The dirty secret about traveling around the world is that eventually you run out of world and you’re right back where you started. And so, here I am — on the same couch I was sitting on when I first started watching Around the World in 80 Plates along with dozens of other Americans. (Let me take this opportunity to thank my tireless hosts, Tim and Mei of Artisan Wine Shop in Beacon, New York, for ceding their Wednesday evenings — and their precious television — and their wine — in the service of my writing assignment.) On to the show!
Our three finalists, Avery, Liz and Nookie, hop a ferry from Buenos Aires to Uruguay, the mysterious, mystical land where all reality shows end. They have exactly two hours to prepare a traditional Uruguaryian (sp) dish. They are limited to shopping in only three stores: Big Jimmy’s House of Yams, Grape Nuts Warehouse, and Bed, Bath & Beyond. (JOKE)
Avery buys a lot of produce and decides to make a seafood dish, because citrus and seafood go well together. Liz knows that “beef and steak are very, very popular and beloved in South America,” so she buys a veritable abattoir of meat. Nookie does some ethnographic investigating, asking locals what they like to eat. They all say “caramelized dinosaur farts,” so he splurges on pterodactyl-ass concentrate. (Seriously, though, he’s told to indulge in caramelized onions, so he does.)
Avery grabs a bottle of white wine to pair with her seafood dish. (White wine goes well with seafood; I confirmed this with my hosts.) I realize, however, that Avery still hasn’t bought the seafood! Shouldn’t your shopping begin with the most crucial ingredient? That’s why the first item in my basket is always paper towels.
Sure enough, when Avery finally arrives at the meat store, she’s told they don’t have seafood. She buys chicken instead, because “chicken is the seafood of the sea,” or so I think I read on a can of something once.
Liz, meanwhile, buys strawberries for her steak. I do not understand what she’s doing.
Avery, done with her shopping, returns to home base — and who does she see but Curtis Stone and Cat Cora (not a Fancy Feast–themed hardcore band)! Curtis and Cat announce that they’ll serve as the contest’s “special diners,” because (I guess) Uruguararians (sp) had the good sense not to partake in this exercise in culinary colonialism. Or maybe nobody lives in Uruguay?
Now everybody’s in the kitchen. Avery, Liz, and Nookie cook side by side at cross purposes like an exploded Rubik’s cube. Guess what? Good ol’ Liz forgot to buy salt during her ingredient shopping spree. (Even I would’ve remembered to buy salt; the amazing thing about salt is that it can turn anything into food. You should see some of the garbage I’ve put salt on.)
Nookie and Avery decline to share their salt with Liz. This reminds me of a famous Bible passage in which a fiendish group of salt-hoarders get their comeuppance, but I can’t remember the specifics because I’m too busy enjoying the wine my hosts are forcing down my gullet; maybe it’s in Curtis’s First Letter to the Epicureans?
Anyway, Liz goes into MacGyver Mode and decides to use her chorizo as salt. Apparently if you cook chorizo, it gets salty and then you can just sprinkle it on stuff if you don’t have any Morton handy. This is the kind of outside-the-box thinking that will make my popcorn even more delicious! (I’m already using batter-fried foie gras as a handy butter substitute.)
Nookie finishes making his dish in like two minutes because it’s just an off-the-shelf sausage link and a salad. Then he stands around tasting it and yelling “Boo-yah!” I’m surprised that Nookie, who built his reputation on being a steely-minded strategist, would play it so safe in this semifinal competition. But what do I know? He’s been all around the world, and I’ve been slumped on a sofa.
Here’s what our chefs serve our hosts:
Liz: Steak with strawberry sausage
Nookie: Grilled chorizo with onions
Avery: Roasted chicken with arugula and citrus salad and Mitt Romney’s tax returns
Keep in mind, Cat and Curt have no idea who cooked what, as per their rigorous ethical standards. They think Liz’s dish is under-seasoned; she didn’t include enough chorizo to make up for the unsaltiness. Nookie’s chorizo dish is too sweet (he included green apples), and also, Curtis suspects the meat is straight-from-the-shelf, just like the onion marmalade. Ouch!
Avery wins the contest: Her chicken was tasty — PLUS she thought ahead and paired it with a Riesling, which made Cat think, That chef is organized! Avery, in a cutaway, cuts Nookie down to size: “This is a cooking competition, not a re-heating competition!” Double-ouch with a cherry on top!
Then I literally — literally — say “Oh snap” — which I never say — because Avery’s Exceptional Ingredient is that she gets to kick Nookie or Liz off the show. Only one of them will compete with Avery in Los Angeles (did I mention they’re getting the hell out of Uruguay and the final restaurant takeover will be in L.A.?). My friends and I laugh at the unexpected audacity of this moment.
Avery sends Nookie packing. After all his bragging and boasting about his strategic wisdom, Nookie’s headed home in a cargo plane’s storage container. Despite their longstanding pledges of allegiance, Avery stabbed him in the back. Triple-double-dipper ouch!
Curtis tells Avery and Liz that the site of their final meal will be Red Seven, a famous restaurant owned by celebrity chef Wolfgang “Odd Future Kill Them All” Puck. Each plate of their meal must reflect one of the countries they’ve visited.
Back in L.A., Avery and Liz drive gray Infiniti SUVs to the grocery store. The Infiniti offers style, comfort, and protection you don’t usually see in an SUV. But that’s what sets Infiniti apart — the attention to excellence and the commitment to quality that lets you soar above the ordinary. Infiniti: For the special grocery-shopping trips of your life. And let’s not forget Chase Sapphire Preferred credit cards, which bludgeon all other credit cards into a bloody, pulpy mass. But, really, guys: Buy as many Infiniti cars and trucks as you can. They’re great. Buy them with your Chase credit card.
At the Asian market, Avery sees former contestants Nick and Nicole standing out front looking miserable. She has to pick one of them to help her. She picks Nick. Nicole, as if on cue, looks more abject and contemptuous than an 8-year-old being forced to read Kierkegaard.
At the other grocery store, Liz picks Chaz over Jenna and Tsai. Avery, in her turn, strolls in and chooses Jenna over Tsai. I’m sure the former contestants loved being corralled into grocery stores and waiting to be chosen like cuts of meat. NOW YOU KNOW HOW MEAT FEELS, GUYS.
At the Italian market, Liz randomly bumps into Nookie, John, and ol’ What’s-His-or-Her-Name. She chooses John to help her in the kitchen. John opens the trunk of the Infiniti JX35, but Liz explains that the rear seat is so spacious, she has room for all the groceries.
Then the contestants basically cook the shit out of everything.
Finally, it’s time for dinner — the most important dinner of Avery and Liz’s lives. A bunch of famous chefs arrive. (My friends, who are serious foodies, recognize almost half of them.) The famous chefs are joined by all the former AtWi80P contestants. (I recognize almost half of them.)
Avery serves a Thai salad with fake sand and a head-on shrimp; an Argentine beef filet; and Moroccan mint tea with a cardamom-based dessert substance.
Chef Puck complains that it’s “a little one-dimensional.” But what does he know? The plates at his fancy establishment are square, which is unforgivable. Seriously, everyone: Square plates are bullshit. Eating at a restaurant doesn’t have to be an LSD trip. Just use circular plates like every other sane person on earth.
A Michelin-star chef complains that there’s no fire in the vegetables. But what does he know? His professional worth is determined by a goddamn tire company.
Curtis, on the other hand, thinks the meal is “beautiful.” But what does he know? He’s only the most handsome man on earth. Things are looking good for Avery!
Liz follows Avery with a Thai beef salad; Italian-style braised chicken; and a dessert empanada inspired by Argentina.
(Chaz loves the food he made with Liz: “It tastes like $150,000.” That’s a badass thing to say. I always liked Chaz. I liked his rage.)
The diners go ga-ga over Liz’s crispy coconut rice. Then there’s a weird moment where Puck shoots down Cat’s criticism of Liz’s dessert, and Cat looks genuinely confused and embarrassed. I’m surprised the producers left it in. Maybe they’re exhausted from traveling around the world? I can’t blame them — I get exhausted just traveling from my sofa to my friends’ sofa to watch this show.
Curtis and Cat want to know: What does Chef Puck think of our two finalists? “Avery has better techniques, more experience in the kitchen. But Liz has the talent.” Sounds like the contest is Liz’s to lose.
Liz’s Thai dish was the diners’ overall favorite of the night. But her chicken wasn’t properly braised and its flavors weren’t coming together. So fuck that dumb-ass chicken. And Cat pushes Liz to admit the structure of her dessert fell apart vis-à-vis the open-faced empanada. (I don’t know what to make of that — I literally can’t imagine what they’re talking about and I saw it on TV five seconds ago.)
All the other contestants stand in the corner like they’re in time-out while Curtis and Cat announce the winner.
The diners have voted on the best chef; it came down to a mere four votes. So this is it — who “truly captured the spirit of the journey?” The answer is …
… that both Avery and Liz “should be proud of what you’ve accomplished in the past ten weeks.”
Huh? It’s a tie?!
That can’t be right.
Oh, wait, there are more sounds and images coming from the TV … I re-open my laptop.
The winner of Around the World in 80 Plates is: Avery!
(How many weeks ago did I call it?) Avery gets $150,000 and a free Infiniti, which is a type of car. I gotta say, the other chefs don’t look happy. They’re not hiding their feelings in the slightest.
But I don’t mind. One thing I liked about Avery was that she always gave off a hardscrabble, blue-collar vibe (single mom, tattoos, cheek-piercing, intimations of former drug abuse) — but when she talked about food, she exhibited an intellectual rigor that suggested she read Lapham’s Quarterly and dated theoretical physicists. Food is cool like that; people can get pretty nerdy about it. Let’s all pledge to eat more food.
Liz, in tears, hugs her shaggy hipster boyfriend. Avery’s family shows up and everyone explodes in hugs. The chefs toast their amazing journey and that’s that: Around the World in 80 Plates concludes its first and only season. Yeah, I’m calling it. But every time we lift a fork to our mouths in a foreign land, we will remember its legacy. See you in Uruguay!