Cracker & Camper Van Beethoven Acoustic at Stageone, Fairfield, Ct

10535706_10204633757866862_6102832488445497135_o10470944_10204633735426301_1968943966813334734_o 15384_10204633745866562_3996046850703489053_n10553420_10204633780667432_4668702949106302247_n

Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven performed a unique acoustic show at Fairfield’s intimate Stageone , which seats about 250 on July 15, 2014.  I was particularly interested to see how the whole acoustic format would play out.  In fact, it wasn’t actually all that acoustic although David Lowery did play a banjo and an acoustic guitar, Johnny Hickman and Greg Lisher both went electric.  What was missing, however, was the rest of each band.  But that proved to be the best part.

The show was divided into two parts.  The first half was the Cracker portion, with Johnny Hickman and David Lowery playing Cracker.  It then shifted midway through, with Greg Lisher joining Johnny and David onstage for Camper Van Beethoven.  Greg assumed the lead guitar duties for the most part, and Johnny played a supporting role.

David and Johnny came out first (after the delightful Lydia Loveless opened), Dave sporting a banjo and Johnny his ripping guitar.  The first song was an excellent, “I Need Better Friends” off the somewhat under appreciated Greenland Album of 2006. (Thanks to Matt Frederick, who posted the pictures on FB and videos on YouTube.) With just the banjo and lead guitar, Dave’s vocals were emphasized.  His voice still sounds great, his sarcasm fully intact.  The knowledgeable crowd was well past its college years, when they likely picked up Cracker and Camper Van.  Johnny’s killer guitar was a highlight here and throughout the show.

The following song, “Hey Brett” was an upbeat, rousing rocker from the 2009 Land of Milk and Honey album.  It’s one of the more recent albums but the fans were rocking along and obviously familiar with it.  Lowery wailed, “We live life serfs in this new feudal land…..Hey Brett do you what time it is”.  The crowd loved it.

Next up was “Been All Around the World” from 1998’s “Gentleman’s Blues”.  Dave brought out the acoustic guitar for this one.  The crowd was fully engaged even though this was one of the mellower tunes of the night.  They even began clapping which seemed to surprise Dave, who said “the clapping is cool”. Cracker mixes upbeat and the slower songs, all of which are great.  True fans appreciate both.

They then got the crowd going wild with “Teen Angst” off of their 1992 debut self-titled album.   He started off on his acoustic guitar and the version quickly turned into a sing along  – a clear crowd favorite.  Johnny’s crunched the lead and Dave pounded the acoustic on rhythm.  Although Lowery’s vocals were spot on the lack of a back up band, left this song somewhat punchless, although still quite enjoyable.  It’s nice to hear different versions of the old classics.  That’s what was great about this tour, just guitars and vocals.

Next, “St. Cajetan” was the highlight of the night for me.  It’s one of my favorite Cracker songs.  It’s laid back groove fit perfectly into the two guitar format,  Again, the crowd was on it from the opening riff.  It’s classic Cracker, Dave wailing with his nasally, whining complaint filled vocals, begging for ‘some water”.   Johnny even filled in with excellent backing vocals.   This is also off their debut album.  It was nice to be in a room filed with others equally happy to hear one of Cracker’s best.  Johnny’s guitar and Dave’s wailing make a perfect combination here.  “Can you hear me, St. Cajetan, All I want is a cool drink of water?”.  For sure most of us felt thirsty after this one.  Fortunately, there was a bar right behind me.  Johnny’s guitar work excelled as he fell into one of the best solos of the night.

Then came the ultimate classic off 1993’s Kerosene Hat, “Eurotrash Girl“.  It’s a hidden track, way down on track 69.  Again the crowd quickly noticed another favorite was on the way.  It began with a solo by Johnny and quickly blended with Dave’s sardonic musings of a backpacker’s nightmare trip through Europe.  With just Dave and Johnny, the songs were presented in a fresh and lively manner.  It didn’t have the sad, retro feel of an oldies show.  Far from it.  Johnny’s guitar was crisp and really the best part.  Although this is one of their funniest songs and Dave delivered it perfectly.

“Dr. Bernice”, a throwback to their first album rounded out the Cracker set.  This was another truly masterful performance with Johnny absolutely crushing it with guitar work.  Sadly there’s no video for this song.  But the crowd really appreciated it.

The Camper Van set started when Greg Lisher took the stage.  I am far more of a Cracker fan than CVB but am still familiar with most of their work.  I think songs like Pictures of Match Stick Men and Take the Skinheads Bowling have pretty much crossed into Indie legend so it’s hard to have missed them.  I also liked the songs off the newer albums which were featured as well.

The first song is “Grasshopper”.  Lowery is excited to announce that it will be great to hear Greg Lisher, as opposed the usual swirl of violins and other instruments.  This song is one from one of their newer albums (Costa Perdido and El Camino Real)  As David Lowery described them, Costa Perdido or the Red Album is about Northern California and El Camino Real or the Blue Album is Southern California/Baja themed.  Grasshopper is from El Camino Real.  Johnny slides over and plays the Mandolin, while Greg plays the electric and Dave the acoustic guitar.  It’s very catchy and soulful tune and although not yet a crowd favorite, it was well received.


Next up was the classic “Pictures of Matchstick Men”.  This is the sad story of someone who is haunted by the images of a friend and his match stick men.  This had great interplay between Greg, Johnny and Dave’s vocals.  The guitar work is well worth a listen.   Greg’s work is outstanding, in spite of his unassuming demeanor.  The crowd clapped and stomped their feet, adding a measure of beat.

Northern California Girls followed, which provided a bit of karoake for the somewhat rowdy crowd.  It’s also another new CVB song, this one off the Costa Perdido album.  It has received some airplay and I’ve heard it before and like it.  It’s perfectly catchy, breezy summer song and ode to the friendliness and loyalty of Northern California Girls.  It’s also a mild play on the Beach Boys’ “California Girls”.  Unfortunately there is no video available for this song as performed on Stageone but it can be easily found on the Web.

“Come Down the Coast” is another new CVB song off La Costa Perdida.  It’s a sing song, lightweight song.  In stark contrast to some of the quirkier more acerbic classic CVB, this is more a straightforward plea to different women to “Come down and see me sometime…Come down the coast”.   Another excellent addition to the CVB canon and great driving music.

“All Her Favorite Fruit” is a throwback to 1989’s Key Lime Pie.  This was also the point in the show when some of the rowdier audience members led Dave to go on a bit of rant against soccer – “As Americans we can all pretty agree that Soccer sucks”.  Go Dave!  This song was originally taken from a story in Gravity’s Rainbow.   In truth most the crowd was really into it and relaxed (and over 40) and there just couple of yahoos that screamed out ridiculous things, but so goes rock and roll.  This is an excellent song and sounds even better stripped down with Johnny on harmonica.  The crowd enjoyed this soulful version of one of their favorites.  This was probably the highlight of CVB portion of the show.  Johnny’s bluesy harmonica stole the show.

“I drive alone from work but I think of her, Late night at I call her and never say a word”

Next up was possibly the world’s record holder for the shortest “Take the Skinheads Bowling.”  Although no less enjoyable it was definitely the lightening version.  The crowd, as always, adored it.  I remember when I lived in Seattle a friend who was really into CVB played this in someone’s living room, to much perplexed bemusement.  At this point, it’s an  unquestioned classic and the crowd reacted accordingly.

Cracker performed the last two songs.  First was a cover of the “Grateful Dead’s Loser”, which proved to be another crowd favorite.  This was originally on Kerosene hat.  It was another great jam with Johnny.  Unfortunately the video cuts out after 45 seconds but you get the idea.

They reached a crescendo with the crowd favorite Low also off Kerosene Hat.  This was the rocking end of show and sing along.  The combination of David’s acoustic guitar and lyrics with Johnny’s electric crushed it.  The crow rose to its feet as the show, began clapping and the band returned for one encore.  The encore was a slightly obscure “One Fine Day” off the 2002’s little known Forever.  Greg Lisher also joined them on this ripping end to the show.  It is a great song by any measure and it was a tight jam with both Johnny and Greg taking turns in between Dave’s biting vocals.

“All you liars you come and all you whores you come and walk into the light one fine day’.

The crowd wanted more, but after a couple minutes of clapping and stomping the house lights were flipped on.  Thanks Cracker and CVB it was nice to have you here in our little town.  Hope you swing by again.  Fortunately for us Stageone is expanding so maybe we will be seeing similar excellence in the future.

The official set list, as provided by Cracker’s Facebook page is below.

Set List from Last Night CRACKER – CVB Show: Thanks CT!


I need better friends
Hey Bret
Been around the world
Teen Angst
St. Cajetan
Euro Trash Girl
Dr. Bernice

Camper Van Beethoven

Matchstick Men
Norther California Girls
Come Down the Coast
All Her Favorite Fruit


One Fine Day (all)


Alton Brown twitter Q & A Part II

Alton Brown twitter Q & A

Food Network Star 10 Final 5 Contestants Appear on Today’s Rachel Ray Show

Some twitter reactions to the show (which is airing now).

After the contestants have made their presentations, it’s time for the judges’ verdict.  The judges said the “boys did better than the girls”, but did not render a final verdict.  Lenny and Luca appear to be in good position and perhaps one or more of the ladies will be in trouble this week.  We’ll have to check out Sunday’s episode to get the full critique and see who had the best performance and which chef is leaving the show.

To see each of the five finalists performances on today’s Rachel Ray show click here.






Featured Image -- 4348

Comic-Con: ‘Penny Dreadful’ Season 2 Villain Will Be a Familiar Face

Pure Fluff:

Some news on Season Two of #PennyDreadful – yeah!

Originally posted on Variety:

“Penny Dreadful” will be “very different” in season two, according to creator John Logan, who joined stars Josh Hartnett, Reeve Carney and Harry Treadaway for a Q&A at Comic-Con on Thursday evening.

“The cosmology, the theology of the show gets much larger [in season two] — they’re thrown into a much more threatening supernatural world,” Logan teased, admitting that the focus of season one was to “build a family and bring them together — the joy of writing the second season is building on those relationships in different patterns.”

SEE ALSO: More Photos from Comic-Con

To counterbalance season one’s vampiric villain, who couldn’t deliver long, verbose monologues, Logan revealed that season two’s antagonist will be a familiar face — Helen McCrory’s spiritualist, Madame Kali. The panel then ran a scene that was cut from the season one finale, which explained Kali’s motivations and “the challenge she was going to pose…

View original 562 more words

Big Brother 16, Episode 14 – “All goes according to plan” – Recap

Bye Bye BrittanyBrittany Exit Interview

In another unanimous vote (it’s now three out of four) Brittany was sent packing from the house.  It’s clear that the Detonators  Alliance – Derrick, Frankie, Cody, Christine and Zach – holds a tight grip on the house.  Thus far, it’s been child’s play dispensing with one House Guest after another.  Now that Devin has been removed, it should be smooth sailing for a while.  They were also clever enough to leave Caleb and Amber out of the alliance.  It’s clear from Donny being put up, that he’s also on the outside looking in.

This week’s evictee, Brittany, did little to forestall the inevitable,  Once Donny was set up as the dummy, it was clear she was finished in the house.  The only question that remained was whether the vote would be 100% against her.  So now another woman has been voted out of the house and the Detonators have yet to face their inevitable implosion.  What’s next for the house?

With the election of Frankie and Zach as the dual Heads of Household for this week, we can expect more of the same.  The big losers in all of this will be the viewers, who will likely be treated to another ho-hum week, with four non-detonators being put on the block while the only alliance in the house continues to wipe out any resistance.  There are 11 House Guests remaining and 5 members of the Detonators.  Doing the simple math means that they have almost 50% of the votes and unless the entire rest of the house quickly figures this out, they will be picked off one by one.  Two more eliminations and their alliance will be an iron clad majority.

So let’s take a look at who likely be up for elimination.  First of all, the remaining women in the house will be targeted.  Easy targets include Jocasta and Victoria.  I would also expect the budding shomance of Hayden & Nicole to draw attention as well.  Is this the week that the Detonators finally put Donny up in a serious way?  With only 10 House Guests left, it’s not going to be long before he is perceived as the biggest threat.  That leaves only the frustrated Caleb and the flirty Amber as other possibilities.

Block Predictions: Hayden, Nicole, Jocasta and Victoria will be nominated for eviction this week.  Jocasta will be voted out.

So when will the 6 non-detonators wake up and realize that they are on their way out?  It’s hard to say.  Outside of Donny, I don’t see too many people willing to go against the herd.  Brittany was the only one who spoke out and she was quickly booted from the house. Victoria  will almost certainly be put up again.  It was only a stupid mistake by Caleb that kept her in the game this week (he chose the $5,000 prize over the Power of Veto) after winning the POV competition.  It is likely that the 6 non-detonators will be voted out before they grasp the truth of what is going on.

Donny is the last hope for some sort of entertaining Summer.  He asked Cody point blank about an alliance, but Cody refused to answer.  He has an inkling that something is up.  But the rest of the house remains entranced in blissful ignorance.  Does anyone think that Hayden, Nicole, Caleb, Jocasta or Amber will mount a challenge?  I think most of them are just happy to be in the house and aren’t playing the game.  I don’t think anything could possibly awaken them to force them into making it interesting,  The strongest players have banded together and are wiping out the rest.  Caleb, while potentially a strong player, has spent the bulk of his time in the house obsessing over Amber.  Amber is just a flirt who enjoys garnering the affection of all of the guys in the house.  He would not even go along Cody’s plan to grab the PoV and while Brittany chose him to compete, when he had the chance he chose the $5,000 over the PoV which sealed Brittany’s fate.

So let’s face the reality that is extremely likely to be a rather dull season, until the Detonators have removed all of the other House Guests.  Then it might actually get interesting.  Absent some sort of miraculous shakeup, the next few weeks should plod along.  Sure, CBS will try to inject drama with supposed Detonator infighting but it won’t work.  The real problem with this season is that half cast is dull and uninspiring and the other half is cunning and manipulative.  So the wolves will pick off the weakest members of the herd until they are forced to cannibalize their own pack.  The BB16 Power Rankings remain mostly unchanged.  Note, that the first 5 are the detonators members.

1. Derrick – Remains the brains behind the operation.  He’s running a smooth machine with Frankie as his bag boy.

2. Frankie – As Derrick’s number two, he’s wielding a lot of power and keeps his minions in line.  In spite of the loss of his beloved grandfather, he’s soldiering on.

3. Zach – In spite of his madcap demeanor he’s in the mix with the majority alliance.  He has potential to win challenges.

4. Cody – although just a pawn, he’s part of the Detonators and should be safe for a while.

5.  Christine – As the lone female member of the Detonators, she is in a great spot.  However, she is likely to be the first put up when the alliance cracks.  She is tight with other women in the house, too, so she may be a major player down the road.  Plays a good social game.

6.  Donny – He is on the edge of the power structure and friendly with the rest of the house.  Everyone likes him and as such he will be targeted by the majority alliance soon enough in a blindside.  Is it this week?  I would guess they will get rid of some of the dead weight first before shedding Donny.  He’s too popular to evict now.

7. Caleb – A potential challenge threat and a wildcard.  He could be the leader of the opposition if he ever pulled his head out of his ass and started playing the game.  His major flaw is clearly his obsession with Amber.

8.  Amber – She’s a flirt that will buy some time playing with Cody and others.

9. Hayden – His budding showmance with Nicole could result in him being put on the block this week.

10. Nicole – Does she realize that this is a game that has to be played?  Her Hayden showmance could spell her doom.

11. Victoria – Will she squeak by one more week or will she be this week’s target?

12. Jocasta –  Unlikely to do much and probably voted out this week.  Will it be unanimous again?


BB16 Episode 13 – Cody is just Derrick and Frankie’s pawn – Recap

By Alex Bates

In watching last night’s episode of Big Brother, one thing became rather clear – that Derrick is the mastermind of the show.  Frankie is his second in command and dutiful watch dog and the rest of the “Detonators” are just pawns in their game.

How pathetic is Cody?  Caleb aka the “Stalker Cowboy” made a complete and utter fool of him in the Power of Veto (POV) challenge by not grabbing the POV from Victoria after he won the challenge.  No, bad boy Caleb snatched the $5,000 from Nicole who had acquired it via her middling finish in the soccer kick competition.  The result was that Victoria kept the POV for herself.  Ultimately, this allowed her to take herself off of the chopping block for this week’s vote.  Cody then wanted to put Caleb up for his many transgressions (his actions in the POV Challenge, his obsession with Amber).  It is possible that Caleb would have been voted out.  At the very least, it would have made Thursday’s vote interesting.  Instead, Frankie and Derrick intervened and forced Cody’s hand.  He was told to put up Donny which he dutifully did.  So now this week’s elimination vote is between the beloved Donny and Brittany, who is not well like but does not represent a tangible threat to the majority alliance.

frankie speech7 frankie speech2

As an aside, I would like to offer my condolences to Frankie and his family.  It’s a very sad for them.  For a more detailed look at Frankie’s discovery of his grand father’s death see Gossip Chick’s excellent post about this with screen caps from the live feeds.

So is this the best strategy for the Detonators?  First of all, I hate the name the detonators.  But in the end it is really an ironic nickname because this group of idiots will implode at some point.  Unfortunately for the viewers of this debacle, however, the rest of the house is chock full of morons who appear to be sitting ducks.  At this point there is no opposition to this alliance and the threat will come from within.  Caleb and Cody will have a serious falling out over Amber before too long which will lead to the collapse of this aptly named group.  Then,  a rogue group will splinter off and start by backdooring Cody, Frankie or Derrick. Then the game will really start.  Until then, we will have to watch the parade of idiots robotically shuffling along to the orders of Derrick and his number two, Frankie.

After Brittany is inevitably voted out (by unanimous vote, no doubt) what’s next?  Brittany was basically the only person voicing discontent with the way things are going in the house.  No one else appears ready to rise up.  So for the next 3-4 weeks, barring a miracle, the detonators will continue to cull the herd.  There remains a lot of dead weight in the house starting with Victoria.  She has done nothing and will continue to do nothing.  Caleb is an obsessive stalker, Hayden is still in full surfer dude mode, Nicole is a cute non-entity, Christine and Jocasta are just along for the ride and Donny, although kind and lovable has yet to assert himself as a dominant player in the house.  At some point, Donny will become a huge threat to the house and will be summarily dismissed.

So let’s take a look at this week’s power rankings.  It remains Detonator domination:

1. Derrick – Remains the brains behind the operation.  He’s running a smooth machine with Frankie as his bag boy.  Cody, Caleb and the others are just following orders.

2. Frankie – As Derrick’s number two, he’s wielding a lot of power and keeps his minions in line.  Not a very smart or talented player but is on the winning team.  Wants to be a leader but is really a follower.

3. Zach – In spite of his madcap demeanor he’s in the mix with the majority alliance.  He has potential to win challenges.  Is his goofball act legit or is it all an act?  Either way he will probably stick around for a while as he seems always be agreeing with everyone while not getting any blood on his hands, yet.

4. Caleb – A potential challenge threat and a wildcard.  He could be the leader of the opposition if he ever pulled his head out of his ass and started playing the game.  His major flaw is clearly his obsession with Amber.

5.  Donny – He is on the edge of the power structure and friendly with the rest of the house.  Everyone likes him and as such he will be targeted by the majority alliance soon enough in a blindside.  Although they have put him up this week, their focus is to get Brittany out.  I give Donny another 2-3 weeks before the Detonators realize what a huge threat he is.

6.  Amber – Although she is constantly being put up on the block, she is a manipulative model who flirts easily and has most of the men wrapped around her finger (except Derrick and Frankie).  Cody and Caleb are headed for a war over her affections.

7.  Hayden – Although he has done little to this point, it is currently working in his favor.  Kind of the like the Fabio of Survivor fame, he’s taken the non-threatening surfer dude approach.  Is there more to this story or is he just along for the ride?  Either way he seems to be safe for a while.

8.  Christine – She is in the Detonators, so should be safe for a while.

9.Nicole – Cute and non-threatening, she has yet to distinguish herself as a serious game player.  It doesn’t seem like she is anything but a pawn in someone else’s game.

10.  Jocasta – Nice enough and soulful but not sure she is doing anything but filling up space in the house at this point.  I’d like to see her rally and pull it together but it’s hard to see her making a serious play.

11. Cody – has lost all credibility in the game.  He’s proven to be completely controlled by Derrick and Frankie.  His game ranking dropped massively this week due to his failure to put up Caleb.  He has the ability to make interesting moves but at this point he is just an expendable piece in Derrick’s game.  Until he shows otherwise, he is the obvious choice for a blindside by Caleb if he gets HoH or someone else who gets tired of the Caleb/Amber/Cody triangle drama.  His decision not put Caleb up likely cost him any chance of winning Big Brother.  It certainly did not go over well with the fans.

© Copyright 2014    Photos courtesy of CBS

Master Chef Season 5, Episode 9, Top 13 Compete, “How to Filet a Salmon” – Recap & Analysis

By Alex Bates


This week’s episode is a straight in the studio cooking show, with two rounds of competition and one home cook turning in their apron at the end of the show.  First up is the Mystery Box Challenge where one winner will make some critical decisions regarding the Elimination Challenge.

Each chef has a mystery box at their station.  They are asked to remove it, and underneath the crate is a large chef’s knife (with the M@ster Chef logo on it of course).  Next, contestants are told to look up to the front of the room at the giant metallic mystery box.  The box is lifted by wires to reveal a series of whole salmon, one for each chef.  The will use their knives to prepare the salmon.  It’s wild King Salmon, line caught from the pristine waters of Alaska.  It is given a somewhat dubious value of $450 which impresses the home cooks.  Up front, Gordon Ramsay gives a clinic on how to properly fillet the fish, but almost none of the cooks watch; they are too busy attacking their own fish.  Graham Elliot will cook it and Joe will eat it.

Mystery Challenge:  The 13 remaining cooks will have 60 minutes to prepare an amazing Salmon dish.  Each cook must start with a whole Salmon and fillet it with their special Master Chef knife.

Most of the cooks have never filleted a fish before but Christian has and it shows. He works on the salmon like an expert, pulling out the bones.  Courtney wants to win so she will “never have to work in a gentleman’s club again” and make her family proud.  Christian is going with a creole inspired dish.  Christine appears to have butchered the fish and Elizabeth seems to be doing well.

In the middle of the competition, Elise calls out “medic” in the midst of what seems like a panic attack.  Her hands tremble and she leans on the medical staff as they carry her out of the room.  She returns to the with 20 minutes left to “get something onto the plate”.  She admits that she “folded under the pressure”.  She’s embarrassed but “ready to cook”.

Results:  The judges identify three standout dishes. First Christian has prepared Blackened Salmon with Tomato Puree and Vegetables.  It’s cooked beautifully and the judges love it.  He tells Chef Ramsay, “This is me on a plate”.  Second up is Courtney.  She has made Seared Salmon with Broccolini and Couscous.  She emphasizes the flavor of the salmon in her light, pan seared and restaurant quality dish.  Last up is Elizabeth who did an excellent job with the plating of her Baked Salmon with Cauliflower Steak and Relish (pine nut, capers and raisins).  The winner, after much deliberation is Christian and his spicy blackened salmon.  He will get several advantages for his first Mystery Box Challenge victory.

As a reward, Christian will not have to cook in the Elimination Challenge and will select which judge’s basket the rest of the cooks will have to use to prepare their dishes. Joe picks out an Italian themed basket, a refined basket filled wine and gourmet Italian components.  Graham’s dish is fresh food from a farmer’s market.  Gordon’s basket is inspired by his UK upbringing.  Christian chooses Joe’s basket; each cook must then retrieve their basket filled from the pantry.  Christian gets one more advantage – he gets to pick one chef who will have only 30 minutes to prepare their plate.

Elimination Challenge:  Cooks have one hour to prepare their dish using Joe’s basket, filled with gourmet Italian ingredients like wine, olive oil, garlic and special Grana Padano cheese.  Courtney will have to watch the other home cooks for 30 minutes before starting to prepare her meal.

Cutter is once again making a questionable choice, preparing a pizza.  Ahran is making a Tiramisu which astounds the judges; they’re not sure what to make of it.  Courtney begins at the 30 minute mark and the judges are worried she may not be able to rise to the occasion.  Elise appears to be in trouble from the start.  She cannot make her pasta correctly and Gordon Ramsay pities her and helps her roll her pasta out.  She feels like quitting as her dish implodes.  Chef Ramsay implores her not give up.  Courtney is making a “beautiful mushroom ragu’.  Elizabeth is making breakfast lasagna, which Joe really likes.  Big Willie makes a tomato soup with a fried egg on top with a side of crispy flatbread.  Ahran’s dish could either be amazing or a total disaster.  The time ticks off as the home cooks finalize their efforts.  The judges will now review their work.

Courtney:  She offers Spaghetti with Mushroom Ragu and Artichokes.  With only half an hour, she plays it safe by going with a savory ragu over pasta with a clump of prosciutto on top.  The chefs breathe a collective sigh of relief as they realize her dish is really good.  It looks like Christian picked the wrong victim for his advantage.  She says she used this curveball as a chance to shine.

Cutter:  He presents a small, odd looking pizza to Gordon Ramsay.  Cutter says it’s “artisan” to which Ramsay replies “I’m Gordon Ramsay not Stevie Wonder”.  It looks like he’s in trouble.  It’s an Artisan Pizza with Artichokes and Mushrooms.  The judges all hate and it and Cutter appears to be on the bottom again.  Chef Ramsay says it’s “not good enough” and “not Master Chef”.  Joe is angry when Cutter cannot answer simple questions about the refined basket ingredients.  Joe once again tosses Cutter’s food into the trash.

Leslie:  He has prepared Artichoke Ravioli with Prosciutto and Mushrooms filled with Grana Padano Cheese.  While it’s not a home run, the judges find it more than passable.  His plating is an issue but he likely survives another week, especially given the disastrous performances of Cutter and Elise.

Big Willie:  He presents his Tomato Soup with Fried and Egg and flatbread.  Judge Ramsay pans it and says he might be going home.

Christine:  She has made Mushroom Caramelle with Brown Butter Sage Gravy, with crispy Sage and Prosciutto on top.  Joe likes it and says he has “delivered a lot”.

Ahran:  She presents Savory Tiramisu with Mushroom Prosciutto Sauce which the judges aren’t quite sure about initially.  But once they try it, they are bowled over.  Her risk has paid off with a tremendous dish.

Elizabeth: She offers her Breakfast Lasagna with Artichoke Heart Salad.  Joe, the Italian food expert, absolutely loves it.  It has five layers with béchamel and Grana Padano cheese.  Joe calls it like ‘taking a trip it Italy”.

Elise:  She brings up her awful ravioli.  She’s disappointed because she fell flat in both challenges.  Gordon Ramsay asks why she gave up so quickly, she says she lost her confidence.  They taste her “sad ravioli”.  Ramsay calls it bland.  She agrees it’s a failure but that she hasn’t given up.  He says it’s “just tastes” like she has.

Results:  Christian returns from the balcony to hear the judges’ verdict.  Ahran and Elizabeth are the top two and Elizabeth the outright winner.  They will be the team captains in next week’s group challenge. The bottom two are Cutter and Elise.  As bad as Cutter has been, Elise was even worse this week, according to the judges.  Elise seems to know she’s in trouble.  She is unsurprisingly sent home, although it seems miraculous that Cutter and his horrible attitude have squeaked through again.   Chef Ramsay tells her every time he sees a pie he will think of her.   They judges give her a kind send off.  She’s grateful for her experience and the chance to reinvent herself as a chef.


Christian emerged as a strong player while Ahran and Elizabeth confirmed their status as major competitors. Leslie and Big Willie didn’t do much this week, with Will barely avoiding elimination.  Courtney dodged the bullet fired by Christian with grace.  For the rest of the chefs besides Willie, Cutter and Elise it was a fairly ho-hum week.  Next week’s group challenge promises to provide more fireworks.

There are changes brewing in this week’s rankings.  Several of the former leaders have slipped into the middle of the pack while others are rising to the top.

First Tier – Likely Final 4

1. Courtney – She survived Christian’s throw down with ease.  She remains a target for the rest of the home cooks.

2. Ahran – A strong competitor who is almost always on top and continues to shine with her unique, expertly prepared dishes.

3. Elizabeth – She seems to be hitting her stride with several recent strong performances.

4. Francis – He’s been quiet but is likely to rise to again.

The Second Tier – Potential Threats

5. Christian – He nailed it this week and seems to be coming on strong.  He still has a few bad moments but his victory in the Salmon Mystery Box challenge bumps him up a few spots.

6. Leslie – He has muddled through the past couple of weeks without distinguishing himself but has a pretty big bag of tricks.

Third Tier – Middle of the Pack

7. Daniel – Daniel is a solid performer but hasn’t really put it all together yet.

8. Christine – She seems to be hanging in there, although she has to break through with a knockout performance.

  1. Victoria – She is also a solid performer with some strong work to date.

Fourth Tier – Most in Danger of Elimination

  1. Big Willie- Oh how the mighty have fallen!  His red velvet cake staved off elimination last week but he threw up a stinker with his tomato soup with egg.  While I might enjoy eating this, the judges hated it.  He has made some amazing dishes but also some real head scratchers.  He’s a fan favorite and I’d like to see him stick around but the judges have him on their radar now.  It’s looking less and less likely he will make it to the end.
  2. Jaimee – She can bake but she’s young and lacks ability in other areas.  She won’t win Master Chef and her demise is likely to be sooner rather than later.
  3. Cutter – Once the judges are done mocking and belittling him and his stubbornly out of touch cooking, he will be sent packing.  Unless someone else really screws up this week, he should be a goner.


© Copyright 2014    Photos courtesy of Fox

The Next Food Network Star, Season 10, Episode 8 “One-of-a-Kind Experience”

By Alex Bates


The contestants are at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.  The six remaining chefs are brought into a large conference room, standing in a row across from judges Giada and Alton (Bobby is out again) with a Caesar’s Palace card dealer.  Next, the judges inform them that they will each be treated to an elaborate meal in one of the finest Restaurants in Las Vegas.

First Task:  Contestants will individually enjoy some of the finest meals in Las Vegas, all of which can be found at Caesar’s Palace.  The Caesar’s poker dealer then presents a card for each chef.   Lenny will be treated to a deluxe tasting menu at Guy Savoy; Nicole will gorge on the Serendipity 3’s $1,000 sundae; Sarah will feast on a rib eye lollipop at the Old Homestead Steakhouse; Loreal will enjoy the The $777 Burger at Le Burger Brasserie; Luca will enjoy the gourmet handmade noodles at Beijing Noodle No. 9 and Emma will experience the awesome Nobu hibachi.  This journey is designed to inspire the chefs in preparation for the second half of the challenge (and to advertise these elegant Casear’s Palace restaurants).

The remaining six cooks will be divided into two teams and must prepare a lavish feast for the judges.  Giada and Alton will be joined by Bob Tuschman, Susie Fogelman of the Food Network and Las Vegas fixture and former Food Network Chopped and Rachel and Guy’s Celebrity Challenge contestant Penn Gillette (“The Selection Committee”).  Sarah and Emma, as the remaining members of the Bottom three from episode 7 are given the chance to choose the teams.  A large gold coin is flipped and Emma calls “tails”.  The coin is read and it’s tails; Emma will get the first pick.

Second Task:  Teams must present a “360 degree” culinary experience fit for Las Vegas to the judges. Emma picks Lenny and Loreal; Sarah chooses Nicole and Luca.  Both teams appear pretty strong as there only 6 chefs remaining.  Drawing from their earlier individual experiences at the restaurants for ideas, teams must prepare an elegant three course Las Vegas meal.  Each team leader is dealt another three cards and gets to decide which team member gets each of the sophisticated main ingredients.  Sarah draws the Wagyu Beef first and keeps it.  She then gives Luca the Muscovy Duck and Nicole the frogs legs.  Emma chooses the Mangalitsa pork loin (she’s never heard of it but it seems the most accessible); Lenny is given the sea urchin (he’s unfamiliar with it) and Loreal gets the langoustine (a cross between crawfish and lobster).  Teams are then dispatched en masse to the food market purchase items for their menu items.

Sarah is a bit worried when she notices Lenny and Emma are buying wine to match each course of their meal.  Emma’s team is going with an esoteric feast of the gods theme, while Sarah’s team plans a more down to earth foods of the world motif.

First up is Team Sarah.  They work very well together and seamlessly prepare their feast.  Nicole, inspired by the over the top Serendipity 3 $1,000 sundae, in addition to her assigned ingredient, she prepares a delicious, upscale version of s’mores with a candle and fresh marsh mellows for the judges to melt with their dessert.  Sarah’s steak – a generous cut of the Wagyu –  replete with elegant marbling –  is Texas sized.  She also prepares potato and corn side dishes.  She knows after her flop last week that she will have to pour it on.  She will also need to integrate her Texas POV into her food and presentation.  The massive steak, which she expertly seasons and grills, shows that she’s off to a strong start.  Luca, prepares the Moscovy Duck with his typical Italian flair.  He uses a recipe that his grandmother taught him (although originally for pheasant) and he adds the special gravy that she would add to the dish.  Luca is familiar with duck and he prepares it flawlessly.  Nicole prepares her frog legs with tamarind in a Thai inspired dish.  She prepares the frogs legs in a similar manner to chicken wings, dropping them into the deep fryer.

Next Team Sarah must present each dish and serve the judges, seated at long banquet table facing the cooks.  The first to present is Nicole and she does a decent job tying her dish to Thailand, although Susie Fogelman indicates that the link to her fireman husband is somewhat tenuous.  They love her Thai style frog legs and its dipping sauce.  Luca then presents his dish and he’s nervous.  His hands shake as he pours the gravy into each judge’s bowl containing the duck and risotto.  He pulls himself together enough to make a strong presentation, linking the recipe to his grandmother.  Sarah then wows the judges with her giant steak and tasty potato and corn side dishes.  As a bonus, she finally meshes her Texas POV into her presentation and food.  She does an excellent job.  Next up, Nicole presents their dessert.  The judges like the elevated presentation of the s’mores ice cream.  Overall, the judges given them high marks; they feel they have provided an excellent Las Vegas style feast.  Penn Gillette confesses that he thinks Luca has the most star power of the group.

Team Emma next takes to the kitchen to prepare their feast.  While at first it seemed they were in a strong position, their confidence quickly dissipates.  Emma has never prepared this elegant Mangalitsa pork loin and she stuffs it with sweet fruit and herbs, as one might do with a more pedestrian cut of pork.  Lenny is also a bit over his head in preparing the sea urchin, which he places on a bed of pureed cauliflower (he jokes that his buddies would laugh if he went to a sushi restaurant, never mind eat sea urchin).  Loreal readies her lackluster langoustine dish and burnt marsh mellow dessert.

Team Emma’s presentation immediately lapses into the bizarre, with vague references to  ancient deities or gods and goddesses.  Lenny is uncomfortable and brings his usual zealous delivery, which in this intimate setting, is too much.  Loreal at one point tosses fresh rose petals onto the judges table.  Loreal is out of her depth, professing no knowledge of Greek Myths.  Emma gives a pleasant introduction but her food reflects her inexperience; the judges don’t like it.  They refer to this experience as “bizarre” and “uncomfortable”.  It becomes clear that Team Emma is in trouble and that one of its members will be going home.


Both teams appear before the judges after Team Emma’s meal service is complete.  The Select Committee tells the contestants that those that survive elimination  will be headed to New York City. They are generally pleased with Team Sarah, although, there are a few criticisms of Luca’s nervousness and Nicole’s difficulty tying her POV to her Thai inspired dish.

Team Emma was a disaster by comparison. The judges did note that Team Emma did some good things including the wine pairings.  But the ancient deity theme seemed confused and the difficult to prepare dishes like sea urchin failed to impress.  Even Lenny had a down week, although he is the first to be told he is safe.  The Food Network executives noticed Loreal’s regression from earlier in Season 10.  Emma’s poor cooking and role as team leader for the losing team, however, tilted the balance towards her elimination.  The judges announce that it’s Emma’s time to go.  She hugs her new friends and is sad that she won’t be going the New York with the group.


Team Emma was the clear loser this week.  Unfortunately for Emma she took the fall for her team.  She had been in trouble the two prior weeks and this was the culmination of her slide into oblivion.  Emma is clearly talented and should be on camera somewhere.  She has a confident easy going demeanor.  I think her downfall was her relative lack of cooking experience (this week it was the poorly executed pork loin).  She also made questionable decisions.  In Episode 6 she did the French accent for her product commercial; last week she made visitors to her station at the pool party construct and prepare their own dishes and this week she came up with the confusing ancient deity theme.  It seems she was trying to fit into the Caesar’s Palace concept but her plan was never fully realized and it handcuffed both Lenny and Loreal.  As a byproduct, it sapped their usual confidence and left them looking confused and lacking confidence.  Make no mistake, Emma is young and talented and we should expect to see more of her in the future.  I would imagine that being on a show like Food Network Star is a turbo charged learning experience, which may take several months to fully process.  She will learn from her mistakes and be better for it.  Much like Chris Kyler, last week’s eliminee, she is great on camera but needs to work on her culinary expertise.

Of the remaining 5 contestants, Lenny is still the favorite.  I think that any of the other 4 can still win it, but they don’t have much room for error.  Sarah was finally able to connect her POV to her food and presentation.  Nicole and Luca, despite some shaky moments did a great job as well.  That leads to this week’s rankings

1. Lenny – still the one to beat, in spite of his underwhelming performance.  Can he dial back the Lenny Show for a smaller audience?

2. Nicole – She has a solid POV and has proven to be a good cook and solid on camera.

3. Luca – Although already eliminated once, he has regained his footing.  But can he conquer his nerves and keep progressing quickly enough?

4. Sarah – She rallied this week and delivered perhaps her finest performance to date.  Can she continue to weave her POV into her presentations and food?

5. Loreal – The Butcher Babe can still bring it in the solo competitions, particularly with her presentations.  She’s by no means out of this but she appeared to regress this week on Team Emma.


© Copyright 2014     Photos courtesy of Food Network.

Featured Image -- 4249

J.J. Abrams Reveals X-Wing in ‘Star Wars: Episode VII’

Pure Fluff:

Not sure about this one….but will have to wait and see.

Originally posted on Variety:

In a new video from the set of “Star Wars: Episode VII,” director J.J. Abrams showed off a first look at the X-Wing starfighter that will appear in the film.

The teaser gives a good look at the spacecraft well-known from George Lucas’ first trilogy of films, with Abrams’ version clearly meant to reference the existing sci-fi franchise’s universe. It’s already been revealed that Han Solo’s Millennial Falcon also appears in the seventh film.

The introduction of the X-Wing is the second video from the set of Abrams’ “Star Wars: Episode VII.”

In announcing “Force for Change,” Abrams provided a look at a creature from Tatooine, the desert home of Anakin and Luke Skywalker’s dusty home planet, recreated in Abu Dhabi for “Episode VII.”

SEE ALSO: J.J. Abrams Teases ‘Star Wars: Episode VII’ with UNICEF Charity Initiative Video

The introduction of the X-Wing is the final push in Disney, Lucasfilm…

View original 224 more words