Artisan ladies are left with "French Inside".
Huh? What does this mean? Miss Lunden's here to decipher this puzzle. Red and white denotes the type of wine each team has to plan their food courses around. Team Artisan chose a "little" kitchen to toil in, which looks like an efficiency apartment hovel. The CB posse has the "big" expanse of a kitchen that's located downstairs in which to cook up a storm. Artisan's "French inside" clue means that they get to serve their dinner in the formal dining room, with a French mime as entertainment. Because nothing says fun like a bad Marcel Marceau knock-off. "American outside" for Team CB means that they have to host the judges in the pool house and watch the maneuvers of a cadre of synchronized swimmers. The CB's look elated, the Artisans grim. But wouldn't you be down at the prospect of a mime?
As for the rules: both teams have to put forth a three-course supper for the judges but they should plan enough food for a dozen servings. The judges will alternate between the two fetes, gathering for drinks and appetizers at both, then returning for the entree and dessert courses. They have an iffy budget of $2,500 for this challenge, and if they have to pay for the cost of the entertainers out of this amount, it's going to take some careful money handling. Judging will be based on the inventiveness of the theme as well as the taste and presentation of the plates that are prepared for the party.
As for the all-important individual projects, this time around each perfectionista has to fix up a goodie bag that is to be given to the three judges. It has to cost $40 or less to assemble. Flub this up and the two contestants with the shoddiest creations are up on the chopping block. Kimberley looks duly concerned, but does not cry. Yet. The clock(or is that a time bomb?) starts ticking away on their 36 hours of party planning.
Let's Get The Party Started
At the CB camp, Mitch is in fine form, suggesting a kitschy 1950's era pool-party blowout, Gilligan-style. Denise counters with a "some assembly required" idea for the food presentation and gets shouted down by the others. Party no-no #1: Never make your guests work for their supper. Mychael, the yang to Mitch's yin, will oversee the food preparation. Wow, who would have guessed that?
The Fabric Queens of Artisan start their own discussions on the French menu. Michelle stuns the gals with her ability to parlez francais. She suggests french fries, french toast, french dressing...just kidding! She really seems excited about lobster tails and les tomates farcis. Tuna stuffed tomatoes, as we call them in America. Darlene(via confessional) wastes no breath in slamming Michelle's ideas, in the pseudo-nicest way possible.
CB wunderkind Mychael has oceanic visions dancing in her head, while Mitch is much more down-home, or dare I say, plebeian, with his notions of deviled eggs. "Quail eggs?", suggest Mychael, hopefully. Well, it just so happens the teeny eggs are on Mitch's hate list, and his word's final. Bad idea, Mr. Arbiter of Good Taste. Party no-no #2: Never pass up the opportunity for pretension.
Negotiations continue with the Artisan quartet, the ladies agreeing on a rack of lamb with mint jelly. Houston, we have a problem. Mint jelly's tres Americaine. Think French, fair ladies! Kimberley realizes the faux pas and tactfully ix-nays the pedestrian meat accompaniment.
Lettuce Entertain You
With the menus all mapped out, focus shifts to the booking of the talent. The CB bunch calls the troupe of swimmers and tells them that they will be outfitted with bathrobes and be expected to work the party, appetizer trays in hand. Wow, these people sure know how to get some mileage out of a buck. It somehow works. Queen Margo calls up her mime prospect. Yes, mimes can actually talk, especially if you are conversant in money. They hook up with a robotic Frenchified "expression artiste." Oh joy.
Mychael puts florist Mitch in charge of the flowers. Makes perfect sense, but not to Heather. She believes that any one of the team members are well rounded enough to do just as well. Even Tim, who's pretty much disappeared. But who cares, it's just Tim, who's basically useless at everything but being the eye-candy. Denise takes the opportunity to whine about Mitch not letting her add some branches and debris to some apple creation from the previous challenge. This woman knows how to hold a grudge. Mitch bitch-slaps her into place by comparing her attempts to assist him as being the same as letting his designers interfere with his artistic vision. Not.going.to.happen. Take that, you peon!
Artisans Kimberley and Michelle hit the shops, buying up some nice lobster tails and frenched racks of lamb. Nice way to stick with the Gallic theme, girls. Many shopping bags later and the monetary damage totals out to a tad bit over one thousand dollars. Party no-no #3: Never skimp on your ingredients. It's late in the evening when the shoppers come back to the manse. They have to justify the expenses to the others by explaining that they really have two main courses in the pipeline for the dinner party. That's some good thinking. Michelle needs pans. Darlene wants some fabric. She doesn't feel royal without it. And really, she can't sew without fabric, can she? Now, say it with me, everyone: Darlene's suggestion gets shot down.
Now it's nearing daybreak, but Mitch is still busy frou-frou'ing away as if his life depends in it. And actually, his life is in peril. As he's trying to overlay some rhododendron leaves onto a tablecloth Denise starts to argue with him over centering the cloth to the table. Oh for cripe's sake...during the bickering she waves some pruning shears at him and calls him a pansy. I wasn't sure if she was questioning his sexuality or guessing at his flower preferences. He stomps off indignantly.
The morning of the party starts off with the Artisans slaving away in their minuscule kitchen galley. Michelle's doing most of the slaving, prepping her desserts, which include a few cakes and a mousse. No one has reminded the other girls to start working on the amuse-bouche, more vulgarly known as appetizers. Darlene sloppily preps tomatoes for the tomates farcis avec salade aux ecrevisses, the shrimp stuffed tomatoes.
Mitch wakes up on the sunnier side of the bed and finishes off the poolside table with some boxes of wheat grass, which unfortunately look like boxes of untrimmed Chia Pets. Denise strolls around smirking and being useless.
Team Artisan's playing a bit nicer with each other. Even the ever-complaining Darlene is busy sewing up napkins and place mats. Dawn dreams up their very innovative place settings, which consist of some hexagonal cardboard boxes that will be gussied up and will enclose some personalized toasts that the guests can read out loud at the table.
As the day wears on, the work on the individual crafts commences. Artisan Michelle concocts some chocolate truffles that she will set in tall paper boxes. Truffle making's a messy art, what with gooey chocolate and lots of butter. Sometimes you have to improvise. Did you know a Con-Air blow dryer will thaw out frozen butter in a jiffy? Martha Stewart, eat your heart out!
Mitch creates a vinyl "fishbowl". These are nothing more than clear packets chock full of pebbles and Goldfish crackers that he plans on presenting to the judges as party favors. It's a bit low-rent and in no way resembles a fish abode. The baggie you use to bring home your guppies, yes, but not a bowl. Artisan Dawn doesn't do much better with her project. She's wrapped up some store-bought candles and picture frames. Kimberley also decides on truffles, but she places hers in wooden boxes. Will this help her out in the long run? Mychael's project is an all-American bucket filled to the brim with some pre-made chili mix, complete with recipe.
Crunch time is near and there's problems with the Artisans. The lobsters are dismembered and dessicated. They have to be discarded, and it's good for them that they have the lamb as a back-up entree. Kimberley insists on cooking the lamb to a medium rare doneness.
In the spacious CB kitchen, Mychael finishes off several beef tenderloins as we hear Mitch complain in private that she ain't all that as a chef and that any one of the team members could be as competent. Cut to Heather chipping away at some cookie-cheesecake-brownie things stuck in some muffin tins.
And here come the Crafty Beaver synchronized swim ensemble. Umm...how do I say this tactfully? They aren't quite a group of "little mermaids". They are pretty zaftig.
Darlene makes a last ditch attempt at saving the lobsters by suggesting a roux, a butter and flour emulsion that is the foundation of many French sauces. She's shot down again. There's much running about cleaning house and dressing up as the judges pull into the driveway.
Party At Ground Zero
Well, two judges arrive. Bobby Flay is stuck in gridlock, leaving Candace and David to enjoy the Hors D'oeuvre. They are greeted by the mime at Chez Artisan. The mime jumps up and down, as does David. Silly rabbit! Problems emerge during the cocktail hour. David notices the lukewarm swill that the team is trying to pass off as champagne. It just won't do, and Kimberley takes this as an affront. She and Darlene think the guests are being rude and uncouth. Remember ladies, the guests are always in the right. After supping on the collective team's ego, Candace and David are ready for some more nibbles. They eye the tomates farcis with some trepidation and Candace questions their provenance. Is this an example of French cuisine? Well, no, admits Darlene. There she goes again, ladies and gentlemen. She's selling out her team once more. One needs to pretend that those cherry tomato horrors are the height of culinary art.
Across the lawn our judges go, to the Crafty Beaver pool bash. There's only Mitch and swimcap-clad Heather to meet and greet as the other Beavers stay busy in the kitchen with the appetizers. There's Mitch, serving apple martinis as the army of swimmers files past. It's too bizarre for words. David complains again, this time that his drink is too icy. Candace is in dire need of a coaster. These minor grievances are dealt with but things get worse with the deviled eggs. Let's just say that Candace took a bite and began to scan the room for a waste basket so she could spit out her mouthful. At the Chia Pet dinner table, Candace wonders where the rest of the team's at, since only useless Tim's seated with them. Seems Mychael now has a full crew of kitchen-bitches at her disposal but she doesn't trust them. The foul-ups continue as David gets served chilly scallops. It's all to much for him and off he goes to watch a second or two of the swimming sirens. Soon enough they make their exits and return to the main house for some dinner and an mime.
You Gotta Fight, For Your Right, To Party?
Fashionably late Mr. Flay finally arrives, just in time for Team Artisan's dinner party. The lamb is plated rather plainly and sent forth to the table. Bobby begs for some Hors D'oeuvre leftovers, which they don't have. Party no-no #4: Never run out of refreshments. Candace and David both think that their meat is underdone. Notice Bobby didn't gripe about it? That's because lamb is best served at a medium-rare temperature. Only a rube would fail to realize this! Well, maybe it was a touch too red. At this point even the mime's sweating bullets. Die, mime, die! Maybe dessert will save the meal. Yes, they love it. Smiles abound table side and toasts emerge from the place settings.
Appetites are fully whetted at this juncture and the trio makes their way back to the cabana. Team CB earn major brownie points with Bobby for having some extra appetizers at the ready. Mychael excelled at the meal presentation, opting for some trendy sky-high vertical food plating. Bobby pointedly reminds everyone that he's on to the fact that she's the person kicking buttocks in the kitchen arena. Heather's clumsily executed cheesecake brownies fail miserably. Sneaky little David once again ambushes an unwitting team member with a well-aimed comment. He suggests to Denise that she looks tired. She then proceeds to gripe about all the work that was done and how she's tuckered out. Party no-no #5: Don't complain in front of your guests, ever. Mitch decides to lighten up the mood by saying that he'd have none of these fancy-schmantzy vittles at his own party, causing the judges to scoot on out of there. As they wander off into the night, they can't resist a few more digs at Heather's doorstop dessert.
Day 6 breaks out amidst much apres-party clutter. Mitch finds some time to talk trash about Mychael and her culinary talents to anyone who'll listen. At Camp Artisan, Darlene discovers that Michelle was holding out on her by hiding a huge sack of pastry flour. Perhaps it was for the best, since those lobsters were beyond the aide of a simple roux sauce. Darlene still calls foul. May I quote the poetic lyrics of the Beastie Boys? I shall. "Listen all of y'all it's a sabotage!"
The Devil's In The Details
Judgment day is at hand. Arrayed before the judges and Joan, the teams are braced to hear some constructive criticism. David, who's a stickler for detail, mentions that he thought the Artisan's party was a blast. Candace like the CB'ers dinner panache and decor. Bobby was dazzled by both teams. He's still too nice and I don't like it! Don't let Rachael Ray fool you, there are no nice chefs.
David does bring up the champagne fiasco. Even Candace knows how to quickly chill a bottle of the bubbly in an emergency. There's some excuses proffered, but it doesn't wash with the judges. Bobby chides them for deviating from the French theme by serving arborio rice from Italy. You can't get that detail past Iron Chef Flay.
As for the Crafty Beavers, Candace says that she could pick up on some negative vibes, and Mychael agrees with her, reminding everyone that it's not wise to complain to guests. Mitch gets defensive over his deviled eggs, refusing to see the logic behind small, easy to hold quail eggs.
Last minute decision-making begins in earnest, with Team CB taking the lead in decor and tastefulness. The hosting award goes to the Artisans. It's the dinners that will determine which team gets to lose a member tonight.
It's My Party And I'll Cry If I Want To
And the winners are...the Crafty Beavers. They had unobtrusive entertainment and better food. The Artisans are about to lose another artiste, based on the gift bag creations. The two chosen ones are Michelle's truffle in a cardboard box idea (not reusable) and Dawn's candle and picture frame package (all store bought). Off they go into the ebony night to send off one of their own. Dawn and Michelle's final thoughts are basically the same, a plea to keep the person who best benefits the team and fits in. Margo feels that Dawn will not be able to help them bring their game up to a new level. Darlene and Kimberley vote Michelle off for being both a saboteur and expendable. Away she goes. I think it's a mistake, as she was their main food maven. Will the team survive this tactical error? Tune in next week.
Got a mime horror story to share with me? Want to tell me my French is merde? Do so at firstname.lastname@example.org