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AMUSE BOUCHE: Means ‘Fun For The Mouth’

amyzquinn.thumbnail.jpgBY AMY Z. QUINN This morning, “Good Morning America” featured segments from a sit-down Diane Sawyer did with the U.S. Senate’s so-called “Sweet 16,” or its entire female membership. In case you failed math the way I did, that’s a paltry 16 percent of the Senate’s membership, a fact not even vaguely “sweet.” To make it worse, ABC undercut Sawyer’s entire effort by including the obligatory “Can women senators handle job and work” poll. Still, either I’m getting old, or my sense of what matters is waaay off, because I came away from the piece bothered not so much by the poll, but by an unsettling confession made by one of the Senators.projectrunwayheader.jpg

Though they don’t show the quote in the video, one of the women confessed a fascination with Bravo’s “Project Runway.” This, in turn, fascinates and frankly disappointed me — I prefer to think of my elected sisters as more “Top Chef” kind of people: creative, able to work under pressure, enamored of creating something tangible that fulfills a tangible need. I don’t dislike “Runway,” but to me the show lacks a proper motive, other than starvation and looking good in clothes.

Unlike the “Sweet 16,” there’s little pretense of collegiality among the “Top Chef” contestants. The season finale cook-off in Hawaii will include one female out of the four finalists: the soft-spoken, consensus-building and very young Elia. While the three male finalists seem to be united only in their hatred of one another, you kind of get the impression none of them would really begrudge Elia a win. The show started with 7 women out of 15 contestants, but their cooking seemed gimmicky, or less-than-capable. I’m convinced one woman — a brassy broad from L.A. who allegedly runs a catering company despite the fact that nearly all of her recipes seem to fail — was kept around because she was mouthy and liked to pick fights.

My favorite part of this season’s “Top Chef” competition has been the way it brought the phrase amuse bouche into my life. It’s quite literally “fun for the mouth,” a savory Scooby snack to get your appetite going for the meal ahead. It’s a fantastic place for a chef (or even a home cook) to get the diner wanting more, and it even has a sexy little name that makes me think Gomez Addams is about to start smooching up my arm. Not exactly tapas, as it’s a single piece of food rather than an assortment, not exactly an appetizer either. Just one perfect bite.

For a home cook, the micro-proportion of an amuse bouche makes it the perfect place to show off an expensive ingredient, like truffles or good lobster meat, without killing your wallet. On the flip side of that, it’s also the perfect place to use leftovers — think extra rice made into an herbed rice cake, topped with a ribbon of sliced beef tenderloin, or a shrimp. Also, if there’s an something exotic you’ve always wanted to try, you can do so without it ruining the whole meal if people think it’s nasty.

The season finale of “Top Chef 2″ will air at 10 p.m. Wednesday on Bravo.

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