Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Power of Love

Hi Folks,

I thought the best way to end the year, or maybe start the new one, was with this image of two sisters reunited thanks to the power of love and friendship.

As you may have read here and elsewhere, my friend Keri Cahill has been trying to adopt a Russian girl named Anya, who is the sister of Keri's adopted daughter Nastia. Long story short, Anya's visa was denied in the 11th hour and we have been fighting ever since to get her a student visa. (You can learn more at our web site:

In the meantime, we have raised enough money through a grassroots effort to send Keri and Nastia over to Russia for a short reunion with Anya. As you can see from the picture, the girls are quite happy to see each other.

So thank you to everyone who has helped the effort in any way, and please keep up the work in 2010.

Happy New Year.

PS- 24 starts in a couple of weeks. Woo hoo. See you soon.

- Jack

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Top Chef Las Vegas: The Finale- V for Victory

Sorry I am so late with comments about the last two weeks of Top Chef. I watched the last two episodes on DVR and have just not been able to sit down and write my blog. I think part of the reason I put it off was that, deep down inside, this season was a little bit lackluster compared to others. Sure, it was a fun ride and I enjoyed it, but I did not connect with this year’s group like I have in past years. The line between good guys and bad guys was very blurred. You wanted to hate Mike Voltaggio for his arrogance, but you had to admire is creativity. Unlike Marcel, who may have been talented, but was still a jerk. Perhaps Mike I. was the Hung of this year, but he still was not as interesting. Jen was cute, and started off as a real firecracker, but her drive and her charm faded as the weeks went on. I liked her, but she was no Casey. The whole season was just not as compelling. But it was still pretty good.

When Jen was eliminated in the second-to-last episode, it was no surprise. I think everyone expected the brothers to make it to the finals. They were both great chefs, and that’s where the ratings are. It’s kind of like those ghost hunting shows. There are things that happen that seem like they could be real paranormal activity, but for the most part, I bet it’s mostly staged. After all, if nothing ever happened, you wouldn’t have a show. All along I felt that behind the scenes they knew the brothers would be in the final episode. And since Kevin was so strong throughout the entire season, it would have been a crime if he didn’t make it too.

So in the finale, as usual, the three chefs have to draw knives and they will be assigned a former contestant as a sous-chef. This is one of those elements of the competition that is really not fair. You come all this way, and on the occasion of the most important meal of your life, you may get pared with a bozo who can screw the whole thing up for you. But, ‘dems the breaks, and if you can’t take the heat, get out of the Top Chef kitchen. Unfortunately, my favorite, Kevin, was the unlucky one, and he gets Preeti and Ash as his partners. Ash is okay, but Preeti is more like a lead weight around Kevin’s neck than a helper. Meanwhile, Bryan gets Ashley and Jen, two people who are perfectly suited for this kind of role. Mike V. gets Eli and Jesse. I have to be honest, I did not even remember Jesse, and I wrote recaps every week about this show. I think, looking back, it’s because she dyed her hair blonde. And I was sad that Big Papi did not make the cut. I love that big lug.

The finalists were surprised when their mothers show up the night before the last event. Again, did the Top Chef people choose the Voltaggio brothers so that they could save on airfare and hotels by just having one mother for the two of them? (Am I over-thinking this?)

Tonight, which is December 16, 2009, they are showing a reunion show and supposedly we will hear which brother the mother was actually rooting for. If she says Bryan, I bet Mike V. throws a mushroom at her. (Or something that looks like a mushroom, but really is some other ingredient. He’s so clever.)

The night before, the chefs prep, and that’s where Preeti plays the iceberg to Kevin’s Titanic. You didn’t think anything could sink this guy, but before you know it, the band is playing on the deck.

During the prep, I had a feeling Bryan was going to win the whole thing. He had a good game plan, was playing to his strengths and seemed poised. Kevin was troubled, but you could not count him out.

When the cooking started, it became a rollercoaster. They had to add a dish inspired by their mothers, for one thing. Kevin seemed to kick butt with that dish. That does not surprise me, since he is a pro at home cookin’. Bryan’s first course was under seasoned. I am guessing that the judges don’t have a salt shaker at their table, because I would think in some cases, it would be better to let the diner add a little salt rather than risk over salting a dish. (For instance, I seasoned a batch of French fries today. I still would give the chef at the sports bar a thumbs-up for the meal.) Mike undercooked a prawn, and I thought that was a bad way to start off. But his fried broccoli seemed pretty cool. (I have never been a fan of the green stuff, and would love to try that.)

The second round was a mystery box, in which were ingredients that the chefs had to use. Kevin did pretty well with this one, but Bryan played it safe and once again was under seasoned. Mike V. was the big winner in this round.

The third round was chef’s choice, and Bryan hit a homerun with his venison. Mike V. lost points for a gimmick he did with mushrooms. (See? Mushrooms.) Kevin’s dish was just okay.

This race is getting hard to call. No one is pulling away.

The last course was dessert, and the Voltaggio brothers were much more comfortable with this than Kevin. Seems that a lot of Top Chef wannabe’s have trouble with dessert. Kevin makes a banana dish and plays the “B” card. He uses bacon, practically the equivalent to using PEDs in sports, except bacon is legal. But it can be an unfair advantage. But not this time. Kevin loses points for his dessert. Meanwhile, Mike V. over cooks his little cakes, and I thought he was all done. He undercooked a dish and over cooked a dish. But I really did think his dishes were creative and interesting this time. Bryan does the best with dessert.

So we head into the judges table and I pretty much thought Bryan would win. He was the safest of the three, had less highs, but also less lows. First Padma fakes us all out, including poor Kevin, when she calls his name, only to tell him he’s not Top Chef. That was a cheap shot.

It came down the Voltaggio brothers…. And the winner was little brother, Mike. I have to admit, I was surprised. But his creativity and boldness to lend themselves to the title of Top Chef. I do think Bryan is a better chef, and I think I would rather eat Kevin’s food. But I am always interested in what Mike V. has up his sleeve.

Mike was quite humble after he won, which was nice after all of his cockiness throughout the year. Something tells me you’ll be seeing a lot of Kevin and the Voltaggio brothers in food circles for years to come.

So that’s it for another season of Top Chef. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did, and thanks for reading my blog. I’ll be starting up on my 24 blog in January, and I will continue to write about other random things as they come to me. So keep an eye on Back-in-Jack, and feel free to leave some comments below.

Bon Appetite.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Inexhaustibly For Anya - Bring Anya Home

Hi Friends,

I know, I am late getting the lastest Top Chef blog up. It will get here eventually.

I have been busy with a few things, including helping out a good cause. Inexhaustibly For Anya - Bring Anya Home.

Keri Cahill of Massachusetts is attempting to save the life of Anya... a homeless orphan living on the streets of a Siberian Coal Mining town. It all began about 4 years ago when Keri successfully adopted Anya's sister Nastia. After the adoption, Nastia became aware of a sister living in Siberia that she only had faint memories of. It turns out that the two girls were in fact sisters, and separated when they were both lost into the orphanage system.

Anya is currently 18 and no longer eligible for adoption, and has been released from the system to the streets. She is trying so desperately to avoid being swallowed by the sex trade and drugs. With Keri's guidance from the other side of the world, they have been successful so far. As an orphan in Russia, you are not permitted to travel freely, and need government authorization to travel to Moscow. This process took Keri about 3 years. Anya is currently in Moscow and presented herself at the US Embassy fully expecting to get a student visa as she had all the documentation and enrollment forms for Salem State College. Her visa has been denied, largely based on a whim of an Embassy staffer.

We, Keri’s friends, have started a grassroots social media and letter writing campaign, and have gotten both Senator Kerry, and Senator Kirk involved. The process is currently in the works to approach Secretary Clinton through a contact Keri has in Washington.

We drastically need more exposure to this story. We have had television press on both the local ABC affiliate and NECN. The Boston Globe and the Salem Evening News have also done stories. For links and more details you can check and our Facebook page "Inexhaustibly For Anya - Bring Anya Home". Our Facebook group has over 2500 followers.

Please check out the web site and help out if you can. You can also follow us on Twitter. @bring_anya_home.