The Return to Top Chef

Previously, on Top Chef!

Padma and Nigella in bed. Wait, what?

Ok ok so I took a few months off. Well here I am on the couch basking in the glow of a ‘Christmas Wreath’ Yankee Candle and the Christmas lights hung around my front windows and Top Chef on the tube. It’s time to revisit some reviews, I think. And what a perfect time! For it appears that tonight is the finale and I have stumbled into a marathon. I paused for Nigella, but I’m staying for the champ.

First impressions: all the tattoos are gone, I see. The brothers remain, so does the hardass chick chef, Redbeard, bacon buddy and the hippie. Hippie’s days are clearly numbered, and my early call for the final three are the brothers and Redbeard. Hippie gets the boot, and now we cook for Thomas Keller, a feat which I would have had to change my drawers three times by the amuse.

On we go. Welcome back.

Last challenge in Vegas. Brother Mike is poor. Redbeard misses his wife. Bacon buddy (and his belly) are doin‘ it for Richard. Badass chef Jennifer has lost focus and has “hit the wall” as several judges have pointed out to this point.

Guest judge is James Beard award-winning Gavin Kaysen of Cafe Boloud. He won the “Olympics of Cooking” which could mean anything to anyone but from what I gather, it tests your knowledge, technique and overall skill. Quickfire Challenge therefore, is a version of his winning dish: a protein inside a protein inside a protein. A turducken, basically. Oh wow, Jennifer is in my head. That’s what she’s making she says. Though, the bacon explosion might be a good way to go too…

Merguez sausage wrapped around a loin of lamb, poultry turine, a Scotch egg with maple syrup, cornmeal fried catfish, Jennifer decided to switch to a fish thing but she’s cracking under the pressure.

Padma says, “welcome back” to Jennifer after tasting her dish, which was a nice wink to her frightened talents. Gavin likes the Scotch egg, Jennifer’s dish, Brother Mike’s terrine may not count the towards the challenge proper which Brother Mike disputes. Ultimately, he picks Jennifer’s fish dish and with that pat on the back, she’s near the top again.

Elimination Challenge: Create a presentation with one protein and two garnishes. Garnishes have to show technique and method – he gives filled woven zucchini strips as an example. So basically, putzy sides. I predict throwaway proteins and crazy sides. Everyone gets four hours, but Jennifer gets four hours and thirty minutes per her award. The clincher: twelve judges including Thomas freaking Keller. Lord help us all. What I love about Chef Keller is his quiet stillness, which in a chef is rare and probably really terrifying when you’re on the disappointed end of it. Commence: boot shaking!

Everyone stays awake planning and cramming, Brother Mike goes to bed (in his whites). The DVD they’re watching of the competition is a cross between Iron Chef, the World Cup and WWF. But with food. Redbeard asks about cooking sous vide. For the first time – eek. Brother… the other Brother, offers up his knowledge to Redbeard while getting a dig in on Brother Mike. Nice.

Tom introduces Keller, who is apparently a lot taller than I thought (and who has big ears, aww). He gives some words of encouragement and a cool but calm toothless smile. The chefs scatter to their corners and go to work. Bryan. Bryan is the other Brother. He’s doing lamb. Redbeard is doing a sous vide lamb. Brother Mike gets a dig in about Redbeard’s simple food (which Keller would slap him on the back of the head for). Brother Bryan is doing a shank braise with a partially crusted lamb loin, sous vide as well. Brother Mike is doing a salmon which sounds sort of boring. Jennifer is working on also doing salmon but with caviar and is cooking it unilaterally (cooked on bottom, uncooked on top). Bacon buddy is doing a lamb loin sausage.

Tom ads another kink – the winner gets THIRTY GRAND if they win. You jerks, I can barely keep my phone on. Whatever.

The judges assemble and have a seat. Many VIPs. Much fear.

Redbeard boldly decides to not get fancy per the regulations, but wants to dazzle with flavors instead. His dish is quite simple and rustic looking, but sounds delicious. Quiet “mmm“s is a good thing. Keller says it’s elementary and that he might have undercut himself and his skills, but it seems to taste good.

Brother Mike’s Mediterranean salmon platter looks impressive and simple but is composed of many elements. Which they don’t like. Bone in the fish. Lack of harmony. Unseasoned. Umm…next.

Brother Bryan is in the weeds. Freaking out a little bit, actually. The platter isn’t how he wants it. Crusted loin of lamb. Keller likes his “interesting” garlic chip. Eep! They comment on the lovely layout but undercooked the lamb. They like him as a person though, they think he’s polished and comfortable.

Bacon Buddy’s lamb sausage sounds very complicated to me. He’s also shaky and nervous. The cut is bad and the lamb is undercooked. Keller makes the comment that the lamb piece itself is lovely but he effed it up. Not impressed.

Jennifer’s confidence is shaky. Lightly poached salmon. She’s calm, kinda. They think the flavors are decent but not very interesting. The dish is “all over the place”, the salmon pieces aren’t cooked consistently from dish to dish. Some say interesting looking but with a dead end vision.

Just to be a catty b for a moment, Gayle’s stylist this season should be drug out into the street and beaten with the overdone outfits they’ve put her in. I thought she was pregnant when I saw her in that ruffled green number a few episodes ago. Tonight her ample bosom is flopping around a plunging black neckline so she either needs to sit up straight like a lady, or put those girls away so Tom doesn’t give himself an aneurysm from trying not to stare. Ok. Sorry. Kinda.

Anyway, the chefs all raise a glass to the cheftestants, who understandably were shaken and stirred during this challenge. Which is nice. They come out to applause and Padma’s overdubbed congrats. Keller delivers the prize for the challenge (aside from the THIRTY GRAND), which is to compete in the 2010 challenge of which they’ve just copied.

Judging: Padma fetches everyone from the Glad storeroom to face the firing squad. Keller is not amongst the judges. Gayle, Padma, Tom and the son of the guy who started the WWF/Iron Chef/World Cup contest.

Brother Mike’s vision was blurry and his fish had the forgotten bone. Brother Bryan’s dish would have been better with more time, Redbeard’s simple dish was a bit of a letdown technically, Jennifer’s salmon’s inconsistent cooking proved troubling and that is the chief complaint, Bacon Buddy’s sausage had too much fat and was too undercooked. So really, the only good statement was that Brother Bryan needed more time… no real compliments and certainly no clear winner. Redbeard got the bad end of it ultimately. But he has so much talent and heart, I don’t want to see him go. I’d say Jennifer, quite honestly. She’s been inconsistent lately. Bacon Buddy was out of his league but that may not be cut-worthy since he most likely won’t be opening the next Per Se.

Decision made and then we’re down to the final four… The winner is… Redbeard.

…wow…

…Really? Wow. Not that I’d have chucked him or anything but they made it sound like he brought a finger painting to the Louvre. Well this ought to be good.

Brother Mike is getting the boot it appears. Everyone else got compliments from Tom. Oof nope, it’s Bacon Buddy. Yeah. I guess I can see that, he cooks at a different level, though it’s sort of Redbeard’s level though maybe without the same amount of love and heart. He’s sad. Tears. Aww. Brothers, Redbeard and Jennifer are heading to the final in Napa.

See you there, y’all!

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