Monday, April 11, 2016

Fresh off the Boat 2.17: "Doing it Right"

“Well, down here in Orlando, we have a name for Yankee chili. It’s called soup.”

This episode of “Fresh off the Boat” featured two fairly separate plots (Louis asks Eddie to help him with a Chili cook-off he has entered, and Jessica gets in a fight with the mother of one of Evan’s friends) that came together with the common theme of when parents should listen to their children. While there wasn’t a ton of substance to it, I did appreciate the Chili cook-off plot because I believe it is the first time we’ve gotten a nod to the fact that the real life Eddie Huang is a chef. I wish we had seen show Eddie express some interest in food and cooking before this, though. His declaration that he just “knows food” seems to come a bit out of nowhere. I will definitely be interested to see where the show goes with Eddie’s love for food and talent for cooking. I suppose I should read the real Eddie Huang’s book some time, to get a sense of how it all really went down. Was the real Eddie able to identify every flavor at Baskin Robbins as a middle schooler? I’d like to find out!

The episode opens on a scene that I didn’t really know what to make of at first. Louis is in a parking garage, in the middle of what looks like a stereotypical drug deal. Two guys pull up in an older car and want to show off their product. They aren’t selling any controlled substances, though (that we can see, at least). They are selling ghost chilies. I was kind of surprised Louis couldn’t just get some at a store, but I guess there aren’t a lot of specialty or ethnic food stores in the suburbs of Orlando. Or at least there weren’t in the mid-90’s. Louis is going to participate in the North Orlando Chili Cookoff, and he needs the good stuff so he can win the competition. Apparently he did quite well in chili cook-offs back in DC, and he wants to do the same in Orlando.

Louis is going to face stiff chili competition from his neighbor, Marvin, though. Marvin confronts Louis, stockpot in hand, and brags about his credentials. He has won the chili cook off for five years in a row now, and he shows off his Golden Stockpot trophies with pride. His signature chili involves cooking a wild hog. Honey later complains to Jessica that Marvin insists the hog be placed in the garage refrigerator with its head facing out, because that “honors the hog.” Louis wants to pull out all the stops to beat Marvin, so he offers to let Eddie be his “chili apprentice.” Eddie is super excited, even if his first task is washing Louis’ apron from the Washington DC Hard Rock Café. I do love the 90’s nostalgia in this show. Mid-90’s teenage me loved collecting Hard Rock Café t-shirts.

Meanwhile, we are also introduced to the ritual at Evan’s school where the parents pick up their children at the end of the day. There are two lines of traffic, and they are supposed to “zipper” at the entrance in the school. In other words, the two lines of traffic are supposed to take turns and alternate. Jessica gushes about this to Grandma Huang, because she thinks it is the ultimate in efficiency. Evan, while waiting for his mom, hangs out with his best friend J.J. J.J. is, shall we say, a bit special. He’s a nice enough kid, but he makes weird drawings and doesn’t seem especially bright. Evan, being Jessica’s child, of course criticizes all of these traits in his best friend. As he gets into the car, Evan says he’s super excited for J.J.’s upcoming birthday party. There’s going to be a Grover cake, which is apparently a huge deal. I was more Eddie’s age in the time when the shoe takes place, so I guess I missed Grover cakes. I did like Grover a lot, though. I was definitely raised to be a Sesame Street (pre Elmo takeover) kid.

Meanwhile, Louis and Eddie get to working on perfecting their chili recipe. Their first attempt earns a reaction of “pretty good” when they both taste it, and Louis immediately dumps the whole pot in the trash. “Pretty good” or even “great” isn’t good enough to beat Marvin, after all. It’s time to go back to the drawing board. Eddie has the idea to toast some cumin in bacon fat, but Louis doesn’t want to hear it. He doesn’t like his chili to be fussy. He says a bowl of chili is not supposed to be a “bowl of Jazz.” At school, Eddie complains about the situation to his friend Trevor, and Trevor is incredulous. He thinks Eddie should be grateful to just be chili apprenticing at all. Eddie has only been making chili for a few days – he shouldn’t think he knows everything yet. When it comes to the argument Eddie and Louis are having, though, I’m on team Eddie. I love to play with spices and fuss with food. What’s interesting, though, if the episodes of “Huang’s World” I’ve watched recently are any indication, is that the real Eddie Huang is not about fussy food, either. He seems to favor clean, simple flavors.

We again see Jessica waiting in line to pick up Evan at school. This time, though, somebody doesn’t pay attention to the zipper and cuts her off. Fan of efficiency and order that she is, Jessica takes extreme offense to this, and she immediately runs to confront the offending mom. That mom, however, happens to be J.J.’s mom, and understandably, she’s not happy with Jessica’s antics. She eventually tells Jessica that Evan is not welcome at J.J.’s birthday party. At Louis’ prodding, Jessica apologizes to J.J.’s mom, although she makes sure to say that the incident was a “mutual wrongdoing.” J.J.’s mom appreciates the apology, but she says that Evan still can’t come to the birthday party. Jessica can’t bear to see Evan’s disappointment at not going to the party, so she takes him to the party anyway. He immediately rushes in and starts bossing J.J. around. J.J.’s mom says this is why she didn’t want Evan at the party. It had nothing to do with the pick-up incident. She doesn’t like how Evan treats her “gentle spirit” son.

Jessica discusses the J.J. situation with Honey as they eat lunch, and Honey makes a very astute observation. Jessica is pretty bossy herself. Jessica proves this by immediately criticizing how Honey is making a sandwich. Honey hypothesizes that Evan might just be trying to be like his mother. Later, at the chili cook off, Jessica takes Evan aside to talk to him about his behavior. He tells him that it’s okay if he worships her. Evan says that his behavior has nothing to do with wanting to be like his mom. He acts like he does with J.J. because J.J. actually listens to him. We get flashbacks to the family ignoring Evan’s dislike of drinking water for dinner and his request for a school briefcase. Even Grandma switched out his frog for a Garfield on the back window of the car. Jessica decides they need to start listening to Evan more. She lets him choose what to drink with dinner, even if they don’t have the ingredients for a Shirley Temple or strawberry Fanta. He also gets his briefcase.

The chili cook off is quite the event, and it’s being judged by everyone’s favorite local morning news anchors, Gus and Mey-Mey. Ken Marino always makes me laugh. Marvin, is of course, smarming it up, displaying his five Golden Stock Pots and a banner announcing his achievements at his table. Louis is surprised when there are two Huangs on the competitor list. Eddie has also entered the competition on his own. Eddie’s style is very different from Louis’. Louis is super precise, and Eddie just goes with his instinct. Both Louis and Eddie are finalists, along with a woman named Gloria. Marvin is disqualified because he apparently used the meat from Whoppers in his chili. Gloria actually wins the whole thing, but she gives the trophy to the Huangs. Marvin is not very happy when he sees it displayed in their window.

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