Around the World in 80 Plates Recap: David Rees on Italian Grandmothers

Cat Cora knew she'd be the next one called in this game of Red Rover.
Cat Cora knew she’d be the next one called in this game of Red Rover. Photo: Virginia Sherwood/Bravo

I must begin by thanking everyone who admitted to watching ATWI80P in last week’s comments. I’m happy to share my shame with you, as I believe all shame should be shared. Let us hold hands as we jump over the waterfall.

Recapper’s Note, Included Here So As to Provide Context for What Follows: After last week’s adventures in the big cities of New York and Los Angeles, I’m back home in the woods, watching the show with my wine-store friends. And thank goodness for that, because during my visit to Los Angeles, I — no kidding — accidentally slammed my head into the trunk of a palm tree such that blood was literally streaming down my neck as I entered a fancy restaurant. Twenty-four hours later, I was still picking palm-tree debris out of my scalp.

Think about it: That’s the kind of drama and intensity I experienced just by traveling to California. (A mistake I won’t make again.) What’s in store for our chef friends as they travel around the world? Who knows what foreign trees will attack their scalps!

Enough dribble-drobble. Let’s get to it! The chefs are off to Italy, flying in yet another private jet. This one is really nice. Its seats look like sports-car seats, with all the ergonomic dingle-dangles and leather tomfoolery associated with the personal vehicles of Italian cocaine salesmen.

Once they arrive in Florence (famous Italian city), our contestants start dropping Italian phrases like cluster bombs, pronouncing street names and ingredients with the exaggerated mama-mia enthusiasm of true Italians: “Taxi driver por favor-eh, take-ah me to-eh the finest spaghetti factory!” and whatnot. Jenna is especially enthusiastic in this regard, driving her teammates bananas with the way she tackles foreign languages and wrestles them to the ground like a rodeo wrangler.

The two teams’ first assignment: Find the men playing bocce ball! (Bocce ball is an old-timey European sport for senior citizens; you throw a couple balls at another ball in a big sandbox.) Everyone jogs to the park where the men play bocce ball. (My notes: “The producers must be telling everyone to jog all the time. I wonder if they kick their legs while they dream.”) Next they’re told to find a famous re-boiled seasonal dish — what could it be?

Turns out it’s Sloppy Joes! Or something that looks like it.

Next, they have to order a famous dish whose main ingredient is “often mistaken for cheese.” I’ll just leave it at that, lest this recap turn into 4,000 words of gross jokes.

I should mention that my wine-store friends are a married couple. Let’s call them “Maybelline” and “Timbaland.” Just moments ago, Maybelline’s niece texted to ask her if she agreed that Nookie was the spitting image of Timbaland! Poor Timbaland was so offended by this query that he almost compromised the excellence of the martini he made me.

When I’m done admiring the olives in my martini glass, I look up to see our friends harvesting olives in the Tuscan countryside! They’re using a bunch of weird rakes. I never realized olives grew on trees. I thought they grew on filthy vines in alleyways behind brothels.

Black Team realizes they can whack olives onto a tarp to save time. It takes Red Team hours/days/centuries to catch on to this strategy. Eventually they do, but it’s too late: Black Team has won.

Finally we see Curtis Stone and Cat Cora (not a psychic seashell). Black Team wins their $10,000 and the exceptional ingredient: an Italian grandma who is “world-renowned.” Her name is Nana Nonna, and she’s one of the world’s most famous Italian grandmothers, and speaking of mothers, she can cook like a motherfucker, so watch out.

Each team is taking over an exclusive Tuscan villa. Jenna starts crying because her fiancé is Italian and proposed on her birthday with a “salami ring.” Good ol’ Nookie is dying to make fun of her. I will say that this is about the most riveting ten seconds of the show thus far.

The teams must make the Tuscan stew they tasted earlier. (It’s called ribollita.) Black Team consults with their Nana Nonna while Red Team goes to their villa to sulk. The old lady doesn’t speak any English so wacky music plays while everyone struggles to understand her. Black team and Nonna go into “Car Talk” mode, making silly sounds to describe cooking techniques. Language barriers: We’ll miss them when they’re gone, trust me.

Eventually Nick runs out of patience; he’s like “let’s get rid of this old Italian lady.” Black Team realizes the sun is setting so they take a break from the competition to enjoy the gorgeous Tuscan sunset because that’s what life is all about and if you don’t agree then you can eat a moldy old dick.

The next morning, in Red Team’s kitchen, John commits one of this season’s most epic “epic fails” as he knocks over the shelf holding the ribbolita. Boom! Ribbolita is all over the floor; it looks like a weird Tuscan fungus that you’d wear a hazmat suit to remove. Poor John! Suddenly the least interesting contestant in the history of reality television is the site of intense emotional engagement. Red Team is beyond pissed — they’re in a whole other universe, they’re so pissed at John. I feel for poor John.

Disasters continue in Red Team’s kitchen as Liz’s pasta is totally fucked up; it won’t fit through the thing that makes the spaghetti (or maybe it’s the deep-fryer?). And the worst is, Liz doesn’t care because she has immunity — which throws Jenna into a rage, because it’s supposed to be about teamwork and making Jenna look good, and she hates Liz.

Nonna’s son arrives in the dining room. He looks like Ted Danson, but more Italian. He explains how Tuscan cooking is so simple because they don’t use many ingredients because they’re not that bright. (JOKE)

Red Team begins their meal with a huge load of antipasti. Nonna thinks it’s okay but not amazing. John presents their last-minute ribollita. Guess what? Everyone loves it! Red Team has officially dodged a bullet. Next is Liz’s last-minute gnocchi with wild boar. Some old guy chews her out for not grinding the meat more, but who cares what he says? (This old guy will go on to complain about Black Team’s food, too, in such a grumpy way that I yell at him even though he’s on my TV and can’t hear me.)

Basically Red Team squeaked out a decent meal in the face of disaster, so we have to give them a standing ovation. Everyone reading this recap should stand up right now and applaud; we’ll meet back here in fifteen seconds. Go. Clap now.

Our hosts ask Nonna if she taught Black Team everything she knows, and she’s basically like, “They didn’t pay attention and then after an hour they kicked me out.” (But she says it in Italian, of course.) Curtis and Cat are appalled that Black Team didn’t make better use of Nonna; they didn’t even watch her cook spaghetti in whatever inimitable fashion Italian grannies cook spaghetti! Can you believe it? I don’t know whether to shake my head or blow my brains out, I’m so offended.

Now it’s time to eat Black Team’s food. But first, Curtis and Cat enter the kitchen to chastise them for ignoring Nonna. (My notes: “Curtis Stone’s hair has never looked more windswept and choppy.”) And so Black Team is deflated moments before service. Now I’m rooting for Black Team!

Nookie’s ribollita is decent, but not as good as Nonna’s — OF COURSE. Nick and Avery made gnocchi with a bunch of stuff in it; the verdict is that the zucchini and porcini ratios are all wrong, which is the type of thing some people literally think about.

Black Team’s fate hangs on Nicole’s meatball-and-sausage explosion. It is, thank God, well received. Dessert is an inscrutable pear cake that looks like Frank Gehry’s outhouse.

In the post-game conference, Curtis continues to hammer Black Team for not exploiting Nonna’s expertise. Don’t they realize how much they could’ve learned from her? It’s like throwing away free money! For instance: Red Team’s ribollita was far superior to Black Team’s ribollita. Why? Because Black Team didn’t learn from Nonna. (I guess?)

Nonetheless, the locals preferred Black Team, who did “a better job of capturing the Tuscan spirit in your food.” So, really, who cares about Nonna? If I was on Black Team, I’d feel vindicated in my decision to show Nonna the door after an hour of picturesque babbling.

Nicole wins immunity because of her amazing meatballs.

As the losers, Red Team must turn against their own. Jenna, Gary and John each state their case while Liz observes from the chaise lounge of her immunity. Jenna makes some biting remarks about the injustice of not being able to eliminate Liz; Liz responds in kind, and we’re treated to so much lady-sneering and lady-glaring that it feels like a Telenovela has muscled its way onto my friends’ TV.

It’s decision time. Who’s going home? Liz votes to kill Jenna. Gary chooses John for electrocution. John pulls out Gary’s entrails. Jenna, casting the deciding vote, raises her broadsword and brings it down upon the neck of … Gary.

Good ol’ Gary is gone; his journey ends under the cold, unblinking eye of the Tuscan sun.

Gary is sad, but proud of his accomplishment: “I signed up for this (show) to have an experience bigger than myself — and I have achieved that.” I feel you brother; it’s just like me and my recaps!

David Rees is an artisanal pencil sharpener.

Around the World in 80 Plates Recap: David Rees on Italian Grandmothers