Because it had been a long time since I’d seen handsome, entitled young adults artificially assembled into a well-appointed loft space, in order to more safely observe them drinking Jagermeister in a hotub and throwing their IKEA furniture around, I made the conscious, on-purpose decision to start watching “House of Food,” MTV’s new reality series.
The premise follows the same simple formula established years ago by MTV’s “Real World,” crossed with the early-season, less capable episodes of “Top Chef.” Seven strangers, picked to live in a house, to have their food judged, to find out what happens (what?) when people stop being polite (could you get the foie?), and start getting REAL.
The title itself is confusing and uninspired. Is it a reference to “House of Style,” the long-running MTV News program that aired in the 1990s, hosted by Cindy Crawford and featuring segments where Todd Oldham taught you how to sew buttons onto an armchair? Or is it referencing the “House of Pancakes,” the chain of low-rent breakfast places where even the omelets are infused with pancake batter? It hardly matters. Onto the cast!
Using the template established many years ago by Mary-Ellis Bunim herself, the roommates arrive one at a time, each taking a quick whiz through their rented L.A. mansion to ogle at the interior design, which is “hip” in only the way that design done by a committee of fifty-year-old marketing experts in a board room can pull off so effortlessly. After the cast has had a moment to gather themselves, their “Culinary Coach” arrives (“Are you living here,” someone shrieks) in the form of Chris Nirschel, whose major accomplishment seems to have been in being Puff Daddy’s personal chef at some point. He’s dressed like a giant baby in a pastel plaid shirt, and he announces that the first challenge is about to begin: “Personality on a Plate.”
The initial competition is doomed to failure from the start, because the total years lived by the entire cast is less than 50, and thus no one has had time to fully develop a personality, let alone one that can translate into a dish of food made in the allotted time, which I don’t think is ever explicitly stated. It doesn’t stop them from trying. Each dish is judged by a panel of three “Instructors,” including chef Brendan Collins, Top Chef Seattle runner-up Brooke Williamson, and chef Casey Lane. One of them is a blonde woman, one of them talks like my cousin, and one of them has an accent.
Amanda, the self-described “rocker girl” (it’s unclear if anyone in her personal life actually calls her this, though she does have the requisite visible tattoos and dyed hair) chooses to make the best possible first impression at a cooking competition by stuffing a muffin tin full of Pillsbury biscuit dough, then filling the wells with a combination of ground beef and bottled barbecue sauce. Dubbing them “barbie cupcakes,” for reasons that are never explained, she thoughtfully outlines that they represent her because they are odd, and she is odd, and also presumably gross.
Jake is the designated country bumpkin from Kansas, who I can’t help but have kind of a soft spot for even after he prepared a dish which he inexplicably named the “Bend Me Over Burrito,” made with flank steak, fries, ranch dressing, and salsa. My assumption is that in Kansas, any food of foreign origin is regarded with the same suspicion as non-missionary intercourse, and thus the blending of terms is completely normal in that part of the world. The judges proclaim that the dish “doesn’t taste terrible,” and we all get on with our lives.
Lorena makes chicken stuffed with spinach, tomato, garlic, and onion, but then forgets to wash the spinach or cook the chicken, resulting in a dish that’s mostly fecal bacteria and salmonella, and visibly upsetting to the judges.
Will from Boston used to be a fat guy, so now he has to spend the rest of his life doing exercises, taking shirtless bathroom selfies, and eating fancy stuff like seared salmon over white bean puree. It’s the first vaguely “cheffy” dish we’ve seen in the competition so far, but Will drops the ball under pressure from the judges, who challenge his assertion that he “cares where food comes from” by following up with a question about where his food came from, which he is unable to answer. Will is an idiot.
Suki, who is originally from West Africa but now lives in Oregon, makes a stew with chicken that she boils in liquid peanut butter. The judges aren’t impressed (“I don’t know if someone dropped like a whole jar of peanut butter in here,” Will explains, as though who that would be must be a mystery), and the dish is like Suki because presumably everyone in Africa is eating peanut butter all the time.
Brian, a Korean bro-type from Michigan, makes an Asian-style marinated meat with rice and pickled vegetables. It’s like him because its ambitious, just like he is, which feels a lot like telling someone that you’re “smart” or “funny” in that neither of those things are probably true.
Gillian from Northern California makes S’mores Cupcakes, which is a reflection of her personality because she is a human s’mores cupcake. She doesn’t make her marshmallows or graham crackers from scratch, which the instructors hold as a strike against her, in spite of liking the overall idea.
After a thoroughly depressing display of what the competitors will produce when left to their own devices and a night of heavy drinking, Chef Collins appear to try and inject some dignity into the proceedings by demonstrating a pasta preparation that anyone would be proud of: Handmade tortellini with a corn filling and a pan sauce. The cheftestants watch eagerly, absorbing every moment of their instruction so that they can replicate it with the utmost care.
Next, the cast heads out to Olvera Street in Los Angeles because it’s “very cultury to what Los Angeles is,” but a fun outing quickly sours when Brian overreacts to Suki speaking Chinese poorly.
“Seriously? Chill out with that.”
The ill-will is carried back to the house, where Suki is told to “shut the fuck up,” but she can’t, because she “feels like being loud and HEARD.” Cowed, Suki sulks in her room for the rest of the night. Will joins her because he is a sycophant and he is the worst.
Finally, it’s test day. The cooks each do their best to prepare the handmade tortellini they were taught the night before, to varying degrees of success. Brian’s dough is too thin. Jake feels the force of a Ramsay-style attack on his sweaty face, which is “seasoning the tortellini with the sweat dripping off” of it. Brian uses Too. Many. Godamned. Almonds, and Judge Brooke can’t even. Everyone seems very busy and very angry and very not good at making tortellini. And with that, Suki wins this round of the competition.
The judges choose Suki to lead the kitchen, which means she gets to select a kitchen crew to reign over like a cruel princess. Brian disagrees vocally with the judges’ decision, but they don’t care even a little. Everyone agrees that (gasp!) working in a kitchen is hot and difficult.
Cliffhanger! Hard-rocking rock-and-roller Amanda reveals that in spite of saying earlier that she hopes to one day open a “High-End Rock and Roll Themed” restaurant, a concept that I don’t understand but that makes my skin crawl, she doesn’t maybe really kinda care about being a chef after all, and instead is just interested in cooking her meat cupcakes for her friends. Chef Collins isn’t here to have his time wasted by people that are here to waste his time.
So what’s the next move? Will Amanda bring her culinary sensibilities back to Pittsburgh where they belong, or will she press on in the competition to become a world renowned Michelin-starred chef? Who knows? Will I be able to get through another episode of this program without drinking so much pain-dulling whiskey that I forget how to type? Only time will tell!
Random Thoughts from this Episode:
- “Amanda’s cute, but you really can’t just put a meat muffin on a plate.” – Will
- After hearing the criticism of the judges, Suki muses, “I thought they were gonna be polite and nice.” Has she not ever seen a thing?
- Something about the way judge Casey Lane talks gets way under my skin, for reasons I don’t totally understand.
- “Yeah, you can follow a recipe, that’s great. I can follow a PALATE.” (Is “palate” the new “protein?”)
- “What the hell’s a white joke?” -Will
- Gillian the pastry chef in the dish room! Saboteur!
- “I’m not necessarily what I’d call ‘impressed.'” -Judge Brendan
Watch House of Food, Mondays at 10 p.m./9c on MTV. Somebody?