House of Food, Episode 3: The Heat Is On + Salmon Eyeballs
Monday night's episode of House of Food began with an extended scene of the cast getting the royal Hollywood treatment: a double decker bus tour where they continuously got smacked in the face by low hanging trees, also an appropriate metaphor for the reality television industry.
Afterwards, the cast of this food television show got ready to cook! Oh, wait - no. They get ready to get drunk. Everyone to a bar to experience the sensational trifecta of MTV's Los Angeles: shots, burgers and photo booths. So far, we're twelve "woohoos!" in and no cooking on this food show. Luckily, this changes when the cast comes home, raids the refrigerator and serves up a few delicious dishes that are otherwise known as "drunk food."
During the late night/early morning food fest, a red-faced Harrison is about to have a heart attack during an extended rant about Suki, which is when the audience realizes will now be a "thing" for the entire season. No one, the audience or the rest of the cast members, seems to care that much. "Learning to coexist is more difficult than learning how to cook," notes Will, speaking for all of humanity.
The next morning, mentor Chris Nirschel arrives to teach them knife skills. Finally, a fundamental skill that new chefs all must learn. In the middle of the lesson on how to julienne a carrot, Harrison throws some precipitous f-bombs at Suki, who menacingly wields a chef's knife across the counter. The knife skills class wasn't really to teach them knife skills, just to set a great scene to create drama while holding murder weapons.
Everyone realizes exactly why Harrison was brought on the show in episode two, not to make out with Lorena or to act coy about resembling Ben Affleck's second cousin twice removed, but to be Suki's foil, her perfect Type A counterpart. The rest of the cast, either because they're actually there to learn, too tactful, or don't care, wouldn't bite and the drama was too low for MTV reality show standards. Enter Harrison.
After the knife skills demo, the cast goes to the ocean. It's Jake's first time at the ocean and he sees dolphins, a Kansas boy's dream! Chef Brooke Williamson sits everyone down on the sandy beach and explains over the Santa Ana winds that she will teach them about cooking with different heat sources over the next two days. Today they start with grilling.
It makes sense they're going to start out with a simple, everyday environment for grilling: an open flame on a beach. Most beginning chefs need to learn the basics: how to hold a knife, how to cut an onion, how to cook an entire salmon on a beach with varying uncontrollable factors like wind, temperature and a permit.
Brian and Harrison ate the salmon eyeballs as though they were the first Aluet people to do so thousands of years ago and Amanda tried oysters for the first time. Everyone poses together at sunset like a great big Hollister billboard.
Later on near the house pool, Harrison and Suki have a talk and he apologizes - because he's either bipolar or a producer told him to. Even though Harrison called himself disgusting, Suki can't forgive him yet and so far everyone watching this food show has been served a lot of melodrama and it doesn't pair well. It's disjointed; it's out of place. It's like pairing a Jell-O shot with eggplant Parmesean.
After Chef Williamson taught the chefs how to prepare for their first job as line cooks at a Boy Scout beach retreat, she comes to the house and demos techniques that they can do in a real kitchen, like steaming, pan-roasting and frying. She creates some dishes and everyone takes notes, though the audience can't quite follow along - suddenly there's a compote over here and a vinaigrette over there, and while this isn't a cooking show, we could use a little stronger through-line. Perhaps, a Great Harrison Saga scene could have been cut to give 10 more seconds to providing a clear, linear cooking scene.
For the weekly challenge the cast will either steam, grill, fry or pan-roast and the winner gets to invite two "friends" to have dinner at Chef Williamson's restaurant, Tripel. To prepare for the big challenge, Amanda and Suki get their nails done because there are no nail files at the mansion and they need short nails to fry. When they get home everyone is perfectly posed reading giant books about cooking, just like at Le Cordon Bleu.
Later that night the cast preps for the big competition, testing out their recipes and preparing ingredients to take with them. The goal is to get timing sorted out and work out the tweaks the the night before so they can execute it properly the next day. The students, who in the opening credits are referred to as "sorta chefs," are there to help each other with their dishes.
You mean to tell me that these novice chefs will be telling each other what works and what doesn't? And not professional chef or mentor? Where are chefs Chris Nirschel, Brooke Williamson, Casey Lane or Brendan Collins now? They're letting these "sorta" chefs tell each other what to do? Even on Top Chef, a show with actual professional chefs, Tom Colicchio (and whomever is a guest that week) walk around asking what they're cooking, offering tips and interacting with them. But these kids, who make meat cupcakes and rare chicken, do not. Sigh.
The next day everyone arrives at Tripel, where they will compete against each other in groups of two and will be judged on "proficiency, taste, presentation and creativity" by chefs Brooke Williamson, Casey Lane and Brendan Collins.
Jake and Amanda begin with pan-roasting. Amanda makes some smashed pork with cheesy mashed potatoes and garlic powder in what resembles to be the signature dish that high school boyfriends make for their girlfriends every February 14. Jake cooked some mahi-mahi tacos with jalepeno vinaigrette and aoli, which was more difficult but not executed as well as Amanda's dish. Since Amanda's technique was better, she won. Apparently they're only judged on technique now, leaving taste, presentation and creativity by the wayside. What aspiring chefs can take from this is to cook the easiest thing because it's easier.
Lorena and Gillian follow with grilling. Lorena makes a chicken salad with mango salsa in what resembles the signature dish that high school girlfriends make for their boyfriends on Sweetest Day. Gillian grilled an espresso rubbed bone-in rib-eye with marinated veggies. Gillian won and the chefs ate the rest of her steak like the Jurassic Park T-Rex ate lawyer Donald Gennaro. Go Gillian.
Will and Harrison continue with frying. Harrison's plate of confit pork belly had great creativity and was more complex than Will's fritto misto, but had no cooking technique. Will's dish was nicely seasoned but one Chef Lane said would be found in "some establishment in Iowa if we're setting the bar really low," offending the chefs of an entire state with one comment. Will won.
Suki and Brian end with steaming. Brian makes sea bass en papillote with a saffron Chardonnay sauce which everyone loved and proved he both has prior skills (there's no way he learned this from the show) and is the one to beat from here on out. Suki made onion, garlic and ginger shrimp that she boiled in whipped cream and served with pasta she didn't make even though they learned how to do that last week. Brian wins by a landslide because Suki didn't even steam anything, except Harrison's red face.
Out of the four finalists, Brian and Gillian mastered technique the best. And now they are may be judged on creativity and presentation and taste, but no one really knows what's going on until Brooke shouts out that Brian wins. He chooses Gillian and Jake to go to dinner and escape the mansion shit show.
After episode three, it's very clear that there are those who have skills and want to learn and those who are just auditioning for their next reality show gig. It's a shame no one gets sent home or at least to another show better suited for them - I hear they're casting for The Real World's 30th season.