The Final Five cook for culinary gods this week on Top Chef: New York, and some of them crack under the pressure. No, really: there's an audible crack, and a digit at an unnatural angle. Ouch!
This spoiler wants Ann Sather's cinnamon rolls for its last meal. What? If I'm dying, I'm not wasting time on nutrition!
Our quickfire guest is Wylie Dufresne, a molecular gastronomy guru with a thing for breakfast. He challenges the cheftestants to do something fabulous with eggs. Hosea, Fabio and Stefan go for high-concept dishes: Stefan makes a faux egg out of panna cotta stuffed with a mango puree "yolk," while Hosea uses egg white as sushi wrapper. Fabio isn't a breakfast person, so he uses egg as a foundation for dessert, and includes the eggshell as a serving vessel. Leah is slightly more restrained, making a quail's egg in a potato ravioli along with bacon, egg and cheese bundle. Carla is either timid or admirably focused: she channels Dr. Seuss with green eggs and ham, using spinach for color.
Surprisingly, Dufresne goes for Carla's simple, playful, Seussian dish. He admires that Carla focused on one thing and made it perfect. Stefan looks like he's going to explode.
The Elimination Challenge
The cheftestants find out the culinary titan whose “last meal” they’ll prepare. Fabio draws Lidia Bastianich, "the queen of Italian cuisine in this country"; Stefan gets Marcus Samuelsson, a fellow Scandinavian; and Carla draws Jacques Pepin, her culinary hero. Leah gets Dufresne, who wants another egg dish. Hosea draws Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation. As she doesn't represent a specific cuisine, it's difficult to tell what that means for Hosea.
Things go really, really wrong for Fabio when he breaks the little finger on his left hand. As he's wearing his watch on his right hand, I think he may be left-handed. He refuses to go to the hospital, but soon discovers it's not easy to cook (or peel potatoes, or chop salad greens) with only one good hand.
Leah's eggs benedict is first. She thins out hollandaise just before serving. Mistake — the judges complain that it's not thick enough. Plus, the egg whites are bit runny, and the texture isn't good. Stefan's nails his dill sauce, but the judges agree that the salmon is "horribly overcooked." Hosea got a little creative with the shrimp scampi and tomatoes Provencal, and the judges are disappointed that the dish doesn't meet their expectations. The shrimp has a butter sauce, and Ungaro wanted more garlic. The tomatoes are too refined and not seared enough to caramelize. So the dish isn't what you expected, Tom says — does it succeed on its own merits?
Fabio worries that his chicken is inexpertly butchered — he doesn't have his normal dexterity, after all — but the judges rave about it. This could be his signature dish! Alas, the salad is lackluster and smacks of airplane food. Carla fears that her roast squab is overcooked — she sliced and plated it, then put it under the warming lights, and the meat no longer looks properly pink. The older chefs at the table think this is fine, while the younger ones would prefer it more rare. They all agree that her peas are perfection, and they're impressed that she had the guts to do a very simple presentation of truly great food. "I think I could die happy with that," Pepin says.
The Judging Table
Padma calls all five chefs out at once, which freaks everyone out. Leah has to explain why her sauce was too thin, and is chided for not going with her original instincts. You just have some problems with technique, Pepin says.
Stefan is shocked to discover his fish was overcooked, his spinach was lackluster, and his meal wasn't perfect. Hosea grins like a Cheshire cat. Not so fast, Hosea — your scampi didn't meet expectations, and the tomatoes Provencal weren't rustic enough.
Fabio is thrilled that the judges loved his chicken, but he's got one thing to ask: "What did Lidia think of it?" He exults when he's told she adored it, and doesn't even care when the judges talk about his airplane salad. Carla immediately owns up to thinking that her squab breast was overcooked, but Pepin tells her it was lovely. Plus, the peas were out of this world.
It's between Carla and Fabio for the top seat, and the judges pick Fabio. Carla is also safe. Stefan, Leah and Hosea brace for bad news, and things look bad for Stefan. They’re not going to cut the strongest (and most arrogant) contender, are they? No, they're not — Leah finally gets the boot for her undercooked eggs and improper sauce. At last!
Highlights, thoughts and odds and ends
- I love that Carla decided to go with a Dr. Seuss theme, as she could pass for a Seuss character herself.
- Carla is gleeful that she pulled Pepin, and opts not to switch knives with anyone "You think I'm giving up Jacques? No way. And he wants peas? Jacques, we are like this with peas!" Later, she says "I think Jacques and I are two peas in a pod." I'd groan, except she's so happy and goofy, and her enthusiasm is infectious.
- Carla outdoes herself with the quirky/adorable reactions. "I just feel like I was this tortoise, and I've been picking up speed, and I'm like, 'See ya!' [Looking over one shoulder.] 'See ya!' [Looking over the other.]" And then she gets this incredible LOOK on her face, all goofy pride and happiness and exultation. It's priceless.
- Stefan talks trash about Hosea: “You can chop my legs off and my arms off and I'd still run circles around that dude. I don't think he has the balls for being a chef." There's the arrogance we've come to expect from Stefan!
- Later, Stefan boasts that "there's nothing I can possibly screw up with this dish…" And that’s what makes it so satisfying to watch him squirm at the judges' table.
- Fabio reacts to the on-set medic asking if he wants to go to the hospital: "I'll chop [the finger] off and sear it on the flat top so it doesn't bleed anymore, and tomorrow I will deal with nine finger!" Wrong show, Fabio — finger chopping and searing takes place on Hell's Kitchen.
- Later, Fabio reconsiders: "I always say that's so easy I can do it with one hand tied behind my back. I didn't mean to!"
- But by the time they get back to the stew room, Fabio has regained his machismo: “It's Top Chef, not Top P*ssy!" Leah is offended. Everyone else laughs. If you believe Bourdain (which I do, in all things), Leah's going to have to get used to a lot worse if she wants to hang in any pro kitchen.
- Fabio says he’d enlist his grandma to cook his last meal. Unfortunately, she’s been dead for two years. Dude, zombie grandma chef! I hope his preferred last meal is braaaaaaaaaaaains.
- Tom checks out the chef in the kitchen, then makes one plea: "Please, I don't want to be embarrassed." Heh.
- Fabio is so thrilled with the good review of the chicken that he laughs off the complaint about his salad. " I'm going to go back there and shoot myself, I did an airplane salad, I'm sorry." "It's ok," Tom says with a wicked grin. "The airlines are always looking for good chefs." I heart Tom.
- Fabio's win comes with a trip to Napa valley and a magnum (or is it a jeroboam?) of wine. "I think it's gonna be gone in couple of hour," Fabio quips. I think he's serious.
Are you surprised by the final four? Were you worried about who would go home this week? Who do you think will win it all? And what would YOU request for your last meal?