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Top Chef: Las Vegas, Ep. 12 – The Final Four is Set


Well, it’s not like we didn’t see this coming from a mile away. For the entire season, Top Chef has had four chefs who have stood out from the others, despite perhaps having a bad challenge once in a while. So, no Cinderella stories this season. We have the Yankees playing the Cowboys playing the Celtics playing the Canadiens.

Congrats goes out to Kevin, BryanBot, Hawk and Jen for earning their birthright. Eli gave it a great effort, but just came up short. He was really just a step below those four and was clearly the fifth-best of the five. But at least he went out swinging.

This may have been one of the most impressive challenges Top Chef has ever managed. The Bocuse d’Or – something I had never heard of before – is basically the Olympics or World Cup for chefs. Contestants train for months developing the perfect dish – Quickfire Challenge guest judge Gavin Kaysen spent four months working on his ballantine before competing for the U.S.A. in the 2007 Bocuse d’Or. Our Final Five? They had about 12 hours.

That’s akin to asking the boxers on The Contender to train for a heavyweight title fight in a couple of days. The fact that our chefs put out as impressive of a display as they did was astounding. Of course, there would be plenty for the judges to criticize – and they did. Kevin’s winning dish was really just a win by default. All of the dishes were flawed, but his simply tasted the best.

The surprise prize for the winner was not only the $30,000 cash prize, but also a chance to compete to make the next U.S. team. Factoring into the selection of Kevin was the belief that he would make the best coachable contestant for the team. All in all – a pretty damn impressive prize for winning the challenge.

The Quickfire Challenge
Gavin asks the chefs to recreate his Bocuse d’Or dish. Jen describes what a ballottine is for us very effectively, but conjuring up John Madden’s turducken Thanksgiving tradition. They had to make a dish that had a protein, within a protein, within a protein. The winner of the challenge to thirty extra minutes to cook in the Elimination Challenge.

Eli – Bacon-crusted breakfast sausage with a six-minute egg center. This looked pretty darn good to me, like a gourmet Cadbury Egg.

Hawk – “Poultry Terrine”: Chicken with turkey and bacon mousseline. Hawk used the bacon to re-infuse fat into the dish. However, he managed to misinterpret the dish and made a terrine instead of a ballottine. Hawk disagrees, but it was pretty clear they were supposed to make the dish, not reinvent it.

Jen – Calamari steak, scallops, salmon, shiitake, shiso with rice noodle salad. Padma gives Jen a girl-power “welcome back” praise for her return from her weeks-long stint at the bottom of the competition.

BryanBot – Rack of lamb and Merguez Sausage wrapped in caul fat. As usual, I think BryanBot has invented food, because I haven’t heard of much of what he creates.

Kevin – Cornmeal-fried fillet of catfish with scallop and shrimp. BryanBot gives quick analysis of Kevin’s style – in a manner more professional than his brother tends to – “Kevin is less finesse, but is simple … which is good if well-executed.”

No tops and bottoms this week – just a line for each one.
Kevin: over-cooked his catfish, although the big guy begs to differ.
BryanBot: Cooked very nicely, and it was risky.
Eli: Very good concept.
Jen: A pleasant surprise.
Hawk: Umm…it was a terrine. Hawk defends his decision and cockily claims that if he knew, he would have made a ballottine as good as Gavin’s. Ok, Hawk, that’s about enough bravado from you already. We get it. You are talented. Now just shut up for a minute or two about it and go and actually follow the directions of the damn challenge.

Sorry. That’s been building up for a few weeks.


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