Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fantasy Top Chef: The Draft!

This Monday night, just before the MNF kickoff, the Inaugural Fantasy Top Chef Draft was held. In attendance were Saunter, Daddy, and myself, all keen to get started. Rumours were swirling about Saunter's preparation, with the word being she had made extensive use of the involved charting available on Season 6's wikipedia page.

The stakes? Dinner at a restaurant of the winner's choosing, with the two losers splitting the bill. It was decided that the combatants would high-card for draft position, the winner getting to choose their draft position. 3rd place was considered the prime position in the snake draft, as it would allow picking up two of the consensus "top 4" chefs.

Saunter kicked off proceedings, drawing the lowly 2 of clubs. Daddy moved forward and drew the 9 of hearts. Feeling good about my chances, I made the final draw, nabbing the Queen of clubs.

"I'll take 3rd position," I said, with no hesitation. Daddy quickly confirmed taking second position, which meant that Saunter had the first pick in the draft.

And with that, we were off!

To recap, here is the scoring system for Fantasy Top Chef:

Win Quick Fire: +3 points
Place in Quick Fire: +1 point
Bottom in Quick Fire: -0.5 points
Win Elimination Challenge: +6 points
Place in Elimination Challenge: +2 points
Bottom in Elimination Challenge: -1 point
4th place overall: 10 points
3rd place overall: 20 points
2nd place overall: 35 points
1st place overall: 50 points

Pick No. 1: Jennifer Carroll (Saunter)

Perhaps a surprise with the first pick of the draft, Saunter held true to her big board, selecting the talented Jennifer. Jen has displayed considerable talent during the entire competition, placing in the winner's circle in three of the six Elimination Challenges, though she has not yet won an EC. The Quick Fire challenges are where Jennifer has shown real promise, winning two QF challenges outright, while placing in two others. Interestingly, Saunter had not yet seen last week's episode, where despite Jennifer's uncertainty about the challenge and doubt about her dish she was able to garner a seat in the top four dishes. A breakout EC win could be around the corner. Saunter obviously feels that Jennifer's skills will continue to shine, and is a strong contender for the final three.

Pick No. 2: Bryan Voltaggio (Daddy)

With considerable glee, Daddy took Bryan with the second pick. A favourite chef of Saunter and Garthmeister J., Daddy was no doubt eager to obtain this particular chef based not only on his performance so far on Top Chef but also on Garthmeister's epic four-part blog entry about the visit to Bryan's restaurant, VOLT. Bryan has been a monster in the Elimination Challenges, picking up an outstanding 3 EC wins. Interestingly Bryan has not placed in ECs - if he's in the winner's circle, he takes home the Gold. The only knock on Bryan, and potential reason for him slipping to number two in the draft, is his performance in Quick Fire challenges. Bryan has placed in the bottom in three of the six Quick Fire challenges, which is somewhat confusing given his showing in ECs. Already this season we have seen a chef eliminated in a Quick Fire challenge - could this be Bryan's undoing?

Pick No. 3: Kevin Gillespie (Garthmeister J.)

After an important win in being able to choose his drafting position, Garthmeister J. knew that he would be able to sit back and scoop the two remaining chefs of what most consider the top four chefs in the field. As it played out, Garthmeister was able to select both Kevin and Michael Voltaggio, who were allegedly the top two chefs on Garth's board.

Kevin is another chef who has the distinction of not appearing in the bottom of any challenge, either Quick Fire or Elimination. He got off on the right foot, winning the first Elimination Challenge, winning one other, and placing in a third. This is all the more impressive, considering he has only competed in five of the six ECs, receiving a bye in one challenge after winning a Quick Fire. Besides that QF win, Kevin has also placed in another. It would be a surprise if he did not go deep this season.

Pick No. 4: Michael Voltaggio (Garthmeister J.)

To anyone looking at the field, it may not come as a surprise that Michael V came in fourth of the top tier of chefs. Michael has been relentless in the Elimination Challenges, being in the winner's circle in an amazing five of six ECs. The only knock in his EC performances is only winning outright in one of those. His performances in Quick Fire challenges has been a little more uneven, winning once, placing once, and finishing in the bottom once. Michael may be one of the most inventive chefs in the draft, but some may have concerns that not being as conventional as his competition may cost him in the end.

Pick No. 5: Ashley Merriman (Daddy)

The fifth pick was a key position in the draft, being the first selection outside of the top 4 chefs. Ashley was wide regarded by all the drafters as being a sleeper who has begun to find her legs, after an initially rocky start. Ashely has appeared in the bottom of two Elimination Challenges, before closing strongly and placing in the last two ECs. She has placed in one Quick Fire, while also appearing in the bottom of one QF - which was also the QF in which someone was eliminated. Given Ashley's recent growth, it would come as no surprise if she continued her strong showings.

Pick No. 6: Mike Isabella (Saunter)

Mike Isabella has been the most polarising chef of this season of Top Chef. Initially displaying a misogynistic streak, Mike has continued to ruffle feathers, but his performances in the kitchen were enough for Saunter to take him 6th. Saunter and Garthmeister J. have also eaten at Zaytinya, Mike I's restaurant, though they had a middling experience. On Top Chef, Mike has been most notable for making savvy choices when being paired up with another competitor. He has placed twice in Elimination Challenges, but has also appeared in the bottom of one when he seemed to coast too much on his partner. Mike has placed in one Quick Fire, and won another, though the win may have been due to his experience with the rare ingredient used, cactus. Due to his personality, Mike could end up self-destructing at judge's table if he is selected as one of the bottom dishes.

Pick No. 7: Eli Kershtein (Saunter)

A value pick at number seven, Eli Keshtein has been a steady competitor thus far, without really distinguishing himself.
He is also considered more favourably to the other remaining chefs, and was a natural selection here. Eli has placed in two ECs, placing in one QF and also being bottom in one QF. As the field dwindles, Eli is going to either have to rise to match the performances of the top tier of chefs, or else he could start appearing consistently in the bottom dishes before being eliminated. Eli has shown some flashes, and Saunter is hoping for more upside out of the Atlanta native.

Pick No. 8: Laurine Wickett Hope (Daddy)

For his final selection, Daddy selected Laurine from the three remaining chefs. Laurine did not make much of an impact in early episodes, but as eliminations take their toll on the field, she is being forced more into the picture. Laurine did not place in the top or the bottom of any challenge until the 3rd episode, when she was selected as one of the poorest dishes in an Elimination Challenge. She has been in the bottom for one other EC, while placing in the EC held at the ranch - a setting which may have provided the best opportunity for her to do well. In Quickfire Challenges she has placed once, and been bottom once. Overall, the concern is that Laurine will continue to hang around week to week, appearing often in the bottom dishes, without being eliminated.

Pick No. 9: Robin Leventhal (Garthmeister J.)

The 9th pick was always going to be interesting, as there were only two chefs left. Despite the low opinion of her held by other chefs remaining in the competition, Robin has only appeared in the bottom four of one EC and one QF, while she won the last EC.
Garth chose Robin over Ash, feeling that Robin may be a boom or bust candidate. There is a good chance she is the next chef eliminated, thus avoiding multiple weeks of appearing in the bottom dishes (which is a valid concern regarding Ash), while she could also pull out another surprise win in an EC or QF.


For reference, here are the three stables of chefs.

Saunter: Jen, Mike I., Eli
Daddy: Bryan, Ashley, Laurine
Garthmeister J.: Kevin, Michael V., Robin

The consensus is that Garth is the favourite, which would be expected no matter which two of the top four chefs fell into his lap. Saunter has a solid lineup, with Daddy's hopes perhaps hinging on whether Ashley can continue her improvement and make a real tilt at the title.

Stay tuned: tomorrow night Saunter, Daddy and Garth will be getting together to watch the first episode in the Top Chef Fantasy era. Taste the excitement!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fantasy Top Chef

I am uniformly sucktastic at keeping up with television shows. I never watched the Sopranos (I think I saw maybe 15 minutes in total), have never watched more than a few minutes of Deadwood, and have seen one clip of The Wire on Youtube. All-Star once tried to get me hooked on Battlestar Galactica by lending me the first season DVDs... and I made it through three episodes before never picking them up again.

At the moment there is exactly one show that is appointment television for me: Top Chef. Oh sure, the other big TV commitment for me right now is the NFL (have I mentioned how awesome the NFL Network's Red Zone channel is? Because it is very awesome), but I'm not going to be too upset if I can't watch a particular game or even miss a Sunday. After all, I can keep up with the games and with my different fantasy teams via my iPhone if I feel the urge.

Watching Top Chef last night, Daddy and I were discussing the strengths of the various contestants, and arguing who we thought was going to kill (or not) with the judges. Good fun, while admiring how someone is able to tackle the concept of "deconstructing caesar salad".

While rehashing the episode today, we came up with an idea that will no doubt sweep the nation. Fantasy Top Chef. The rules we came up with is as follows:

Win Quick Fire: +3 points
Place in Quick Fire: +1 point
Bottom in Quick Fire: -0.5 points
Win Elimination Challenge: +6 points
Place in Elimination Challenge: +2 points
Bottom in Elimination Challenge: -1 point
4th place overall: 10 points
3rd place overall: 20 points
2nd place overall: 35 points
1st place overall: 50 points

A draft date has been tentatively set for Monday, with Daddy, Saunter and myself to participate. Stakes to be determined. I'm excited. And salivating.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Infinite Jest: I Know What I Did This Summer

I suppose I had always been aware of David Foster Wallace. I couldn't recall ever reading any of his writing, but I knew it was meant to be excellent. Beyond that? Couldn't tell you much. Similarly, I had heard of Infinite Jest, even knew that it was considered a modern classic, but couldn't add much more than that1.

All that changed on September 12, 2008, when David Foster Wallace committed suicide.

Having not known the man's work, I was somewhat taken aback about the outpouring of emotion from all over the globe. Article after article written about this extraordinary author, some pointing to various pieces of his work that existed online2, allowing me at least to sample what made the man's written word special.

And yet, article after article referenced Infinite Jest. And the fact that it was somewhat notorious for people not finishing the book.

I didn't give the matter too much more thought; after all, I had plenty of books I hadn't gotten to yet. Not to mention I had already earned my stripes when it had come to conquering "difficult" books, having read "Ulysses"3 in its entirety after picking up the book on a trip to Ireland4.

All that changed when I a) heard about the "Infinite Summer" project, and b) when Gracie told me about it. With those two hooks I immediately sought the book 5.

The first thing I noticed? This was a seriously large book. I immediately set about changing the bag I took to work from an "over-the-shoulder" vertebrae-bender to a more ergonomic backpack6, so I could better handle the load. The second thing I noticed? Dave Eggers wrote the forward, an author I had been introduced to when my parents gave my "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius"7 for Christmas, and knew a lot better than DFW. The third thing I noticed? Dave Eggers clearly got his penchant for footnotes from DFW8.

I had been warned by Gracie that the book was a slow starter and somewhat all over the place, but I dilligently plugged away, reading on the Metro to and from work every day. The first couple of hundred pages were definitely a little difficult to dig into, but I was on a mission.

And then, between pages 242-258, David Foster Wallace melted my face off9.

From that moment on, there was no way I was not going to get to the bottom of the novel. Soon I was outstripping the "schedule" for the Infinite Summer project, and stealing time whenever I could to read it. I read a 200 page chunk in one sitting in my cubicle at work, when I probably should have been doing something to add to the corporate bottom line. I felt like I was on some literary roller-coaster, hurtling towards the end of this 1000+ page behemoth of a novel.

When I read the last line, I held my head in my hands for several minutes.

Some people feel cheated by the ending. Some people immediately start re-reading the novel10. I was neither; I almost flipped to the front to start again, but caught myself, wanting to bask in the ending.

Was the book amazing? Yes. Would I recommend you reading this book? Yes. Will I read this book again? Yes. Yes. Yes.

But one thing I can tell you. Knowing the contents of the novel, and the details of David Foster Wallace's life and death makes it all the more heart-breaking.

1. Including the fact that it was written by David Foster Wallace.

2. I think the first article I read was the one describing his trip to Wimbledon to see Federer.

3. By James Joyce, natch.

4. No, I didn't know what it all meant at the time. I mean, it's a really difficult book.

5. Have I mentioned that I love Amazon lately? No? Well, I love Amazon. It's the bestest.

6. which I continue to use. I am sure my back will thank me later.

7. I'm not sure exactly what it says about me that my parents heard a review of the book and thought "that sounds right up Garth's alley", and immediately purchased it for me.

8. To be fair, footnotes are really fun to use, even when you are blatantly overusing them. You know, like I am now.

9. in a good way, that is. But still: facial meltage did occur.

10. This clearly says something powerful, particularly for a novel famous for people not being able to finish a first reading.