Saturday, April 18, 2009

My Dinner With Toby?

Top Chef is something of a guilty pleasure for me. I normally can't stand the reality show format, the product placements are painful, and the competition structure is somewhat contrived and goofy, but at least there are some real chefs and some real cooking going on. This past season was a bit of a downer, as the caliber of the contestants seemed to have dipped, and the couple of folks who seemed to me to show any flair for creativity (Jeff McInnis, Jamie Lauren in my book, but to each his own, of course) struggled to get any traction, but I continued to watch anyway.

I didn't exactly find the season to be enhanced by the presence of the new judge, Toby Young, an English prat whose greatest claim to fame is his ability to annoy other people and somehow get marginally famous for doing so. (Don't take my word for it; he's published a book called "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People: A Memoir"). I have no issue with tough criticism, but he didn't even really offer that. Rather, I just found Young's comments to be stilted, forced, unfunny, and often just plain ignorant. I think you could hear the groans across the country when he attempted to make an "I've found the weapons of mass destruction" joke about five years after that could have remotely been thought of as topical. And it was a real thrill to have an Englishman pontificate on what makes for "authentic" New Orleans or Miami food.[1]

The kicker for me was when, in response to critics, he presumed that it was his mastery of basic grammar, rather than his contrived (lack of) wit, that us knuckle-dragging Americans found so off-putting:
But one of the penalties of being a well-educated Brit in America is that people are constantly accusing you of having memorised lines for the simple reason that you talk in complete sentences and — completely unheard of, this — you don’t make any grammatical mistakes.
Yeah, that must be it.

When I saw on Feedbag that (1) Toby Young was making another appearance as a judge on Top Chef; (2) he was amused by the hue and cry for someone, anyone other than him to serve in that capacity (some of the suggestions included Sirhan Sirhan, Beetlejuice, and an inanimate carbon rod); and (3) he was offering up a dinner in Vegas in his company for an eBay charity auction, well I couldn't resist sharing my two pence. OK, actually what I said was:
Don’t take too much satisfaction from being told that you’re funny by a guy who was making “I’ve found the weapons of mass destruction” jokes in 2008. Question about that eBay auction: do I get to order for TY? (”I’ll have the porterhouse, and my companion here will be having the shit sandwich.”)
Well, someone claiming to be Toby Young responded, "If yours is the winning bid, Frodnesor, I’ll eat what you tell me to eat, no questions asked. That’s a promise." And while it'd be perfectly easy for someone to pretend to be TY - why would anyone ever want to do that? So, on a lark, I put in a bid for the charity auction for a dinner with Toby Young at Tom Colicchio's Craftsteak in Las Vegas.

And - not that I should be all that surprised that the bidding is not exactly going like hotcakes - I'm currently the high bidder, with a whopping bid of $100.01. [I've since been outbid, and am contemplating how much this opportunity is potentially worth]. So here's my question. Assuming nobody else is willing to pay more than $100.01 to spend a weekend in Vegas and have a meal at Craftsteak if it means having to endure Toby Young's company for said meal, what choice things would have you have me ask (or tell) Mr. Young? Any thoughts you'd like to share?[2]

[1] Particularly one whose depth of understanding of New Orleans cuisine is evidenced by this quote from a review of a London restaurant called "Big Easy BBQ and Crabshack":

"The Big Easy is modelled on the informal seafood restaurants of America's Gulf Coast, with plain, utilitarian furniture, chequered tablecloths and plastic bibs for those who want to avoid getting crabmeat on their Hawaiian shirts. It's so laid back, it could almost be one of those bars in the French Quarter of New Orleans where the drinkers were undisturbed by Hurricane Katrina. My fellow diners all looked as though they'd consumed several jugs of frozen margaritas before sitting down to tackle one of the restaurant's gigantic meals."

[2] I'm a little concerned with some of the fine print in the eBay auction, specifically this piece:

Winner and guest understand they will need to behave in a reasonable and appropriate manner at all times during the experience. Violations will invalidate the experience for all participants and the winner and guest will be asked to leave the dinner. Causes for termination include but are not limited to: profanity, harassment, not following instructions of assigned escort or security at event, intoxication, or other codes of conduct which are considered unreasonable.
But I'm assuming that "reasonable," "appropriate," "profanity," and "harassment" will be narrowly construed. Surely someone with Mr. Young's resume has developed a somewhat thick skin by this time, no?

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