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Top Chef: Chicago, Finale – I’ll Say It, I Choked


Previously: 16 chefs went to Chicago and we saw cops, a wedding, kids, mayo, lots of f-bombs, Steph shaking from nerves in Episode 1, Rich being straightforward once in a while, Lisa and her rice issues, and Rich wants to win. There are three remaining and we relive from the beginning to the extremely stupid Congrats-gate from last week.

Credits. Padma, I miss you and your blue dress and weekly sum up already. Finale is stamped onto the show title this week. I feel special.

San Juan. It is El Convento and our Final Three exchange handshakes. Steph says that “this is it” and the three of them order their breakfasts. She adds that there has never been a female Top Chef winner and she is excited. There has been much talk of that this year – is this really the glass ceiling that they make it out to be? I mean, is this Hillary Clinton level achievement? Is this the same as Danica Patrick winning an Indy race? I mean, women have been trying to get beyond the kitchen for years, I find it odd to see such girrrrlll power coming out of a cooking competition.

Anyway, Richard has a lot on the line, “for my wife, for the baby on the way, the new house.” He thinks he has everything to lose. I would like to remind Richard that he doesn’t lose any of those things if he loses Top Chef. Right? That wasn’t a stipulation, was it producers? Someone call Mrs. Blais and make sure she’s still there.

The Final Three smell their eggs and give a big cheers toast. I think they would be very tough to have come into your little restaurant with their cameras and egg-smelling.

Richard cannot believe that Lisa is still alive. You and millions of others, dude. He says that “every chef needs to be a leader and she has a bad attitude.” He doesn’t think she deserves to win.

Lisa says that she has come all this way and wants to finish the job. She admits to getting by with the skin of her teeth at this point. She doesn’t care how much Richard and Steph dominated in elimination wins, she won only one and “you know, I’m about to beat you so…”

The Final Three walk up to a series of tables set up with Tom and Padma at the head. Steph says that three great chefs are with them, so they are wondering what is up. Padma listens to me by breaking out yet another hot blue dress and tells them that the final challenge is upon them and that they will be cooking the meal of their lives. The three chefs in question are Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin, Dan Barber of Blue Hill, and April Bloomfield of the Spotted Pig. Rich says that they are all culinary gods and Lisa respects them all tremendously.

The challenge is for them to cook a four-course meal with the traditional progression – fish, poultry, red meat and dessert. Steph is sad that they have to make a dessert. Of course, she has rocked many a dessert this season, so methinks she doth protest too much. Lisa gives us some insight into her style by saying that she is not good at memorizing cake recipes and she doesn’t like to eat cake and so this will be difficult.

The chefs are told that the three famous chefs are going to be their sous chefs for the challenge and that each are standing behind a table full or proteins. What is on the table, not the table itself. Although that would be a hell of a challenge for them to cook a four-course meal out of a table.

Eric begins to talk and I will admit now that I have a hard time understanding what the heck he is talking about. We hear what is on each table, but thankfully, it is listed onscreen in a few moments, so scan ahead if you wish, but you may miss some brilliant recapping in the process.

The first pick is to go to the one with the most Elimination wins – sorry Lisa – but with Richard’s win last week, we are all even at four wins apiece. Rich allows Steph to select the random knife from the block to determine first pick and she wins it. Steph selects Eric. Richard chooses Dan and April is left for Lisa who is pleased to be working with a woman. The dinner is black tie for nine people, they have three hours today and four tomorrow to prepare and cook. The courses will be head to head.

Prep Time. Lisa’s proteins are listed: oysters, prawns, crab, mahi mahi, chicken, squab, pancetta, sweetbreads, beef tongue, wagyu strip steak, ostrich steak. I would have loved to see her make ostrich and tongue, but alas. She describes her concept as being the flavors of Thailand and Vietnam, which she loves to eat and cook, and believes that she is pretty darn good at it. April is a little shocked that Lisa is cooking Asian food, mainly because April is unfamiliar with the style. April apparently has not yet met Lisa. Our favorite surly finalist tells us that she and April have similar personalities and get along well. I wonder if April is a bit worried about that observation.

Richard’s proteins are scallops, halibut, calamari, abalone, duck, foie gras, guinea ham, prosciutto, pork belly, venison, and rabbit. Again, I wish Rich had chosen venison and rabbit. Anyway, his concept is “my journey” and he wants to show his classical training and molecular gastronomy skills. Rich foreshadows that he doesn’t really know what he is doing and is waiting for the lightning bolt. Dan confirms what Rich is saying.

Steph’s proteins are snapper, hamachi, caviar, clams, lobster, veal tenderloin, chorizo, rack of lamb, quail, quail eggs and bacon. I wonder if she chose this table for the bacon or for Eric. Steph wants to show off her style, flavor combos and give a well balanced meal. Eric likes her direction and blah blah something in a French accent.

Eric starts to prepare Steph’s fish and Dan jokes with him and asks when the last time he did this was. Eric smiles and says it was a long time ago. Steph comes over and asks if he knows how to filet a fish, tongue firmly in cheek. She THs that it is “my menu, my kitchen and I want him to cut it how I see it in my mind.” She adds that she told him how to cut the snapper as she wanted and hovered over him. “I think he got a little offended for a second. He was like, yeah, I know.”
Montage of marinating, chopping, gutting, Cuisinart, pouring bowls, writing, sifting. And this seems to go on forever before ending on a shot of a fish head. What an odd episode so far. It’s almost as if they don’t know what to show when they don’t have a Quickfire.

49 minutes left. Rich is doing a dish of raw oysters with hot sauce (a dish he eventually abandons) and he wants to break out the liquid nitrogen to make small pearls of ice cream to go with the dish. He says that there are “less than a dozen chefs” that actually use liquid nitrogen when cooking. He is making Tabasco sauce ice cream – wow, that is just crazy – and that it is a garnish that goes great with oysters. He wanted to test it out here but obviously, it didn’t work the way he wanted or else he would have served it. As he is testing it, “all of a sudden, I am doing a demo for the best chefs in the world.”

Lisa thinks Rich is a brilliant chef, but different than her. She is not into the molecular stuff at all; she cooks simple food and keeps minimal ingredients instead of over thinking things. This interview is clearly done after the results are known judging by her choice of words. In a brilliant edit, we immediately hear that April thinks the device is “awesome” and Eric has never seen such a technique. He says that the day you don’t learn anymore is the day that you are an egomaniac and blind. Rich is amazed, “I think I just showed Eric Ribert something he has never seen before. That’s f****n cool!”

Step points out that Lisa and April are really getting along and that is surprising because “Lisa doesn’t get along with everybody.” In fact we get a little snippet of the Lisa/April budding friendship as April asks how long she has been cooking. Apparently, Lisa has been cooking since she was a line cook at age 15. And since Lisa is from my home county in New York, there is a distinct possibility that she may have cooked for me at one point in time. Chew on that one for a while, I know I did!

Lisa says that getting along with who she is working with will only help her because if she is happy her food tastes better and if she is stressed she doesn’t cook as well. My question is, isn’t it often stressful in professional kitchens?


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