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


Another cooking montage. Steak, eggs, a mallet, Steph sautés, Lisa makes dumplings, Rich is concentrating. My wife noticed that when Richard concentrates he makes a weird grimace face. Rich comments that he needs to get things together to avoid service being a mess tomorrow. Steph just can’t believe that this is the last night.

Commercials – Somehow, I am going to miss “Erica” – The Chancellor of Cheese in those Glad commercials. I wish I could be the Chancellor of Cheese. Or at least the Duke of Bacon.

The next day everyone files into an empty kitchen save for Tom. He tells them that the sous chefs are not coming in today and they are on their own. They must live and die by their own hand, says Tom. Steph points out the obvious that this will make things tougher. I love Steph, but her interviews are usually pretty boring. She will work through her menu.

Richard says in “live” action that the rule in restaurants is “no show, no call, no job.” I’d love to see him try to fire Dan. He says this happens every day in the business and we see him make a grimace. His meal is intricate and he has a lot to get done. Even more so now.

Steph comes in carrying twice her weight in food. Impressive. She is trying to stay organized and not run around like Mad Chaotic Woman. I believe Mad Chaotic Woman is an arch-villain for the Green Lantern. She starts to make her pasta dough. Nikki is nowhere in sight to save her this time.

Lisa says her meal reflects her personality: surly with a dash of passive aggressiveness. No, seriously. She says it is “big, bold, spicy, sweet, salty, sour, and in your face.” Sometimes you can’t make these things up.

Lisa’s menu: 1) Grilled Prawns with Chili Basil Sauce, Crab, Potato Chips, and Pea Tendrils; 2)Tom Ka Soup Dumplings with Organic Chicken, Golden Threads, Toasted Chilies, and Cilantro; 3) Wagyu Beef; and 4) Black Thai Rice with Caramelized Coconut, Mango Cream and Crispy Taro.

Richard is trying to tell a story with the menu that is not just about liquid nitrogen, electric smokers and other gadgets. He can be pretty good with butter and a sauté pan. I think that story needs some touching up. Someone call Judd Apatow.

Richard’s menu: 1) Grilled Scallop with Mango & Pineapple Vinegar; 2) Guinea Hen, Duck, Foie Gras, Chicken Egg with Spring Vegetable; 3) Pork Belly with Pickled Radish & Mirin Broth; and 4) His infamous Banana Scallop (making its third appearance this year) and bacon ice cream. Yes, Richard has combined the two greatest foods in the world and I need to one day taste that.

Steph’s menu: 1) Sautéed Red Snapper Filet with Truffled White Asparagus and Clam Broth; 2) Seared Quail Breast with Butter Poached Lobster Ravioli and Mango and a Quail Egg; 3) Lamb Medallions with Maitake Mushrooms, Olives and Braised Pistachios; and 4) Ricotta Pound Cake with Lime Glaze Pineapple and Salted Banana Cream. She again laments having to make a dessert and would have much preferred a second fish course.

Tom comes in to check up on the chefs and the banter is really not all that interesting. Let’s skip ahead to Tom’s sum up. He says that Richard is very excited and has so many ideas running around in his head it is hard to keep them quiet. His Achilles Heel is that he is trying to do too much and this could be very good or very bad. Lisa is surprisingly the calm one. I think this is because she is playing with house money now and knows it, while the other two know that they are the favorites to win. He calls her a tough competitor who knows how to defend herself. He says that this job requires some attitude and swagger. Tom says that Steph is nervous about her dessert and has taken some serious risks.

Richard has ditched the oysters and is using the nitrogen to help make the ice cream. He says it helps it to freeze quicker and prevents ice crystals from forming.

A little over an hour left. Steph is not “super-comfortable” with her dessert. An ongoing theme tonight if you hadn’t noticed. She is panicking and says her “s**t sucks.” Lisa chides her for always saying that and “you’re always awesome.” I cannot believe the morale boost that Lisa just gave Steph there and it gives me hope for the real Lisa behind the Bravo Lisa. She goes on to say that Steph has said that to her three times and then won each time she said that and she doesn’t want to hear it now. “Have some confidence in yourself,” says Lisa. Amen to that!

21 minutes left. The guests arrive. Padma is in a red gown. I need a drink of water. 10 minutes left. Tom and the sous chefs file in for service. Richard THs that he is “the best chef here” and has the “best skill.” He thinks he is a craftsman and an artist. The man is confident and sure of himself.

Lisa and Steph each add their points about winning to lead us to… Commercials – Bravo Poll – who should win?

Padma asks the three guests about their day in the kitchen. Eric found it extremely relaxing and just focused on doing what Steph put in front of him. Dan found it the opposite, and found it anxious. April thought Lisa was very assertive.

Two more guests are here for dinner. Alfredo Ayala, a famous Puerto Rican chef at Delirio. Also, Tim Zagat, he of the famous guide. Also there, the Trinity of Gail, Ted and Tom.

Lisa feels that it is pretty cool to cook for this kind of group and is greatly enjoying serving them food. Richard thinks a menu is as important as the food. As such, his menu tells the guests nothing, only mysterious phrases like “You Are Here,” “Which Came First” and “Be the Bacon.” Lisa will do a progression of Vietnamese and Thai food. Steph has simple flavors, fruits, and tries to hit every flavor point in your mouth.

We have a service montage and Rich adds that the main goal of a tasting menu is to show a progression in flavor, texture and temperature.

First Course

The diners smell their dishes. Must be a chef thing.
Richard: Dan finds it strikingly familiar. Gail thinks the texture is like white truffle, but is not. April appreciates the sweetness of the mango. Zagat would rather see it simplified to get a better taste.

Lisa: April likes the texture of the chips. Alfredo thinks it is too spicy. Zagat can almost taste China. That can’t be good if she was going for Vietnam.

Steph: Ted thinks it is elegant. Eric says delicate. Alfredo thinks it is the best of the three. Tom agrees.

Second Course

Richard: Eric likes the earthiness but it is not distinctive. I have no idea what that means. Tom finds fault in the technique. April thinks the foie gras is perfectly cooked. It is now that I start to worry for Mr. Blais.

Lisa: Gail thinks it is absolutely delicious and well balanced. She can eat an entire bowl and be completely satisfied. April loves the lemongrass. Zagat wants seconds.

Steph: Eric likes the seasoning of the quail. Ted would like more lobster essence in the sauce. I never thought I would ever utter the words “lobster essence” in my life. Alfredo thinks it is delicate and perfect. Tom has an issue with the leeks. Gail agrees that they are undercooked and have no relevance.

Third Course

So far, Steph is in the lead, Lisa a surprisingly strong second and Richard had better bring it here.

Richard: Eric is surprised at the lack of seasoning. Uh oh! Padma thinks the pickled relish has the most flavors. More uh oh! Alfredo thinks it was under seasoned. Crap. Richard lost.

Lisa: April thinks the beef was nice and tender. Dan agrees. Gail likes the salad and the acidity.

Steph: Eric is surprised by the combination of flavors. Ted says that she made pistachio in a way that he has never tasted before. April loves the olives. Gail thought it was going to crash and burn when she saw the olives, but the second she put it in her mouth a “light bulb went off.” Eric says that this was the first time everybody says they loved a dish. Tom sums up that Richard needed work, Lisa was pedestrian, and Steph was full of surprises.


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