Lady Gaga and Elton John open the Grammys singing in some sort of industrial hellscape from which both emerged covered in soot. My wife Karen thought they looked ridiculous. I said I thought that was the point. They sounded a'ight, dawg. B+.
Alton Brown intros that tonight's Iron Chef battle is coming from Kitchen Stadium #3 floating somewhere in the Maldives and announces that the Chairman's yacht has just docked. I like it when Iron Chef nods to its own ridiculous mythos. A.
Stephen Colbert kicks off the Grammys' first award by inducting his teenage daughter into the insincerely earnest (or earnestly insincere) comedy business. Jokes touch on the iPad, and Dad not being cool. She seems like a nice kid and it's funny instead of cringeworthy. A.
Today's challenger is chef Michael Smith, author of many cookbooks and star of Food Network Canada. There's a Food Network Canada? Smith looks like a big fella, towering over the Chairman (who could still kill him in two seconds if he wanted), and gets into the histrionic spirit of Kitchen Stadium by announcing his challenge of Iron Chef Bobby Flay with the same passion Patton brought to battling Rommel. A.
Green Day performs "21 Guns" with the Broadway cast of the upcoming play "American Idiot." I like Green Day and am a sucker for big choruses that raise goosebumps. A highlight of the Grammys for me. A.
The secret ingredient: Avocado! Karen groans--avocado's a gimme for the southwestern-style Flay. Do they even have avocados in Canada? I don't like avocado or guacamole at all, making me something of a heretic here in California. I find it flavorless and phlegmy. I keep trying it, hoping that someday I'll finally get what everyone else raves about. No luck so far. Points off for both throwing Flay a softball and using an ingredient I wouldn't enjoy. C.
Taylor Swift wins for Best Country Album. She sings country? For confusing me, that award earns a C.
Tonight I learned that the entire California avocado industry is descended from a single Haas avocado tree. I did not know that. When Mom and my sisters moved to Hollywood, their neighbor had a giant avocado tree whose branches hung over into their yard. It was a beautiful tree that produced year-round, but Mom was afraid that one of those plummeting shotputs would kill her dog Hero. All they did was make him fat; Hero loved to eat avocados. For teaching me something I didn't know and reviving a happy memory, A.
Pink sings "Glitter in the Air" rotating from a cloth sling dangling from the ceiling while spraying water on everyone below like a lawn sprinkler. Karen imagined all the enraged audience members getting their stylin' tuxes and spangly gowns soaking wet. I liked it, and not just for the single-ply gauze bandage Pink was wearing. At the very least, you've gotta admire her work ethic, plus points for potentially annoying spoiled rich people. A-.
Chef Smith pulls out a slab of Canadian bacon, maple syrup, moose loin, a six-pack of Molsons, and a box of Tim Hortons donuts, and politely gets to work. Nah, just kidding. For setting back international relations 50 years, B+ for me.
Black-Eyed Peas perform "Imma Be" and the ubiquitous "I Got a Feeling." That was . . . energetic. The legion of back-up dancers costumed in balloon-animal burkas and silver stereo speakers really made me miss grunge. And I didn't even like grunge. B-.
Tonight's Iron Chef judges are Donatella Arpaia and Anya Fernald, who have something to do with food, and actor Antonio Sabato Jr., who doesn't. That's OK. One of the charms of the original Japanese Iron Chef was the old-bat judge whose occupation was always listed as "fortune teller." I miss the old Iron Chef. B. (When Jeffrey Steingarten is judging, it's an automatic A.)
Stephen Colbert wins a Grammy for Best Comedy Album. He asks his daughter in the audience if she thinks he's cool now. She gives him a very sweet, teary-eyed nod that tugged at my Daddy heartstrings. Oh, would that I could ever make my daughters that proud of me. A.
Bobby Flay breaks out some chipotle and ancho chiles. Really thinking outside the box tonight, Bobby. C.
Several old and some dead people win Grammy lifetime achievement awards. One dude wins a Grammy Award for helping produce Grammy Award shows, which seems pretty incestuous to me (speaking of nodding to your own ridiculous mythos). It strikes me, not for the first or last time, how little people in the same line of work can have in common. For example, Katy Perry and Alice Cooper, or Placido Domingo and Mos Def, or Andrea Bocelli and Mary J. Blige, to name three actual pairings from last night. C for inappropriate combos and over-self-congratulation + A for weirdness = B average.
Chef Smith's trying some interesting, playful things. Fried avocado balls, avocado pearls nestled in raw oysters. No idea how any of it would taste and I still don't like avocados, but you can see a creative culinary mind at work. B+.
Taylor Swift sings with Stevie Nicks, first Stevie's "Rhiannon" and then Taylor's "You Belong With Me." The performance was a revelation--that revelation being that Taylor looked and sounded like a thin, flat, callow, boring, insubstantial wisp next to Stevie's rich, deep, seasoned, compelling bleat. "Rhiannon" is also a much better song than Ms. Swift's ode to being the head cheerleader in love with the team captain. Taylor seems like a very nice young woman, but the contrast was striking and not in her favor. C for Swift + A for Nicks = B average.
Bobby Flay chunks up a big beef shoulder into 2-inch cubes. Karen says, "That meat looks awfully fatty." I predict that he's going to put it into a pressure cooker to render out the fat and get a good braise on it. Seconds later, Flay tosses it into a pressure cooker. For making me look smart, an A.
Ah, the Michael Jackson tribute, in 3-D. Karen and I pull out our red-blue anaglyphic specs. The 3-D effect is pretty good, although I'm disappointed there's no footage of Jackson himself. That would've been fun (even a clip from Captain Eo could've been repurposed). Good performances, though again some memory-jolting bits of classic MJ songs would've been welcome. Jackson's son Prince Michael and daughter Paris speak at the end, and my how they've grown! Seems like just yesterday they were being dangled out of windows. Prince is a poised young man whose affect could have been Stepford-creepy if he hadn't made a couple of endearing mistakes reading the teleprompter. Paris seems sweet. And ain't genetics funny? B.
The Grammys offer a nice tribute to Les Paul, whom I'm a big admirer of. I really liked that Jeff Beck and Imelda May went on to perform Paul's "How High the Moon." Great artists, great music, another highlight of the evening for me. A.
For one course, Chef Smith offers the judges three guacamoles prepared differently. When plating, he simply leaves the guac in the three food processor bowls in which they were made and fills them to the top with three varieties of chips. It's either a very gutsy move or a very lazy one. I like it. Five full points for plating design from me = A.
Rappers Lil Wayne, Eminem, and Drake get together for a song backed by the drummer from Blink 182, who's really wailing away on his kit. Whenever I see rappers on these award shows backed by bands or orchestras, I imagine that there's some kid in there who picked up an instrument at age 8, practiced every day, joined his or her small-town junior symphony, spent four hard years mastering their skills at Julliard, studied overseas, entered brutal competitions, scraped hard to land every gig they could get, and is now earning a couple hundred bucks playing backup for a multimillionaire whose musical talent consists of rhythmically reciting bad poetry. D for the bleepin' rappers + B for the drummer = C.
Judging is underway. Smith may be in trouble. The judges don't seem taken with his avocado-white chocolate mousse. C.
Taylor Swift's "Fearless" wins the Grammy for Album of the Year. I'm nonplussed, but good for her. B-.
Two champions met tonight in Battle Avocado here in Kitchen Stadium. The judges have spoken. And the winner is . . . Iron Chef Flay. B-. (If Smith had won, it'd be a B+ because Flay just seemed to coast tonight.)
Final grades: Iron Chef America = B. Grammy Awards = B+.